By Livinus Saint Kaior
Subject to presidential assent, the legislature now has the powers to summon a sitting President to appear before a joint session of the National Assembly to brief Nigerians on the state of the country every July.
This is as the State of the Nation Address Bill, which provides for the above, passed every legislative hurdles in both the Senate and House of Representatives chambers , waiting for only signature from President Goodluck Jonathan, to take effect.
During plenary, the Senate unanimously passed the House of Representatives concurrence on the Bill, which will make it mandatory for any sitting Nigerian President to address a joint session of the National Assembly July of every year.
According to the Bill, it is now mandatory for the president, in company of the vice-president and the head of the Judicial arm of government, to address a joint sitting of the National Assembly on issues like national security, the economy, foreign policy and social justice.
However, this can only be done, provided that a resolution supported by 2/3 majority votes of members of each House of the National Assembly is met, by which the sitting President is compelled to appear and address the nation pursuant to the provisions of this Bill.
Also, the Bill provides that the two houses of the National Assembly shall debate the issues raised within fourteen legislative days following the presentation of the State of Nation address and thereafter communicate resolutions to the President within sixty days from the date of the address.
“Where the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria fails, neglects, or refuses to render account of his stewardship within the time stipulated by Section 1 of the Bill, the National Assembly may by resolution supported by 2/3 majority votes of members of each House of the National Assembly, summon the President to address the Nation pursuant to the provisions of this Bill”, according to the Bill.
Meanwhile, the development was sequel to the consideration and adoption of the eight clauses in the report of the Senate Committee on Federal Character and Inter-Governmental Affairs, presented by Senator Dahiru Kuta (Niger, PDP).
While presenting the report, Kuta said that the essence of the Bill is to make the President accountable to the Nigerian people as represented by the National Assembly.
He also emphasised that under the act, the President must never for whatever reason, delegate the responsibility to any body or aide.
In his remarks, Senate President, David Mark, expressed hope that the Bill will be assented to by the executive, recalling that it was introduced in the sixth National Assembly, specifically 2008 in the Senate and 2009 in the House of Representative but failed to get presidential assent before the conclusion of that session.
‘’We hope the President will assent to the Bill because it is very important for the President to address the country and render an account of his stewardship to the Senate and the Nation. This address is different from the Budget address. This address will make the ordinary Nigerian know the progress of the country and what is happening in the country’’.
Senators, during debate, agreed that the Bill is in line with best democratic practice as evident in the United States and other established democracies.
Senator Ndoma Egba, PDP Cross River, who led debate, stated that the forum will make the President accountable to the Nigerian people and to render account of his stewardship to the country.
Meanwhile, it would be recalled that June last year, the House had through a resolution invited President Goodluck Jonathan to appear before a closed session to brief federal lawmakers on the state of security in the country, which generated national debate about the appropriateness or otherwise of the call, though Jonathan refused to honour the invitation.
It is therefore expected that if this Bill is signed by the President, successive Presidents will have no option than to appear when summoned by the lawmakers, as refusing such summon will amount toan offence.
Nevertheless, the Bill had been unanimously passed in the House of Representatives, from where it was sent to the Senate for concurrence, which has now been concluded.
By Livinus Saint Kaior