Friday, 12 November 2010

Nigeria: Constitutional amendment voided by High Court

The Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has ruled the National Assembly's amendment to the 1999 Constitution to be null and void because it was not sent to President Goodluck Jonathan for assent. The ruling was given by Justice Okechukwu Okeke following a suit filed by renowned lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Olisa Agbakogba.

Agbakogba's suit challenged the National Assembly's standpoint that the constitutional amendment process was complete and did not require the president's signature. This position sparked several debates on the validity of the constitutional amendment process. Stating the Federal Government's position, Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN) argued that the constitutional amendment process would not be complete until the president assents to the amendments.

In his ruling, Justice Okeke stated that the National Assembly had failed to comply with the provisions of Section 58 of the Constitution, thereby rendering the purported amendment null and void. The judge further stated that the only instance in which the requirement for presidential assent may be overridden is when the president does not give his assent within 30 days of the amendments being transmitted to him for signature.

On the comparisons between the procedure in the US and Nigeria – which both operate a federal constitution – the judge ruled that the National Assembly could not rely on the argument that presidential assent to constitutional revision was not required in Nigeria because it is not required in the US. Okeke asserted that whereas the American Constitution originated by way of a proclamation, the Constitution of Nigeria originated through a legislative Act and so can only be properly amended through an Act, requiring the assent of the president for it to be complete.

Through its counsel Yusuf Ustaz Usman, the National Assembly has stated that it will appeal the judgment of the Federal High Court and has since filed a Notice of Appeal at the Court of Appeal.

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

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