Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
Senate President, Bukola Saraki, yesterday said the ongoing amendments to the 1999 Constitution in the eight National Assembly would be concluded early next year.
Saraki, according to a statement by his Special Assistant on Print Media, Chuks Okocha, made the promise when he received the National Executive of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), led by its President, Abubakar Balarabe Mahmud (SAN), at the National Assembly, Abuja.
He said: “On the issue of constitution amendment, we started very early because we know it can be a problem if it comes close to election year. Our view is that we have simplified the process. We are working on the earlier document which was completed in the last Assembly but was not signed into law. We try to take important issues first and members of the committee are working tirelessly on this. By the time it will be ready, we will send it to the Speakers of states assembly.
“Working in collaboration with the House of Representatives, we hope that the document will be similar and reduce areas of differences. I am looking at the end of this year or the first couple of weeks in January next year or there about. We should be able to debate and pass the amendments and send it to the states.
“We started this process very early and it has gone through second reading, gone through public hearing. Stakeholders have contributed. Some of the issues like postponement of elections, electoral voting, some of the un-envisaged cases like the case in Kogi State have been taken into consideration and I believe the sooner we can pass the amendments, the better it is in the interest of Nigerians.”
Saraki advised the NBA to continue to stand with the people and speak with “a big voice and that voice should be loud and clear. As leaders, we have to choose between our comfort and what we believe in. And I think at this point, we all ought to do what is right in the interest of the country. It might not be popular but I think that is the responsibility we have at this particular time for the interest of the country.”
Earlier in his speech, the President of NBA, Mahmud, said NBA was interested in the amendment of 2010 Electoral Act especially in relation to the postponement of elections on security matters. He also said the association was interested in constitution amendments, justice sector reforms particularly the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Prisons Reforms and the Legal Aid Council. He said the Legal Aid Council was in dire need of funds to carry out its duties.
On constitution amendments, the NBA President said the timely completion of the exercise would help to stabilise and strengthen the nation’s democracy as he identified other grey areas which he said needed attention such as the recent postponement of elections due to security concerns.
Mahmud said postponement of elections due to contrived security reasons threatened the independence of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). “Postponing elections will not augur well for the stability and strengthening of democracy in Nigeria,” he said.