The Nigerian Senate voted to amend some key elements of the country’s Constitution Wednesday, amidst growing complaints by some citizens that the document has become increasingly unworkable.
The chamber voted on financial autonomy to local government areas, independent candidacy, restriction of executive offices to one term, affirmative action for women, amongst others.
Interestingly, the area of devolution of powers, which has become a subject of passionate debate across the country in recent years, was roundly rejected the lawmakers.
Good governance advocates, and increasingly politicians, argue that the Constitution concentrates too much powers at the centre, at the expense of state authorities that are more closer to the citizens.
Thirty-three bills were sponsored by senators for amendments to various sections of the Constitution.
Here are some of the crucial decisions reached by the senators.
1. Members of the Council of States — adopted.
This amendment was proposed to make former President of the Senate and former Speakers of the House of Representatives members of the influential National Council of State. It was adopted by the senators.
The Council of States currently consists of the President (chairman of the council), the Vice-President (deputy chairman), all former presidents and all former heads of the state, all former Chief Justices of Nigeria, the President of the Senate (incumbent), the Speaker of the House of Representatives (incumbent), all state governors (incumbents), and the Attorney-General of the Federation (incumbent).
2. Authorisation of expenditure — adopted
The president’s power to continue withdrawing funds from consolidated account after expiration of the annual budget has been whittled down from six to three months.
3. Devolution of Power — rejected
Senators rejected this proposition by 90 to five votes when it came up.
4. Financial Autonomy of State Legislature — adopted
Senators approved an amendment that will see state legislators superintend over their own budget, rather than the existing practice that gives governors powers to appropriate expenses of lawmakers.
Federal lawmakers at the National Assembly already enjoy financial autonomy.
5. Special accounts for local government — adopted
The proposal says local government administrators should be allowed to manage their own accounts as against the existing policy in which governors exert powers over allocations to local government areas.
This section, if amended, will allow separate accounts for local governments from states for receiving monthly federal allocation.
6. Democratic existence funding and tenure of LG Council — adopted
This amendment will prohibit constitution of caretaker leadership for LGAs, a tool that critics said governors have exploited to trample on the independence of local government areas.
7. State creation and boundary adjustment — rejected
In a narrow vote of 48-47, senators rejected an amendment to Section 8 of the Constitution that would have allowed only democratically elected local government councils to participate in state creation and adjustment of boundaries amongst states.
The collapsed proposal also sought to clarify identified ambiguities in the procedure for state creation.
8. Immunity for legislators for acts in the course of duty — adopted
Senators voted to give themselves immunity for anything they say on the floor during plenary or when they hold committee briefings, i.e.: they want absolute freedom of speech and expression while on duty.
One senator, however, rejected the amendment. The identity of the senator and reasons for the action are unknown.
9. Conduct of by-elections and power to de-register parties — adopted
The amendment seeks to alter the Constitution to give the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, powers to deregister any political party that fails to meet some criteria, which include failure to win at least one elected seat from councillorship to presidential after a generation election.
10. Presidential assent — adopted
Senators complain that the executive neither rejects, vetoes nor assents to several bills they passed after several months, leaving them confused on the fate of such bills. This proposal seeks to end this by making any bill that is passed by the National Assembly automatically become law if the executive fails to reject, veto or sign it into law after 30 days of transferring same to the president.
11. Time frame for submission of names of ministerial nominees — adopted
Senators recommend that the Constitution must spell out maximum number of days that a new president can dither in the appointment of ministers. They propose a maximum of 30 days from swearing-in day.
11. Submission of ministerial nominees with their portfolios — adopted
The amendment will require the president to attach specific portfolio (ministry) to every ministerial nominee for Senate confirmation.
12.Thirty-five percent affirmative action for women as ministers — rejected
Senators rejected mandatory 35 per cent slot for women in the federal cabinet.
13. Submission of commissioner nominees with their portfolios — adopted
An elected governor has 30 days from swearing-in day to name commissioners.
14. Submission of names of office of commissioners shall be attached with portfolio — adopted
The amendment will require the governor to attach specific portfolio (ministry) to every commissioner nominee for House of Assembly confirmation.
