BY EMMAN OVUAKPORIE
The House of Representatives is set to commence the process of amending the extant Constitution with landmark proposals to set the State legislative houses and the local government councils from the iron-grip of the nation’s governors!
THE National Assembly it seems has put the amendment of the 1999 Constitution on top of its agenda. Unlike in the last attempt when some areas were ignored, there would no ‘no-go areas’ this time, the Deputy President of the Senate and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitution Review, Senator Ike Ekweremadu told Sunday Vanguard recently.
Towards realising the gaol, the Senate Committee recently called for memoranda from members of the public. The House of Representatives is itself not lagging behind on the issue. The House Committee it was learnt would soon embark on a working retreat to Port Harcourt, the Rivers State Capital to deliberate on the issue.
Issues for amendment: Indeed, the 44-member ad-hoc committee headed by Deputy Speaker of the House, Rep. Emeka Ihedioha, has already been mandated to work on several contentious issues like state police, financial autonomy for state legislatures, state creation, autonomy for local government councils, revenue allocation, derivation and other knotty issues that have been plaguing Nigeria.
So far, about 10 private member bills have been introduced, debated and referred to the Committee. These include a bill by Rep Femi Gbajabiamila to provide for a definite date for the President to present an Appropriation Bill for the next financial year; a bill by Hon. Uche Ekwunife to alter the provisions of sections 7 & 162 of the Constitution to provide for independence and financial autonomy of local government councils; a bill by Hon. Leo Ogor to alter the provisions of sections 89 and 129 of the constitution to direct the Attorney General of the Federation to prosecute any person or authority found wanting by the Senate or House of Representatives and for matters connected to it .
Other bills include a bill by Hon. Jagaba Adams Jagaba to remove the word ‘Force’ from the name of the Nigeria Police Force to bring it in tune with the current democratic dispensation in the country; a bill by Hon. Patrick Ikhariale to amend the Electric Power Sector Reform Act, Cap. E7, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and other matters connected therewith, the purpose of which is to open up the electricity sector by enabling a state government that desires to participate in the generation, transmission, trading, distribution and bulk supply and resale of electricity either directly or otherwise; and a bill by Hon. Suleiman Kawu to alter relevant provisions of the constitution to make for financial autonomy for state legislatures.
LG financial autonomy: Financial autonomy for councils has been a recurring issue. Uncertainty of funding has led to a disconnect between the councils and governors, who recklessly expropriate funds for their councils. The contentious provisions are contained in Section 162 which states among others: “Each State shall maintain a special account to be called “State Joint Local Government Account” into which shall be paid all allocations to the Local Government Councils of the State from the Federation Account and from the Government of the State.
“Each State shall pay to Local Government Councils in its area of jurisdiction such proportion of its total revenue on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly. The amount standing to the credit of Local Government Councils of a State shall be distributed among the Local Government Councils of that State on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of the State.”
Fiscal matters: Apart from the Bill before the ad-hoc committee, the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) had on several occasions made submissions to the National Assembly canvassing the scrapping of the State and Local Government Joint Account (JAC). RMAFC Chairman, Engr. Elias Mbam, recommended that JAC, which is operational in most states be abolished to ensure the sovereignty of local government administration in the country.
According to him the abolition would forestall abuse of funds by state governments as allocations meant for local councils would go directly to council accounts without any interference by state governments.
Removal of immunity clause: Also in consideration is the removal of immunity for the President, Vice President, State Governors and their deputies. Rep. Eziuche Ubani, a third term member of the House told Vanguard that the removal of the immunity clause would depend on submissions gathered from stakeholders.
“There is no proposal before us on the removal of immunity clause yet. However, we will respond to the biggest sentiments of the people of Nigeria. The President will have to send a proposal to the National Assembly. So, I assure you that we will treat the issue appropriately if we have a proposal to that effect,” he said.
The Justice Alfa Belgore committee set up by President Goodluck Jonathan had recommended the removal of the clause. A host of federal lawmakers are nevertheless in support of the removal of the clause. But their ability to do so against the desire of many governors would be remarkable. Incidentally, no section of the constitution can be amended without an endorsement by at least 24 state houses of assembly, a provision that gives the governors significant influence over the amendment process.
Making House resolutions binding: Also, the constitution review committee is working on a proposal to compel the executive to implement certain resolutions of the National Assembly. A Bill to that effect has equally been debated and passed on to the constitution review committee for further legislative actions.
Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila (ACN/Lagos) who is championing this proposal disclosed that the amendment aims to put to an end the current scenario where resolutions of the House are regarded as “mere expressions of opinions” and are either ignored or treated with levity.
Independence of state legislatures: The issue of granting financial independence to State Houses of Assembly is equally being considered. A bill to that effect has been endorsed by the House and referred to the constitution review committee . It is aimed at putting state legislatures on the first line charge, a status which the National Assembly now enjoys. In the last constitutional amendment, the amendment was made by the National Assembly but majority of the State Houses of Assembly rejected it.
It was believed that State governors were not favourably disposed to the amendment because of its tendency to redeem the state legislatures from the shackles of perpetual financial dependence on governors and possibly encourage “disloyalty”.
Deputy Minority Leader Abdulrahman Suleiman Kawu, who sponsored the bill said for any democratic setting to grow, the three arms of government must operate independent of each other.