From ADETUTU FOLASADE-KOYI, Abuja
Stalemate looms in the amendment of the 1999 Constitution in the National Assembly as the Senate and the House of Representatives differ on the tenure of the president and vice president, governors and their deputies.
Senate Committee on Constitution Review (CRC), which submitted its report on the amendment process recommended a six-year single tenure for executive offices including that of the president and vice president, governors and their deputies.
But the public hearing report collated from interaction with the public by the House of Representatives CRC retained the two terms of four years for executive offices.
The Senate has, however, rejected rotation of executive offices. Senators opined that rotation of offices should be the exclusive preserve of political parties as it was not a constitutional matter.
In a clear departure from what obtained in the Sixth National Assembly, where state assemblies rejected financial autonomy, the amendment scaled through in this dispensation.
Similarly, the Senate CRC has abrogated the joint account of states and local governments. In this instance, however, only local councils that had democratically elected chairmen and councillors would benefit from the direct payment from the federation account.
In the report presented by the Committee Chairman and Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, on Wednesday, the CRC “rejected this proposal on the grounds that the Constitution should not make Nigerian leadership subject to ethnic or regional considerations. This should be a matter of consideration among the various political parties.”
Presenting the report, Ekweremadu noted that, “the recommendations contained in this report were arrived at on the basis of extensive research, study tours, proposals from memoranda submitted to the Senate committee, strategic collaborations with key partners, consultation with stakeholders and feedbacks from the national and zonal public hearings on the review of the Constitution.
“Discussions of the committee were always open, frank, sometimes intense but always amiable and at all times motivated by what is best for Nigeria. Members always tried to reach out for a consensus decision. Hence, decisions and recommendations in the report have been approved by consensus. In those rare occasions when there were strong divergence of views, decisions were supported by a majority of members and, where it was requested, the minority view is also recorded.
“While some of the issues highlighted above can be addressed through incremental amendment within the constraints of the provisions of Sections 8 and 9 of the Constitution, others, it appears, require an entirely new Constitution.”
The Senate CRC drew attention to constraints faced during the amendment process. “Although our Constitution makes provisions for amendments, it has stopped short of specifying or making explicit provisions for enacting a whole new Constitution. If this is not envisaged, as it is the case with our Constitution, sometimes there is doubt about whether the amendment process could be used to provide a completely new Constitution. This and many other considerations are some of the unique challenges and opportunities the committee had to grapple with,” Ekweremadu said.
Sections 135 and 180 which dealt with tenure of the president and his deputy, governors and their deputies had been amended. The old Section 135 had been substituted with a new Section 135 which reads: (1) Subject to the provisions of this constitution, a person shall hold office of president until-
(a) when his successor in office takes the oath of that office;
(b) he dies whilst holding such office; or
(c) the date when his resignation from office takes effect; or
(d) he otherwise ceases to hold office in accordance with the provision of this Constitution.
“(2) Subject to the provisions of Subsection (1) of this section, the president shall vacate his office at the expiration of a period of six years commencing from the date, when –(a) in the case of a person elected as president under this Constitution, he took the oath of allegiance and the oath of office; and
(b) in any other case, the person elected to that office under this Constitution took the oath of allegiance and oath of office or would, but for his death, have taken such oaths.
“(3) If the federation is at war in which the territory of Nigeria is physically involved and the president considers that it is not practicable to hold elections, the National Assembly may, by resolution, extend the period of six years mentioned in Subsection (2) of this section from time to time; but no such extension shall exceed a period of six months at any one time.”
The Senate report was, however, silent on the take-off date. A ranking senator had, on Tuesday told Daily Sun that the commencement date was 2015.
Curiously, Senate threw out the entire Section 136 and replaced it with a new one. The old Section 136 (2) stipulated that, “where the persons duly elected as president and vice president die or are unable for any reason whatsoever to assume office before the inauguration of the National Assembly, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) shall immediately conduct an election for a president and the vice president.”
In the amended section, INEC plays no role while barring the vice president from contesting future elections. The new Section 136 (2) states: “Where a vice president-elect or vice president succeeds the president-elect or the president in accordance with Subsection (1) of this section, he shall not be eligible to contest for the office of the president in any subsequent election.”
In the report presented by Ekweremadu, 61 requests for creation of states could not meet the constitutional criteria as spelt out in Section 8 (1).
Similarly, Section 137 has undergone the legislative surgical knife. The new Section 137 specifically disqualifies current office holders (president and governors) from benefitting from the six-year single tenure.
It reads: “Section 137 (1) (b) is altered by-(a) deleting the word “two,” (b) substituting for the word “elections”, the word “election”, and (c) inserting a new subsection “3”; “(3) A person holding the office of the president or vice president immediately before the coming into force of the alteration of Sections 135 and 136 of this Constitution shall not be eligible to contest election for a single term of six years.”
