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Constitutional Amendment: It’s D-Day for Reps

By Levinus Nwabughiogu

Members of the House of Representatives are to vote today on critical proposals to alter the provisions of the Constitution. The proposal to grant autonomy to the country’s local governments is undoubtedly the most prominent of the several amendments articulated.

Toady is a decisive day on the on-going constitution amendment exercise of the National Assembly. The House of Representatives will vote on some  clauses spotted in the 1999 constitution  for either outright removal or amendment.

There have been speculations and counter-speculations that most issues raised by the House Adhoc Technical Committee that harmonized views of Nigerians during the nationwide Constituency/Peoples session with the members late last year may have been jettisoned.

Now, an air of apprehension and controversy is pervading  the National Assembly as the members themselves run amok over the exercise.

The Lawmakers had identified what many called “shortcomings” in the constitution and resolved to fix them in order to give Nigerians a constitution that will be fashioned after their yearnings.  To make good their resolve, the members of the Seventh Assembly early in the year unanimously decided to go back to their various constituencies to sample opinions of their constituents on the teething issues in the constitution.

Indeed, various views were collated and eventually a Technical Committee chaired by the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha was set up to harmonize the data.On July 4, 2013, the Deputy Speaker submitted the report of the committee to the House.

Among the proposals included financial autonomy for Local Government Councils, the propriety or otherwise of State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs),  autonomy for state legislatures,  removal of immunity clause for  the president and governors.

The proposals also included first line charges for state Auditors- General and Judiciary so that   they derive their funds from the states’ consolidated revenue funds. Making the Office of Accountant-General of the Federation different from the Accountant-General of the Federal Government made the list.

There were also the proposal to separate the office of the Attorneys-General of the Federation and those of the states from the minister and commissioners for Justice respectively and accord financial autonomy to the attorneys-general among others.

While everyone had anticipated voting on the issues last week, surprisingly, the House at plenary, said it was short-handed with the copies of the proposal and so couldn’t continue with the voting.

Consequently, the Speaker of the House, Rt. Hon. Aminu Waziru Tambuwal during last Thursday’s plenary told the members who deliberated the proposals that voting will be Tuesday (today).

“Honorable members, what we have done today was to consider the proposal clause by clause. We will vote on Tuesday, next week,” the Speaker said.

House of Representatives during plenary
House of Representatives during plenary

Meanwhile, among the issues raised during the consideration of the items, the autonomy of the Local Government which will eventually erase the joint account with state governments took the centre stage.

For over six hours the House session lasted, members took turns to air their various opinions, espousing the necessity of financial autonomy of local councils.

In accordance with the recommendation, any local government council which is not democratically elected in line with the provisions of section 7 of the constitution shall not receive revenue allocation from the Federation Account.

According to Section 7 (1) “The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the Government of every State shall, subject to section 8 of this Constitution, ensure their existence under a Law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils.”

Against this backdrop, the House commenced debate on the proposal shortly after the introduction of the proposed amendments to that section of the constitution by the House Leader Hon. Mulikat Akande-Adeola.

In his debate on the proposal, Hon Samson Osagie (ACN, Edo State) stated that  autonomy for local governments was in tune with the provisions of the amendment being proposed in the constitution and in line with the provisions of section 8 sub (1) of the constitution.

Also, Representative Aisha Modibo from Adamawa, was of the opinion that any local council that is not democratic “shall not be recognized by the authorities and shall not exercise any function.”

According to her, local council administration “is a vehicle for rural transformation and delivery of social services”.

But Hon. Dan Asiquo from Akwa Ibom gave a new twist to the issue. In his view, two issues which bother on the autonomy of funds and administration of the LG were fundamental.

He said: “There are two things in the issue. Can you give financial autonomy to LG that does not have administrative autonomy?

With these, the Speaker of the House, Alhaji Aminu Waziri Tambuwal mandated the Technical Committee to take note of the views saying, “we have to realign before we vote.”

The expectations today
From every indication, it appears that the members will uphold what most of them had referred to as the peoples wish by granting  financial autonomy to  local councils.  A few of them who spoke exclusively to Vanguard confirmed that. But what is not known now is whether the required two-third majority will be gotten to pass the items especially now that the, Senate had on Tuesday last week jettisoned the proposal thereby dashing the hopes of the councils to boost their income.

Tambuwal
Tambuwal

We’ll back council auitonomy — Gbajabiamila
All I can tell you is the majority of the members of the House are for local government autonomy but whether they will get the required two-third, I have no idea. “For me and some other people, immunity should remain because there is a reason for it. It is not an absolute immunity. The governors and the President can be sued when they leave office.”

It is the position of the constituents — Jagaba
To Hon. Adams Jagaba, Kaduna, autonomy for councils “was the position of our constituents. So, you cannot vote against what they want. We went to our constituencies but the senators did at the zonal level. When you do things at the zonal level, you will definitely have a different result. But we did our own constituency by constituency everybody came and participated. But I want to assure you that it is the position of our people and we are not changing that.”

On the immunity clause
“Well, the point here is that all the matters presented there were the decision of our constituents. We didn’t do anything out of selfish reasons. We have our data collected by every member. That is the position of the people. Now, if we go against that, at the end of the day we may end up not being the representatives of the people. But if truly we are, we have no choice than to adopt what they said.”

NLC/TUC banks on Reps on retention of minimum wage in Exclusive List
Having had their hope dashed by Senators who voted for the removal of minimum wage from the Exclusive List, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in a joint Press Conference in Abuja  said they were banking on the House of Representatives to see them through.

“We call on the House of Representatives as the last bastion of our representative governance to side with the people, as they have always done, to ensure that the minimum wage remains in the Exclusive list to protect poor working families against the vagaries of thoughtless and rabid neo-liberal economic policies.”

The politics involved
This might not be the first time financial autonomy and the Independence of the State Legislature will be cropping up in the event of the constitutional amendments. Such had happened before. But heavy politics has always accompanied it. This, almost, always emanates from the State Governors who would not want to lose money by giving up the

joint account. Already, speculations are rife that the Governors have started lobbying the State Legislatures whose votes are expected the put paid on the issues should the House eventually favour it. But where the pendulum would finally swing to is definitely a question of time.


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.