Will Buhari Assent to Constitution Amendment Bills Before Him?

Sunday Aborisade asks if President Muhammadu Buhari will assent to 35 Constitution amendment bills transmitted to him last week after passage by the two chambers of the National Assembly

After months of waiting, the National Assembly had so far received responses from state houses of assemblies  who were were expected to vote on the 44 constitution amendments bills before the nation’s parliament could transmit them to President Buhari for assent.

However, the state assemblies rejected nine of the constitutional amendment bills including the one seeking financial and full administrative autonomy for local government councils.

The federal parliament had in March, 2022 voted on 68 bills aimed at amending the 1999 Constitution.

At the end of the exercise,  44 of the bills were approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives and transmitted to the state assemblies for concurrence.

A simple majority of votes is required in at least two-thirds of state assemblies (24 out of 36) and the amendments that sail through would be sent to the president for assent.

The Senate, in a motion by the Chairman of the Senate ad-hoc committee on Constitution Review, Ovie Omo-Agege (APC, Delta) during last Tuesday’s plenary, said 27 out of the 36 state assemblies had forwarded their resolutions on the  constitution amendment bills to the National Assembly.

Omo-Agege, whose motion was presented by Opeyemi Bamidele (APC, Ekiti) said 35 bills had satisfied constitutional provision, having been approved by not leas than 24 state assemblies. He, however, said nine bills could not scale through.

Prominent among the bills voted against by the state parliaments is the one seeking to grant financial and administrative autonomy to the country’s local governments. 

Others are abrogation of state-local government joint account; establishment of local government as a tier of government; institutionalization of legislative bureaucracy in the constitution; and inclusion of presiding officers of the National Assembly in the membership of the National Security Council.

Among the 35 bills approved by state assemblies are financial autonomy of state legislatures and state judiciary; power devolution to allow state government build and operate airports, prisons, railways and power grid system.

Others are legislative power to summon president and governors; timeframe to submit ministerial and commissioner nominees; timeframe for submission of national budget and separation of the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and of the State from the minister or commissioner for justice.

The Senate, therefore, directed the Clerk to the National Assembly to transmit the 35 approved bills to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent.

It also urged the state assemblies in Gombe, Jigawa, Kebbi, Kwara, Oyo, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba, Zamfara to forward their resolutions on the bills to the National Assembly.

The state assemblies did not vote on the alteration of the Constitution and as a result, the two bills that seek to grant financial and legislative autonomy to local governments did not meet the requirement for being assented into law.

Presenting the report, Senator Bamidele identified Abia, Adamawa, Akwa-Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Borno, Cross-River, Delta, Ebonyi and Edo states as some of the states who have presented their resolution on the bills.

Others are Ekiti, Enugu, Imo, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kogi, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Rivers and Yobe.

All the 34 bills considered by the 27 states are:

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No 3 (Change of Names of Afikpo North and Afikpo South Local Government Areas (Ebonyi State);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No 4 (Change of Name of Kunchi Local Government Area (Kano State);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No 5 (Change of Names of Egbado North and Egbado South Local Government Areas (Ogun State);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No 7 (Correction of the name of Atigbo Local Government Area (Oyo State);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No 8 (Correction of Name of Obia/Akpor Local Government Area (Rivers State);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No 9 (Financial autonomy of State legislatures and State Judiciary);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 10 (Enforcement of Legislative Summon);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 11 (Inauguration of Members-Elect);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 21 (Deletion of reference in the Constitution to the provisions of the Criminal Code, Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Act, Criminal Procedure Code or Evidence Act);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 22 (Provision for Intervening Events in the Computation of Tine for the Determination of Pre-Election Petitions, Election Petitions and Appeals therefrom); Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 24 (Expansion of the Interpretation of Judicial Office); Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 25 (Appointment of Secretary of the National Judicial Council); Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 29 (Devolution of Powers (Airports); Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 30 (Devolution of Powers (Fingerprints, identification and criminal records);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 31 (Devolution of Powers (Correctional Services);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 32 (Devolution of Powers (Railways);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 33 (Devolution of Powers (National Grid System);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 39 (Power to enforce compliance of remittance of Accruals into the Federation Account and Review of Revenue Allocation Formula);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 40 (Independence of Certain bodies);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 41 (Removal of Transitional Law-making Powers of the Executive;

