Abuja — The Senate yesterday began consideration of a bill that will compel the president to deliver a State of the Nation address every year.
Modelled after the State of the Union address given by the United States president annually, the bill, when it becomes law, will compel Nigeria's president to brief the nation, through the National Assembly, on national priorities as well as policy formulation and execution.
The bill, known as Bill for an Act to Make Provision for the State of the Nation Address by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and other Matters Connected Therewith, on which the debate started yesterday, would empower the National Assembly to censure the president if he fails to appear at the National Assembly to deliver the State of the Nation address.
Senate Deputy President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who presided at the plenary, stated that it had become imperative to move the motion for the enactment of the bill, which has been referred to the appropriate committee for expeditious action.
"We hope that the bill will be considered by the appropriate committee and returned in good time so that the country will begin to benefit from the provision of the bill and in line with the practice of most other countries like Ghana, and in the other sub-regions as it is done year to year.
"In that bill, we will provide the exact date that the president will come to address the nation through the National Assembly. I hope that by the time we eventually pass the bill in the National Assembly, all the details would have been provided for," he said.
Ekweremadu recalled that efforts to pass the bill into law began in 2004, adding that the bill was not passed then because of misconception about what it entailed.
"This bill was initially introduced by me sometime in 2004, it went to public hearing and the government sent their representatives who opposed it on the basis that Section 57 (of the 1999 Constitution) had provided for the president to come to the National Assembly during a joint sitting.
"But if you look at Section 57, it is not compulsory for the president to come. Those who caused the confusion, I believe they meant well but probably didn't make it as compulsory in other countries.
"So we now said that there is the need for us to make it compulsory for the president to appear before the National Assembly and present the State of the Nation address.
"The bill was introduced again in 2007 and again introduced in 2008 in this Senate. To make sure that the bill will not suffer the same fate through opposition from the executive, I discussed the matter with the then President Umaru Yar' Adua," Ekweremadu said.
He explained that after discussing with the late Yar'Adua on the need for the law and assuring him that it was in line with the constitution, the late president was excited and looked forward to being the first president to present the State of the Nation address.
He added that he, however, could not do so as he died in office.
"The president who then had the opportunity to preside over the bill didn't sign the bill, but regrettably this was just towards the end of the last parliament so we didn't have the opportunity to bring it back.
"When we resumed this time around, a member of the Senate also picked the bill up for expeditious consideration by the upper chamber," he said.
Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma Egba, while underscoring the urgency of the bill said: "What the State of the Nation Address Bill seeks to do, therefore, is to recognise that a popular convention, an annual presidential budget speech now exists, and to make that convention, an Act of the National Assembly so that it becomes binding, mandatory and enforceable."
He further said that the State of the Nation address would not foreclose the presentation of the annual budget speech nor duplicate that function.