By Tordue Salem
AFTER a petty and unnecessary muscle flexing over â€œchair_sharingâ€, the House of Representatives and the Senate parted ways over Constitution Review. While the House simply calls its own â€œCommittee on Constitution Reviewâ€. the Senate in an avuncular and cynical manner still carries on the initial name Joint Committee on Constitution Review (JCCR).
Though the House Speaker, Hon Dimeji Bankole and his Senate counterpart, Senator David Mark share one thing in common (support for third term for president Olusegun Obasanjo), they have refused to close ranks on the joint committee issue, The problem is ego.
The JCCR Committee was designated to serve as a canopy for 88 lawmakers, Senators and Reps, who would chart the way for â€œa better constitutionâ€ for the country, but just as the process was beginning, the lawmakers disagreed on who should be called what. The Green Chamber insisted on having its Deputy Speaker, Bayero Nafada co-chair the Committee. The Senate (bigger boys) found its â€˜juniorâ€™ counterpartâ€™s ambition to level up with it â€œcheekyâ€.
The House on its part, having a war-ready speaker refused to budge. The cold war continued to the extent that it even spilt into expletives and verbal fisticuffs. The Initiatives, a House of Representativesâ€™ group of Leadership and governance thinkers, led by Rep. Eseme Eyibo (PDP Eket/Akwa Ibom) even took the case to Court, seeking judicial interpretation of which arm of the National Assembly held bigger powers.
For now the war is far from over but the citizenry at the end of the day will be biggest the losers.
Early last month, the Chairman of the sub-Committee on Media, Eziuche Ubani told journalists that the House version of the Constitution Committee was divided into six to dissect the 6 Bills. The Bills are a product of the Muhammed Uwaisâ€™ Committee on Electoral Reforms sent in by President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua.
The Uwaisâ€™ Report, drafted by a group of judicial and political egg heads, may be commendable, but has produced serious flaws that may whittle a new constitution down to serving the selfish interests of the political class and not the â€œPeopleâ€.
Here are the bills: A Bill for an Act to Amend the Independent National Electoral Commission Act Cap 15 LFN 2004, A Bill for An Act to Further Amend the Police Act 1967, An Act to Alter Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, A Bill for An Act to Alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic, A Bill to Establish Political Parties Registration and Regulatory Commission and A bill for An Act to Establish the Electoral Offences Commission and for Matters Connected Therewithâ€.
The INEC amendment Bill, though seeks financial autonomy for INEC, sadly, at once seeks to take INECâ€™s vital role away: The power to register political parties would thence forth be done by a special Commission, if the Bill is passed into law.
As desirable as that is, in view of the arm-twisting of political parties by INEC, the Bill lacks foresight. If a commission is created to register parties, Nigeria would be thickening its bureaucracy that is already slowing down its progress.
Apart from that, the Nigerian citizens would have its tax money spent in huge sums building expensive state-of-the art offices for the new Political-Party registration office, with huge workforce and carting off the countryâ€™s resources, with over-bloating overhead costs for doing virtually nothing different from what INEC is presently doing.
Bill number two is the Police Amendment Act of 1962. The highlights of this Bill which may be made part of the constitution, seek to insulate the police force from electioneering activities, except for security.
The problem is that it does not address the poverty or obliterate the culture that encourages the police to take millions as bribes from politicians to chase away opposition voters and snatch ballot boxes.
During debates on the matter, many of the lawmakers (they are PDP), did not comment on that lacuna in the Bill, because most of them, as already known use the police to the â€˜maximumâ€™
Perhaps, the way to go is that until Nigeria matures enough to provide security for its elections, special AU, ECOWAS and United Nations security personnel should be deployed to provide security for the 2011 elections and beyond. It may be futile continuing with the Nigerian police.
Already the House has split into six ad hoc committees to review the 1999 Constitution. Each Committee is to handle one of six Bills.
Members of the ad hoc Committeeâ€™s sub-Committee on Media, Reps. Eziuche Ubani, Ubale Jakada Kiru and Saâ€™ad M.C Tahir at a press briefing said the House would for now concentrate on working on six Bills, then subsequently throw the process open to the electorate, at a public hearing that is on-going.
