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Still On The Constitution Amendment

CHIBUZO UKAIBE in this piece writes on the ripples arising from the recent constitution amendment by the National Assembly.

The recent constitutional amendment exercise by this National Assembly commences continues to resonate across the country.

Expectedly, mixed reactions have trailed the work of the federal lawmakers.

While some pundits applaud this National Assembly for timely executive of the task, (considering how late execution largely affected previous attempts), some book makers, decry the level of opacity that trailed the process this time.

From the secrecy surrounding the budget for amendment exercise to the poor engagement of stakeholders (unlike the last process), the decision of the lawmakers not to unveil how they voted on the issues was in bad taste.

For those in this line of thought, they had hoped that the lawmakers would be bold enough to show how they voted on the issues as is obtainable in some other democracies.

But those against revealing how the lawmakers voted aver that the country’s political culture has not matured to the point where open ballot system would go on without harassment or even worse.

There is another segment of those who are not pleased with the recent amendments. They are those agitating for a brand new constitution.

The basis for their demand is that the current document is as defective military document handed over to civilians. They have over the years, clamoured for a conference of nationalities where all issues, including the sovereignty of the country will be discussed.

However, this amendment exercise is the fourth attempt at amending the constitution, since the return to democracy in 1999.

Previous attempts were in 2006, 2010 and 2015 respectively. But only the 2010 exercise was successful.

The attempt in 2006 failed because of the infamous third term agenda which saw to the usage of popular phrase ‘throwing the baby with the birth water’.

In 2015, former President Goodluck Jonathan had declined appending his signature on the document even after over N4bn of tax payers’ money was spent in preparing it.

The former president had returned the proposal to the National Assembly, on the claim that it was skewed towards whittling the powers of the president and constitutional breaches in the process of alteration.

On some sensitive  proposal, in this dispensation, lawmakers have been criticised for being self-serving.

They have been lambasted for rejecting proposals for devolution of powers to the state houses of assemblies, deletion of Land Use Act from the Constitution as well as rejection of proposals dealing with women emancipation, including Affirmative Action for women at federal and state levels and citizenship and indigeneship for women.

With regards to retaining Land Use Act in the Constitution, analysts aver that it would negatively impact on reforms and wealth creation in the country.

It has been argued that the Land Use Act is a major impediment to transforming land resources into individual wealth in the country. Proponents for its discontinuance say it hinders the transferability of ownership rights in landed property without government interference.

The Act vests all Land in the territory of each state, except it is owned by the Federal Government and its agencies, solely in the Governor of the state “who would hold such Land in trust for the people and is therefore responsible for allocation of land in all urban areas to individuals resident in the State and to organisations for residential, agriculture, commercial and other purposes while similar powers are conferred on local governments in respect of Land in non- urban areas”.

Removal of the Act from the Constitution could have changed the way land is administered and owned across the country, with analysts saying it could revolutionise the mortgage industry and commercial agriculture.

Senator also accepted a proposal mandating the President and state governors to appoint Ministers and Commissioners within 30 days of assumption of office and inclusion of portfolios while nominating cabinet members.

Senators accepted a proposal mandating the President to attend a joint session of the National Assembly once a year to deliver a state-of-the-nation address.

In all, 29 of out of 33 proposals were accepted, while three were rejected.

Other alterations accepted include the amendment of Sections 82 and 122 of the Constitution to reduce the period within which the President or the State Governor may authorise expenditure from the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) from six months to three months, amendment of the Third Schedule of the Constitution to include former Senate Presidents, Speakers of House of Representatives in the composition of Council of States, abolition of State Joint Local Government Accounts, appointment of a Minister from the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), changing the name of the ‘Nigeria Police Force’ to ‘Nigeria Police’, separation of the office of the Accountant General of the Federal Government from the office of the Accountant General of the Federation.

Others are: separation of the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and that of the State from that of the Minister or Commissioner for Justice, placing the office of the Auditor General for the Federation and for State on first-line charges in the Consolidated Revenue Fund by making them financially independent, establishment of the Investments and Securities Tribunal under the Constitution, provision of 30 days timeframe for the President or Governor to assent to a bill passed by the National Assembly or State Assemblies to indicate his refusal of assent, deletion of the Public Complaints Commission Act and National Securities Act from the

Meanwhile, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu has explained why the upper legislative chamber retained the age qualification for Senate at 35, despite reducing other offices.

According to him, this is to avoid creating a constitutional crisis, in the event that a vacuum in the Presidency.

He said: “We decided to leave the one for Senate at 35 for this reason. Now, if there’s a vacancy in the office of the President and Vice President, the Senate President becomes the President for that period. As so, if his age is not the same thing with that of the President, we are going to have a constitutional crisis. Because somebody who is in the Senate, can be Senate President and that person can be President for some reasons. So, it is important that the age limit for the President must be the same thing with that of the Senate”.

At the clause-by-clause consideration of the alteration of the constitution, senators also lowered age requirement for elective offices.

The development came 24 hours after hundreds of youths stormed the National Assembly, demanding that lawmakers pass the “Not Too Young to Run Bill.”

Consequently, senators reduced the age for the qualification to run for the office of the President from 40 to 35 years, retention of Senate at 35 years, governors from 35 to 30 years, House of Representatives from 30 to 25 years, House of Assembly from 30 to 25 years as well as that of chairmanship of local governments at 25 years.

Using electronic voting, 86 of 97 senators present voted in favour of the proposal, 10 rejected and one abstained.

The spirit behind the bill according to its advocate is that it would open up the political space for young people, who hitherto were restricted from contesting certain political offices because of age to do so.

But there have been some reservations that the passage of the proposal does not address the financial realities required for aspirants. As such, skeptics opine that the elite are poised to take advantage of the proposal to sponsor their children and wards into elective offices.

In all, political commentators have described the exercise as largely self-centered. They question why the legislature will seek to weaken the executive, which invariably strengthens the legislature.

They cited the inclusion of former Senate Presidents and Ex-Speakers of the House of Representatives in the composition of the Council of State, removal of the law-making powers of the Executive arm of government and reducing of the President’s powers to sign bills passed by the National Assembly into law.

Assessing the recent amendment process, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, accused members of the party in the Senate of betrayal following the “shocking and saddening” decision of the Senate not to grant devolution of power to the states.

In a statement released by his media office in Abuja, the APC chieftain and former Presidential aspirant said the decision by the APC-controlled Senate was “a lost opportunity to honour one of the party’s election promises to bring about change by shifting power closer to the people in the remotest regions of our country.

“This blockage of the bill by an APC-led Senate majority is a betrayal of our Party’s pre-election promises. It was an important vote and I’m shocked by some so-called progressives’ visceral and cynical opposition to restructuring.”

He decried the reluctance of the lawmakers to remove “the insidious structural impediments to development, which decades of military rule had hoisted upon our nation.”

According to him, “instead of building the foundations for a true federation, a small group of so-called progressive senators decided to stick with the new party line, pretending they did not know what restructuring was all about, and that even if they knew, it couldn’t be done. I think this is disingenuous”.

Similarly, socio-cultural organizations, like Ohaneze Ndigbo, Afenifere have also condemn the lawmakers for deciding not to accede to the devolution of powers.

Perhaps, shocked by the backlash that trailed their rejection of proposal, principal officers from both chambers had said they will revisit it.

From the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, his deputy, Sen Ike Ekweremadu and the majority leader of the House of Representatives, have said they will revisit the proposal when they return from their recess in September.

While the wait begins, it is yet to see whether they statement was merely politics or just an ploy to allow the steam of agitation blow over.

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