By Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
The Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution is currently seeking to introduce a fresh amendment that would guarantee the decentralisation of the Nigeria Police and consequently break the age-long control of policing by the federal government.
The committee is also seeking to amend Section 9 of the 1999 Constitution with a view to removing presidential assent from fresh amendments to the constitution. It has also revived its earlier move to separate the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) from that of the Minister of Justice.
These moves are the high points of the two-day constitution amendment retreat which kicked-off in Lagos yesterday.
Delivering a speech at the event, the chairman of the committee and Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, said even though the campaign for state police failed in the last constitution amendment exercise, it had the possibility of sailing through in the ongoing process because several developments had taken place between then and now which he said must have compelled opponents of police decentralisation to shift grounds.
“Let me emphasise, however, that this is certainly without prejudice to other issues, such as diaspora voting and decentralised policing, which Nigerians, through their memoranda to the committee, feel strongly about. The period between the last amendment exercise and now must have thrown up new concerns or reinforced old ones. Nigerians would have had a rethink on so many matters, dropping earlier held opinions and accepting or canvassing new one.
“I am aware that many Nigerians, including former governors who were initially opposed to decentralised policing during the last exercise inundated me with calls, trying to explore the possibility of reintroducing the subject in last amendment after it was voted out. But it was already too late. There is also no doubt that we are currently learning the hard way in the face of economic and security realities,” he said.
Ekweremadu who went down memory lane, chronicled amendments carried out in the seventh Senate which he said were vetoed by former President Goodluck Jonathan while attempts by the National Assembly to override his veto failed because the former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Bello Adoke, dragged the federal parliament to the Supreme Court.
According to him, since the constitution of Nigeria was patterned after that of the United States, it was only necessary to amend Section 9 of the constitution to halt presidential assent to constitution amendments.
“We, therefore, sought to correct this anomaly by amending Section 9 of the 1999 Constitution to remove presidential assent in the process of constitution amendment,” he said.
While declaring the retreat open, Senate President Bukola Saraki advised the committee to dwell largely on amendments carried out by the seventh National Assembly, noting that constitutional amendments were enormous tasks which affected the smooth running and development of the federation.
Saraki said the Senate was committed to proffering solutions to issues “affecting the principle of greater freedom for Nigerians, abhorrence of discrimination of any nature that inhibit the enjoyment of our people’s rights, the enthronement of the rule of law, accountability of all offices and authority derived from the constitution, the issue and concept of ‘continuity in governance’ which assumes that a country needs continuity in its government to continue to meet the demands of modern day governance.”
Saraki noted that the seventh National Assembly had already obtained a national consensus on key challenges to the operation of the constitution as well as the utilisation of the constitution as the coherent framework for our development as a nation through its work on the Fourth Alteration Bill passed by the seventh assembly.
Also speaking at the event, Lagos State Governor Akinwumi Ambode who was represented by the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem, commended the Senate for its efforts to newly amend the constitution.
He therefore tasked members of the committee to ensure that the principles of transparency and accountability in the discharge of their responsibilities prevail.