The Chairman of the sub-committee on media stated in a work plan he made available to journalists that â€œMembers of each sub-committee are to: study the bills referred to it, conduct public hearing on the bills, turn in its report to the larger committee, then the larger committee will consider the work from the sub-committees and pass same to the House for considerationâ€
He said the House would pass its work to the Senate for concurrence as soon as it gets it done with.
â€œWhen the House passes any of the Bills it will transmit to the Senate for concurrence. We understand the Senate is following the same processâ€.
He urged the public to take the advantage of the public hearing and make reasonable inputs.
â€œIn view of the constraint of time, we will urge the public to take advantage of this opportunity and submit its inputs into the review process. We wish to use this opportunity to restate our commitment to take the review to its logical conclusion in response to the yearnings of Nigerians.
We are not only determined to do this duty; we will do it transparently and honestly, mindful of the fact that a review process that is embroidered in a legitimacy crisis can only produce laws that may not be respected by Nigeriansâ€, he said.
But the position of the House on State creation sharply differed with that of the Senate. Whereas the House through Ubaniâ€™s briefing said â€œThere would not be a no-go area, including state creationâ€, the Chairman of the Constitution Review Committee in the Senate, and Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, at an earlier press briefing said the Constitution Review will not be part of the agenda of his Committee.
But as you may have already known, no amount of contribution by the public at a public hearing can dissuade the mind set of an unpatriotic lawmakers bent on having their way on the floor of the Senate or House of Representatives.
LCDAs: Lagos State vs FG
Another issue that both Chambers of the National Assembly are likely not going to consider, despite its importance to building Nigeria â€™s federalism and giving freedom to the people, is to list the newly created 37 Local Governments in the constitution.
The Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Governmental Affairs, Rep. Leo Ogor (PDP/Isoko-Delta State), in an exclusive interview with Vanguard urged the Lagos State Government to revert to its 20 local councils recognised by Constitution or risk being left in the cold by the National Assembly.
The Administration of former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, had created additional 37 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs), which though constitutional, is â€œinchoateâ€ or an incomplete process as ruled by Supreme Court.
â€œWe are not going to list the Local Council Development Areas created by Lagos State in the Constitution. Itâ€™s not even the issue of Lagos State having the powers under the constitution to create the LCDAs, itâ€™s about the Rule of Law. The creation of those LCDAs breaches section 162 subsections 7 and 8.
â€œWhat the Lagos State Government is doing at the moment is taking law into its hands. For example, the Government of Lagos is taking the funds meant for 20 local Councils and dividing it between 57 local government councils. That is wrong. The Constitution recognises only 20 local governments in Lagos . The Supreme Court Ruling on this matter, though ordered the Federal Government to release funds meant for Local Government in President Obasanjoâ€™s time, it restricted the ruling to only 20 local governments, not 57â€, he argued.
The lawmaker stressed that â€œwhat the Lagos State Government is doing at the moment, is a total breach of the 1999 Constitutionâ€™
He said â€œNo matter how good the intention of the Lagos Government is it has erred in lawâ€.
The legislator added that the conduct of Elections into those LCDAs was illegal and must not repeat in 2011.
â€œYou cannot conduct elections into the new local governments, it is illegal. It is criminal. It is a criminal offence to hold elections in those illegal Local Councils,â€ he submitted.
The constitution is clear on the rights of any State Government to create local councils, the onus is on its State House of Assembly and the National Assembly to approve. The Lagos State House of Assembly has done its part. It is left for the National Assembly to graciously list those LCDAs in the amended constitution or risk being labelled as the enemies of federalism and the people.
Ogorâ€™s riposte represents the feelings of the entire National Assembly. An Assembly predominated by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) cannot list Local Governments created by an enemy party, the Action Congress (AC). Beyond that, the National Assembly peopled by PDP cannot bypass the Presidency and the â€˜The Partyâ€™ to list those LCDAs, even when they know that would be public service.