Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Senate Seeks Powers to Summon President

Abuja — SENATE President David Mark, yesterday, urged the Senators to accept the Bill on the State of the Union Address that gives two thirds of the National Assembly the power to summon any sitting president to address the country on his/her activities in government.

Speaking, yesterday, on the Bill when it was presented by the sponsor, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, Mark noted that it had become imperative for it to be fully endorsed against the backdrop that it had earlier been debated when it was brought on the floor of the House of Representatives. He said: "There's nothing that would be added if we debate it today."

If passed, the president, besides briefing on his/her stewardship, will assess policy issues as well as give an overview of policy thrusts of the administration.

Meanwhile, the Senators are working to ensure that the Bill for an Act to prescribe an Annual State of the Nation Address and Other Matters connected thereto scale through at the end of the day.

The bill, which is making a second comeback in five years, was first introduced in the Senate on February 19, 2008.

According to Ekweremadu in his lead debate, Nigeria cannot afford to be left behind when established democracies, including the United States of America, Russia, South Africa, Ghana, Phillipines, Mexico and even Zimbabwe, have embraced the concept.

He said: "Without prejudice to the budget presentation, this Bill seeks to provide for a formal and mandatory platform where the President will lay the account of his or her stewardship, assessment of the polity and the policy thrusts of his or her administration from the economy to politics, foreign policy, security and other aspects of our national life on the table for public scrutiny.

"Democracy is not just about elections, irrespective of how free and fair. Beyond election is governance and this Bill seeks to uphold the right of the people to hold their President accountable, take stock of the nation, and make governance more open and participatory.

"Beyond the USA, from South Africa where State of the Nation Address has been in practice since 1994 to Russia, from Ghana and Zimbawe in Africa to the Philippines, and Micronesia to Mexico in South America, the world has embraced this value and we cannot be odd, especially when we should be leading the way in democratic best practices in Africa and beyond."

Breakdown of the Bill

Giving a breakdown of the Bill, Senator Ekweremadu said, "Section 1 clearly sets apart the annual budget presentation from the State of the Nation Address and makes it mandatory on the President to present it to a joint session of the National Assembly on a set date.

"Section 3 empowers the National Assembly by a resolution of 2/3 majority of votes of members of each House of the National Assembly to summon the President to address the Nation pursuant to the provisions of this Bill.

"Section 4 regulates the timeframe, being 60 days, within which the National Assembly must communicate its resolution on the Address to the President, but Section 5 empowers the National Assembly to regulate its procedure with respect to Provisions of the Bill.

"And as earlier mentioned, the benefits of more accountable, open, and participatory governance which this Bill intends to enthrone to our quest for national development cannot be overemphasized.

"Mr. President, Distinguished Colleagues, I enjoin you to support this Bill given its numerous benefits. It presents us as the people's representatives the platform to not only ensure accountability and openness, but the opportunity to assess government's plans and make inputs even before any harm is done. It is indeed a platform for co-governance and co-management of our nation by all Nigerians."

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