Constitution Amendment: Horse Trading as Lawmakers Band Along Regional Lines

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• North-central is beautiful bride

Damilola Oyedele in Abuja

As the Senate commences voting on the bills for the constitutional amendment Wednesday, there were indications Tuesday that there was intense horse trading among the senators who were split along regional lines over some of the contentious amendments.

Some of the bills that have divided the lawmakers include the Land Use Act, the bill to grant financial and administrative autonomy to the local governments, and that of affirmative action for women.

Expectedly, senators from the North-west and North-east geopolitical zones appear will be inclined to vote together, while the three regions of the South – the South-east, South-south and South-west – have a consensus on several issues up for constitutional amendment.

All the five regions are however courting their colleagues from the North-central states in a bid to garner enough votes to push through constitutional amendment items they are interested in.

THISDAY gathered that last minute meetings were scheduled for Tuesday night and Wednesday morning ahead of the voting which commences at 10 a.m.
Each of the 33 items would require a two-thirds majority of the 109 votes in the Senate to be passed.

Credible sources told THISDAY that senators from the North-west and North-east were opposed to the bills to amend the Land Use Act, local government autonomy, affirmative action and the bid to separate the Office of the Attorney General from that of the Minister of Justice.

“Most of the northerners are against granting autonomy to the local governments. There are several former governors here who when they were in office were opposed to the idea.
“It is common knowledge that serving governors are opposed to LG autonomy, and the abolition of the joint state-local government account.
“Senators mostly do the bidding of their governors, else they risk being denied the ticket to return,” a source said.

Bill number five seeks to alter Section 162 of the constitution to abrogate the joint state-local government account and empower each local government council to maintain its own account into which all allocations due to the council shall be paid directly from the Federation Account and the government of the state.

The source added that the situation would be worse in the House of Representatives where most lawmakers hasten to do the bidding of their governors.

“Some senators square off against their governors, as they have the wherewithal to do so, many of the House of Reps (Representatives) members are however hopeful that their governors would anoint them to succeed him, so they do not want to rock the boat,” he added.
Another source disclosed that affirmative action might only manage to scale through, as many consider it to be in tune with bills bordering on gender equality.

“It is not for nothing that all gender-related issues have suffered defeat in the National Assembly and are very controversial among citizens considering religious and cultural sensibilities.
“How many people really understand that the two issues are separate and that affirmative action is not about male-female equality,” he explained.

THISDAY gathered that the North-west and North-east senators have proposed to their colleagues from the other regions to allow the four bills to be defeated so that most of the others can pass through.
“But of course it is not that easy, in the South and even most of the North-central states, as affirmative action is understood as a demand for at least 35 per cent appointive positions for women.

“Already, in most of these regions, nobody really cares if a woman is appointed minister or commissioner, so it is not an issue for them,” a source explained.
“On the Land Use Act, many senators from the North believe it should not be expunged from the constitution, as recommended by the constitution review panel. So we’ll see how that will fare.

“From a bargaining point of view, it is simple for the northerners: ‘Let us defeat what we do not want, so we can pass through what you really want’,” the source added.
The division was clear at plenary Tuesday when the lawmakers debated the items in the report of the Joint Constitution Review Committee on Bills to Further Alter the Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, chaired by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu.

Ekweremadu, while presenting the report of the 51-member committee (from the Senate), said the constitution review process had been driven by the principles of inclusiveness, popular participation and transparency with the national interest.

He added that the views of citizens were carefully integrated into every recommendation, stating that views were appraised in the context of their compatibility with the constitution, as well as democratic principles and the national unity in general.

“The committee observed that while some of the bills referred to it were not comprehensive enough but rife with ambiguities, some do not promote the spirit of separation of powers in a presidential system of government, while some of the issues raised are better treated as conventions than codified in the constitution,” Ekweremadu said.

Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West), contributing to the debate, said local council autonomy would not be feasible until the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is mandated to conduct council elections.

His position was adopted as the 33rd item for the constitutional amendment by the senators.
“How do we speak of local government autonomy without addressing the foundation. States have to be stripped of the power to constitute state electoral commissions to conduct local government elections.

“The State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC) which is constituted by the state government is practically a joke.
“What happens is that state governors sit in the comfort of their offices and select who and who should be pronounced as chairmen of LGAs by the SIEC in their respective states. There is always no conduct of actual LGA election in any state,” Melaye argued.

Senator Danjuma Goje (Gombe North), in his submission, said while affirmative action may be realisable at the federal level, it may be more difficult in the states.
He also opposed the recommendation to expunge the Land Use Act and urged that it be retained, as it was a controversial issue.

Goje, however, expressed support for the new item requiring INEC to conduct council elections but noted that many governors would be opposed to it.
Goje urged that lawmakers be allowed to consult with their constituencies on some of the contentious issues scheduled for voting.

Senator Adamu Aliero (Kebbi Central), a member of the review committee, disclosed that there was no unanimity among the committee members on some of the recommended items.
He noted that devolution of powers to states would not be feasible without a review of the revenue allocation formula.
Senator Peter Nwaoboshi (Delta North), however, observed that the report was signed by Goje and Aliero, as members of the committee, and queried why they had turned around to oppose some of the recommendations.

As it looked to become a heated debate, Senate President Bukola Saraki intervened, ruling that lawmakers have the right to change their opinion on any issue at any time.
He added that the leadership of the Senate had not adopted positions on any of the issues.