Sunday 15 September 2019

How Jonathan Signed Himself Into Trouble With Fourth Amendment Bill 2015

Sizzling details of some of the behind-the-scene power games during the five years reign of former President Goodluck Jonathan are beginning to surface, one of which was how the former president had already signed himself into trouble with the Fourth Amendment Bill 2015, if not for the last minute intervention by his former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Bello Adoke.

Apart from this, the former president also endured intense pressure from prominent members of the political class, who wanted him to use his office to annex more states ahead of the 2015 general election, using the impeachment tool and the declaration of a state of emergency in supposedly vulnerable states.

Sharing some of these personal experiences in his latest book titled: “Burden of Service”, Adoke, who claimed to have travelled shortly after the 2015 elections, returned to his desk to discover the president had signed the Fourth Amendment Bill 2015, without running it by his office, as was the normal practice.

Unfortunately, by signing the controversial bill, initiated by the seventh National Assembly into law, it would mean that certain crucial powers of successive presidents would have been taken away and handed over to the federal lawmakers, the senate especially, because they were purely self-serving provisions, he argued.

For example, Adoke noted in his book that the law would have “taken away the power of the president to assent to constitutional amendments. That meant that the legislature would, on its own amend the constitution and it would become operational without the consent of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“Two, the bill sought to make presiding officers of the National Assembly life members of the National Council of State. Only former presidents/Heads of State and Chief Justices of Nigeria were permanent members.

“Three, the bill sought to put presiding officers of the National Assembly on life pensions irrespective of the duration of their service. Four, the bill also granted immunity to the lawmakers in the same vein as the president, vice-president, governors and deputy governors”, he explained.
Ths, upon his return from his vacation shortly before the administration left office, Adoke said he had learnt that the president, apparently having stooped to pressure from vested interests, had not only signed the bill into law, it was waiting to be transmitted back to the National Assembly, when he halted the whole process.

“I quickly placed a call to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Administration, Mr. Matt Aikhionbare, to confirm if, 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.

“I felt I owed a duty to the nation to prevent such a calamity as the amendments were fraught with irregularities and were done without due process. Immediately, I rushed over to the Presidential Villa. I met the SGF, Anyim, with the president. When I asked the president if it was true that the National Assembly had sent the constitution amendment bill to him and if he had signed it, he confirmed that he assented to the bill ‘a few minutes ago.”

With this clarification, Adoke said he quickly explained to him some of the contentious provisions in the amendments, which if not addressed, would be anti-development especially, the cost of catering to the life pensions of the lawmakers as well as conceding immunity to them, adding that a majority of the people would think it was deliberate on the part of the president because he had just lost an election, more so that he had a few days more in office.

“I further enumerated some other lapses in the bill, including the fact that the thresholds for amendments in respect of provisions of chapter two and four were not met; some policies verging on the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy, which are not justifiable, 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 said.

It was at this point the president, according to him, knew he had just signed himself into trouble, particularly, having allegedly realised some of the far-reaching implications that the amendments connoted, such as the bifurcation of the office of the AGF and Ministry of Justice portfolio, of which he (Adoke) had been a strong advocate.

“The president looked genuinely surprised and promptly withdrew his assent. He directed me to prepare a memorandum, elucidating all the issues I had raised and why he would have to veto the bill. Then I pressed him for the reason he had not sent the bill to the ministry of justice, contrary to the usual practice.

“His response showed that he was put under pressure by certain senators to sign the bill as time was of the essence. Even as he made the explanation and handed me the bill to review, it still left a bad taste in my mouth to think that he would sacrifice the benefit of a sound legal advice on crucial amendments to the constitution on the altar of exigency.”

However, the news that he (Adoke) was the reason Jonathan withdrew his assent had allegedly set him against some of the senators, who were waiting to benefit immensely from the bill, including Senator Esther Nnenadi Usman, whom he claimed had gone to lie against him to Jonathan that he was a Buhari boy and that he was working in Buhari’s interest.

