Deji Elumoye in Abuja
One year after its inauguration, the Senate Committee on Constitution Review yesterday began a two-day retreat with the revelation that the Supreme Court was canvassing for the increase in the retirement age of the apex court justices from 70 to 75 years.
The Deputy President of the Senate who also doubles as the Chairman of the committee, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, who made the disclosure while delivering a keynote address at the retreat to analyse the submitted memo also stated that over 280 memoranda for the review of the constitution were received from the public late last year.
He explained that among the memoranda submitted was one from the Supreme Court canvassing for the shift in the retirement age of Supreme Court justices from 70 to 75.
According to him, there was also another memo calling for increase in the retirement age of judges of the states, including the FCT and the federal high courts from 65 to 70 years.
The ranking Senator said the apex court proposal and that of the High Court judges will be treated by the committee and brought before the Senate for consideration as two bills by March, 2021.
His words: “To put you under further pressure we have also decided to extricate one or two issues dealing with the judiciary, most importantly, the one dealing with the retirement age for judges of the states, including the FCT and the federal high courts to bring in parity with the 70 years retirement age of the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
“There is also the issue of the clamour by the Supreme Court to also move from 70 to 75 years. I am sure you are all aware that it is up to our colleagues in both chambers and of course, the State Houses of Assembly to decide whether or not we should move ahead with both.
“But I want to put you under pressure that these two bills must be ready for consideration by March. Both Houses – the Senate and the House of Representatives – would be prepared to take those two isolated issues while every other matter under consideration will come up on the floor of the Senate and the House of Representatives in June this year.”
The committee Chairman stressed that the sole purpose of the retreat was to review and analyse the 2014 National Conference Report, the Report of the APC Ad-hoc Committee on True Federalism and the over 280 memoranda “we have received from the public and translate them into bills proposals for the Senate committee.
According to him, these memoranda and positions express concern, as well as seek solutions, to the many problems that currently confront us as a country and they come from diverse interests that make up the nation.
He went further: “They cover a range of areas that include, inter-alia, the devolution of power to the federating units by way of moving some items from the exclusive, to the concurrent list.
Of equal importance are issues of Local Government fiscal autonomy, the unfettered autonomy of the judiciary in line with their traditional role of the administration of justice. Others are issues of derivation, streamlining of criteria for qualification for participation in elective offices at all levels, such that more people are encouraged to participate.
“There is also issue of affirmative action and gender equality, plus youth inclusiveness in the governance process. We are also concerned with measures that will help fight perennial poverty and help address the ever-growing concern on national security as well as the security and safety of Nigerians wherever they reside in the country. Some of these areas need to be addressed directly in the Constitution”.
Omo-Agege specifically told the committee members to take keen interest in the hackneyed terminology of “marginalization” which he said is arguably one of the ugliest words in the Nigerian lexicon.
According to him, “practically every ethnic nationality, religious, social and other group, complains of marginalisation. To take care of this, we should continue to identify, emphasise, explore and exploit those things that unite us as one nation. At the same time, we should continue to isolate and avoid those things that tend to divide us”.
He expressed his commitment towards coming up with a workable constitution for the use of all Nigerians saying the overall objective was to have a workable, most representative Constitution that should be as straight-forward as possible.
He added: “This way, more people will take interest in politics because the Constitution would have met their desires and aspirations. The fact that it is straight-forward enough would mean that less and less of its provisions and sections would require judicial interpretation. This will reduce the challenge of Constitution-interpretation-related work pressure on the judiciary. Such reduced pressure, you will agree with me, will be salutary to the independence of the judiciary.”