Same applies to Section 180 and a new 182 reflecting the disqualification of current governors and their deputies from benefiting from the proposed six-year single term.
The Senate CRC also amended Section 6 of the First Alteration Act to increase the number of bodies and offices to benefit from the first line charge from an initial three to seven. They are: (a) National Assembly, (b) Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), (c) Judiciary, (d) attorney-general of the federation, (e) auditor-general of the federation, (f) Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission and (g) National Human Rights Commission.
The Senate CRC further separated the office of the attorney general of the federation from the office of the minister of justice. The same separation was effected with regards to the 36 states. “To guarantee the independence of the office of the attorney-general of the federation and the attorney-general of the state, the office is accordingly separated from that of the minister of justice or commissioner for justice,” said Ekweremadu.
Should that amendment scale through, states would also have attorneys general, different from the office of the commissioner of justice.
An amended Section 162 effects direct payment to local governments from the funds of the federation but with a caveat; “there must be a democratically-elected council in place.”
To make for accountability and an effective local government system, the state- local government joint account is expunged from the Constitution. Although the Senate stepped down the issue of granting pension to the Senate president, his deputy and the Speaker of the House of Representatives and his deputy, the matter came back in the Constitution review.
Section 84 had been altered with the insertion of a new Subsection “(5A)” which states that, “any person who has held office as president or deputy president of the Senate, speaker or deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, shall be entitled to pension for life at a rate equivalent to the annual salary of the incumbent president or deputy president of the Senate, speaker or deputy speaker of the House of Representatives.”
Furthermore, Section 302 has been inserted in the Constitution, to grant a mayoral status to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The section, with the sub-heading; an elected mayoral system of administration for the FCT accords “a mayoral status to the FCT is not only in keeping with the practice in many capital cities of the world but it is also to ensure efficient administration of the FCT.”
Other amendments are as follows: Second Schedule, Part I – Devolution of Powers.
The exclusive list under Part 1 of the Second Schedule to the Constitution is congested, cumbersome and unwieldy. There is therefore the need to decongest the exclusive list by maintaining only items of utmost importance to the federation as a whole, while transferring items of concurrent interests to the concurrent list.
The committee therefore substituted “Post and Telegraphs” with “Post and Telecommunications,” removed pensions, prisons, railways, stamp duties and wages from the exclusive legislative list and also added new items to the exclusive and concurrent lists, namely: (concurrent list) arbitration, environment, healthcare, prisons, railways, road safety, stamp duties, wages, land and agriculture, youths, public complaints and aviation and (exclusive list) national security.
(iv) Senate Bill 108 – ministerial (Nominees Bill) 2011. This seeks to make provision that will enable the National Assembly to be more effective in the screening of ministerial nominees by ensuring that portfolio is attached to each nominee. Assigning portfolios should remain the prerogative of the president for reasons of flexibility. Besides, it has been shown that professional qualification does not necessarily approximate to performance in practical terms.
Immediately after Ekweremadu presented his report, Senate President David Mark announced that there would be no debate until the chamber resumed from its anniversary recess, which would end in two weeks. Although Mark commended the Ekweremadu Committee for a job well done, he, nevertheless, explained that suspension of debate was to enable senators read and digest the report with a view to adopting positions on the amended clauses.
Said Mark: “You have done a detailed job. You have spent considerable time doing the job. We will use our recess to consult more with our constituents on the clauses. More importantly, all the speculations in the media have now been rested with the submission of the report. It is now a public document. There will be no debate on it today. We will debate it when we return from our recess.”
Mark further added that unlike in the past, voice vote would not be allowed on the amended clauses. “Voting on the clauses is not by voice vote. Every senator will vote on each clause. Every senator will vote and declare where he stands on each clause. Please, prepare your mind on where you stand.”
Thereafter, Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN) moved a motion for the chamber to defer “further consideration till another legislative day.” Minority Leader, George Akume, seconded the motion.
Meanwhile, northern and southern senators met at different times after Wednesday plenary at the White House Complex of the National Assembly.
In a dramatic u-turn from the position adopted by the Senate at plenary two weeks ago, northern senators were now in support of the House of Representatives’ resolution barring President Goodluck Jonathan from spending funds of states under emergency rule.
Daily Sun gathered that the crux of the meeting of the Northern Senators’ Forum (NSF) was the state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, which took effect on May 20. On the same day, the northern senators met in Hearing Room 4, their southern counterparts also met, simultaneously in Hearing Room 1.
The northern lawmakers, it was gathered, resolved to plead with “President Jonathan not to touch the funds of the affected states.” At the conclusion of their meeting, no lawmaker from the South agreed to speak with newsmen.