In what appears to be a quest for equal constitutional power between the executive and the legislative arm of government, ADEBIYI ADEDAPO observes that the National Assembly is set to alter certain provisions of the constitution to whittle down executive powers and boost legislative functions.
The two chambers of the National Assembly, in January 2016, inaugurated separate special ad-hoc committees on the review of the 1999 constitution (as amended).
The committees’ term of reference is to consider items to be reviewed in the fourth alteration bill started by the seventh Assembly. The Sixth Assembly (2007-2011) enacted the first, second and third alterations to the constitution.
In view of this, all bills seeking to amend the constitution were between January to December 2016, referred to these committee after its second reading on the floor of the Senate or the House of Representatives.
While the deputy senate president, Ike Ekwerenmadu chairs the 46-member committee in the red chamber, deuputy speaker Yussuff Sulaimon Lasun chairs the 49-member committee in the House of Representatives.
The committees according to reports, have approved an harmonised document which is expected to be presented before the committee of the whole in the two chambers for legislative ratification.
A careful perusal of the documents, exclusively obtained by LEADERSHIP Sunday, suggests that the 8th National Assembly is poised to address perceived dominant powers of the executive arm of government, as enshrined in the constitution apparently handed down by past military administrations.
The following alterations were amongst other items, captured in the proposed amendment:
Power of Prosecution:
The two chambers of National Assembly has perfected plans to separate the office of the attorney (s)-general of the Federation and of the states from the office of the minister of or commissioner for Justice.
The Bill seeking to establish the office of the attorney-general of the Federation and of the State separate from the office of the minister of, or commissioner for, Justice in aimed at making the office of the Attorneys-General an independent and insulated from partisanship and executive influence.
According to the Bill, the attorney-general of the Federation shall not be a member of any political party, and shall hold office for a single term of seven years and no more, until he attains the age of sixty-five years, whichever is earlier.
It also seeks to redefine the role of the attorney-general, and provide a fixed tenure, increase the age and qualification for appointment and provide for more independent process for the appointment of the Attorney-General.
The Bill seek to amend sections 150 and 174 of the 1999 constitution (as amended).
In the case of Attorneys-General of States, the bill seeks to amend sections 195 and 211 of the constitution.
According to the Bill, the attorney- general of a state shall not be a member of any political party, and shall hold office for a single term of six years and no more, until he attains the age of sixty-five years, whichever is earlier.
The 8th Assembly has also approved a Bill for an Act, seeking to make the office of the auditor-general for the Federation and for the states financially independent by placing them on the Consolidated Revenue of the Federation and of the State.
Similarly, another Bill seeking to separate the office of the accountant-general of the Federal Government from the office of the accountant-general of the Federation has been approved.
The Bill provides for new sections “84A – 84E” in section 84, which stipulates that. ‘There shall be an Accountant-General of the Federation.’ and ‘There shall be an Accountant-General of the Federal Government.’ respectively.
The Bill which proposes to guarantee independence for the office of the auditor-general for the Federation and for the State seeks to amend Section 6 of the First Alteration No.1, 2011, by inserting, in subsection (3), a new paragraph “(d)” “(d) office of the Auditor-General for the Federation.”
The Bill also seeks to alter Section 121 of the Principal Act by substituting for subsection (3), with a new subsection “(3)”: “Any amount standing to the credit of the- Auditor-General for the State, and Judiciary, in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State shall be paid directly to the said bodies respectively, in the case of judiciary, such amount shall be paid directly to the heads of the courts concerned.”
Council of State Membership
Also included in the proposed amendment the Bills for an Act seeking to include former leaders of the legislative arm of government as members of the Council of State.
The Nigerian Council of State is an organ of the Nigerian Government, which among other functions, advises the executive arm of government on policy making.
The Council, according to the 1999 constitution (as amended) comprises the President, who is the Chairman, the vice-president, who is the deputy chairman, all former presidents of the Federation and all former heads of government of the Federation, all former chief justices of Nigeria, the president of the Senate, the speaker of the House of Representatives, all the governors of the states of the federation and the attorney-general of the Federation.
But in a new amendment, the Bill is seeking to alter paragraph 5 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution to include former presidents of the senate and former speakers of the House of Representatives as members of the Council of State.
