Fast-track Passage of Constitutional Amendments, Ex-Legislators Urge State Assemblies

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Senator Iroegbu in Abuja

A citizens’ platform working for the betterment of Nigeria under the aegis of Friends of Democracy has called on states House of Assemblies to fast-track the passage of the Constitution amendment bill by the National Assembly.

The body, led by Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, believes that the amendments, if passed into law, would address certain issues such as the devolution of more power to the federating units, and to a large extent resolve the restructuring question.

Friends of Democracy admitted that Nigeria as a nation has some challenges, but was optimistic that the only way to solve them is to ensure these amendments through which certain institutions of government would be strengthened and the nascent democracy elongated.

The body, which comprised former legislators, members of the civil society, the academics, labour movement and other stakeholders, wanted the state legislators to act fast so that the amendment bill could become effective before the expiration of the tenure of the 8th Assemblies at both the national and state levels.

Presenting the development agenda of the group to the press at the end of its meeting in Abuja recently, Mamora said having spent a colossal amount of money and time on the process of constitutional amendment, the body has come to realise the need for strong advocacy to every Nigerian that has stake in the development of the country to ensure a speedy passage of the bill.

He expressed concern that the process, which started in 1999, is yet to be achieved 18 years after due to the unconcerned attitude of a certain section of the society who should be concerned with the process of re-engineering the nation’s socio-political order.
He said the proposed amendments would help reform governance at all levels, strengthen some institutions of democracy, and improve the electoral process.

He presented their position in form of appeal to legislators in the 36 states houses of assembly to give the passage of the bill uppermost attention, and particularly commended both Benue and Cross River states assemblies for passing the bill into law; while he urged other state assemblies to emulate them to ensure speedy passage.

Mamora said: “There has been lack of proper advocacy for the different approaches on the issue of these constitutional amendments. There is the need to sensitise Nigerians on the need to achieve result with the 8th Assembly and most importantly before the next general election in 2019.

“It is on this premise that we have decided to engage key stakeholders such as the civil society, the academia, labour movements and the media but most importantly our colleagues in the state houses of assemblies to see the need while there should be concerted efforts towards the passage of this bill.”

He said the Friends of Democracy has looked at the 13 major amendments recommended by the National Assembly for the states’ legislative houses to consider and have considered which of them will deepen and elongate the nation’s democracy, and which of the amendments will strengthen institutions of government.

While urging state legislators not to allow any delay to frustrate the process, he said failure would amount to wastage of huge amount of money expended so far on constitution amendment processes in the past and that it may make faster development a mirage.

Mamora recalled that during the amendment process debate in the National Assembly, lawmakers, in their wisdom, rejected certain proposed amendments such as the devolution of more power to the federating units, removal of the Land Use Act from the Constitution, and reservation of at least 35 per cent of appointive federal and state cabinet positions for women, among others, many key amendments were, however, approved for onward transmission to the State Houses of Assembly.

Only proposed amendments that receive the approval of a simple majority of at least 24 State Assemblies will eventually be sent to the President for assent.

Notable amendments that deserve commendation include those that seek to reform and improve governance at the grassroots by amending Section 7 of the Constitution to properly reposition the local governments as a third tier of government.
If the State Assemblies and the President approve the amendments, the Joint State-Local Government Account, which many see as a drain on the resources for rural development, will be abolished to enable the Councils receive their funds directly from the Federation Account.

Also worthy of note is the approval of financial autonomy for the State Houses of Assembly. This will promote good governance in the States, as the lawmakers will be better strengthened to hold the executive accountable and carry out other roles expected of them without fear or favour.

Furthermore, the National Assembly approved the reduction of the period within which the President or Governor can authorise expenditure based on the budget of the previous fiscal year from six months to three months. This will encourage early submission of the budget as well as probity and accountability.

Again, the apex legislative body approved a 30-day maximum timeframe within which the President or governor must assent to a bill passed by the legislature or indicate refusal of assent, failing which the bill automatically becomes an Act of parliament. In the US, the President only has seven days grace.

Others are a maximum 30-day timeframe for the President or Governor to submit ministerial and commissioner nominees, respectively, from the date of his or her inauguration.

The National Assembly also commendably approved the proposals seeking to grant financial autonomy to the Auditor-General of the Federation as well as the establishment of the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federal Government different from the Accountant-General of the Federation. This is to promote transparency and accountability and boost the war against graft.