Protecting Legislative Due Process

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Protecting Legislative Due Process

 

By

 

Ken Nnamani

 

Text of the opening remark by Senate President Ken Nnamani, during debate on the floor of the senate on proposed amendment to the 1999 constitution on May 16, 2006.

May 16, 2006

Distinguished Senators, I take the liberty to open today's deliberation on the amendment of the constitution with a brief statement. First, let me sincerely thank every distinguished Senator, who has spoken during this debate. Your decorum and intelligent reflections on the issues before the nation reassure Nigerians that, in spite of the turbulence and traumas of building and sustaining democracy in Nigeria, the future of democracy appears bright. The future seems bright because this upper legislative house is filled with statesmen and women who understand that when the nation is passing through a crisis it is time for courage, heroism and sacrifice. Every one of us understands the challenge of this moment and the need to rise above partisan and alleged pecuniary considerations in making our decision.

Distinguished Senators, while welcoming you to plenary session on January 17, 2006, I observed that the proposed constitutional amendment has put the searchlight on the National Assembly, especially the Senate. I reminded colleagues of our responsibility to uphold democratic rights of Nigerian citizens and strictly apply the procedures and principles in the Constitution and the Standing Rules of the Senate. I want to reaffirm to every distinguished Senator that I will, at all times, strictly apply these procedures and principles. I will stick to constitutional due process because that is the trust I received from every Senator on April 5, 2005, when I was elected to preside over this Senate. A democratic society requires that those entrusted with political power uphold democratic procedures established by the constitution and norms of equity, transparency and fairness.

I have thought carefully about the process and the politics of amending the constitution. I have come to the conclusion that the historic responsibility which the Almighty God has placed on my shoulders as the President of the Senate at this moment in our history is to uphold truth, justice and the principles of the rule of law. Democracies survive when citizens believe that the state can give them justice. Justice is not the assurance that you must win in your cause, but the assurance that the rules will be applied fairly. In a democracy, every political faction requires an assurance that its cause will be treated fairly and justly by those who exercise political power. As long as this assurance is not betrayed political conflicts can not fatally derail democratic governance.

I want to refer us to the recent crisis of democracy in the United States. In 2000, the US democracy was put on trial because of an election that was fundamentally flawed. The confrontation between party chieftains was violent and feverish. But, as long as the Supreme Court- the highest institution of the rule of law- decided the matter according to legitimate processes, the political crisis was easily contained. I recall Prof. Larry Tribes, the lawyer to Democratic Presidential Candidate, Al Gore, disagreeing with the reasoning of the US Supreme Court but affirming his acceptance of its decision. Some Americans believed that the Supreme Court erred in its decision, but nevertheless, accepted that the contest was resolved democratically. The Supreme Court, just like this Senate, resolves a political conflict democratically when it transparently follows laid down procedures and principles of justice. If the US Supreme Court had wantonly abandoned its rules of procedure in mana ging the electoral crisis, it is doubtful if the crisis would have been well managed. If there is no transparency there is no legitimacy. And without legitimacy, a republic is likely to come to ruins.

As a democrat, I believe that the core of democracy is legitimacy. Legitimacy is secured by publicity and fairness. As a presiding officer of this upper legislative house one of my responsibilities is to ensure that our decisions are legitimate. It is to secure the legitimacy of legislative process that I authorised the public broadcast of every deliberation relating to the amendment of the constitution.

Today, every decision of this Senate on the amendment of the constitution is in the full glare of Nigerians who gave us the mandate to represent them and whose constitution is being amended. Today, every decision of this Senate is made according to procedures in the constitution and the Standing Rules of the Senate. We are following due process because we want to ensure that Nigeria survives this crisis. We are following due process because without due process, political conflicts easily graduate to political warfare. I will continue to strictly follow the letters of the Constitution and Senate Rules as long as I preside over this congregation of senior citizens. This is, perhaps, the only way we can save the nation from the crisis of political succession.

Distinguished Senators, now that we are at the threshold of concluding this historic debate on the proposed amendment to the constitution, I urge every Senator to rise up to the challenge of patriotism. We should not become political entrepreneurs who pander after personal gains, but rather delegates and trustees of the people who will preserve democratic governance. Let us remain guided by the highest ideals of legislative democracy. Let us protect democratic procedures no matter where our votes fall. In this circumstance, the process is more important than the result.

I remain resolved to continue to guarantee transparency, publicity and fairness in every process of this constitutional amendment. I pledge to continue to ensure that every Senator says his mind and votes his mind. I totally pledge to strictly follow legislative due process in amending the constitution. Regardless of how the votes are cast, I will not short-circuit any of the provisions of our Standing Rules or the Constitution.

Senator John McCain in his recent book, "Why Courage Matters: the Way to a Braver Life" states that courage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity for action despite our fear.

Let us do our duties to Nigeria with pride and with courage.

 

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