National Assembly to Amend Constitution Item by Item

  • Adopts separation of office of AGF from minister of justice
  • Agrees president, governors must attach portfolios to names of cabinet nominees

Shola Oyeyipo in Lagos and Senator Iroegbu in Abuja

Ahead of the proposed amendment of the 1999 constitution, the Senate, the House of Representatives and all the 36 state Houses of Assemblies, at the weekend in Lagos, adopted what was described as “incremental approach” to the amendment exercise by taking the contentious issues in their respective bits and dealing with them differently from time-to-time to prevent the entire amendment from being thrown out altogether.

To this end, all the state and national legislatures, at a three-day retreat in Lagos, concluded work on 23 distinct bills, which deal with some of the critical and pressing issues to be presented to the National Assembly for consideration during the amendment exercise.

Deputy Senate President and chairman of the committee, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who spoke at the end of the retreat held at the Intercontinental Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, said the decision to separate the bills was borne out of the need to prevent the entire amendment from being thrown out altogether.

“We believe we have done sufficient work. This is an incremental approach that we have adopted in the amendment of the constitution. So, what we are saying therefore is that after we have finished with this, if we still have more time before election issues come up otherwise maybe the next assembly will decide what to do,” he said, while addressing journalists.

According to him, “We have broken all the issues into specific bills. We have looked at about 23 separate bills with separate issues. The idea is to ensure that by the time we vote, each of them succeed or fail on its own. And we conclude the work and send it to the house to approve and we will return it to the National Assembly; then we will collate and ensure that the provisions of the constitution have been fulfilled regarding the alteration and we will send it to the president for his assent. And the president will decide which one to assent or not to assent.

“The implication therefore is that if he assents some, then those ones become another part of the constitution. And the one he refuses to assent, then we might decide whether to veto it. So, we want each of them to have a separate life on its own. And this is based on our own experience in the last exercise, where everything was in one single bill and when the president withheld his assent, all of them collapsed. This is just an improvement on what we did last time. It is something we innovated based on our experience in the last exercise,” he said.

Among other things, he said the committee had looked at “some specific issues like the time timeframe within which a governor or president will be able to assent to a bill. If you look at our constitution, I think Section 58, if you pass a bill, you need to send it to the president for his assent and he has to assent it within 30 days. But the law did not state what will happen if after 30 days he fails to assent to it. So, we have introduced a time frame based on the provisions of the American Constitution.

“In the American constitution, if you send a bill to the president and he didn’t sign it within 14 days, it automatically becomes law because we believe that within 14 days, the president would have made up his mind to assent or not. Now, we have also increased the threshold to 30 days. So, if the president refuses to sign or withholds his assent within 30 days and has not made return to the National Assembly; that is if he keeps the bill; he refuses to sign it or brings it back after 30 days, it becomes automatic law.

“The other issue is the timeframe within which the president can authorise expenditure from the revenue fund of the federation or state as the case may be in the case of governors where they have to pass appropriation bills.
“The argument is that the constitution as it is today, if budget had not been passed, the president or governor can authorise expenditure up to six months into the year. We feel that is too long because the problem there is that that is why the executive will not bring the budget on time, because they believe that the previous budget was not quickly dispensed with.

“And so, the National Assembly take their own time, now there will be the grace of up to three months because you cannot operate the previous budget beyond three months of the year. With that the executive will now be compelled to bring the budget beyond three months into the year and the National Assembly will now be compelled to pass the budget not beyond the three months into the year.

“We also tried to withdraw some powers from the exclusive list to the concurrent list. You know we have been talking about the restructuring of Nigeria. One of the components of restructuring is that they are saying that there is too much power in the hands of the federal government and we need to strip some of them from the federal government, so what we have done is to look at the nitty-gritty, issue where some of the items which they actually need will be removed from the exclusive list to the concurrent list where the federal and the states can make laws regarding some of those items.

“So, things like railways will have to be moved to the concurrent list. The idea is that states can build railways within their states and then a couple of states can then decide to build railways across their states. The federal government can also be building railways across the country and make policy around it. That is why we moved it to the concurrent list so that both the state and federal government can make law to guide it.

“On the issue of labour, there was an argument that each state should be able to decide their minimum wage, that there should be minimum wage for both the public sector and private sector, that is to say, if it is N5000 don’t pay any person less than N5000 because they can be increased. That is to say if Lagos has more money they can pay beyond the minimum wage. All those who don’t have money cannot pay below the minimum wage, no matter how poor they are. So, in that way, we have a minimum standard for workers in Nigeria.

