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Constitution review: Senate debates Yar’Adua’s proposals

By Emmanuel Aziken & Inalegwu Shaibu
Senators yesterday put independent candidacy, autonomy of electoral bodies and prohibition of cross- carpeting at the top of agenda as they commenced debate on President Umaru Yar’Adua’s proposals to review the 1999 Constitution.

While welcoming the administration’s effort to review the constitution to entrench electoral reforms of the administration in the constitution, the lawmakers nevertheless flayed the government’s poor drafting of the constitution amendment bill.

Yesterday’s landmark session was presided over by the President of the Senate, Chief David Mark, and witnessed 17 contributors to the debate on the executive bill to amend the constitution.

The two women senators who spoke yesterday- Senators Chris Anyanwu (PDP, Imo East) and Joy Emodi (PDP, Anambra North), however, flayed the proportion set aside for women in the executives of political parties at 20 percent  as insufficient.

Also, a move by Senator Effiong Bob (PDP, Akwa Ibom North-East), to add derivation and revenue allocation formula to the issues for review was opposed by some senators led by Senator Jibril Aminu.

Leading the debate on the bill, entitled, “An Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999,” Senate Leader, Teslim Folarin, listed highlights of the bill as the introduction of independent candidates in elections; financial autonomy of the Independent National Electoral Commission, prohibition of cross- carpeting and excluding the use of the reports of administrative panels in disqualifying candidates from elections.

He listed the sections to be amended as Sections 65, 66, 68, 84, 106, 107, 109, 131, 135, 137, 153, 155, 177, 180, 222, 225, paragraph 14 and 15 of item F of the 3rd Schedule.

Those who spoke yesterday included the Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu; Heineken Lopkobiri, Emmanuel Paulker,  Ahmed Lawan, and John Efereakaya.

Senator Ekweremandu in his support said that putting INEC on first Line Charge would enable the commission perform its duties creditably and without fear or favour.

He also advocated a punitive measure be taken on anybody that decamped from one party to the other.

“The issue of independent candidates, it is a benchmark all over the world for people to be given opportunity as an independent candidate to seek elections whether they belong to a party or not. This will add value to democracy.’’

“On the issue of INEC being on the frontline charge, Nigerians are in consensus that we need to secure the independence of INEC in such a way that it won’t depend on the presidency for funds. On the issue of cross carpeting, if people have voted for a political party and elected an individual to occupy a position, if that individual is going to leave that party and join another, he is expected to vacate that position.”

Lokpobiri in his contribution said:

“When you are elected to a political office you are not representing a party but everybody, so it will be unfair to say a person should lose office. Having said that, this bill gives us the opportunity to streamline our political parties, we have too many political parties. I think we should use this opportunity to reduce the parties to a certain number that is very manageable and that will enhance our democracy.

“The greatest problem to our democracy is the weakness of the state assemblies. The situation where the state assemblies depend on the governors for fund is good enough for our democracy. I was member of a state house of assembly and because we depend on the state governor, we cannot check the governor. On immunity clause, I am of the opinion that is should be remove. A governor can just shot somebody and because he has immunity, he goes home without facing the law.

While several Senators including Senator Ekweremadu flayed the poor drafting of the constitution amendment bill, Senator Abubakar Sodangi (PDP, Nasarawa West) urged the Senate to overlook the mistakes in the drafting of the bill and focus on the intentions of the President.

Senator Bob’s proposal to add revenue allocation and derivation to the debate was seriously opposed by Senator Jibril Aminu (PDP, Adamawa Central).

Senator Emodi in supporting a clause for independent candidates cited her re-election to the Senate as an example for the inclusion of the provision. According to her, her re-election to the Senate was achieved as an independent candidate as she claimed that she was opposed by her party at the main election after winning the party primaries. The debate continues today.


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