Approves life pension for N’Assembly presiding officers, removal of presidential assent in constitution review, LG autonomy, independent candidacy
Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
The Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution yesterday in Lagos approved a proposal to amend Section 188 of the 1999 Constitution with the intention to adopt the same process of removing governors for speakers of state Houses of Assembly.
The decision was arrived at, on the second day of the two-day retreat of the committee which began on Friday at Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island.
The resolution followed the submission of speakers of state Houses of Assembly present at the session that in view of the facile way of removing speakers, the presiding officers at the state levels had become endangered species arbitrarily thrown out of office.
The proposal was overwhelmingly adopted by the committee members in expression of their solidarity for their counterparts at the state level. The decision was also adopted in the spirit of sportsmanship as some senators said it was only right for them to encourage the speakers whose co-operation would be needed to pass amendments proposed by the National Assembly.
Section 188 (1-11) of the constitution spells out the process of removing governors. Specifically, sub-section 2 (a,b) of the provision states that the process of removing governors begins with “a notice of any allegation in writing signed by not less than one-third of the members of the House of Assembly stating that the holder of such office is guilty of gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office, detailed particulars of which shall be specified.”
Once this is done, “the speaker of the House of Assembly shall, within seven days of the receipt of the notice, cause a copy of the notice to be served on the holder of the office and on each member of the House of Assembly, and shall also cause any statement made in reply to the allegation by the holder of the office, to be served on each member of the House of Assembly.”
The section further provides that “within 14 days of the presentation of the notice to the speaker of the House of Assembly (whether or not any statement was made by the holder of the office in reply to the allegation contained in the notice, the House of Assembly shall resolve by motion, without any debate whether or not the allegation shall be investigated.”
Sub-section 4 of the provision further stipulates that “a motion of the House of Assembly that the allegation be investigated shall not be declared as having been passed unless it is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of all the members of the House of Assembly.”
The process further provides that “within seven days of the passing of a motion under the foregoing provisions of this section, the chief judge of the state shall at the request of the speaker of the House of Assembly, appoint a panel of seven persons who in his opinion are of unquestionable integrity, not being members of any public service, legislative house or political party, to investigate the allegation as provided in this section.
“The holder of an office whose conduct is being investigated under this section shall have the right to defend himself in person or be represented before the panel by a legal practitioner of his own choice. A Panel appointed under this section shall (a) have such powers and exercise its functions in accordance with such procedure as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly; and (b) within three months of its appointment, report its findings to the House of Assembly.
“Where the Panel reports to the House of Assembly that the allegation has not been proved, no further proceedings shall be taken in respect of the matter. Where the report of the Panel is that the allegation against the holder of the office has been proved, then within fourteen days of the receipt of the report, the house of Assembly shall consider the report, and if by a resolution of the House of Assembly supported by not less than two-thirds majority of all its members, the report of the Panel is adopted, then the holder of the office shall stand removed from office as from the date of the adoption of the report.
“No proceedings or determination of the Panel or of the House of Assembly or any matter relating to such proceedings or determination shall be entertained or questioned in any court. In this section, ‘gross misconduct’ means a grave violation or breach of the provisions of this Constitution or a misconduct of such nature as amounts in the opinion in the House of Assembly to gross misconduct.”
In coming up with this proposal, the speakers said the 36 presiding officers of the state Houses of Assembly had met and collectively adopted the proposal which is meant to make the process of removing speakers more complex and rigorous.
The overall intention is to make the act of removing speakers difficult so that the move will no longer be attractive to their colleagues in the Houses of Assembly.
The committee also re-opened the amendments passed by the seventh National Assembly which were vetoed by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Prominent among the proposals was the move to remove presidential assent on constitution amendments. This decision was arrived at after a heated debate with some senators who argued that having secured the two-thirds majority support of members of each house of the National Assembly as well as state Houses of Assembly, the assent of the president is no longer necessary.
But opponents of the move said the principle of checks and balances would be defeated if the president is outrightly barred from assenting to constitutional amendments. They also argued that in as much as no bill can become a law unless it is assented to by the president, it is only normal to retain presidential assent on constitution amendments.
However, when the issue was put to vote, majority supported the removal of presidential assent on amendments and the resolution was passed.
The committee also approved autonomy for local governments. Before arriving at the decision, members of the committee elaborately brainstormed on the plights of Nigerians at the grassroots especially teachers who are owed several months of salary arrears.
They blamed the trend on the inability of council chairmen to independently control finances due to them and therefore resolved that the only way to put paid to the trend is to make financial autonomy of local councils a constitutional affair.
The committee also approved the incorporation of independent candidacy into the constitution with the belief that the move would provide a platform for individuals who are shut out of their parties’ nomination to test their popularity on the ballot box.
The review committee resolved to recommend immunity from prosecution for senate president, deputy senate president, speaker and deputy speaker of the House of Representatives. It also agreed to remove “force” from the “Nigeria Police Force” and consequently rename it Nigeria Police.
In the same vein, it resolved to recommend for Senate approval, pension for presiding officers of the Senate and House of Representatives. Members of the committee had argued that if the president, vice president, governors and deputy governors are entitled to life pensions, the presiding officers in the legislature do not deserve anything less.
However, the committee dropped proposals such as the introduction of indigeneship into the constitution with the intention to confer indigeneship of a particular area on anyone who has resided in that area for 10 years and above. It also dropped the proposal to include education as a fundamental right. Advocates of this proposal had argued that it would compel young lads who wander on the streets especially in Northern Nigeria to go to school. But the proposal failed to sail through.
The committee also dropped the move to inculcate electoral offence in the constitution. The proposal was meant to ban anyone convicted of electoral offence for not less than 10 years.
In his final remark, chairman of the committee and Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, reminded participants that resolutions at the retreat were mere proposals and subject to the approval of two-thirds majority of both houses of the National Assembly as well as houses of assembly before they can eventually be passed.