The 8th National Assembly in January 2016 set-up committees on the review of the 1999 constitution (as amended). In this report, ADEBIYI ADEDAPO traces the journey and reflects the voting pattern of each chamber of the National Assembly.
The Sixth Assembly (2007-2011) enacted the first, second and third alterations to the constitution.
Against this background, Mr. Dogara said, “Since the coming into effect of the 1999 Constitution, and the convocation of the National Assembly in 1999, varying efforts were made in the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th Assembly to alter some sections of the Constitution.
The seventh Assembly had jointly passed the fourth alteration bill to further amend the 1999 Constitution, but former President Goodluck Jonathan withheld assent even after billions had been committed to amendment exercise.
Senate President Bukola Saraki in January 2016 inaugurated a 46-man committee with a promise that the committee would live up to the expectations of Nigerians.
The committee, to be headed by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, is made up of 27 senators from the majority All Progressives Congress (APC), while the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is represented by 19 senators.
Saraki mandated the committee, which is billed to begin work immediately, to conclude its assignment one year before the conduct of 2019 general elections.
One week after inauguration of the Senate Committee, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, inaugurated the House’s constitution review committee, consisting of 49 members.
The committee is chaired by the deputy speaker, Yussuff Sulaimon Lasun, and consists one representative from all the states as well as nine principal officers of the house.
The two committees were charged to conclude work on the fourth alteration bill started by the seventh Assembly.
Also, all bills related to alteration of any provision of the constitution were referred to the committees for further legislative actions, while the committees also sift ideas from the CONFAB Report of 2014.
Senate, House of Reps Harmonise Position :
Despite promises that the proposed amendment would be ready b March 2017, the joint committee of the National Assembly only met in July to harmonise their recommendations, before it was presented on the floor of both chambers.
The Lagos retreat however featured speakers from all the state houses of assembly, majority Leaders of state’s parliament as well as one female legislature from each house of assembly.
All the participants in the working retreat voted on the proposed amendment clause by clause, except the consultant who seldom contribute to the proceeding expect when invited to give opinions.
The joint committee in Lagos voted against a proposed amendment seeking to guarantee life pension for presiding officers of National Assembly and state houses of assembly.
Participants at the ongoing joint working retreat of the committee in Lagos while deliberating on the controversial bill noted that some of the presiding officers ended up ad state governors and as such may enjoy double pension.
This rejected alteration sought to guarantee that the President of the Senate, Deputy President of the Senate, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives to life pension benefits as is the case with other arms of government if not impeached.
Majority of the participants, which include speakers of state houses of assembly and selected lawmakers from the states argued that the Bill is self serving and should not be allowed.
Chairman of retreat and deputy Senate President, Ike Ekwerenmadu eventually put the debate into a vote and disclosed that 30 participants voted in support, while 45 participants voted against.
“This is the beauty of democracy, 30 people voted in support while 45 voted against, the Bill stands rejected,” he said.
The bill sought to alter section 84 of the Constitution will guarantee life pension for presiding officers of the National Assembly who were not impeached. The joint committee also withdrew a clause in the bill on electoral matters, which sought to create and ‘electoral offences commission.’ the clause sought alter section 153 (1) of the Principal Act is altered by “(ba) Electoral Offences Commission”.
Chairman of the special committee on Political Matters, Aishatu Jibril Dukku while addressing journalists shortly after the the retreat was adjourned noted that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as currently constituted is overburdened as some of its responsibilities should be shifted to another commission.
She however assured that the proposed amendment will be reconsidered in the ongoing review as she noted that it was in the interest of Nigerians to have the commission in place.
“If this bill had passed, it will take care of all pre-election issues and the special commission will be able to handle all pre election matters and even some post election issues. Then, INEC will be unbundled. As currently constituted, INEC is joined in all litigation, INEC is the umpire, INEC is in charge of voter education, INEC is doing litigation. So already INEC is overburdened, we felt that if the bill had passed, it will allow INEC to concentrate on conducting elections only,” she said.
Dukku stated further; “we will still take it up again because we want our colleagues to see reason, even what we have delineated here will still go to the two legislative Assemblies, we have already taken the electoral offences commission bill up to public hearing, the general public is in support and we have our report, we are going to lay it before the House next week.”
The joint committee also stepped aside the bill seeking to abolish the State – Local Government Joint Account, following inconclusive debate on the matter.
Although, the committee approved administrative autonomy for local government administration in the country, the Bill seeking abolition of State – Local Government joint account could not scale through due to persistent doubts that the local councils may not effectively fund primary education.
Former Kebbi state governor and Senator representing Kebbi Central senatorial district, Adamu Aliero, during the heated debate suggested that salaries primary school teachers should be moved to local primary education board as a first line charge.
The joint committee however resolved to engage the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) and other stakeholders in the education and industrial sector on the best possible way to handle the proposed amendment.
Eventually, the bill was listed among the recommendations and was passed by both the Senate and the House.
Areas of Disagreement
Despite the harmonised position of the joint committees in Lagos, voting pattern in the two chambers shows disagreement in certain aspect of the reviews.
The two chambers considered the amendment to 33 sections of the Constitution based on the reports of their ad-hoc committees on constitution review. While the Senate approved 29 recommendations, the House of Representatives approved only 24.
Meanwhile, any bill adopted by one chamber and rejected by the other cannot be passed into the next stage of the ongoing amendment.
To this end, some bill adopted by the Senate but voted against by the House will be automatically rejected, and vice versa.
For instance, a bill to separate the office of the Attorney General of the federation federation from Minister of Justice, which was passed by the Senate last Wednesday was on Thursday rejected by the House. Only 234 members voted in support, while 58 members voted against.
Also, only 191 as against 240 vote required voted in support of the bill to provide for a representation of an indigene of the Federal Capital Territory ( FCT) in the Federal Executive Council (FEC), which but the bill passed in the Senate.
Other bills passed by the Senate but rejected by the House include the bill to provide for a change in the names of some Local Government Councils and the definition of the boundary.
Also, bills to remove law making power from Executive Arm (National Youth Service Corps), remove of law making power from Executive Arm (National Security Agencies Act), remove of law making power from Executive Arm (National Complaints Commission), remove of law making power from Executive Arm (Land Use Act), and the deletion of State Independent National Electoral Commission (SIEC) from the Constitution, were all passed by the Senate but rejected by the House.
Meanwhile, the bill to guarantee 35 per cent affirmative action for women in political appointments was rejected by the Senate but was passed by the House.
Chairman of the House committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Abdulrasaq Namdas, shortly after the voting was concluded, noted that the House voted differently from the Senate to make its position on issues clear to Nigerians.
“We have a bi-camera legislature and on this matter of the constitution, whatever we reject, that passed in the Senate, stands rejected, in the same way, any item rejected by Senate and passed by the House has failed automatically. But Nigerians must know where we stand on every proposal,” he stated.
With the legislative processes covered so far, the clerk of the National Assembly will transmit the approved recommendations to the state’s houses of assembly for ratification, after which it will be sent to the president for assent.