By Tony Edike, Enugu
Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, chaired the Senate Committee on the Review of 1999 Constitution which recently concluded its assignment and successfully amended some clauses in the constitution. Ekweremadu, who represents Enugu West, spoke to reporters recently in Enugu on various national issues.

How do you feel that sections of the Nigerian Constitution have been amended under your supervision?
We had a lot of challenges in the course of amending the constitution, a lot of frustrating events. But because we put our mind on it, we were able to push through. It is for me a victory for democracy.

Senator Ike Ekweremadu

It is a victory for our constitution because all the years, once we had issues with our constitution, what we did was to throw it away and do a new one, even when there are provisions for its amendment. So, we have taken full advantage of the provision of section 9 to successfully amend our constitution, something we have never done before.

So, I am happy to be part of that history. I want to use this opportunity again to thank the Senate President who gave me all the encouragement and supported me all the way. And all my colleagues who worked with me in the committee, both in the Senate and the House and I believe that Nigerians should also be very proud of themselves that they were able to deal with these issues without much rancor.

So, just for emphasis, it means that all those provisions that met the 24 states benchmark as provided by section 9 are now in operation throughout Nigeria. So, the constitution is amended effectively from the date those 24 states were achieved.

Can you describe the exercise conducted by your committee a success when it is reported that about half of the amended clauses did not sail through?

First, I am not sure of the statistics now because it is still being analyzed but I don’t think you are right because from the few analyses we have done so far, I think the parts that suffered setback are the ones regarding independent candidates and the issue of first line charge for state assemblies. They should be about two or three clauses in all and then, the other ones are sections 261 to 266 or something.

These are the sections regarding political parties, which we were going to transfer to Electoral Act and the Houses of Assembly felt otherwise. Those ones are dull moments. It is just moving them from Electoral Act because we believe that the dynamics of politics demand that they should be in the Electoral Act, where we can deal with it, effect the changes as the need arises without going through all the process of constitutional amendment.

That was our thinking and the Houses of Assembly didn’t understand it that way and they said, ‘oh, we should retain it in the constitution’. It is neither here nor there. But those ones are not the issues.

Typically, issues that we wanted to address, as far as I am concerned, we have all achieved, including the Independence of INEC because, don’t forget that this thing we have done now is for us to consider electoral reforms. Our interest is electoral reforms and then all the key issues concerning electoral reforms have been achieved.

Now, you cannot be in INEC and be a member of a political party as was in the constitution of 1999. Now, they have their first line charge. That means they get their revenue directly from consolidated revenue fund of the federation. Third is the issue of election tribunals, we have reduced the number of judges in the tribunal from five to three.

Then, we reduced the quorum from three to two. We have also said that election petition be filed within 21 days instead of 30 days we had in the constitution. We said that judgment has to be delivered within 60 days, and then within 180 days of filing the petition, which is usually unlimited time.

Now, we have 180 days, we said that all appeals must be concluded within 90 days. So, we are talking about 90 plus 180, that is 270 plus 21 days, that is a litigation period of less than 300 days, within which everything that has to do with election must have been concluded.

Senate Ucha was removed yesterday at the Court of Appeal, three and a half years after the election was conducted. That is absurd. So, we have taken care of that in the Electoral Act, in the amended constitution.

So, we have achieved everything we want to achieve in terms of electoral reforms and the constitution.
Some days ago, the Senate President said that this National Assembly will make history as the first to create states.

But quite unfortunately, we have less than one year for this session to be dissolved. Looking at the time frame, is it still possible to create states?

Let me say that the issue of state creation is still alive. To us, it is something we have to deal with tenaciously. Nigerians want it and as representatives of our people, we cannot shy away from what our people want.

But the time frame for its completion is another kettle of fish. So, what we intend to do is to come up with a legislation that will address the issue of constitutional amendment to suggest that, just like in America, if you start the process of any part of the constitution and you are unable to finish it within the life span of a particular parliament, that should not be the end of that exercise.

So, the next parliament will start from where you stopped as if nothing happened.

So, if we are able to achieve that legislation and start the process of creation of states, if we are unable to finish it before June next year, when the next parliament will come into force, those who will come after us will conclude it.

Based on the constitutional amendment, when is the next election going to hold?

January, because what we have amended the constitution to say is that election will hold not earlier than 150 days and not later than 120 days. So, if you calculate from May 29, it means that election will hold between the 31st of December and I think the first of January.  Within those thirty days, that is when the election will hold.

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