She was said to have buttressed her point to the president by accusing him of allegedly confiding in the then Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu that he was a Buhari boy and would do everything possible to protect the powers Buhari deserves to enjoy as president, adding that she came up with the story, because she had boasted to her colleague senators that she would get the president to sign the bill again into law.

Adoke, however, said he didn’t realise how much damage they had done to his person and his relationship with Jonathan until it dawned on him that the president had also bought into the lies that he was Buhari’s boy to the extent that he confronted him with the allegation.

“On May 12, 2015, we held the last National Security Council meeting under the Jonathan administration. After the meeting, the president asked me to see him in his office. There, he confronted me with the accusation that he was told I had prevailed on him to withdraw his assent to the amendments, because I was a Buhari boy.

“I found the allegation ridiculous. I was being accused of disloyalty by the very president to whom I had given my total and unalloyed loyalty. I was devastated and sad. Within myself, I went down memory lane, recalling some instances, when I could have betrayed him, but had stood firmly by him,” including the pressure to contribute to Buhari’s campaign like many of his cabinet members allegedly did but which he refused.

He said the leadership of the seventh National Assembly did not however give up on the bill as they went back to make some adjustments, leaving behind the life pension and immunity provisions. But while capitalising on time, he employed technical delay till it was impossible for the president to sign himself into trouble again.

“They kept calling me frantically to find out if the president had signed it, and I kept giving excuses. But I knew I was not going to advise the president to sign that bill. I knew that if the president had signed it, he would have signed himself into trouble. I knew that many stakeholders would have gone to court to challenge it. I refused.

“As at the night we went for the dissolution of the FEC, it was too late for the president to sign. I told him that the amended version was actually sent to me but that it was too late for him to sign. I advised him to allow the bill go to the next assembly to do the proper thing. That was how the self-serving bill ended up not being signed,” he narrated.

On some of the alleged surreptitious moves to get the president to annex as many states as possible, either through instigated impeachments or declarations of a state of emergency as part of moves to strengthen the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), ahead of the 2015 elections, especially after the exit of some five governors and others had clearly affected the fortunes of the party, Adoke said his insistence on what was right had resented some power blocs to the extent that they openly pushed for his removal.

In chapter fifteen of his book tagged, “The Impeachment Menace”, spanning through pages 149 to 153 and which comes under Part IV, with the theme: The Challenges, The Controversies, Adoke said the successful impeachment of a former governor of Adamawa State, Murtala Nyako under questionable circumstances had emboldened certain elements in the system, who cared less about the health of the nation but their narrow political interest.

Although a known critic of the president and member of the APC, Adoke thought that the former president should have been happy about the fate that befell Nyako.

“Perhaps, the president was conscious of a possible constitutional crisis, given that the deputy governor, Chief James Nggilari, was forced to resign at the same time. The president might have known that there was a political scheme afoot.

“It was not an ordinary impeachment. Removing Nyako and Nggilari at the same time would automatically make the speaker, Alhaji Umaru Fintiri, the acting governor. At that time, there was a lot of indiscipline in the PDP. The Adamawa legislators had their way and illegally and wrongfully forced Nggilari to resign and subsequently removed the governor.”

Fintiri, who is the current governor of Adamawa, was eventually sworn-in as expected before a Federal High Court, Abuja, reversed the forced resignation of Nggilari, who was subsequently sworn in, saving the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the troubles of conducting a bye-election, which had earlier been slated but called off in the light of the new development.

However, seeing that the Adamawa scheme had succeeded, the team behind the impeachment plots had moved to Nasarawa State, another APC state, where unfortunately for them, then governor, Tanko Al-Makura, was smarter and had moved ahead of the lawmakers, calling those necessary for intervention, including the possibility of having influenced the choice of the panel members set up by the judge to investigate him.

But those behind the plot refused to give up even after the panel had cleared the governor and sought audience with the president, asking for support to remove the governor at all cost, adding that it was all to strengthen his chances during the 2015 elections.
This time, however, the president sought Adoke’s opinion and he objected to any unconstitutional move to remove a governor. Besides, then PDP National Chairman, Ahmed Muazu, also came under fire for refusing to support unconstitutional moves to remove Al-Makura.

