By Emmanuel Aziken
It was a constitutional milestone that ordinarily should have been accorded worthy headlines in the dailies. However, the passage of the first amendments to the 1999 Constitution was buried in the aftermath of the commotion that followed the alleged return of President Umaru Yar‘Adua to the country last Wednesday.

All past three Senates of the fourth republic had in the past made significant efforts to amend the Constitution but none of them ever got to the stage of passing an amendment bill to alter the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.

Senator Ibrahim Mantu as Chairman of the National Assembly Joint Committee on Constitution Review (JCCR) did not get to the stage of articulating a bill as required to amend the Constitution in his first stewardship of the Committee between 2000 and 2003.

It was alleged but never confirmed that the Committee’s efforts were frustrated by some presidency officials who had another plan for the alteration of the constitution.

That alleged plan was to materialize in the second Senate of the fourth republic where Mantu was again chairman of the JCCR.

After almost a billion naira in official expenses in articulating perceived deficiencies in the 1999 Constitution, the efforts of the JCCR were bogged down by the third term scheme of President Olusegun Obasanjo.

As has been repeatedly stated, the baby and the bath water were both thrown out on May 16, 2006 when the Senate famously turned down the second reading of the constitution amendment bill.

Having learnt their lessons it was instructive that constitution amendment advocates prevailed on the present Senate not to lump all the proposed amendments as one bill as was done by the immediate past Senate.

It was as such helpful that the present exercise in constitution review has prudently separated many of the issues involved.

Remarkably, the first bill to be passed by the Senate altering the Constitution was never one that was articulated until recently.

Nigerians had until recently been preoccupied by perceived loopholes in the electoral process, the immunity clause for executive office holders and the agitation for the creation of more States.

However, the drama that followed President Yar‘Adua’s trip medical vacation and his alleged return to the country last Wednesday compelled a swift response from the Senate.

The loophole in Section 145 of the Constitution that made transmission of authority to the Vice-President discretionary was the subject of the amendment bill that successfully passed through the Senate on Wednesday.

The amendment as articulated by Senator Ike Ekweremadu and the other 43 members of the Senate Committee on Constitution Review now gives the President a fourteen day window within which to transmit authority failing which the National Assembly would be compelled to invest the Vice-President with the authority of Acting President.

The Senate vote on the clause passed through with 86 Senators in support with only four Senators standing against. 73 Senators were needed to scale the constitutional requirement of two-third. The four Senators who voted against the proposal notably included two Senators from Katsina State, Senators Garba Lado and Ibrahim Ida.

Senator Lado’s emotional opposition to anything conceived as being against President Yar‘Adua or elements of the kitchen cabinet is well known to many who believe that his continued political relevance is directly dependent on President Yar‘Adua’s survival in office.

The Senate’s action on Wednesday was despite reports earlier in the day that President Yar‘Adua had reportedly returned to the country. Senators who voted only two weeks ago to empower Dr. Jonathan as Acting President were seemingly unmoved as they affirmed that they were ignorant of his arrival.

In the view of many Senators the only way that the Senate will appreciate the return of the President is for him to write a letter to the National Assembly intimating the body of his return as expressly provided in the constitution and in the Senate resolution that empowered Dr. Jonathan as Acting President.

The President of the Senate, Senator David Mark who is arguably facing the toughest challenges of his leadership competence has remarkably gone along with many Senators on the issue.

In his Eid-Mallud greeting yesterday, Senator Mark conspicuously did not make any reference to the alleged return of the President to the country.

To him and many other Nigerians who are yet to see anybody who has seen anybody that has seen President Yar‘Adua since the alleged return to the country, the President’s return remains in the realm of speculations.

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