Akin Akande, Abuja
Contrary to expectations of members of the National Assembly, President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday said he would not assent to the State of the Nation Address Bill 2013.
The two chambers of the National Assembly had, through the Clerk of the National Assembly, transmitted the Bill to the President on 16 May, 2013 for his assent.
The Bill, which was passed by the Senate on 13 March, seeks to compel the president wto deliver a State of the Nation Address before a joint session of the legislative body within the first week of next month.
But the President, who said he received the Bill on 22 May, returned the Bill, saying it was a mere duplication, since Section 67 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) had made a similar provision for the same purpose.
He, however, said he may accede to the Bill if some fundamental amendments were made to bring it in conformity with the dictates of the constitution, especially the discretionary power conferred on the president by Section 67 of the 1999 (as amended).
Section 67 provides that, “The President may attend any joint meeting of the National Assembly or any meeting of either House of the national Assembly, either to deliver an address on national affairs including fiscal measures, or to make such statement on the policy of government as he considers to be of national importance.”
President Jonathan, in a letter dated 10 June, 2013 and addressed to the Senate President, drew the attention of the federal lawmakers to the constitutional provision.
The letter reads in part, “Your Excellency, in view of the express provions of Section 67 above, I am of the considered opinion that the 1999 Constitution has made ample provision for the kind of address contemplated by the Bill.
“It would therefore amount to a duplication to enact legislation on the same subject matter.
“This is more so as the proposed legislation seeks to circumscribe the president’s discretion regarding whether or not he should attend the join meeting of the National Assembly or of any meeting of either House of National Assembly;
“The time to present the address; his determination of which policy of government is of ‘national importance’ for the purpose of an address; in addition to the threat of the use or coercive powers in the event of non compliance.
“This, in my humble view, is inconsistent with the doctrine of Separation of Powers and the letter and spirit of the Constitution”, Jonathan said.
He therefore proposed a redraft of Clause 1 (2) of the Bill to read; “The State of the Nation Address shall be delivered to a joint sitting of the National Assembly within 30 days of the commencement of the legislative year.”
He also wanted Clause 3 of the Bill, which empowers the National Assembly to summon the president if he decided not to make the address, to be substituted with a clause that would conform witg the “language of the constitution.”
He said, “Where for any reason the President is unable to present an Address in accordance with Section 1 of this Act, the President shall, in writing, inform the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives and either;
“(a) designate the vice president to present the address on his behalf; or (b) transmit to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of representatives, the text of the address.”
President Jonathan also wanted Clause 5 of the Bill to be amended to read; “The National Assembly shall have power to regulate its procedure with respect to the provisions of this Act.”
He also said Clause 6 of the Bill should be deleted, saying it would no longer be consistent with the proposed amendment to Clause 3.
The president’s position may set the legislature and the executive on a collision path as the Senate had threatened to override the president should he fail to present a State of the Nation Address within the first week of July.
It said, “The National Assembly shall have powers to regulate its procedure as regards the provision of this Bill, including the procedure for summoning the president to address the State of the Nation.”