President Goodluck Jonathan has rejected multiple proposals laid out by the Senate and the House of Representatives as part of a new Nigerian Constitution, including clauses stipulating free education and healthcare for every Nigerian child.
The president said Wednesday he could not sign the new proposals into law, as expected of him to conclude the Constitution Amendment process, due to irregularities and an attempt by the lawmakers to violate the doctrine of Separation of Powers.
Mr. Jonathan made his decision known in a seven-page letter he sent to the National Assembly, read Wednesday by the Senate President, David Mark.
The president said a proposed clause to give free education and health to Nigerians, cannot stand as presently proposed as the lawmakers failed to state clearly that such privileges could only be accessed from a government school or hospital, respectively.
Mr. Jonathan also said he could not sign a proposal seeking to dispense with the president’s consent in future Constitution Amendments, until the Senate and the House of Representatives provide “credible evidence” showing the plan was approved by the required number of federal and state lawmakers.
The president’s letter read: “May I draw Your Excellency’s esteemed attention to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Fourth Alteration) Act, 2015 that has been passed by the National Assembly and transmitted to me for assent.
“I have accordingly examined the substance of the provisions and the procedure adopted by the National Assembly to pass the Act and wish to observe as follows: “Section 4 of the Fourth Alteration Act, 2015 seeks to alter Section 9 of the 1999 Constitution by the insertion of a new subsection 3A, which dispenses with the assent of the President in the process of constitutional amendment.
“However, this alteration can only be valid if the proposal was supported by the votes of not less than four-fifth majority of all the members of each House of the National Assembly and approved by a resolution of the House of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the States as provided by Section 9 (3) of the 1999 Constitution.
“This is a fundamental requirement of the Constitution and in the absence of credible evidence that this requirement was met in the Votes of Proceedings of the National Assembly, it will be unconstitutional for me to assent to this Bill.
“In light of the above, I am of the respectful view that I should withhold assent until it can be shown that the National Assembly has complied with the threshold specified in Section 9 (3) of the 1999 Constitution,” President Jonathan wrote.
The president also said even where that demand is met, he would still not sign the proposed Constitution into law on account of other proposals that infringe on the independence of the executive arm of government.
“However, assuming without conceding that the necessary thresholds were met by the National Assembly, there are a number of provisions in the Act that altogether constitute flagrant violation of the doctrine of separation of powers enshrined in the 1999 Constitution and an unjustified whittling down of the executive powers of the federation vested in the President by virtue of Section 5(1) of the 1999 Constitution,” he said.
Some of the areas he listed include a provision stipulating guaranteed rights to free basic education to all Nigerian children, saying the plan should have been restricted to only government schools.
Another proposal for free medical services, stated in proposed Section 45b, should make it clear that private health facilities are not covered, the president said.
The Senate Committee on the review of the 1999 constitution said it will hold a two-day retreat to deliberate on the president’s concerns.
The National Assembly passed the Constitutional Amendments and sent them to President Jonathan in December 2014, for assent