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Implementation, bane of 1999 Constitution—Mark

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By Emmanuel Aziken
Ominous cloud shadowed President Umaru Yar‘Adua’s electoral reform proposal yesterday when the Senate President, Chief David Mark, faulted the insincerity of the implementers of the 1999 Constitution.

Speaking at the end of debate on the president’s constitution amendment bill yesterday, Senator Mark said the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) may not be wholly inefficient as it was being cast by some politicians.

The bill to alter the constitution was, nevertheless, read the second time at the end of an unprecedented debate that stretched for more than four hours yesterday.

Though the senators struck near unanimity on independent funding of INEC and the National Assembly, there was, however, some division on cross-carpeting by elected party officers.

Speaking at the end of the debate on the bill, yesterday, Mark said: “I believe that if we operate the existing constitution with all sincerity, we wouldn’t be clamouring for the sort of amendment we are asking for now.

“It does not matter what amendment we make, if we are not prepared to implement it we will just be going round and round. There is a need for sincerity in what we are doing,’’ he added.

“INEC itself may not be thoroughly inefficient not the way we may want to have it painted.

“I think we have got more problems (with) SIECs, whether SIEC should exist or not should be again a matter of our attitude,’’ said he.

Asserting that the nation should implement the existing constitution, he said: “I think there are more questions to be answered on the constitution itself than over empahsis on the amendment of the constitution.

”I believe we should implement the constitution that we have. If we make any amendment at all, those amendments should be subject to implementation. That is what is important. Is the constitution where the problem is or in ourselves,’’ he asked.

His point was earlier echoed by the Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, who lamented that Nigerian constitutions have had very short lives.

He said the constitutions operated since independence have not been tested enough to enable judicial interpretation.

Senator Ehigie Uzamere (PDP, Edo South), however, disagreed with Mark on INEC as he canvassed the reorganisation of the electoral body as he alleged that the institution had stretched elections into three dragged out phases.

“Today there are three phases of elections, primary, the main election and the post election and the post election is very, very important,’’ he said as he hinted at intrigues carried out after elections by electoral officers.

“In my case they invalidated some of my votes and I said that those who invalidated my votes God would invalidate their lives.’’

Speaking in support of the bill, Senator Uche Chukwumerije (PPA, Abia North) canvassed an amendment of Section 22 of the constitution to incorporate the Freedom of Information Bill (FoI) into the constitution.

“Uninhibited access of the mass media to all electoral activities and a mandatory obligation on INEC to release all information without delay on voting activities and results will create the requisite atmosphere of openness,’’ Senator Chukwumerije said.

In his contribution to the debate yesterday, Senator Olurunnimbe Mamora lauded the provision prohibiting cross carpeting.

“I am for this, it is a moral issue because you cannot jump ship midway. If you want to jump ship midway then resign,’’ noting that though the constitution forbade decamping for legislators that it was now appropriate to introduce the clause for executive office holders.

Senator Bode Olajumoke (PDP, Ondo North) in his own submission said that a new constitution would be ineffective so long as Nigerians were yet to re-brand themselves.

“We need to rebrand the individual Nigerians before we talk of amending the constitution. The value in our homes. In my mind the emphasis should be in amending our values.’’

He submitted that if the constitution was operated in some other climes the problems recounted by Nigerians may actually be of little consequence.

The bill was referred to the Senate standing committee on constitution review headed by the deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu.

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