By Henry Umoru, Assistant Political Editor
SENATOR Ike Ekweremadu, former Deputy Senate President, who hails from Mpu, Aninri Local Government Area of Enugu State can be described as a very lucky man judging from his background in Enugu State vis-a-vis the offices he had occupied from the period he served in the administration of former Governor Chimaroke Nnamani and now a Senator in the 9th Senate.
Ekweremadu who completed his fourth tenure in the 8th Senate, was re-elected for a fifth term during the just concluded general elections and by the end of 2023, he would have completed twenty years as a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Knowing that he has fully represented his people, he said recently when he marked his 57th birthday in Enugu that at the end of the 9th Senate, he would quit and allow others to continue, adding that a new breed politician with shared vision would take over from him at the expiration of his fifth term.
Ekweremadu said that his 16-year sojourn in the National Assembly had been immensely beneficial to his constituents, as it had been a harvest of projects.
But as a typical politician who was still prepared to offer his services as a Presiding officer in the Hallowed Chamber, he contested for the position of Deputy President of the Senate, a position he had held for twelve years.
Ekweremadu of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP who was nominated by Chukwuka Utazi, Enugu and seconded by Rose Oko, Cross River, contested against Senator Ovie Omo- Agege, All Progressives Congress, APC, Delta Central.
After sorting the 105 votes cast during the exercise, Omo-Agege emerged winner with 68 votes against 37 votes for Ekweremadu while one vote was voided and one abstained. Omo-Agege was the sole candidate of APC following the decision of other APC aspirants to step down.
Many people asked why Ekweremadu should contest for the same position and did not allow another person like Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, PDP, Abia South who is also ranking to contest if it must again go to the South East or Senator James Manager, PDP, Delta South who will be spending twenty years in the Senate at the end of the present Senate.
It was gathered that the decision to present Ekweremadu for the position may not be that of PDP, but Ekweremadu’s personal and eleventh hour decision when it became very clear that the PDP preferred candidate for the position, Senator Francis Alimikhena, APC, Edo North had to pull out following alleged threats to his life and family members
One of the lawmakers who spoke on condition of anonymity after the election observed that some PDP Senators gave Omo-Agege sympathy votes in demonstration of their disgust for the former Deputy President of the Senate’s “overstay in office.”
Reacting to his defeat, Senator Ekweremadu who congratulated both the new Senate President and his deputy, Lawan and Omo- Agege respectively, said that he had made his point by contesting for the position of Deputy President of the Senate while his colleagues have made their choice.
The event of June 11 had become part of history for the historians, students of politics, among others to dwell on but the question is, for twelve years as a Deputy President of the Senate, what were Ekweremadu’s achievements?
As Deputy President of the Senate, Ekweremadu was very visible and active in the amendment of the constitution which he chaired and before he took charge of the constitution amendment efforts in 2007, previous efforts to amend the constitution failed.
Amended constitutional provisions
In order to prevent a repeat of the constitutional challenge posed by protracted absence of President, Ekweremadu-led constitution review committee ensured that Sections 145 and 190 of the Constitution were amended to make it mandatory for the President and Governor to transmit a letter to the National Assembly or State Assembly, respectively, to enable their deputies act in their absence or whenever they are unable to discharge their functions. Otherwise the Vice President or Deputy Governor automatically begins to act after 21 days.
The term of office when a sitting president or governor wins a re-run election was also defined. This was because the Supreme Court held in a landmark judgment that the tenure of former Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State began from the date he was sworn, not on 29th May 2003.
Therefore, Sections 135 and 180 of the Constitution now provide: “In the determination of the four year term, where a rerun election has taken place and the person earlier sworn in wins the rerun election, the time spent in the office before the date the election was annulled, shall be taken into account.
Sections 81 and 84 of the Constitution were amended to place INEC funds on First Line Charge or financial autonomy. Section 160 was amended to provide that “in the case of the Independent National Electoral Commission, its powers to make its own rules or otherwise regulate its own procedure shall not be subject to the approval of the President”, thereby granting INEC administrative independence.
Section 156 was amended to insulate members of INEC from partisanship by expunging the erroneous constitutional requirement that a candidate for nomination for membership/chairmanship of INEC should hold the same qualifications as a person seeking election into the House of Representatives.