Life Pension for Presiding Officers:
As is in the case of the president and vice-president, another alteration to the constitution seeks to ensure life pensions for former senate president’s, deputy senate presidents, speakers of the House of Representatives and deputy speakers is also being perfected.
When eventually passed by the National Assembly and assented to, the Bills will ensure that past leaders of the three arms of government are fairly represented in the Council.
This is expected enhances equity and equality of the arms of government and strengthens the legislative institution.
“Part I of the Third Schedule to is altered in paragraph 5, by substituting for subparagraphs (e) and (f), new subparagraphs “(e)” and “(f)” – “(e) the President of the Senate and all former Presidents of the Senate; and (f) the Speaker of the House of Representatives; and all former Speakers of the House of Representatives.”
Access to Consolidated Revenue Fund
In another move to curtail the overbearing powers of the executive arm of government, the National Assembly is set to reduce the period within which the president or governor of a state can authorise withdrawal of fund from the Consolidated Revenue Fund in the absence of an Appropriation Act from 6 months to 3 months.
A Bill for An Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to reduce the period within which the President or the Governor of a State may authorise the withdrawal of monies from the Consolidated Revenue Fund in the absence of an Appropriation Act from 6 months to 3 months; and for related matters is being finalised.
The bill seeks to alter Section 82 of the constitution with the aim to reduce the period within which the president or the governor of a state may authorise the withdrawal of monies from the Consolidated Revenue Fund in the absence of an Appropriation Act.
The section is altered by substituting for the word, “six’’ in line 5, the word, ’’three’’; and deleting, in lines 5 and 6, the words “ or until the coming into operation of the Appropriation Act whichever is the earlier:”
Section 82 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) provides that: “If the Appropriation Bill in respect of any financial year has not been passed into law by the beginning of the financial year, the President may authorise the withdrawal of moneys in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation for the purpose of meeting expenditure necessary to carry on the services of the Government of the Federation for a period not exceeding six months or until the coming into operation of the Appropriation Act, whichever is the earlier.”
Parliamentary Immunity / Annual Presidential Briefing:
In a separate Bill the lawmakers seek to guarantee parliamentary immunity regarding words spoken or written at plenary sessions or Committee proceedings and institutionalise legislative bureaucracy in the Constitution.
This alteration also 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.
A Bills for An Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to provide immunity for members of the legislature in respect of words spoken or written at plenary sessions or Committee proceedings and institutionalise legislative bureaucracy in the Constitution; and for related matters is also being considered.
This alteration is aimed at providing immunity for members of the legislature in respect of words spoken or written at plenary sessions or at Committee proceedings. The intent is to allow lawmakers to work independently and unimpeded by the threat of intervention from the other branches of government in the discharge of their legislative duties.
The bill seeks to alter Section 4 of the Principal Act is altered by inserting after subsection (7), a new subsection“(7A)” – “(7A) In the course of exercising the foregoing legislative powers, no civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted against a member of a legislative House in respect of words spoken or written before the House or a Committee thereof.”
Another segment of the bill also seek to compel the President to address a joint sitting of the National Assembly on the State of the Nation on the first legislative day of every month of May.
Power to override presidential assent on bills:
Another amendment to the constitution seeks to remove the law-making powers of the executive arm of government which is contrary to the provisions of section 4 of the Constitution.
The amendment is expected to resolve the impasse where the President neglects to signify his/her assent to a bill from the National Assembly or withhold such assent and strengthen the legislature’s authority and enable timely passage of laws.
This according to the lawmakers is aimed at ensuring timely passage of the Appropriation Bill and other money Bills. It is further intended to address the lacuna in the current provision that does not clearly state who should convene the joint sitting of the national Assembly.
This is akin to the amendment in section 58. It resolves the impasse where the Governor neglects to signify his/her assent to a bill from the House of Assembly or withhold such assent. This is to strengthen the legislature’s authority and enable timely passage of laws for good governance.
A new amendment to section 58(5) ‘6’ provides that; Where the President neither signifies that he assents or that he withholds assent, the Bill shall, at the expiration of thirty days, become law.”
While a new amendment to section 59(4) provides that; “Where the peesident within 30 days after the presentation of a Bill to him, fails to signify his assent or where he withholds his assent, then within 7 days, the president of the Senate shall convene a joint sitting of the National Assembly to reconsider the Bill and if passed by two-thirds majority of members of both houses at such joint sitting, the Bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required.”