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Constitution review gulps N5 billion

By Tunde Opalana, Tom Okpe, Abuja

As the Senate last Friday in Abuja concluded public hearings on the proposed amendment to the 1999 Constitution and the House of Representatives rounds off its own exercise, this week, at least a sum of N5 billion may have been sunk into five different attempts at altering the document.

Starting with the 5th National Assembly (2003-2007) to the current 9th Assembly, both chambers of the parliament have been officially allocated N500 million each for each exercise which many Nigerians home and abroad considered as jamboree, because, all efforts have failed to give the nation a desired people oriented constitution

However, reports had it that between N7.5 billion and N10 billion were expended by the National Assembly on consultancy and other sundry services on these exercises.

Rather than carrying out the assignments jointly, both chambers have been going separate ways to the shocking of the people, thereby eating deep into the nation’s coffers.

The lawmakers have argued that this process will enhance better participation by Nigerians and generate robust inputs that will guide the parliament on thematic areas to be listed for alteration.

The two chambers started having separate public hearings during the 6th Assembly when former Senate President, David Mark, was the chairman of the National Assembly.

But the question on the lips on many Nigerians has been, “what has the previous attempt at altering the constitution achieved?”

The answer is negative because if previous attempts have addressed the very many issues been raised by different section of the country, agitations for reordering of the nation wouldn’t have so rife.

During the 5th Assembly, under the chairmanship of former Deputy Senate President, Ibrahim Mantu and Deputy Speaker, Austin Okpara, attempt by the constitution amendment ad-hoc committees was stalled by the crisis generated by the purported third term agenda of former President Olusegun Obasanjo meant to be snuggled into the amendment bill.

The second attempt during the 6th Assembly (2007-2011) under the chairmanship of Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Usman Bayero Nafada, yielded few results as some sections of the 1999 constitution were amended.

It was this attempt that gave financial autonomy to the National Assembly as an independent arm of the government. The autonomy listed NASS as a first line charge institution which can draw its funds straight from the Consolidated Revenue Account.

The 6th Assembly also as part of its constitution amendment efforts enacted the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Alteration Acts.

Reimbursed also with N1 billion assignment fees, the 7th Assembly constitution amendment ad – hoc Committee under the of Senator Ike Ekweremadu and Honourable Emeka Ihedioha successfully enacted the 4th Alteration Act.

This amendment which was successfully carried out at both chambers of the National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly failed the assent of former President, Goodluck Jonathan, who it was claimed feared the provisions of the 4th Alteration Act might whittle down his powers.

Former President rejected 10 of the 65 amendments to the 1999 Constitution by the 7th National Assembly.

Among issues raised by former president Jonathan in the 4th Alteration of the amendments were:

• non-compliance with the threshold specified in Section 9(3) of the 1999 Constitution on amendments;

• alteration to constitution cannot be valid with mere voice votes unless supported by the votes of not less than four-fifths majority all members of National Assembly and two-thirds of all the 36 State Houses of Assembly;

• right to free basic education and primary and maternal care services imposed on private institutions;

• flagrant violation of the doctrine of separation of powers;

• unjustified whittling down of the Executive powers of the Federation vested in the President by virtue of Section 5(1) of the 1999 Constitution; and

• 30 days allowed for assent of the President.

The others are:

• limiting expenditure in default of appropriation from six months to three months;

• creation of the Office of Accountant-General of the Federation distinct from the Accountant General of the Federal Government;

• empowering National Economic Council to appoint the AccountantGeneral of the Federation instead of the President;

• allowing the National Judicial Council (NJC) to appoint the Attorney General of the Federation rather than the President;

• unwittingly whittling down the discretionary powers of the Attorney-General; and

• Life pension scheme for principal officers of the National Assembly

Since, legislative agenda is a continuous process,the 8th Assembly was determined to pursue the 4th Alteration bill.

Even then Speaker, Yakubu Dogara ensured that the process of passage of a Alteration Bill, continue in the new session by amending the provisions of the House standing rule.

Major achievement of the 8th Assembly under Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara was the passage of the amendment to the Electoral law but which was rejected by President Muhammadu Buhari on the ground that with the excuse that signing the bill into law could “create uncertainty and confusion” during the forthcoming elections.

“Pursuant to section 58 (4) of constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), I hereby convey to the House of Representatives, my decision on 6th December 201 to decline Presidential Accent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill , 2018 recently passed by the National Assembly,” he wrote.

“I am declining assent to the Bill principally because I am concerned that passing a new electoral bill this far into the electoral process for the 2019 general election which commenced under the 2015 Electoral Act, could create some uncertainty about the applicable legislation to govern the process.

“Any real or apparent change to the rules this close to the election may provide an opportunity for disruption and confusion in respect of which law governs the electoral process.”

Buhari appealed to the lawmakers to revise some clauses in the bill, expressing optimism that it would take effect after the elections.

With 16 thematic areas listed for consideration by the current 9th Assembly, Nigerians are waiting to be proved wrong that this will not be yet another exercise in futility.

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Ihesiulo Grace

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