Thursday, 27 July 2017


The Senate, yesterday, took a major step to whittle the powers of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, if he decides to withhold assent in the process of altering the Constitution of the country.

The Upper Chamber took this decision while undertaking clause-by-clause voting on the 33-item recommendations based on 33 bills processed by its Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, which was before the Chamber for approval.

Consequently, the bill seeks to alter sections 58, 59 and 100 of the 1999 Constitution and make it easy for the lawmakers to override the president in order to resolve the impasse where the President or Governor refuses to signify his/her assent to a bill from the National Assembly or withhold such assent.

The Senate said that this decision became imperative to enable timely passage of laws for good governance, so that the people and the entire system would not suffer for possible irresponsibility of people in government.

The Senate further moved to stop the Executive from making laws by altering section 315 of the Constitution to remove the law-making powers of the Executive Arm of Government and delete the National Youth Service Corps Decree, the Public Complaints Commission Act, the National Security Agencies’ Act and the Land Use Act from the Constitution, so that they could be subject to regular process of amendment.

Also, Senate rejected the proposal by the Constitution Review Committee, to amend the Constitution to provide for devolution of powers, so that more powers and responsibilities could be withdrawn from the centre and given to the states. The Senate applied electronic voting method while considering the recommendations for approval.

The method made the voting and counting very easy, as the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, moderated the session, guiding the lawmakers on the voting procedure. The bill on devolution of powers had proposed that the Second Schedule, Parts I and II of the Constitution be altered, to move certain items to the Concurrent Legislative List to give more legislative powers to states.

The bill, among other intentions, delineated the extent to which the federal legislature and state assemblies could legislate on the items that had been moved to the Concurrent Legislative List. However, 46 senators voted in support of the passage of the bill on devolution of powers while 48 voted against it, and one person abstained from the exercise.

The apex legislative chamber also rejected one of the recommendations, seeking to alter the Constitution to delete the Land Use Act from the Constitution so that it could be subject to the regular process of amendment.

The Senate also rejected the proposal to amend the Constitution with respect to involvement of local government areas in state creation and boundary adjustment exercises. The bill to this effect sought to alter section 8 of the Constitution to ensure that only democratically elected local government councils participated in the process of state creation and boundary adjustment.

It also sought to remove ambiguities in the extant provisions to enhance clarity with respect to the procedure for state creation. However, when subjected to electronic vote, only 47 senators voted for it while 48 voted against the proposal.

Two-thirds majority of the members is the constitutional requirement to get it through, which is about 73 senators. Moreover, the Senate disappointed Nigerian women, when it rejected proposals which recommended 35 per cent and 20 per cent affirmative action for women with respect to appointive offices at the state and the federal levels respectively.

However, a consolation came to the women folk when the Deputy Minority Whip of the Senate, Abiodun Olujimi, moved a motion that the affirmative action should be accommodated in the Gender Equality Bill when it came for Senate approval.

The Deputy President of the Senate, Dr. Ike Ekweremadu, who expressed so much sympathy and support for women, seconded the motion and appealed to his colleagues to support the proposal.

The motion was approved through voice vote, though reasonable number of the lawmakers shouted nee.The Senate also disappointed the women by refusing to approve a proposal in the report of the Constitution Review Committee, granting women freedom of choice of their indigeneship or citizenship for the purposes of appointment or election into political office in the country.

The bill to that effect sought to alter Section 25 of the Constitution to guarantee a married woman’s right to choosing either her indigeneship by birth or by marriage for the purposes of appointment or election.

Unfortunately, 49 senators supported the recommendation while 46 opposed the idea, thereby making it impossible for the proposal to sail through, in view of the two-thirds majority constitutional requirement. The parliamentarians also approved the inclusion of former presidents of the Senate and Speakers of the House of Representatives in the composition of the Council of State.

The bill on this seeks to amend the Third Schedule of the Constitution to achieve this purpose. The lawmakers also moved to provide immunity for themselves by proposing to alter sections 4, 51, 67, 68, 93 and 109 of the Constitution to provide immunity for members of the legislature in respect of words spoken or written at plenary sessions or at Committee proceedings.

The proposal further seeks to institutionalize legislative bureaucracy in the Constitution like the Civil Service Commission in the executive and the Judicial Service Commission in the judiciary; and, obligate the President to attend a joint meeting of the National Assembly once a year to deliver a state of the nation address.

The Red Chamber also approved the alteration of the Constitution to set a time frame within which the President or a Governor shall forward to the Senate or State House of Assembly names of nominees for confirmation as ministers or commissioners; provide for attachment of portfolio.

The President or Governor is required by this provision to, within 30 days, forward to the Senate or State House of Assembly names of nominees for confirmation as Ministers or Commissioners; provide for attachment of portfolio.

Also, in order to address the issue of marginalisation of the indigenes of the nation’s Federal Capital Territory, the Senate approved that Section 147 of the Constitution be altered to provide for the appointment of a Minister from the FCT, Abuja to ensure that the FCT is represented in the Executive Council of the Federation. In an effort to carry out major reforms at the states and local government, the Senate voted to abrogate the State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC) and empowered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct the council polls.

The bill seeking to alter section 162 of the constitution to abrogate State Joint Local Government Accounts and empower each Local Government Council to maintain its own special account was approved by the senators. The bill seeking to reduce age qualification for offices of the President and Governor and membership of Senate, House of Representatives and state Houses of Assembly was approved.

However, the bill seeking to alter sections 65, 106, 131, and 177 of the constitution to expand the political space and broaden options for the electorate by allowing for independent candidacy in all elections was approved.

The senators also approved the bill seeking to provide for time within which the President or Governor shall lay the Appropriation Bill before the National Assembly or House of Assembly for early passage.

The change in the name Nigeria Police Force to Nigeria Police; separation of the Office of Attorney-General of the Federation and of State from the Office of Minister or Commissioner of Justice was approved by the senators.

The lawmakers also approved the establishment of Investment and Securities Tribunal. In his closing remarks after the adoption of the report, Saraki commended the committee for the expeditious attention given to its assignment, while thanking the entire Senate for the massive support accorded the alteration process. After the voting on the amendments by both the Senate and House of Representatives, two-thirds of state assemblies are expected to vote for the amendments.

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