“We also looked at the removal of the Joint local government-state account. The challenge there has been how do you take care of the issues of teacher salaries, because it is from that joint local government-state account that primary school teachers’ salaries are paid. So, we wanted to be sure that if we remove the joint local government-state account, we will not jeopardise the payment of teachers’ salaries.

“So, that is a very contentious issue, so we said we have to do further consultation with the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and other stakeholders before we can take a decision on that to be sure that we don’t create more problems when we are trying to solve an existing problem. So, that is not part of what we are going to present to the National Assembly when we get back,” he added.

Ekweremadu, however, commended the efforts of his colleagues and hoped that the bills see the light of the day before electioneering resumes.

“What we plan to do is that over the next one week, we should have this laid before the National Assembly and then before we go for our holidays on July 27 at the National Assembly, hopefully, we will vote on it and we will send it to the state assemblies and we are going to meet with the leadership of the state assemblies so that we can agree on when we will be able to vote on each of the items and give us their own reports.

“The idea is that we want to ensure that we finish the process of this constitution amendment before the end of 2017 so that it would not be bugled down by election issues once we get to 2018, so, everything being equal, before the end of 2017, we would have finished with what we have done so that people can focus on elections.

“Let me say that all that we have said here are all going to be recommendations to the National assembly. So, nothing is final. So, we are going to still debate them at the National Assembly and then we will vote on each of the items. So, unless any of them scales through the threshold required by the constitution, we are going to vote and ensure that each of them gets at least two-third votes of the members of the Senate and House of Representatives.

“It is the items that scale through that requirement that will be sent to the state Houses of Assemblies and in the Houses of Assemblies, we are going to get a simple majority in two-thirds of the states. So, each of the items will still have to go through such success in at least 24 states before it emerges as addition to the constitution.”

The joint retreat of the nation’s lawmakers at all levels also approved as suggestion for amendment, the separation of the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) from that of the office of the minister of Justice.

This, in the view of the lawmakers, was to deepen the country’s democracy by insulating the chief law officer of the federation from politics.

In the same vein, the lawmakers agreed on a provision that would see future presidents and governors in the country attach portfolios to the names of their nominees for appointment either as ministers or commissioners before sending same to the legislature for confirmation.

South, Middle-Belt leaders Restate Call for New Fiscal Formula, Restructuring

Meanwhile, leaders of thought from Southern and Middle Belt parts of Nigeria have once again called for the restructuring of the country and complete overhaul of the current constitution.

Rising from a consultative summit saturday in Abuja, the group in a communique read by Afenifere Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, however expressed support for Nigeria as “one nation under God.”
The concerned leaders stressed that a new fiscal formula that could move the nation from the current dependence on oil and gas revenue to a fully diversified economy was the right option.

This, they said, would encourage the federating units to develop their abundant natural human resources for regional and national development with states and local governments remitting their revenue to the federation account.

The leaders restated their calls for restructuring of the nation in line with the recommendation of the 2014 National Conference and called on the Federal Government to place its recommendations before the National Assembly.

The summit also demanded devolution of powers and functions to the federations units so that each unit can effectively serve the development interests of the people.

Part of the communique read: “As a logical derivative, we must work out a new fiscal formula that will move Nigeria away from the current over-dependence on oil and gas revenue to a diversified economy where all federating units are encouraged to develop their abundant natural human resources for regional and national development.

“The federating units shall remit agreed percentage of their revenue to the federation account.”
It drew the attention of the Federal Government to the fact that Nigeria is a secular state, in which the governments cannot adopt any religion as a state religion.

“Therefore, we ask the Federal Government to immediately review the discriminatory appointments into key offices of government and the public service and comply with section 14 of the 1999 Constitution,” the group stated.

In addition, the regional leaders said the recent plans to adopt a combined syllabus of religious and moral education should be immediately stopped, and a return to status quo be maintained so as to ensure the teaching of Christian Religious Knowledge and Islamic Religious Knowledge separately.

They urged the federal government to immediately disarm all herdsmen in the country and bring an end to the terror being unleashed by the nomads.

“State governments are also called upon to outlaw open grazing in favour of organised ranching,” the group said just as it condemned the Arewa youth quit order to the Igbo living in the North.

Those who attended the summit include: Chief Edwin Clark, Chief Olu Falae, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Prof. Banji Akintoye, Chief Albert Horsefall, Gen. Ike Nwachukwu, Chief Guy Ikoku, former Kogi State governor, Idris Wada, Mr. Basil Paul, Bala Kakaya, Prof. Jerry Gana, former Information Minister, Labaran Maku, and Senator Patie Henshaw, among others.