Breaking News
Translate

Senate and constitutional amendment: The real issues

The Senate

By Festus Okoye

The Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has concluded its assignment and the Bill for An Act to Alter the Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and for other Matters Connected Thereto has been passed into law by the Senate.

The said Bill is waiting for concurrence by the House of Representatives and harmonization thereafter.  It is gratifying to note that the Senate Committee did not shut out any segment of the Nigerian society from contributing to the debates that culminated in the passage of the Amendments.

There is no doubt that the Nigerian people are right in demanding amendments to the Constitution to remove ambiguities inherent in the existing document and align it with modern reality and tendencies in the democratic world.

It is also not in dispute that the Constitution is a living document and must respond to the challenges of our time and not respond retroactively to the changing dynamics in the lives and concerns of the people.

It is therefore important to keep the Constitution sacrosanct and at the same time align it with realities of a given period and the challenges thrown up in the art of governance.  We agree with a majority of the amendments made by the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution and passed into law by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

We believe that the amendments if passed and fully and faithfully implemented will enhance the integrity of the electoral process and restore the sovereign right of the Nigerian people to choose their leaders in an atmosphere devoid of deception, intimidation and coercion.   Some of the amendments made will assist in plugging the lacuna in our constitutional framework that has over the years been exploited by anti-democratic force to hold the nation to ransom.

We agree with the position of the Senate relating to the following: The Amendments affected on sections 65, 106, 137, 177 and 221 of the Constitution relating to Independent Candidature for election to the National and State Assemblies as well as the office of the President and Governors.  We agree with the amendments made to sections 65, 106, 131 and 177 relating to the Qualification for Election for members of the National Assembly, the President and Governors requiring them to be educated up to tertiary level to qualify for election to their various offices.

We canvass that the same qualifying criteria applicable to the President, the Governors and members of the National Assembly should also apply to members of the State Assemblies. At this stage of our developmental process being educated up to at least school certificate level has become obsolete and no longer accords with the dynamics of modern realities.  Furthermore, we believe that it is important to define the word “tertiary” in the definition section of the Constitution.

The expression “school certificate or its equivalent” was abused and if left hanging the expression “tertiary level” will also be abused and corrupted and people will make out dubious credentials to qualify their certificates as “tertiary”.

agree with the amendments made to sections 69 and 110 of the Constitution relating to the recall of members of the National and State Assemblies. In the past bogus and fictitious signatures were procured to facilitate the recall members of the National and State Assemblies. We agree with the amendment made to section 75 of the Constitution relating to ascertainment of population.

We partially agree with the amendments made to sections 76, 116, 132 and 178 of the Constitution to the effect that election to each House of the National Assembly, the State Assemblies, the President and Governors shall not be held earlier than One Hundred and fifty Days and not later than 90 days before the date on which the House stands dissolved and opine that the 60 days period provided in the Principal Act was too restrictive and could lead to constitutional logjam and absurdities.

We believe that there is a need to make elections in Nigeria routine by providing that elections should not take place on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. This will take care of the recurring problem in Election Petitions Tribunals whether Saturdays and Sundays form part of the time and period to be calculated in calculating the 30day period within which to file election petitions. It will also take care of the concerns of religious groups relating to their practices.

We agree with the Amendment made to Sections 81, 84 and 121 of the Constitution guaranteeing financial independence of the National Assembly, the Independent National Electoral Commission, the Houses of Assembly and the Judiciary of the State. It will make for proper planning and guarantee fairness and equity in the running of such institutions. We agree with the amendment made to sections 135 and 180 relating to Tenure of Office of the President and Governors in the case of a re-run election. State Governors have used the equivalent section to run for two terms in office without such being counted against them thereby distorting the electoral calendar of the country.

We agree with the amendments made to sections 156 and 200 of the Constitution relating to membership of political parties by National Commissioners of INEC and their counterparts in the States Independent Electoral Commission. An eclectic and opportunistic reading of the provision created confusion in the past giving the impression that INEC National Commissioners must be members of political parties. The additional amendment in section 160 relating to the independence of INEC to make its own rules and regulations will further strengthen its independence.

We agree with the amendments made to sections 222-227 and section 229 of the Constitution relating to restrictions on formation of political parties, the Constitution and Rules of the parties, their aims, finances, annual reports and the prohibition of quasi military organizations. The deletion of the sections and their movement to the amended Electoral Act will make the sections easier to amend and manage.

We agree with and support the insertion of new provisions in section 228 for maintaining internal democracy in political parties. It is important for the National Assembly to provide guidelines and rules to ensure internal democracy within political parties, including making laws for the conduct of party primaries. party congresses and party conventions. We agree with and support the amendment made to section 246 of the Constitution. The said amendment will prevent the use of interlocutory appeals and decisions to delay the hearing of election petitions.

We understand the rationale behind the amendment of section 285 of the Constitution and its substitution with a new section. The abolition of the compartmentalization of Election Tribunals is important as such has not really been practiced. The reduction in the period for the filing of election petitions from 30 days to 21 days can only be effective if the burden of proof is shifted. It will be next to impossibility to gather all the evidence required in a Governorship and Presidential Petition without shifting the burden of proof. It is also important to by legislation rein force the position of the Practice Directions promulgated by the President of the Court of Appeal.