This included membership of a political party. Time Limit for disposal of election petitions was set in 2010. Before these amendments, lawyers employed all sorts of tricks to elongate the election and pre-election lawsuits.
Sections 285 (5)–(8) were amended to provide that all petitions must be filed within 21 days, judgment must be delivered within 180 days, and any appeal arising from the tribunal or Court of Appeal must be delivered within 60 days. The same amendments were also extended to pre-election litigations in 2018.
In the same vein, timeline for the conduct of elections was also increased. Initially, the constitution provided for not earlier than 60 days before and not later than 30 days to the date on which the tenure of office expires for the federal legislature, the state legislature, Presidency, and governorship positions.
Sections 76, 116, 132, and 178 were amended to provide for a timeframe for INEC, not earlier than 150 days and not later than 90 days.
The number of judges on Election Petition Tribunals for the National and State Houses of Assembly Election Tribunal and Governorship Election Tribunal was reduced from Chairman and four members to Chairman and two persons by amending Section 285 and the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. The quorum was reduced to Chairman and one member to hasten justice at the tribunals.
Furthermore, the National Assembly was made financially independent to strengthen checks and balances and independence of the legislature. State Assemblies failed to approve autonomy for themselves in 2010, allegedly due to the influence of the governors.
However, they finally endorsed financial autonomy for themselves and State Judiciary passed by the National Assembly in the 2018 amendments.
It is on record that Ekweremadu-led constitution review committee also put a stop to the disqualification of candidates using Administrative Panels. It will be recalled that Sections 66 (h), 137 (i), and 182 (i) of the Constitution disqualifying persons indicted of embezzlement or fraud were allegedly abused in the run up to the 2007 general election.
This provision was deleted to ensure that only those convicted of criminal charges by court of law were barred.
Another milestone was the Not-Too-Young-To-Run amendment, which saw to the reduction in age requirements for those running for political offices by amending Sections 65, 106, 131, and 177. For instance, age requirement for the presidency was reduced from 40 to 35 while that of the House of Assembly and House of Representatives was reduced to 25 years.
In the 8th National Assembly, amendments were passed to compel a strict return to January-December budget cycle where the President/Governor must lay budget proposal not later than 90 days to the end of the fiscal year, while the parliament must pass it latest December 31.
Rejected amendment proposals
Nevertheless, there were key proposals that failed. While some failed to garner the requisite two-third votes of the National Assembly, some were rejected by State Assemblies, while others were denied presidential assent.
Some of the proposals to devolve more powers to the states in sectors such as railways, aviation and stamp duties among others which were designed to strengthen Nigeria’s federalism did not get the requisite support of the National Assembly.
Likewise, the single term of five/six years to reduce overbearing influence of incumbency and reduce election-related tensions and excessive resources expended on Nigerian elections failed; Other proposals that failed at the National Assembly included creation of additional states to ensure parity, especially for the South East; decentralization of policing to create state police; providing for procedure for creating a new constitution when necessary, including a referendum; and raising educational qualification for political offices to a minimum of OND.
Attempt to abrogate State Independent Electoral Commissions so that INEC could conduct LG elections, was also stopped at the National Assembly. Those that scaled through the National Assembly, but were defeated at the State Houses of Assembly, included amendments to create uniform tenure for LGAs.
Major amendments that were denied presidential assent included the removal of presidential assent to constitution amendment under former President Goodluck Jonathan. Another amendment that was denied presidential assent was the separation of the Office of the Minister of Justice/Commissioner of Justice from that of the Attorney-General of the Federation/State.
The amendment also sought to create five-year tenure and place the Attorney-General at federal and state levels on First Line Charge to ensure financial autonomy, security of tenure and insulate the office from political influences.
Another amendment to set a timeframe within which the President or a Governor must forward names of nominees for confirmation as Ministers or Commissioners and their proposed portfolios to the Senate or State House of Assembly did not receive President Buhari’s assent.
The same fate befell attempt to enable timely passage of laws by altering Sections 58, 59 and 100 to compel the President or Governor to signify assent or denial of assent to bill within 30 working days of receiving them, failing which it automatically becomes a law.
Whereas the need for some of the failed amendments might not have been clear at the time they were rejected by the National Assembly or State Assemblies or the President, many believe such constitutional provisions have become imperative today. How the National Assembly handles them will no doubt have implications on its legacies and the future of the nation.