By Ben Agande & Inalegu Shaibu
ABUJAâ€”THE harmonized version of amendments to the 1999 Constitution adopted by the Senate and the House of Representatives were formally handed over to Speakers of the 36 states Houses of Assembly yesterday.
At the ceremony which had Senate President, Mr. David Mark, Deputy Senate President, Mr. Ike Ekweremadu, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Usman Nafada, as well as the Chairman of the Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures, Mr. Haruna Gbana in attendance, assured that the state assemblies would give the draft amendment thorough but accelerated passage.
However, a coalition of civil society groups led by the Constitutional Reform Dialogue Mechanism, has enjoined Speakers of State Houses of Assembly to reject the harmonized amendments.
The groups said this was because the issue of cross carpeting by elected officials without loss of seats and the disqualification of persons indicted by competent authorities were not sufficiently addressed in the amendments, and could pose a threat to the nationâ€™s democracy.
Senator Ike Ekweremadu who presented the report said 50 amendments were made to the 1999 constitution and that the amended sections underwent â€œstrict rigours of the legislative processâ€ adding that in order to ensure that the highest standards possible were achieved, â€œwe set up a very capable secretariat with competent experts and consultantsâ€ who assisted the legislators.
Interest of the common man
Receiving the draft copy of the harmonised constitution, Gbana said the Houses of Assembly would safeguard the interest of the common man in the constitutional amendment.
He said: â€œOn our part at the States level, I wish to reiterate our commitment to ensuring that we shall be thorough and democratic in the performance of our Constitutional responsibilities.”
But the representatives of CRDM, Dr. Otive Igbuzor asked the Speakers to reject the amendment as presented by the National Assembly because some vital issues were not well captured.
The coalition comprises the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Joint National Association of People with Disability, JONAPWD; Electoral Reform Network, ERN; Gender and Constitution Reform Network, GECORN; and Citizens Forum for Constitutional Reform, CFCR.
Igbuzor said: â€œIt is clear that all the issues that need to be addressed in the Constitution to consolidate our democracy have not been addressed by the legislature in this first amendment. Although the first amendment to the 1999 Constitution is a positive step towards ensuring credible, free and fair elections in Nigeria. The move for a second amendment to the Constitution should begin now.
â€œWe urge the state Houses of Assembly to make history by rejecting the following provisions in the amendment proposed by the National Assembly. One, that candidates for election would no longer be disqualified from participating in election on account of indictment by a judicial or administrative panel of inquiry.
â€œTwo, deleting the provision of sections 68(1) (g) that forbids a member of National Assembly from decamping from the political party to another unless there is division in his/her own political party.
â€œThis is, to say the least, legitimization of political prostitution. In a country where we need to encourage politics of principles, ethics, ideology and issues, this amendment will be counterproductive. We hope that the state houses of Assembly will stay with the people and reject these amendments.â€