15. Appointment of minister from the FCT — adopted
Senators approved constitutional amendment to give a slot to the Federal Capital Territory in the Federal Executive Council. Currently, only the 36 states of the federation are given at least one ministerial slot each in the federal cabinet.
16. Change of names for LGAs — adopted
An amendment proposal for flexibility in the change of name of local government areas was approved by the Senate today.
Changes will be easily effected to spelling and other errors in the name of any local government.
For instance, Atisbo Local Government Area in Oyo State is erroneously spelt in the Constitution as ‘Atigbo Local Government Area’.
17. Independent Candidacy — adopted
Qualified citizens would longer need a political party to stand in election.
18. Nigeria Police Force name change — adopted
Senate adopted an amendment to change the name of Nigeria Police Force to Nigeria Police in order to reflect the organisation’s core mandate.
19. Restriction of the tenure of President and Governor After Completion of Tenure of President or Governor to run for just one term — adopted
This proposal seeks to ban anyone who succeeds a president or a governor and completes the tenure of such president or governor from contesting for that same office more than once.
For instance, the situation in which former President Goodluck Jonathan completed the tenure of late President Umar Yar’Adua between 2010-2011, participated in the 2011 election and won a four-year term and still ran for election again in the 2015 election will no longer be permitted if the proposed amendment scales through.
What the senators now propose essentially means that when someone succeeds a president or a governor, the person is considered to be spending the first of the two-term privilege the Constitution gives to an individual to run for office.
20. Separation of Office of the Accountant-General— adopted
The Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation (existing) will be separated from the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federal Government (to be created).
21. Office of the Auditor-General to be included in first line charges of consolidated revenue — adopted
The Senate proposes that funding for this office should be prioritised.
22. Separation of Office of the Attorney General from the Minister/Commissioner of Justice — adopted
If this amendment is approved, the Attorney-General of the Federation will no longer be the Minister of Justice and attorney-general of a state will no longer be commissioner of justice.
23. Judiciary — adopted
This amendment proposes, amongst other things, to allow justices of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court to hear matters in their chamber if necessary.
24. Determination of pre-election matters — adopted
This amendment will make it possible to set timelines for determining pre-election matters.
25. Civil Defence amendment — adopted
Core functions of Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps will be incorporated in the Constitution.
26. Citizenship and Indigeneship — adopted
Proposed amendment to give married women the right to choose where they want to claim as their state of origin for the purpose of standing election narrowly passed.
27. Procedure for overriding presidential veto in Constitutional alteration — adopted
The proposal seeks to give the legislature the power to override the president’s veto on matters of amendment to the Constitution without the president’s final signature.
28. Amendment to Section 315 of the Constitution — adopted
Senators seek to delete four special laws placed under the Transitional Provisions and Savings component of the Constitution.
The National Youth Service Corps Decree (1993), the Public Complaints Commission Act, and the National Security Agencies will be stripped off their special status that makes it difficult to effect any amendment into them.
The senators described them ”law making powers’ of the executive because it requires the same process needed to amend the Constitution itself to amend any section of these laws.
If the amendment passes, the three laws will now be part of regular laws in the statute books and can be easily altered by the National Assembly.
29. Investments and Securities Tribunal — adopted
The proposal seeks to establish the Investments and Securities Tribunal in the Constitution to deal with capital markets and other investments matters.
30. Reduction of age for election — adopted
Age restrictions for standing in elections are expected to be reviewed downward in the Constitution. It is expected that the required age to stand in the presidential election will be reduced from the current 40 to 35.
31. Authorisation of expenditure time frame for laying Appropriation bill, Passage — adopted
This proposed amendment targets a timeline for the president and governors to present their respective budget proposals for the next fiscal year.
Some analysts have argued that the current budgeting process in the country is unsustainable, and proffer some solutions.
32. Land Use Act
The Senate voted to retain the Land Use Act in the constitution.
33. Deletion of State Independent Electoral Commission from the Constitution — adopted
Senators seek an amendment to expunge electoral commission at the state level. They recommend that INEC take charge of all elections at the local level.
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