The Speaker of the House of Representatives, has said the restructuring of Nigeria cannot be done except through amendment of the 1999 Constitution.
Speaking on Wednesday at a public hearing by the House Ad-hoc Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, Mr. Dogara however assured that the National assembly would not block the aspirations of Nigerians for changes to the Constitution.
The Speaker explained that the process of amending the Constitution is in phases and is a continuous exercise envisaged under Section 9 of the Constitution.
“Agitations for restructuring the governance framework for Nigeria can only be done through the alteration and amendment of the 1999 Constitution. I wish to say, that the House of Representatives and indeed the National Assembly is ready to do its part in terms of amending the constitution when consensus have been reached on any matter by stakeholders and Nigerian citizens,” he said.
The public hearing was organised to get input on a bill presented to the National Assembly by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen.
“A Bill For An Act To Alter The Constitution Of The Federal Republic Of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended) To Reflect The Proposals Initiated By The Judiciary (HB858)”, is a consolidation of all the recommendations requiring Constitution alterations made by heads of courts and judicial bodies.
Its primary purpose is to alter the provisions of the Constitution to effect some Judicial Reforms.
“Furthermore, we note that the age limit for various offices currently contained in the Constitution is the minimum, not maximum. The wisdom of raising the minimum age for various offices should be appraised further to ensure that brilliant and exceptional persons are not shut out on grounds of age,” Mr. Dogara said at the hearing.
He expressed satisfaction with the various recommendations geared towards reducing the time for litigation in courts, urging that every effort should be made to adopt and reflect them in the final amendments.
The Committee is also considering a Bill For An Act To Alter Section 291 of the Constitution Of The Federal Republic Of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended) To Provide For Uniform Mandatory Retirement Age of 70 Years For All Judicial Officers (HB 858), whose primary purpose is to alter the Constitution to provide for a Uniform Mandatory Retirement Age of 70 years for all Judicial officers.
The third bill seeks to alter Sections 243 and 254f of the Constitution to provide that except otherwise stated in the Constitution, appeal shall lie from the decisions of the National Industrial Court to the Court of Appeal; and to remove the Repealed Criminal Procedure Code and the Repealed Criminal Procedure Act so that the current Act, the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, shall apply to Criminal Proceedings in the Court (HB 863).
The speaker argued that the amendments sought with respect to the National Industrial Court is very critical as the Third Alteration Act created ambiguities in the law that has tasked the ingenuity of lawyers and the courts over the years since it was introduced.
“The Ekiti division of the Court of Appeal in three separate decisions in 2013 held that there is no provision in the Constitution that expressly deprives the Court of Appeal of jurisdiction to entertain appeals from the NIC. On the other hand, in 2014 in two separate cases, the Lagos division of the Court of Appeal held that until the National Assembly enacts a law under the proviso to S. 242(3) of the Constitution, the appellate jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal remains limited only to matters of fundamental rights.”
“It was only on 30th June 2017, in Skye Bank Plc V Victor Anaemen Iwu, SC. 885/2014, that the Supreme Court settled the issue. The Supreme Court held unanimously, that decisions of the NIC on any civil or criminal matter are appeal-able to the Court of Appeal.”
He noted that a Justice of the Supreme Court, Kekere-Ekun, had observed that “it would be absurd in my view to interpret Section 243(3) of the Constitution as restricting the right of appeal from decisions of the NIC to questions of fundamental rights alone. To construe the provision to mean that the decisions of the Court in any other civil proceeding are unappeal-able would place the court at par with the Supreme Court, which is the only court in the land whose decisions cannot be appealed against, irrespective of subject matter (Section 235 of the Constitution).
“That cannot be the intention of the Legislature. By Section 240 of the Constitution, it is clearly the intention to the framers that decisions of courts subordinate to the Court of Appeal shall be subject to scrutiny and review. An appeal is a continuation of the litigation process which does not terminate at the trial stage.
“Furthermore, the legislature could not have intended to give a right of appeal in one section of the Constitution and take it away in another section without an express provision to that effect”.
Mr. Dogara urged stakeholders to ensure that the purpose of entrenching the NIC as a superior court of record with exclusive jurisdiction on labor-related matters was not defeated so that the country does not return to the days of uncertainty on labor matters.
He said the 8th House of Representatives was faithful to the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances which is enshrined in our Constitution.