Restructuring Suffers Defeat in Senate

  •  Lawmakers back LG autonomy, new age floor for elective office, others
  •  Fear of resource control kills removal of Land Use Act from constitution

Damilola Oyedele in Abuja

In a major upset for the clamour for restructuring, the Senate Wednesday rejected the constitution alteration bill seeking the devolution of powers that would have moved some items from the bloated Exclusive List in the 1999 Constitution to the Concurrent List, which would have given more powers to the states.

The Land Use Act and affirmative action bills also suffered defeats in the upper legislative chamber during the electronic voting on the 33 bills presented to amend the 1999 Constitution.

Of the 33 bills, the lawmakers passed 29 and rejected four.
They voted overwhelmingly in favour of bills seeking to reduce executive powers by removing the power of the executive arm of government to make laws, and provided procedures for overriding a presidential veto, in the event the president withholds assent to a legislation.
The devolution of powers bill, which sought to alter the Second Schedule, Part I & II of the constitution, was defeated with 48 no votes. Forty-six senators voted for it, with one abstention.

Ninety-seven senators were in attendance during the voting exercise. It requires a minimum of 73 yes votes or two-thirds of 109 votes in the Senate.

Also, the bill seeking to expunge the Land Use Act from the constitution and subject it to the regular process of legislative amendment was also defeated with 46 yes and 44 no votes.

The lawmakers also rejected bills seeking to enforce affirmative action that would have given women in the country at least 35 per cent of appointive positions in government.

It was defeated in the Senate with 49 yes to 43 no votes and three abstentions, and at the state level with 61 yes and 35 no votes.
Bill No. 22 seeking to alter Section 25 of the constitution and guarantee a married woman’s right to choose her indigeneship by either birth or by marriage, for the purpose of appointment or election, was also defeated.

THISDAY had reported that three of the bills – Land Use Act, Affirmative Action and Devolution of Powers – were doomed for defeat, as the lawmakers had banded along regional lines.

The Senate, however, passed the bill on authorisation of expenditure seeking to alter Sections 82 and 122 of the Constitution, to reduce the period within which the president or governor of a state may authorise the withdrawal of monies from the Consolidated Revenue Fund in the absence of an Appropriation Act from six months to three months, and another to provide a timeframe within which the president or governor should lay the Appropriation Bill before the legislature.

It also passed the bill mandating the president or governor to forward names of nominees for confirmation as ministers or commissioners within 30 days of the inauguration of the administration and with portfolios of the nominees attached.

The bill including the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Council of State was also passed.
These were in addition to the passage of bills instituting an annual state of the nation address by the president to the National Assembly, and a bill providing for the appointment of a minister from the Federal Capital Territory.

The senators also voted overwhelmingly to restrict a person who was sworn in as president or governor to complete the term of his predecessor from contesting for the same office more than once.

They also passed the bill on the procedure for passing a constitution alteration bill where the president withholds assent. The amendment provides that in the event executive assent is not granted in 30 days, the bill automatically becomes law and would eliminate the need for the legislature to activate the process for a veto.

Bills on financial and administrative autonomy for local governments, including the bill abolishing the State Independent Electoral Commission to allow the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conduct council elections, were also passed.
Other bills passed included those seeking to reduce the age qualification for elective offices (#NotTooYoungtoRun Bill), independent candidacy, and separation of the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation or State from that of the Minister or Commissioner of/for Justice.

Following the defeat of the affirmative action amendment, Senator Biodun Olujimi (Ekiti South) appealed that the clause be included in the Gender Equality and Opportunities (GEO) Bill currently before the Senate.
Earlier, before the vote on the bill, she had attempted to encourage the lawmakers not to reject it.

“As we vote on this provision, I want you to remember that this is a Distinguished Senate, we must respect affirmative action,” she said.
Senate President Bukola Saraki, at the end of the voting, said the Senate had made history and laid the foundation for far-reaching reforms for Nigeria’s political, economic and social development.
“We have today, through the amendments, redefined our budget process. We have addressed issues that have held our country down for many years.

“We have addressed the issue of saving money earned by the federation which has always been an issue in this country for many years. The fact is that as a nation, we now have a constitution that makes it paramount for the country to save for the rainy day.
“We have also by the amendments shown our commitment to the fight against corruption by providing for the separation and financial autonomy for the Offices of the Accountant General, Auditor General and particularly, the Attorney General.

“More importantly also, we have opened the road for a new Nigeria where younger people can be elected into all the positions. Also, by the work we have done today, we have helped to improve administration at the local government level which will strengthen our democracy by and large and ensure more credible elections by some of the provisions that we have passed.

“More importantly, we have introduced constitutional provisions that would help our judiciary in the timely dispensation of justice.
“By these 29 bills, distinguished senators, I will say that we have laid a new foundation for a new Nigeria that will be more committed, create opportunities for our young people and place us firmly among the nations of the world that are really prepared for the years ahead.

“To be part of that history is a great honour for all of us and I want to thank you, my colleagues. May God Almighty bless Nigeria,” Saraki said.

Meanwhile, THISDAY gathered that concerns arising for the demand for resource control might have caused the overwhelming defeat of the bill seeking to expunge the Land Use Act from the constitution.
THISDAY had reported Tuesday of the strong opposition to the bill, which several senators had described as controversial and had argued that status quo be maintained.

In order to ensure that the Land Use Act was retained in the constitution, sources disclosed that there was intense lobbying Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, particularly by senators from the Northern region, who were of the view that the bill amounted to resource control.

“It is resource control sneaking through the backdoor. Northern senators mobilised heavily against it last night. They were calling around and were able to convince many, probably from the less endowed states that it would be a disadvantage,” a source said.
He explained further that “if you delete the Land Use Act and remove the powers of the federal government over land, it would be easy for the South-south states that have been at the forefront for the control of their oil resources to achieve it”.
“The states would just legislate on the land in their territories and whatever natural resources lies below the ground belongs to them, instead of the federal government.

“They could even use individuals who would just claim that certain acres of land is their ancestral land and they can decide they will not allow exploration of the resources therein.

“So it would be a huge issue not just for the northerners, but also to less endowed states,” he added.
Another senator told THISDAY that even though the Senate passed bills granting autonomy to the local governments, the bills would likely suffer defeat at the state assemblies.

“If the House passes these bills tomorrow (Thursday), remember we still require two-thirds of the state Houses of Assembly to effect the alterations. I do not see that happening, because the governors would mobilise heavily against the autonomy as they have done in the past,” he said.

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