Nigeria: How I Stopped Jonathan From Signing Controversial Constitutional Amendment - Ex-AGF Adoke

10 September 2019

But for his defiant stance to block amendments already signed by ex-president Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria would have ended up with a "tyranny of the legislature", former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, claims.

In his memoir released this week, the former minister said Mr Jonathan had already signed the controversial amendments behind his back.

Mr Adoke said he rushed to stop transmission of the assented documents to the legislature and blocked further consideration of the bill.

The amendment bill altered a number of constitutional provisions, controversially giving sweeping powers and privileges to federal lawmakers.

One of the more controversial provisions which drew public ire at the time was immunity for lawmakers and life pension for presiding officers of the two chambers of the National Assembly.

The proposed amendments, couched in the Constitution Fourth Amendment Bill 2015, was passed by the National Assembly after the 2015 elections.

"I had travelled out of the country when this happened and on return discovered that the bill had not been forwarded to me for review as was the practice with President Jonathan.

"On getting wind that the president was about to transmit his assent to the National Assembly, I quickly placed a call to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Administration, Mr Matt Aikhionbare, to confirm if, indeed, the President had signed the bill.

"Upon confirmation that he had, I requested Aikhionbare not to transmit the instrument to the National Assembly as I needed to discuss some of the amendments with the President," he wrote.

Mr Adoke said he took it as a duty to save the country from what he described as "calamity", saying the amendments were fraught with irregularities and done without due process.

The 'calamities'

The former minister said he rushed to see Mr Jonathan and pointed out the implications of the amendments to power configurations in the country.

"Some of the provisions, in my humble view, were purely self-serving," Mr Adoke wrote.

"For one, the bill sought to take away the power of the president to assent to constitutional amendments."

The new alteration, he wrote, would mean that the National Assembly could amend the Constitution and bring it into force without presidential approval.

"If such amendments were allowed to go through, Nigeria would have been subjected to the tyranny of the legislature as the legislators could wake up one day and legislate the Office of the President out of existence and the President would not need to sign for this to be," Mr Adoke wrote.

Other provisions the former minister identified as "self-serving" are clauses making presiding officers of the National Assembly as life members of the National Council of State and providing life pension for them. Another clause sought to confer immunity on members of the legislative arm.

"I further enumerated some other lapses in the bill, including the fact that the thresholds for amendments in respect of provisions of Chapters Two and Four were not met; some policies verging on the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy which are not justiciable, being in Chapter Two, were moved to Chapter Four, which made them justiciable.

"Moreover, I pointed out the economic and financial implications of the items being introduced by the bill," he wrote.

Bad blood

Mr Adoke pointed out that Mr Jonathan was oblivious of some of the provisions in the bill he had assigned earlier that day.

"The clauses seeking immunity for the lawmakers, life pensions for their Presiding Officers, and life membership of the National Council of State had apparently escaped the vigilance of the president.

"Nor had he averted his mind to some of the far-reaching implications that the amendments connoted, such as the bifurcation of the AGF and Ministry of Justice portfolio.

"Reminding him that I was an advocate of the bifurcation, I, however, drew his attention to the clumsy manner in which the provisions had been drafted without showing which of them would be the Chief Law Officer of the nation," he wrote.

Mr Adoke said he also felt it was wrong for the then outgoing president to leave what was going to be a problem for his successor.

"I reasoned that the amendments would be taken in bad taste as the president had just lost the election and would be vacating office in less than three weeks.

"If he had won, he would probably not have assented to a bill that sought to, among other things, make 'legislative tyrants' of the National Assembly and weaken the powers of the president".

Mr Adoke said his opposition of the proposed amendments led to bad blood especially between him and members of the National Assembly who were going to be the biggest beneficiary of the provisions.

He said the angry lawmakers threatened to impeach Mr Jonathan just as they mobilised to override the president's veto.

Both plans did not eventually work.

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