By June this year or thereabout, the 9th National Assembly would be constituted to take charge of the business of enacting laws and reviewing existing ones. With the ruling party, All Progressives Congress, APC, maintaining clear dominance in the number of lawmakers in both chambers of the National Assembly, Nigerians are hopeful that more transformative bills will translate into laws in the next four years. In this edition, Vanguard Law and Human Rights, sought the views of lawyers on which specific laws or sections of the constitution that need to be amended. Those who share their views are activist and lawyer, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN; Professor Ernest Ojukwu, SAN; Dr. Igbinedion Simeon, Sub-dean, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, Executive Director, Access to Justice, Joseph Otteh; Executive Director, Cadrell Advocacy Centre, Evans Ufeli and President, Voters Awareness Initiative, Wale Ogunade.
By Innocent Anaba and Henry Ojelu
Priority should be on bill to devolve power to states— Agbakoba, SAN
Agbakoba said: “The first item of business should be a bill for an enactment to devolve powers to the states from the Federal Government and the next most important is to legislate for autonomy of local governments and third is to pass a special bill on economic recovery with major emphasis on banking regulation to fix interest rates in single digits and finally, a bill to create a national credit guarantee administration to support private sector borrowing backed by government guarantees.
Attention should be on bills that will reduce bottleneck to justice delivery—Ojukwu, SAN
Professor Ojukwu in his reaction said: “I dream of the Nigerian 9th National Assembly that will focus on its mandate and deliver laws that will help turn around Nigeria’s development and good governance free from a culture of corruption.
I specifically look forward to constitutional amendments and laws that will reduce by 90 per cent, disputes that are appealed to the Supreme Court including appeals on governorship election petitions, and constitutional amendments and laws that will reduce by 95 per cent, delays and bottlenecks in dispute settlements in our courts and laws that will facilitate greater access to justice to Nigerians especially the poor and other vulnerable groups.
“I hope to see the National Assembly deal with reforms that will facilitate a proactive fight against corruption like a law that will transfer the burden of justifying unusual enrichment to the citizen. I need to see amendments to our electoral laws that will enhance a culture of democracy.
I need to see the National Assembly members act in less selfish manner as our political representatives and show by practice that we can trust them by enacting examples of open, transparent, accountable and responsive governance in the management of the affairs of the National Assembly and its finances and funds under its control.”
Federal character principle should be made enforceable— Dr. Igbinedion
Dr. Igbinedion in his reaction said: “The National Assembly should commit itself to a policy of transparency in connection with its salaries and allowances in collaboration with Revenue Mobilisation & Fisacal Allocation Commission.
They should enact a law on Electronic voting & electronic transmission of election results. This could drastically reduce rigging and electoral violence.
“ They should also promulgate law on mandatory investigation and prosecution of high profile corruption offenders irrespective of their status or association.
This is aimed to address the incidence of one-sided anti-corruption fight.
“They should also enact the federal character principle into enforceable law.
This will undo the current trend where crass nepotism has trumped federal character in appointments. Finally, the lawmakers should also consider the enactment of social Investment Programme to specifically benefit or empower persons who have undergone skills acquisition training, so that there would be no room for outright distribution of cash under the guise of social investment.
Abuse of electoral system will continue if Electoral Act is not amended —Otteh
Otteh believes that the electoral act should be given utmost attention. He said: “There are several areas where the National Assembly can help improve governance, beginning from reviewing the process that brought many of them in as lawmakers. That could be a good point of departure. If we do not strengthen the integrity of our electoral system, we will see an escalated level of abuse of the system in future elections. Nigeria needs new electoral laws that will provide not just improved balloting procedures, but non-discriminatory and mandatory enforcement of criminal laws governing the conduct of elections and tampering with election results. We should ensure that those who participate in perverting the electoral system must be kept away from the system for a very, very long time as a deterrent.
“Also, political office is too materially alluring and attractive in a way that is unsustainable for an economy like ours; access to the lavish dividends of political office may be the real driver for the blindsiding competition for political office, not a true desire for people-oriented service. Therefore, the National Assembly should completely reform the remuneration system of political office, beginning with theirs, reducing its opportunism in a way that will significantly reduce the incentives to see political office as a do or die affair.
“There are yet other major challenges that are too many for any brief narrative: we must find ways to make our Constitution more meaningful for our people. The constitutional amendment process must continue until the Constitution truly becomes a peoples’ charter – guaranteeing popular access to the benefits of our commonwealth and patrimony. We want to see amendments that say the State must use its resources to cater to the health, housing and feeding of our people, of our elderly, of the unemployed, of the children, so that State resources are not used in servicing extravagant pension payments to ex-Governors who are now serving Senators and are receiving much more than they need. We want to see our out-of-school children back to the classrooms, so we can produce citizens who can lead productive lives, notwithstanding that their parents are too poor or uneducated themselves to send them to school. Let the 9th National Assembly pass laws that offer this opportunity and hope to the Nigerian people.”
Focus should be on economic recovery bills— Ufeli
Ufeli said: “I expect the 9th Assembly upon inauguration, to first revisit the Constitutional Amendment Bill with a view to restructuring the federal system of government as currently constituted. Devolution of powers is one conversation that the incoming 9th Assembly should concentrate on so that the administration of states and the economics can reflect the principles of federalism.
“Again, chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution which defines the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policies must be made justiceable so that the socioeconomic right of Nigerians can be guaranteed. The constitution should be amended so the socioeconomic rights of Nigerians as drawn in the 1999 Constitution as amended, can in truth and indeed, guarantee the security and welfare of the people as the primary purpose of government.
“The Petroleum Industry Bill needs to be passed fully. Having split the Bill into four parts, a full passage of that Bill is required to enable the efficient administration of the petroleum sector which constitutes about 15 per cent of our GDP in Nigeria.
“In my view, the 9th Assembly must look graphically into the economy and its growth rate, then make and pass sensitive legislations that will help to revive the economy which currently borders on recession.”
Non-justiceable sections of the constitution should be amended —Ogunade
Ogunade said: “First, I want the National Assembly to take a deep look into the electoral act. They should look into the electoral reform panels and pick issues that have been thoroughly dealt with by those panels. If you look at issues of voters education, use of military, thuggery, transmission of result, etc. they should critically look at the relevance of some political parties that failed to show their presence even at the local level.
“They should also look at bills that have to do with promotion of the welfare of citizens. Banks must be directed through specific bills, to give attention to farmers, artisans, young entrepreneurs and industries that are involved in the production of consumables.
“I also want the new National Assembly members to look into the issue of security, education and infrastructure development. I want to believe that if these issues that I have pointed out, are taken into consideration, then definitely, we will have a better Nigeria in the next four years.
“Sections 30-47 of the 1999 Constitution should also be looked into. The various provisions in those sections should be made justiceable by the National Assembly. This will afford people the opportunity to take any government to court for not performing its constitutional role. Once this is done, there will be an improvement in the delivery of service and good governance.