Fred Itua, Abuja
With barely two months to the end of the turbulent 8th Senate, the wound caused by the fractured relationship between the Executive and the Legislature, may soon be reopened again. The new face off is borne out of two reasons – veto of over 30 bills by President Muhammadu Buhari passed by the National Assembly and plans by the parliament to override him.
The administration of President Buhari is reputed to have vetoed more bills in Nigeria’s democratic history. The repeated rejections of bills has also reopened an old wound, which had been technically hibernated since April last year.
As part of the moves to challenge the president, the Senate, last week, activated a move to override Buhari’s veto on two bills. The upper legislative chamber also reconsidered and passed the other bills. The reconsidered bills are expected to get concurrence from the House of Representatives, after which they will be forwarded again to the president for assent.
The two bills expected to be overridden by the parliament are the Fourth Alteration Bill No. 28, and the Industrial Development (Income Tax Relief) Amendment Bill.
The Forth Alteration No. 28 Bill is a constitution amendment, which seeks to provide for the time within which the president or governor shall lay the Appropriation Bill before the National or State Assembly. The Bill also seeks to encourage early presentation and passage of Appropriation Bills.
President Buhari declined assent to the bill on the grounds that it didn’t take cognisance of the provisions of Section 58(4) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
On the other hand, Industrial Development Amendment Bill, 2018, if passed, will enable companies that expand their operations in pioneer industry or product to apply for a new pioneer status.
President Buhari declined assent to the bill on the grounds that ongoing inter-ministerial consultations would be affected if the bill is signed into law.
Since the inauguration of the Eight National Assembly, President Buhari has vetoed over 36 bills passed by the parliament. In 2019 alone, the president has vetoed over 15 bills passed by both chambers of the National Assembly.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, David Umaru, while presenting a report of his committee which considered the rejected bills, said the 1999 Constitution, as amended, gives the Senate the right to override the president in the event that a bill is vetoed.
He quoted Section 60 of the Constitution and Rule 88 of the Senate Standing Orders 2015.
“Therefore, the bills having been rejected by Mr President, the National Assembly even if it considers Mr President’s observations or not, must pass the bills again and be assented to by Mr President or override the veto, in which case, Mr President’s assent would not be required,” Umaru told his colleagues while presenting the report of his committee.
On the other hand, the Senate has reconsidered and passed seven, out of 15 bills slated for reconsideration.
The bills are Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism Bill, National Research and Innovation Council Bill, and Stamp Duties Act (Amendment) Bill.
Others are National Agricultural Seed Council Bill, Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund (Amendment) Bill and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Act 2010 (Amendment) Bill.
Other bills slated for reconsideration have passed second reading. The bills are Fourth Alteration, No. 20. It is expected to strengthen the Judiciary and accelerate dispensation of justice;
Fourth Alteration, No. 8. It seeks to alter the Constitution to provide immunity for members of the legislature in respect to words spoken or written at plenary sessions or at committee proceedings and institutionalised legislative bureaucracy in the Constitution;
Fourth Alteration, No 15. It seeks to alter the Constitution to replace the name Nigeria Police Force with Nigerian Police to reflect their core mandate of providing civil services;
Fourth Alteration, No. 22. The bill seeks to alter the provisions of the Constitution, to reflect the establishment and core functions of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps;
Fourth Alteration, No. 24. It seeks to alter the provisions of the Constitution, to among other things, provide the procedure for passing a Constitution Alteration Bill where the president withholds assent.
A senator, Kabiru Gaya, who spoke to our correspondent on the issue, absolved the president of any blame. He said some bills presented by his colleagues were too ordinary to warrant the signature of the president.
He also blamed the frequent rejections on some sinister motives of sponsors of bills, citing the controversial Electoral Amendment Bill as example. He, however, promised that the 9th National Assembly will consult more widely before passing any bill.
Senator Gaya said: “You can’t blame the president for that. The bill on election came with different interpretations. You couldn’t go into that at the time we did. It was just few months to elections. There are issues like that. The president saw reasons and didn’t sign it. Even after that, we told him not to sign. We couldn’t have implemented it. Maybe we can talk about the Road Fund Bill.
“But people thought we were putting additional taxes on the people. We didn’t say that. We only said money should be taken from the existing pump price and taken to the Fund. But Nigerians gave it a different interpretation. It was close to elections. We will educate the people.
“There are other bills. Honestly, there were some bills that couldn’t have been signed. Bills on associations and things like that. Even bills on tertiary institutions. Certainly, the president will not sign such bills. We should think of bills that are relevant.
“People think they are relevant based on the number of bills they sponsor. That is not true. Even if you have one bill that is good, you have done a great job. I didn’t do more than six to seven bills. We need to help the president so that we will not bring all manner of bills. Maybe one day, somebody will bring a bill on how to clean your mouth.”
Beyond the renewed move to challenge the president, the National Assembly may run into troubled waters. It has less than 60 days to end its session. If the bills are passed in the next few weeks, which is unlikely, the president on his part, has at least 30 days to communicate to the National Assembly on whether or not he will sign the bills. The National Assembly doesn’t that luxury of time.
Beside, to override the veto of the president, each chamber of the National Assembly requires two-third majority of all members. In the Senate, that amounts to 73 senators needed to override the president. In the House of Representatives, 240 members must vote to override the president.
With the parliament already divided along party lines and serious politicking going on now, pundits believe that the exercise will amount to an academic waste as it will not see the light of the day.