Weekend Political Editor, Okechukwu Jombo, writes that the National Assembly attempts to amend further, the 1999 Constitution, might be another wasteful venture.
As Senate president, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki was urging members of the State Houses of Assembly in the 36 states to collaborate with the National Assembly in ensuring the timely amendment and passage of the 1999 Constitution this year.
I asked myself two questions which were how many times will this happen and at what cost because just last year the one that cost over N2 billion was rejected by former President Goodluck Jonathan just like the one that was also not concluded after millions of money had been spent.
Saraki knows this issue very well because he was a member of the 7th senate so when he encouraged the leadership of the Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures of Nigeria, led by its Chairman, Hon. Ismaila Abdulmumin Kamba, that visited him in Abuja I felt he was just been comical.
The Senate President had in that fora described the amendment of the Constitution as a very important assignment to be carried out by both the 8th National Assembly and State legislatures in order to deepen democracy and move the country forward.
He said it was necessary for the leadership of the State Houses of Assembly to ensure that they make their input into the document when it gets to them immediately and transmit same to the National Assembly for its quick passage as if they have not been doing that all this while.
Saraki said, “I enjoin the State Houses of Assembly to partner with the National Assembly by taking this Constitution amendment exercise very serious in order to start implementing the new Constitution this year. We need to continue to do our best for those that elected us into positions of authority.”
He added that for the impact of the exercise to be felt early enough, “all hands must be on deck to ensure that it is passed this year.”
Senator Saraki assured the State Houses of Assembly of the Senate’s support and encouragement most especially in terms of capacity building and sharpening of their legislative skills to meet international best practices through the capacity building programmes of the National Institute of Legislative Studies, NILS.
Earlier, the Chairman of the Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures of Nigeria, Hon. Ismailia Abdulmumin Kamba commended the leadership qualities displayed by Saraki so far since his assumption of office.
Kamba who is also the Speaker of the Kebbi State House of Assembly, thanked the National Assembly for the trainings organised for its members by NILS which he said has helped to enhance the legislative activities of state lawmakers nationwide.
It will be recalled that the Deputy Senate president and Chairman, Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, had also given assurances on early completion of the constitution amendment exercise.
Senator Ekweremadu said that although the successful amendment of the 1999 constitution was only recorded in 6thNational Assembly, which he also chaired, resulting in the First, Second, and Third Alterations, he believed there were also a lot of insights to draw from all constitution amendment exercises.
He added that the Fourth Alteration Bill, which was not assented to by former President Goodluck Jonathan remained a huge effort in amending the 1999 Constitution in accordance with the wishes of the Nigerian people.
Notable among the key amendments, according to him, were strengthening of the local government administration, removal of presidential assent in constitution amendment, separation of the Office of the Attorney General from that of the Minister of Justice, creation of the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation separate from the Accountant General of the Federal Government to enhance accountability, financial autonomy for State Assemblies, and provision of 30-day timeline for presidential and governors’ assent to Bills passed by the National and State Assemblies.
Others include empowering the Independent National Electoral Commission to deregister political parties, devolution of more powers to the states, provision of 180-day timeline for the determination of pre-election matters, provision for independent candidacy, and making it mandatory for the President present a State of the Nation address at least once in a year.
The Senator, however, said it had been observed that constitution amendment exercises in election years were always caught in the web of politics and intrigues, assuring that the amendment was one of the top priorities of the 8thSenate.
“Timing for constitutional amendment should be carefully determined as amendments in election periods close to the lifespan of the government in power tend to be undermined by the prevailing political atmosphere”, Senator Ekweremadu said.
He also emphasised the need for greater consensus and interface with the executive arm of government throughout the review process.
The Deputy President of the Senate further stressed the need to, “rationalise the alteration process by adopting a strategy to enhance synergy, concordance, and work plan, which both chambers are comfortable with to help reduce avoidable delays in the amendment process.”
The seventh Senate had forwarded the amended 1999 Constitution to former President Goodluck Jonathan for assent and removed the power to assent from his office .
Deputy Senate president Senator Ike Ekweremadu who briefed the senate on behalf of other members of the committee on the matter also threw more light to the amendments, which include
They amendment of section 9 of the constitution by enhancing the sovereignty of the citizens through their elected representatives by removing the need for presidential assent in constitution alteration exercise. It also replaces the word ‘Act’’ wherever it appears with the word ‘’Bill’’.
They also amended section 45 by enshrining the right to education and the right to health, as fundamental rights in the constitution.
As well as Section 50A and 92A which enshrines in the constitution the establishment of the National Assembly Service Commission and State House of Assembly Commission.
Section 58 and 100, which resolved the impasse where the President or Governor of a state neglects to signify his assent or withholds such assent.
Section 59, which authorises the President of the Senate to convene a joint meeting of the National Assembly to reconsider a money bill, where the president withholds his assent.
Section 67 makes it mandatory for the President to attend a joint meeting of the National Assembly once a year to deliver a state of the nation address.
Section 81, by providing for the funding of the office of the Auditor General of the federation, Office of the Attorney General of the federation, National Security Agencies, The Nigerian Police, The Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal omission, directly from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the federation.
Section 82 and 122 which reduces the period within which the President or The Governor of a state may authorise the withdrawal of moneys from the consolidated Revenue Funding the absence of an appropriation act from 6 months to 3 months
Section 84(4) (A-F) creates offices of the accountant General for the Federal Government while Section 89 and 129 empowers the National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly respectively, to proscribe sanctions ,civil or criminal or both for failure, refusal or neglect to obey summons issued by the a legislative house or a committee of any of the Houses.
Section 121, which engender accountability and efficient service delivery by providing for the funding of the state Houses of Assembly, Auditor General of the state and the Attorney General of a state directly from the state consolidated Revenue fund.
Section 124, which is a consequential provision of the making of the local Government a full tier government, creates the office of the Auditor General of the local government as well as the state government service commission. This section deletes the State independent Electoral Commission.
Section 134 and 179 extends the time for conducting presidential or governorship re-run election to 21days instead of the 7 days for both presidential and gubernatorial elections.
Section 174 and 211 establishes the office of the attorney general of the federation and Attorney General of a state respective as distinct from Minister of Justice and Commissioner of Justice.
Section 225 empowers INEC to deregister political parties for non-fulfilment of certain conditions such as breach of registration requirements and failure to secure/win either a presidential, governorship, local Government Chairmanship or a seat in the National Assembly or State Assembly
Section 228 confers powers on the National Assembly to make laws for the procedures, guidelines and qualifications for access to the ballot by political parties and independent candidates provides that a court or tribunal shall not stay any proceedings on account of any interlocutory appeal.
Section 251 confers exclusive jurisdiction on the federal High Court for trial of electoral offences
Section 285 provides for time for determination of pre-election matters establishment of local government election tribunals and time for determination of election petitions.
In particular, it provides that where a force majeure occurs, the period of the force majeure shall not be counted in the computation of the 80 days for determining election petitions.
They also removed pension matters, railways, stamp duties and wages from the exclusive list.
While they included in the concurrent list: arbitration, environment, health, housing, railways, road safety, stamp duties, wages, land and agriculture, youths.
The amendments need two third majority, that is, 24 state Houses of Assembly to accent, before they can become law.