On the Bill to Summon the President to Appear Before the National Assembly

A Bill for the alteration of the 1999 Constitution to empower the National Assembly to summon the President to appear before it and to empower the State House of Assembly to summon the Governor of the state to appear before it has recently passed second reading at the House of Representatives.

The Bill seeks to alter section 67 of the 1999 Constitution by inserting a new subsection 3 as follows - “(3) Nothing in this section shall preclude any chamber of the National Assembly from summoning the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to attend a joint session of the National Assembly to answer questions on national security or any issue whatsoever, over which the National Assembly has powers to make laws”. The Bill also alters section 107 of the 1999 Constitution in the same way as section 67 above for the purpose of empowering the State House of Assembly to summon the Governor of the state to answer questions before it.

This constitutional alteration has become necessary because of the worsening security situation in the country. There are weekly reports of terrorist activities, armed robberies, abductions for ransom and killings across many states of the Federation. The rate of these incidents has been growing in frequency over the past few years. Particularly worrisome is the numerous abductions of students from the premises of secondary schools and universities which has led to calls for the temporary shutdown of educational institutions. There are also reports of indigenes being sacked from their rural communities by terrorist groups and the terrorists taking up leadership of those communities. The President as head of the Executive arm of government which controls the Armed Forces and the Police Force is ultimately responsible for this state of insecurity in the country. The issue of security falls squarely within the functions of the Executive arm of government. Legislators who are part of the government cannot do more than oversee the Executive and hold the Executive accountable for the state of the nation. 

Attempts by the National Assembly in late 2020 to summon the President to address the National Assembly on the issue of insecurity did not yield any result as the President simply refused to appear before the National Assembly. This is in spite of the huge funds appropriated in the budget to the Executive arm of government by the National Assembly to fight terrorism and insecurity. The summons of the President by the National Assembly instead led to debates about whether the National Assembly had the power to summon the President with different schools of thought giving different opinions on the matter. On one hand, it was argued that the management and control of the security sector was exclusively vested in the President, its operations were confidential and that the President did not need to answer to the National Assembly on his actions. On the other hand, it was argued that sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution gave the National Assembly power to summon the President since security was an area over which the National Assembly could make laws.

It is therefore welcomed that a Constitution Alteration Bill has been introduced as a way to end this debate by expressly providing that the National Assembly has the power to summon the President to answer questions on national security and any other issue over which the National Assembly is empowered to make laws. The right of the National Assembly to exercise oversight over the actions and omissions of members of the Executive arm of government, which includes the President, should not be in question. Inviting the President to answer questions on national security makes the government more accountable and transparent. The President and Legislators were voted in by Nigerians to serve the interests of Nigerians and should be answerable to citizens on the manner in which they are performing the duties of their office. An explanation by the President on the state of security will also help to build citizens’ trust and confidence in their government.

Although the Bill altering the 1999 Constitution still has to be passed by both chambers of the National Assembly and two thirds of the State Houses of Assembly, it is expected that the Bill once passed will rest the debate on the power of the National Assembly to summon the President. Where the President still fails to answer the summons of the National Assembly, it becomes a clear breach of the provisions of the Constitution and a breach of a constitutional provision is an impeachable offence which the National Assembly can follow up under the Constitution.