Constitution Amendment Debate Shifts To States

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BY SOLOMON AYADO and AHURAKA ISAH, Abuja

The 36 State Houses of Assembly is set to commence debate on the proposed amendments of the 1999 constitution (as amended).

LEADERSHIP gathered that the National Assembly has handed out copies of the amended clauses to the state legislatures for concurrence.

Sources in the National Assembly hinted that the transmission of clean copies of the suggested constitution amendments was concluded on Monday.

They said the cleanup became necessary to ensure conformity of the amendment in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

With this development, it is expected that the State Assemblies would turn in their resolutions to the National Assembly latest in the first quarter of 2018.

This, it was learnt, will further fast track legislative work before final handover of the amended document to President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent.

A source who did not want to be named in print said, “It is expected that the State Assemblies will not find it difficult to come up with their resolutions of the proposed amendments because they were carried along during the amendment process.

“It is not expected that the State Assemblies will unduly delay the transmitted copies, especially when they were carried along at every stage of the constitution amendment process.”

The National Assembly’s constitution review committee had formulated 33 bills but only 29 were passed, while four were out rightly rejected.

The four rejected bills were on devolution of powers to states, deletion of Land Use Act from the constitution, state creation and boundary adjustment, as well as 35 per cent affirmative action for women which sought to guarantee a married woman’s right to choose either her indigeneship by birth or by marriage for the purposes of appointment or election.

Senate Defers Debate On 2018 Budget

Meanwhile, the Senate yesterday announced the deferment of the commencement of debate to consider the general principles of the 2018 budget.

The Red Chamber said the postponement would last till next week to enable it pass the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and the Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP).

Senate President Bukola Saraki who made the announcement in plenary yesterday, noted that the debate is now slated for next week Tuesday and Wednesday, while debate on the revenue parameters of agencies of the federal government is rescheduled for Thursday next week.

Saraki further explained that the postponement of the debate on the 2018 budget was to enable the upper chamber adhere to the National Assembly’s bureaucratic practice of distributing copies of the budget proposal to lawmakers.

President Muhammadu Buhari had on November 7, presented to a joint session of the National Assembly estimates of the N8.6 trillion 2018 budget tagged ‘budget of consolidation.’

Senate Faults Delay Of HYPPADEC Takeoff

Also, yesterday the Senate frowned the delay in the takeoff of the Hydroelectric Power Producing Areas Commission (HYPPADEC) noting that it was no longer acceptable since funds have been released for the final inauguration of the commission.

The federal government had established HYPPADEC to, among other reasons, plan and implement projects for the physical development of hydroelectric power producing areas and to tackle the ecological problems associated with operation of hydroelectric dams in member states.

Several years after, the commission has not been officially inaugurated, just as the ecological challenges of the member states are not solved.

But the Senate revealed yesterday that funds were earnmarked by the federal government in the 2016 and 2017 Appropriation Acts and released to the ministry of Power, Works and Housing for the takeoff of the commission.

Consequently, the Red Chamber mandated its committees on Power, Steel development and Metallurgy, and Public Accounts to summon the National Electric Regulatory Commission (NERC), the market operator, NBET plc, and the relevant electric distribution companies, DISCOs and GENCOs, to render detailed account of funds collected on behalf of HYPPADEC.

The resolution of the Senate followed a motion by Senator David Umaru (Niger East) on funds accruing to HYPADEC.

The upper chamber directed NERC to comply with the provisions of section 32(1)(g) of ESPRA regarding the submission of quarterly reports to the National Assembly.

Leading the debate, Umaru stated that the sum of N150 million was granted for takeoff of the commission and that out of it, N18 million was released to the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing.

He noted that it is crucial for electricity distribution companies to proffer clear answers to the actual entities that are in custody of the funds to enable the quick takeoff of the commission.

In his response, Senate President Bukola Saraki warned that the legislature will not take chances but handle the matter with all determination to ensure that funds that are due to HYPPADEC are properly remitted to it so as to ensure immediate inauguration of the commission.

PMB Rejects 2 Bills

Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has formerly written to the Senate indicating his resolve to withhold his assent to two Bills sent to him.

The rejected bills are chartered Institute of treasury Management (Establishment, Etc) Bill, 2017 and Federal University of Wukari (Establishment Etc) Bill, 2017.

The president’s rejection of the bills is contained in separate letters he personally signed, which were read by Senate President Bukola Saraki in plenary yesterday.

Buhari noted that he withheld his assent to the bills due to certain words and phrases in them, which are not appropriate, pursuant to section 58(4) of the constitution.

The president stated: “Pursuant to section 58(4) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), I hereby convey to the Senate my decision on 25th October, 2017 to withhold Assent to the chartered Institute of treasury Management (Establishment, Etc) Bill, 2017 and Federal University of Wukari (Establishment, Etc) Bill, 2017.

“The rationale for withholding Assent are regarding the scope of and phrases utilised in the Bill. For instance, the phrase ‘treasury management’ is not defined in the bill and greater clarity may be required regarding the impact of the Bill on the Central Bank of Nigeria’s regulation of treasury managers in banks, and the relationship between the proposed institute and other existing professional institutes that regulate treasury managers in Nigeria.”

On his decision to withhold the Federal University Wukari bill, Buhari said, “The word “Statute” should replace “Regulation” throughout the Bill for consistency.

“Paragraph 9(1) of the 1st Schedule should refer to “the President” and not “the Visitor” and paragraph 5 of the 3rd Schedule should refer to sub-parapgraph (2) and not sub-paragraph (3). Please accept, Distinguished Senate President, the assurances of my highest consideration.”

President Buhari also demanded for the amendment of the law establishing the Raw Material Research Council and the enactment of a law for the establishment of the Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency (NNMDA) respectively.

In February this year, while acting as president when President Buhari was in the United Kingdom for medical treatment, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had similarly withheld assent to four bills.

They bills were Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2016, National Lottery (Amendment) Bill 2016, Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund (Amendment) Bill 2016 and the Currency Conversion (Freezing Orders) (Amendment) Bill 2016.