“A former member of the House of Representatives from Nasarawa State, Alhaji Aliyu wadada, who used to be the Chairman of the House Committee on Securities and Exchange Commission, came to see me in my office. They said they had been told that the president would be calling a meeting, so, they came to solicit my support to enable the impeachment to succeed.

“My analysis of the critical issues presented to them a simple case: the committee had already submitted its report in accordance with the constitution; it was not permissible to discuss the report any further as the issues had been rested. In the light of the constitutional provision, there was nothing that could be dome.

“The only option available to the legislators was to start the entire process afresh. That, I opined, would in itself be a wasteful exercise and could even be viewed as a witch-hunt. They agreed with my opinion and it was resolved that the legislators should be advised to sheathe their swords in compliance with the provisions of the constitution,” explained Adoke, who claimed his legal position finally rested the case, also noted that the decision by these elements to employ the instrument of emergency declaration was even more resolute and serious than the illegal impeachment of governors as they were prepared to damn the consequences just to have their way since their projection was the 2015 elections.

He said former president Olusegun Obasanjo was amongst those who wanted Jonathan to arbitrarily use his emergency power to weigh heavily on some states, including asking the former president to invoke this power on Ogun State under former governor Gbenga Daniel, who was at the period at loggerheads with Obasanjo.

According to him, many of the former president’s critics were angry with his idea of declaring state of emergency, particularly having done so in the three states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe in the thick of the security crises in the North East without removing the governors.

“President Jonathan, predictably, came under criticism from commentators, who felt he should have removed the local government chairmen as well as governors in the affected states. Why declare a state of emergency and retain governors? That was what many commentators said. The opportunity for Jonathan’s foes to describe him as a weak leader emerged yet again.

“Because declaration of state of emergency had been wrongly used by Obasanjo to remove governors, whom he had political differences with, those who thought they loved Jonathan more than himself kept clamouring for it to be used to checkmate governors.

“Obasanjo, still thinking the state of emergency could rightfully be used politically and illegally the way he had applied it during his tenure, tried to mount some pressure on President Jonathan in his early days in office in 2010 to apply it to the Ogun crisis, his home state.

“When the president asked for my view, I felt the crisis had not reached a boiling point where he would need to declare a state of emergency. I further pointed out that there were enough provisions under Section 11 of the constitution to deal with situations, where the House of Assembly of a state is unable to sit.

“The constitution provides for the functions of such a state assembly to be taken over by the National Assembly”, he explained, insisting that the removal of governors in the event of such a decision was unconstitutional.
Adoke, therefore, said “One of the arguments I used in convincing the president was to draw his attention to the fact that he also had the powers to declare a state of emergency all over the federation.

“I then asked that: ‘For instance, Mr. President, if the country is at war, and you have to declare a state of emergency, would you remove yourself from office and appoint an administrator to oversee the affairs of the country?’ He agreed with me. He could see that it was illogical to remove a governor on account of a state of emergency being declared.”

Yet, he noted that, “The potential political gain was glaring. The hawks piled pressure on the president to extend the state of emergency by another six months and remove the three governors. This would take us into 2014, when the politicking for the 2015 general election would be in top gear.”

He further explained that, “Two ministers even drafted a declaration of emergency speech and took it to the president. They named three retired generals to be appointed as administrators of the affected states. President then decided to ask me to make a presentation to the FEC on my position, apparently because he did not want to do anything illegal.”

After marshaling his points especially his warning that since the declaration of state of emergency is a shared responsibility between the president and the legislature, the lawmakers could refuse to approve it, a situation that would have diminished the president, two ministers – a lawyer and politician – he said stood up to him and engaged him needlessly.

“I became an enemy of many people in government, who accused me of misleading the president. After the FEC meeting, some ministers began instigating the Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark, against me.
“They said it was ‘one man’ with a ‘bogus title’ of ‘Attorney General of the Federation’ who prevented the president from removing the governors and replacing them with administrators.

“From what filtered to me, Clark was very angry with me and even suggested that the president ‘should remove that Attorney General’. But the president always had my back,” he noted.

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