By Austin Ogwuda
In an unprecedented development, the Delta State House of Assembly on Wednesday overrode the veto wielded by Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan against the bill passed by the assembly prescribing the death penalty for kidnapping.
APRIL 17, 2013, will certainly be marked in the history in Delta State. On that day, the Delta State House of Assembly led by Mr. Victor Ochei shocked even itself to tell all that it is not a toothless bull dog as many had until now believed.
On that day the 29-member Assembly, spoke in near unanimity to assert its constitutional independence by overriding the executive governor of the State.
Although, Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan is held in high esteem by the legislators and has from time to time invited them to dine and wine with him at the Government House, as a means of cementing the rapport between the two arms of government, the approach to solving the alarming rate of kidnapping was one where they refused to pay heed to the governor.
Penalty for kidnappers
Ironically, both the members of the executive and the lawmakers had in the past directly or indirectly fallen victim of the kidnapping menace in the State. The Bill for a law, prescribing death penalty for kidnappers was passed on the 7th of November 2012 and sent to the governor, but he declined assent on account of the stipulation of the death penalty for culprits. And tongues had been wagging on who would blink first between the governor and the legislators.
Governor’s letter to the House: The governor’s formal veto of the bill came on Wednesday when the speaker read out a seven-page letter from the governor in which he gave reasons for his veto.
“I have in the last one year studied reports on these crimes and what I find is that in most of the kidnap cases, the offence of armed robbery is disclosed. Suspects are therefore charged for both offences. The death sentence for armed robbery has not deterred criminally minded persons from engaging in the crime and fixing the same death penalty for kidnapping in the Bill is not likely to achieve that desired purpose.
“There is the current world-wide campaign calling for the abolition of death sentence from the law books and this campaign has been taken up the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies among several agencies.
“In some neighbouring States where death penalty is prescribed for the offence of kidnapping, the crime of kidnapping has not been eliminated completely from those States. There are reported cases of kidnapping in those States and am yet to know of any reported case of anyone sentenced to death. This in my view supports the point that death sentence is not likely to be antidote for kidnapping”.
The governor also faulted the capacity of the house to make laws on issues that are to be enforced by the Police.
“In view of the constitutional points and other fundamental issues I have highlighted above, I am compelled to withhold my assent to the Bill and I do hereby convey to this honourable House my decision to so withhold my assent to the Bill”, the letter added.
The governor’s elaborate explanations, notwithstanding, the lawmakers at that plenary overrode the governor’s veto.
*Invocation of Section 100:
28 members of the House excluding the Speaker, jointly sponsored the bill that was rejected by the governor.
At Wednesday’s plenary, all the members of the 29-member House were present except the member representing Aniocha South constituency Mrs. Amaechi Mrakpor.
After the letter was read out on the floor of the House, the House resolved into the Committee of the Whole, chaired by the Speaker, after suspending part of its House rules to enable it deal with the governor’s veto.
Majority Leader of the House, Mr. Monday Igbuya moved the motion for the override of the veto and he was seconded by Mr. Joseph Oshevire.
But during distribution of tally to members to vote, the member representing Warri North constituency, Mrs. Irene Imilar dramatically took her leave and at the end vote counting, 26 voted to override the governor.
Having overridden the governor, Speaker Ochei directed the Clerk of the House, Mrs. Lyna Ocholor to urgently enrol the law into the State judiciary as it has become law of Delta State with effect from that day, Wednesday, April 17, 2013.
No cause for alarm – Uduaghan’s Legislative Aide: Pioneer Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, presently the Chief Adviser to the Governor on Legislative Matters, Mr. Emmanuel Okoro said, the override of the veto of the governor was nothing to worry about.
“The governor’s withdrawal of assent does not mean he supports the activities of the kidnappers who are causing mayhem to Deltans but rather anchored his refusal to assent on fundamental and compelling issues, some of which are constitutional and in conflict with some laws of the State and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
House of Assembly judgment
“The House of Assembly in their own judgment considered the harsh and wicked activities of kidnappers and other terrorist acts too overwhelming to Deltans and therefore decided to apply Section 100 sub section 5 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which gives them power to veto the assent of the Governor on the Bill.
It is not over yet – Ogeah
Delta State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Chike Ogeah, in his reaction, said, “this shows that the Constitution is working as he asserted the independence of the legislature. “However, my fear is that this does not end up being a ‘dead letter law’ because as the governor of Edo State said lately, all those he has condemned to death are still waiting to be put to death as the country does not have any more public executioners, the last having just retired and in a democracy persons sentenced to death can only be killed according to the prescribed manner by the law, to wit: death by hanging”.
Human Rights activist, Ikimi kicks: A human rights activist and legal practitioner, Comrade Oghenejabor Ikimi in his reaction, said “I am aware of the recent passage by the Delta State House of Assembly making kidnapping and terrorism punishable by death but I make bold to say that the solution to the spate of kidnapping and other violent crimes in Nigeria does not lay in making the offence of kidnapping or terrorism punishable by death but in the observation of good governance, equity and the rule of law.”
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