As Nigerians await a new Constitution: Matters Arising

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By Henry Umoru

CONSTITUTION of a country all over the world, is subject to amendment when the need arises and it was against the backdrop of strengthening the 1999 Constitution to meet the challenges of our everyday life that the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2006, during the tenure of Senator Ken Nnamani as President, made an attempt to review it with 115 listed items for alteration.

The 2006 attempt came up with far-reaching recommendations but was rubbished by the third term agenda hullabaloo.

To avoid the situation of having people work and at the end of the day, the process is jettisoned, Senate President David Mark in 2010 began another process of Constitution review with modification that rather than carry out a holistic review, it should be zeroed down to the electoral process where the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC would be strengthened to conduct free and fair election.

Vibrant democracy
The method worked and delivered a framework for the nurturing of a vibrant democracy. Having achieved that, it became imperative to continue with other areas of Constitution amendment like restructuring of the country and that brought about the Senate  Constitution Review Committee, SCRC with Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, PDP, Enugu North, as Chairman.

Last Tuesday, the report of the SCRC was laid and slated for discussions on Wednesday. However, the report was not discussed as the lawmakers pushed the deliberation forward to when the Senators come back from break.

Presenting the bill for an Act to further alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and other Matters connected therewith 2013, the Chairman of the SCRC explained that committee’s recommendations were derived from the views of Nigerians as expressed in their memoranda.

Issues handled: According to him, devolution of powers, creation of states, recognition of geo-political zones, local governments, fiscal federalism, Mayoral status for the FCT and executive immunity were some of the issues the committee looked at.

The recommendations: Considering the financial expenses often associated with re-election and to ensure that executive heads are freed from distractions to concentrate on public policy issues, the committee recommended a single term of six years for President and Governors as contained in sections 135 and 180 respectively.

With the amendment in Section 58 and section 100, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will no longer have the powers to assent to constitutional amendment.

Subsequent election
Another recommendation is if a Vice President-elect or Vice-President succeeds the President-elect or the President, he shall not be eligible to contest for the office of the President in any subsequent election.

Senate President, David Mark; President Jonathan and House of Reps Speaker, Tambuwal

Senate President, David Mark; President Jonathan and House of Reps Speaker, Tambuwal

One major issue that was on the front burner during meetings with stakeholders and consultations was that of state creation. With the submission of the Committee, hope and aspirations of Nigerians who desired to have additional states have been dashed. The SCRC said  none of the 61 requests for new states complied with the entire provision of Section 8(1) of the Constitution.

Another issue that came up during the Public hearings and consultation was that of State Police. The demand was however jettisoned with explanations that what the country needs at the moment was not State police but a total overhauling of the present Federal Police system for effective and efficient service delivery.

One other matter that generated serious concern was the need to allow Nigerians outside the country participate in elections to determine who their leaders should be under the name, Diaspora Voting (S.77 (2)).

The Committee threw it out with reasons that ‘’INEC is still grappling to strengthen its capacity to conduct elections within the country. It would be counter-productive to extend INEC’S responsibilities abroad without the requisite capacity.”

To engender accountability and efficient service delivery, it was recommended that henceforth State Houses of Assembly, State Independent Electoral Commissions, Auditor- General of the State and the Attorney-General of a State should get direct funding from the State Consolidated Revenue Fund with the coming in place of first line Charge funding.

In the report, the Committee which also separated the office of the Federal Attorney-General and that of States from the Ministries of Justice to guarantee the independence of the offices, also gave a mayoral status to the Federal Capital Territory in line with what obtains in other capital cities of the world.

No to rotational presidency
In the report, the call for rotational presidency and other offices was thrown out on the grounds that it should be a matter of consideration among the various political parties.

‘’We 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 amongst the various political parties.”

In the report, it as was also recommended that ‘’where the persons duly elected as President and Vice President die or are unable for any reason whatever to assume office before the inauguration of the National Assembly, the Independent National Electoral Commission shall immediately conduct an election for a President and the Vice President.

“Where a person duly elected as President dies before taking and subscribing the Oath of Allegiance and oath of office; is for any reason whatsoever unable to be sworn in; dies while holding such office, resigns from office or otherwise ceases to hold office in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution, the Vice President-elect shall be sworn in as President and a Vice President appointed in accordance with the provisions of this constitution and in the case of(c) above, the Vice- President shall hold the office of President and shall complete the remaining term of office of the President.”

Financial autonomy for LGs
One issue that has been generating debate in the polity is financial autonomy for local councils, which some governors have been accused of working against. The committee granted Financial Autonomy to the Local Government Councils and this the Committee did in Section 162 by removing State-Local Government Joint Accounts as that will give room for accountability and an effective Local Government system. The State-Local Government Joint Account was then expunged from the Constitution.

Life pension for NASS leaders
The Committee also recommended that former Senate Presidents, Deputy Senate Presidents, Speaker, 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 provided they were not impeached.

Attachment of  portfolios to ministerial nominees: Another area the Committee looked into which is the need to attach Portfolios to the list of Ministerial nominees always submitted by the President for screening and confirmation.

Screening of nominees
According to Committee, ‘’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.

No special status for Lagos
Members of the Committee who rejected a Special Status for Lagos said that ‘’While the Committee appreciates the peculiar needs and challenges of Lagos, it is our considered opinion that according such special status should be a matter of political decision which should be kept out of the Constitution.”

On Ministerial Slot for “Indigenes” of the FCT, the Committee noted that, ‘’This seeks the inclusion of the FCT in the proviso to section 147 (3) of the Constitution as it relates to ministerial appointments so as to ensure that an “indigene” of the FCT is appointed as a minister. Desirable as that may be, we are of the view that the provisions granting mayoralty status for the FCT will go a long way in ensuring equitability and is sufficient to ensure efficient administration of the Federal Capital.”

Devolution of power: The National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly in the reviewed Constitution may now make laws for the federation or any part with respect to payment of Stamp duties by incorporated companies and other activities or transactions over which the National Assembly have powers to legislate on as well as payment of stamp duties by persons/individuals/ businesses subject to federal taxation.

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