From ADETUTU FOLASADE-KOYI, Abuja
Senate has commenced consideration of a new bill, which will compel any sitting president to address Nigerians through a state of the nation address. Scores of senators said at yesterday’s plenary that it was unconstitutional for President Goodluck Jonathan to address Nigerians through a media chat.
The federal lawmakers were agitating for the president to come to the National Assembly to do so. Senators unanimously took this position during the second reading of the state of the nation address by the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Bill sponsored by Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN).
Leading the debate, the Senate leader noted that, in line with the tradition of developed democracies, the bill would sought to enshrine a forum where the president, in company with his deputy and the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), would address a joint sitting of the National Assembly on critical national issues, comprehensively appraise and reflect on government performances in the past year. The president, Ndoma-Egba equally explained, would use the opportunity of the address to set goals, policy thrusts and agenda of the administration for the next year through broad ideas and specific details.
The Senate leader further argued that most of the advanced and a number of emerging democracies around the globe had entrenched this practice in their process of governance, even as a constitutional obligation. “The benefit of comprehensive overview of the state of the nation address by the executive and the consequent robust debate by the legislature is veritably invaluable to our nation’s stride towards accountability and transparency in governance as well as building national consciousness towards unity and patriotism.” Contributing to the debate, senators Uche Chukwumerije, Ganiyu Solomon, Victor Lar, Babajide Omoworare, Aloysius Etok, Kabiru Gaya and Magnus Abe agreed that the proposed state of the nation address should be an initiative seized by any sitting president.
They also further argued that such process would deepen democracy and ensure transparency in governance, rather than addressing Nigerians through a television chat such as the president did at the weekend. Some senators further contended that such media chat had “no legal basis in our Constitution.” Speaking on the bill, Deputy President, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over yesterday plenary recalled that President Jonathan refused to pass the same bill forwarded to him in the Sixth National Assembly. Ekweremadu added that president Yar’Adua had pledged to sign the bill before he died, saying the Senate would veto it if Jonathan refused again to sign it this time.
Ekweremadu, who flayed the executive for sending its representatives to oppose the bill at a past public hearing, said: “The bill was introduced again in 2007 and 2008 in the Senate.” To ensure that it did not suffer the same fate by the opposition from the executive, I discussed it with the late president Yar’Adua. He was excited and looked forward to being the first president to present the State-of-the-Nation address.
He died, and it was Jonathan who then had the opportunity to preside over the bill, but he didn’t sign it. “Regretably, this was just towards the end of the last parliament. So, we didn’t have the opportunity to bring it back to override with veto. So when we resumed this time around, a member of the House of Representatives picked the bill and sponsored what we are presently debating. We would have overridden and vetoed the bill if we had had time to do so, but technically at the end of that particular session, both chambers were dissolved and we had to start afresh. “So it wasn’t that we didn’t know what to do.
We believe that this time, the president will sign the bill and if he fails to do so, we would invoke the power of vetoing. You can remember that one of his aides advised us that if the president doesn’t sign our bills, we know what to do. This may be the first time we will take his advice,” he said.