Buhari writes Senate to confirm 19 INEC RECs
Senate floor

By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU

Since 1999 when democracy returned to the country the most topical issue has been the nature and structure of the constitution bequeathed to the new republic by the military, which many people regard as unitary and unsuitable for a multi- ethnic and religious federal system. The first attempt by former president Obasanjo was scuttle by his third term agenda.

Since then every government has conducted political conference and also constitutional amendment review but it has largely been unsuccessful as the key areas of concern such as fiscal federalism, state police, devolution of power etc remained untouched.

With ethnic and separatist agitations rising many people had pinned their hope on the current exercise by the 9th National Assembly to address such issues, the outcome has been an anticlimax as not only are most restructuring advocates disappointed, women who had canvassed for inclusion and affirmative policy in accordance with the Beijing protocol, had their hopes also dashed.

More important, however, is the fact that Nigerians, across board, are convinced that not even the National Assemblys best effort will be good enough for Nigeria they yearn for. This fact was captured in a very expansive statement by the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) late last year when it declared in a statement that has since been echoed by many other Pan — ethnic organisations in the country: “Nigerias future”, it said, “rests largely on its willingness to address major constraints to equity and justice, a functional structure, consistent good governance, security for all citizens, a credible electoral process, growing understanding between, and among all groups, and an economy that grows and narrows inequalities between classes and regions.”

The statement further added that : national goals cannot be achieved by a process that makes wasteful expenditure around false hopes a routine. The legislature and executive branches of government have large quantities of reviews, recommendations and reports from past attempts at amending the constitutions and these represent enough resources for a review if the legislature is serious about this vital national priority.

Specifically, it said: A Nigerian Peoples Conference on Review of the Constitution will benefit from past work in this direction in addition to contemporary challenges, which the country needs to address in a context that allows free and productive engagements without pre-determined ends.

Last November, elder statesman, Edwin Clark, alleged that the National Assembly spends about N1 billion annually on the effort to review the nations constitution without making any headway. He then advised President Muhammadu Buhari to convoke a meeting of representatives of Nigeria to deliberate on the report submitted by the Governor Nasir el-Rufai committee set up by the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) on restructuring.

He then ominously warned that unless the injustice perceived by parts of the country is addressed, the issue of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and other agitators will be a childs play.

Many who spoke to BusinessHallmark like Professor Hassan Jameel, a political scientist, said, “Nigerians have come to the knowledge that the successive National Assemblies, including the current one have always been interested in the money to fund the various review committees, and not the fundamental of getting through the review to achieve result. The exercise is nothing more than a sink hole, another way for legislators to further add to their humongous emoluments which rank among the highest in the world.”

For years, Nigerians have yearned for a new constitution to no avail, and in the absence of this, there have been clamour for constitution review to address germane issues such as resource control, financial autonomy for state legislatures and local governments among others, including fundamental restructuring of the polity.

Just two weeks ago, the National Assembly passed five bills, as part of the 68 proposed by the joint committee of the National Assembly on constitution reviews. The bills seek to give states control of some sectors by removing them from the Executive list to the Concurrent list.

The bill for an Act to Alter Part I of the Second Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to include Value Added Tax on the Exclusive Legislative List, was borne from the feud between the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, in 2021, over rights to collect Value Added Tax. It was rejected.

The former had made moves to legally own the rights. It also approached the National Assembly and asked that it include the collection of VAT in the exclusive legislative list — an amendment to the Constitution. During the voting process at plenary, the bill recorded a low number of votes — below the required number needed for it to pass.

At the Senate, 41 lawmakers voted in favour of the legislation while 44 voted against. And at the House of Representatives, 209 members voted against and it only 91 voted in favour of the legislation.

Some of the legislations on devolution of powers that were passed at the National Assembly include a bill to move airports from exclusive legislative list to concurrent legislative list. At the Senate, the bill had 84 senators vote in favour of it and only two voted against it. At the House of Representatives, 283 voted for it while 30 voted against.

Another bill passed is the bill to move fingerprints, identification and criminal records from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent legislative list.

While 86 senators voted for the bill, three voted against it. The legislation was also passed at the House.

Another bill to delete prisons in the Exclusive legislative list and re-designate it as Correctional Services in the Concurrent Legislative list received overwhelming votes from the lawmaker.

The bill that sought to move the Railway from the Exclusive Legislative List to Concurrent Legislative List also scaled through at the Senate. A total of 90 lawmakers at the Senate voted in favour of the legislation; there was no opposition. Their counterparts at the House voted in favour of the legislation as well.

The federal lawmakers also passed the bill that seeks to allow states to generate, transmit and distribute electricity in areas covered by the national grid.

The amendment, according to Professor Adeagbo Moritiwon, another political scientist ,”is about one of the most significant endeavours to be undertaken by the ninth assembly as previous assemblies tried amending the constitution with varying levels of success. But i can tell you that this effort is like scratching the surface, because it failed fundamentally to address the concerns of those advocating for restructuring of the country for equity.”

In all, the lawmakers voted electronically on 68 Constitution Amendment bills during plenary accepting some and rejecting others.

In one of the very first votes, the lawmakers granted financial and administrative autonomy to all the local governments across Nigeria.
They voted for Independent candidacy in elections and separated the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation from that of the Minister of Justice.

However, lawmakers voted against pension for presiding officers of the National Assembly and rejected virtually all provisions designed to improve women’s inclusion in Nigerian politics and society.

“Let me be frank with you, any legislature that fails to address the need to deepens the inclusion of women in politics has failed”, Dr. Tómi Ohiare, a sociologist at Kogi State University told BusinessHallmark.

Some of the other bills passed last Tuesday included financial independence of State Houses of Assembly and State Judiciary, moving of airports from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent legislative list and allowing states to generate, transmit and distribute electricity in areas not covered by the national grid.

Others include a bill that sets a timeframe for the submission of names of ministerial and commissioner-nominees, another that sets a timeframe for the conduct of census, and one that enshrines free and compulsory basic education as a fundamental human right. Some of the bills which were thrown out by the lawmakers bordered on the termination of tenure on account of political party defection, diaspora voting, procedure for overriding the Presidents veto for constitution alteration, virtual court hearing.

The lawmakers voted against a bill seeking to provide special seats for women in the National and State Houses of Assembly. The bill was defeated in the Senate with 58 votes out of 91.

Dr. Ariyo Obatomi, an historian in a chat with BusinessHallmark said that the National Assembly failed to address the issue of restructuring and the fundamental defects in the 1999 Constitution.

He said even “President Yar Adua condemned the election that catapulted him to power as defective and needed a review same way Obasanjo later admitted that the election that also brought him to power was not perfect. Yet, the National Assembly refused to do the needful.”

The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan had, on February 6, 2020, set up a 56- member committee for the purpose of constitution review, with all the principal officers as members in addition to one senator from each state, and two others, selected to represent each geo-political zone.

In a report by Premium Times sometimes in 2015, the online medium said huge sums of money were sunk into this review without actually addressing the restructuring needs of Nigerians.

In an investigation lasting months, this newspaper found that between 2011 and 2015, the 53-member House of Representatives Ad-hoc Constitution Review Committee and its 49-member counterpart in the Senate in the 7th National Assembly withdrew N3,250,000,000.00 and N4,500,000,000.00 respectively to purportedly execute the fourth alteration of the Constitution.

“It is not immediately clear how the lawmakers spent the outrageous funds but insiders say a huge chunk of it was pocketed by members of the committees in what one source described as unprecedented naira bazaar, by a committee of the National Assembly.

However, it is not known how much the current National Assembly have spent in the review.

 

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