We are concerned that section 285 did not effectively deal with the issue of persons being sworn in while petitions against them are still pending. The current practice is for those that assume office to use the resources of their states to fight their petitions to the disadvantage of their opponents. This we believe has not really been addressed and it still poses and will pose a lot of challenges to the electoral process.

The Nigerian people desire to know their true representatives early enough. When petitions drag for too long, governance takes flight and the welfare and security of the citizens suffer. But if everybody is put in abeyance, the issue of delay will not arise as all will be interested in an early resolution of the petition as no one has an advantage.  a. There are certain provisions of the Amended Constitution that we disagree with and will most respectfully urge the Senate to take a second look at them during the harmonization process.  b. We disagree with Amendments to Section 66, 107, 137 and 182 relating to Disqualifications for members of the National and State Assemblies, the President and Governors.

We are of the view that conviction by a properly constituted Court of Law for Electoral Offences as part of the disqualifying criteria for elections will reduce the cycle of impunity and irregularities that has bedeviled the electoral process. We also believe that the section that ought to be deleted in relation to section 66(1)(h) is the section relating to “indictment by an Administrative Panel  of Inquiry” and not the entire section.

C. Judicial Commissions of Inquiry and Tribunals are part of our legal jurisprudence and their decisions are subject to judicial review. A blanket deletion of the entire subsection will aid corruption and slow down its fight and corrupt persons will have no inhibition whatsoever in hijacking the machinery of the parties and governance in Nigeria. We urge that the paragraph with the suggested amendment should be retained during the harmonization process. d. We disagree with amendments made to Section 68 Relating to Tenure of Seat of Members and giving elected officials blank cheque to cross carpet at any time. We disagree with the deletion of Section 68(1) (g). It is our responsibility to strengthen the regime of Party democracy and prevent persons from abusing the trust reposed in them by the electorates.

The mandate in issue belongs to the Party and the electorates and not to the individual. It is the Party that sponsors candidates and the individual must belong to a political party before such a person can be elected. Those that do not have the disciple to subject themselves to Party supremacy can as well run as Independent Candidates and will not have anybody violate their fundamental rights.

e. We believe that the individual has no fundamental right to trade off, violate and in some instances abuse the trust of the electorates without reverting back to them for a renewal or re-affirmation of mandate. The fundamental right of such persons lies in contesting as independent candidates and not as members of a Political Party.

We are of the firm view that retaining the provisions of the Bill and outlawing cross carpeting will strengthen the Party regime and make the people the true repositories of power that gives and confirms mandate. f. We disagree with the position of the Senate relating to the power to appoint National Commissioners of the Independent National Electoral Commission. The amendment made to paragraph 14 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution does not accord with the views of majority of the Nigerian people especially those from civil society groups and organizations.

g. We believe that the National Judicial Council should be given the responsibility to ensure quality control in the appointment of National Commissioners of the Independent National Electoral Commission. It does not really matter whether the ultimate appointment is made by the Council of State or the President.
h. While the nomination of Resident Electoral Commissioners by the President and their confirmation by the Senate is a progressive addition, it would have been better if the Senate had taken a careful look at the report of the Electoral Reform Committee wherein it was proposed that henceforth Resident Electoral Commissioners should be re-designated as Directors of Elections and they must be career officers trained and posted to serve in states other than their own. i. We also believe that the membership of the Board of INEC will better respond to the challenges of the Electoral process if it is broadened to accommodate civil society groups, professional associations and women’s groups. While commending the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for the work and industry that went into the passage of the amendments, we still believe that the amendments proposed and made do not go far enough and does not meet the expectations of the Nigerian people.

We believe that there are other issues contained in the report of the Electoral Reform Committee that deserves to be given serious consideration. These includes, the mixed member proportional representation, staggered elections, integration of States Independent Electoral Commissions into one central election management body, the creation of a Political Parties Registration and Regulatory Commission and making the Constitution gender sensitive.
Conclusion
We believe that as the Tribune of the people, the National Assembly must remain open and engaged with the Nigerian people on some of the contentious issues in our electoral and constitutional framework.  The task of organizing free, fair and credible elections involves legislative, human and institutional action.  We believe that legislative action must aim at and assist in laying a solid foundation for democratic growth and fashioning broad principles and framework for electoral and constitutional reform.

Legislative action can also assist in plugging constitutional and statutory loopholes and aligning constitutional and statutory provisions relating to the electoral process to meet international standards and best practices.  We must also begin the urgent task of building and empowering democratic institutions. Without solid democratic institutions ready to respond to emerging challenges and meting out sanctions on violators of the Constitution and the law, the law and the Constitution will remain at most worthless pieces of legislation in the statute books with no efficacy whatsoever.  Individual political actors must also turn a new leaf and see political power as vehicles for the actualization of the dreams of the people and ministering to their welfare and guaranteeing their security.  Without a solid political base and an elite ready to play by the rules of the game with the interest of the nation as their paramount concern, not much progress can be achieved even with the best laws and the best intentions.


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.