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Constitution Amendment: The vigils in the House

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By Levinus Nwabughiogu

The House of Representatives penultimate Wednesday voted on the 87 items proposed for alteration by the House Committee on Constitution Review. The voting which was characterized by intrigues was nevertheless shaped to a conclusion by the determination and steadfastness of Speaker Aminu Tambuwal.

Minutes before they commenced the about 12 hour round of voting on the amendments to the constitution, Speaker Aminu Tambuwal charged members of the House of Representatives to vote in line with the resolutions adopted at the popular Peoples Sessions conducted in the 360 federal constituencies.

Any member who is not bold enough to vote in line with the resolutions of the people’s session is not fit to be a Honourable member, Speaker Tambuwal was quoted as telling his colleagues during a closed door session.

Speaker Tambuwal’s charge was not surprising. Days to the vote on the constitution amendment proposals, House members had been the target of serious lobbying by various groups with diverse interests in the outcome of the constitution amendment exercise.

File Photo: Cross section of  House of Representatives members at the National Assembly in Abuja Photo : Gbemiga Olamikan
File Photo: Cross section of House of Representatives members at the National Assembly in Abuja Photo : Gbemiga Olamikan

Especially forceful in their lobbying were governors who were determined to stave off some of the more radical proposals that would have limited their powers in the polity. Especially touchy for many governors were the issues of autonomy for local governments and the state houses of assembly.

Speaker Tambuwal’s assertion was especially sensitive given the fact that the Senate had days earlier voted down some of the more popular measures like the autonomy for local governments. The House unlike the Senate was also not faced with the prospect of altering the controversial section 29 through which Senator Ahmed Yerima had used to advocate his support and participation in marriage to underage girls.

Marriage to underage girls
The House Committee on Constitution Review had identified 87 different items for amendment in the 1999 constitution.

Among the items were State/Local Government Council Joint Account which has now given way for Local Government Councils (LGCs) Financial Autonomy, the Independence of the State Legislatures, the scrapping of State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs), and the removal of Immunity Clause of the President and the Governors, life pension for President, Vice President, Governors and their Deputies which has now accommodated the Senate President, Deputy, Speaker of the House of

Representatives and the Deputy Speaker
In fact, days preceding the day of voting penultimate Wednesday, July 24 the House was stirred with horse-trading and hire-wired intrigues which saw the members of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) take a detour from their earlier stand of supporting the sovereignty of the local governments. They adduced reasons that in the long run, they may not be solvent enough to pay salaries and develop infrastructure. However, with the admonishment from Speaker Tambuwal many members in the end adjusted themselves to voting in line with the resolutions from their constituencies.

How members voted
D-day was historic in many respects. It was arguably the longest legislative sitting with members sitting put in the chamber from just before noon till midnight.

A break was only allowed when Speaker Tambuwal and muslim members took time to break the Muslim fast at dusk. Attendance was also unprecedented since inauguration with as many as 339 lawmakers present. The voting was, however, marred with technical hitches which stalled the use of the electronic voting system that had been earlier canvassed by the House.

Votes on some of the clauses were as follows: Local Government Council’s (LGC) Autonomy got 293 as against 39 and 7 abstentions. The Scrapping of State Independent Electoral Commission (SIECs) got 331 votes in favour, 16 against and 11 abstentions. The removal of the Immunity currently enjoyed by the President, Vice President, Governors and their Deputies got the nod of 292 members as against 26 votes and 30 abstentions.

To delete “Force” from the current Nigeria Police Force and make it read “Nigeria Police”, the members voted 318 for, 2 against while19 abstained. This is amongst several other clauses and vote. But one significant thing was not all the 87 clauses scaled through.

The Deputy Speaker, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha who doubled as the Chairman of Constitutional Amendment Adhoc Committee in a statement following the sitting said the House had kept faith with the decisions of the people expressed during the Peoples’ Public Sessions that took place in the 360 Federal Constituencies of Nigeria, on November 10, 2012.

Technical hitches that stalled Electronic voting It almost did not happen but for the determination of Speaker Tambuwal who nudged the House to adopt the use of manual voting after the electronic voting system prepared by the Nigerian Satellite Communications Ltd, (NIGCOMSAT) disappointed at least three times. It is an issue that could ensnare the budget appropriation for the agency next year.

Next step/Challenges
Though the House of Representatives had done what seemingly met the expectations of most Nigerians, it may not be uhuru yet. To receive the force of law, the items will pass through the 36 States Houses of Assembly. Adoption by at least two-third of the houses would be required to enroll the alterations into the constitution.

There are fears that some of the clauses especially the Local Government Autonomy and Independence of the State Legislatures which are obviously lucrative funnels for state governors to make more money will fail as Governors may lobby to kill it at this stage. But that will be the concern of the Speakers of State Assembly. Ihedioha for one believes that Nigerians must keep vigil of the process especially at this stage.

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