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 43 (Domestication of Treaties);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 44 (Timeline for the Presentation of Appropriation Bills);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 45 (Timeframe for the Submission of the Names of Ministerial or Commissioner Nominees);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 48 (Power to summon the President and Governors);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 49 (Authorization of Expenditure);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 50 (Replacement of the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation with the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federal Government);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 51 (Creation of the Office of Accountant-General of the Federal Government);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 53 (Separation of the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and the State from the office of the Minister or Commissioner for Justice);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 54 (State of the Nation and State of the State Address);

Bill No. 55 (Composition of Members of the Council of State);

Bill No. 57 (Restriction on Formation of Political Parties);

Bill No. 62 (Correction in the Definition of the Boundary of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 63 (Fundamental Human Rights);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 65 (Food Security);

Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 66 (Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps).

The Senate has asked nine state assemblies yet to submit their resolutions on the bills to do so.

There has been debate over the issue of autonomy of the local government, which usually operate joint accounts with state governments.

The joint ad-hoc committee on constitution review had, in October, 2022 knocked state governors for preventing the various State Houses of Assembly from concurring with constitution amendment proposals, especially the ones on autonomy for the 774 local government areas.

Omo-Agege had late last year said, “No doubt, some state governors have worked tirelessly to turn the Conference of Speakers and some state assemblies into political puppets, thereby undermining and delegitimising the legislative institution at the state level.

“This interference has been ramped up, especially in opposition to the bills granting financial and administrative autonomy to local governments.”

The National Assembly had on October 18, 2022 alleged that state governors were using lawmakers in their states to stall the process of amending the  Constitution alterations being carried out by the nation’s legislative institution.

Omo-Agege,who made the allegation, noted with concern that the Conference of Nigeria Speakers had vowed not to pass the 44 Constitution Review Bills transmitted to them by the National Assembly until four bills they have proposed are passed.

He disclosed then that only 11 states had so far considered and performed their Constitutional role of passing amendments to the constitution.

The Deputy Senate President lamented that the Speakers of State Houses of Assembly through a letter to the National Assembly joint committee on Constitution review have given four conditions upon which the remaining 25 states will pass the amendments.

He described the letter as the “hands of Esau and voice of Jacob”, saying “state governors are behind the action of the speakers to stall the process. “

Omo-Agege said, “Six months after the transmission of these Bills to State Assemblies, it is most disheartening to inform you that only 11 State Houses of Assembly have demonstrated their independence and loyalty to the . Constitution regarding the 44 bills.

“Twenty five State Houses of Assembly  had yet to consider and vote on these bills.

“So far,  only Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Anambra, Delta, Edo, Kaduna, Katsina, Kogi, Lagos, Ogun and Osun States had successfully considered, voted on, and forwarded their resolutions on the 44 bills to the National Assembly.

“More worrisome is that while we are still expecting the receipt of the resolutions of the remaining Houses of Assembly, we received a letter from the Conference of Speakers of State Assemblies informing the National Assembly that the remaining states will not act on the 44 Bills unless the National Assembly passes four new Bills they had proposed in the letter.

“The Bills they proposed, seek to amend the Constitution to Establish State Police; Establish State Judicial Council; Streamline the procedure for removing Presiding Officers of State Houses of Assembly; and, Institutionalise Legislative Bureaucracy in the Constitution.”

Defending the parliament, however, Omo-Agege said the National Assembly was in no way averse to acting on any proposed Bill or memoranda appropriately tabled before it, “at any time in its life.”

In a swift reaction, the Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures of Nigeria, accused the National Assembly of blackmailing and undermining the powers of the state assemblies.

The Speakers also said the National Assembly lied on their different position on the review of the 1999 Constitution.

The position of the Speakers was made known by their Chairman, who is the Speaker of the Bauchi State House of Assembly, Abubakar Sulaiman, in a statement on Thursday.

Sulaiman said, “Contrary to the figure given by Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, the actual number of the State Houses of Assembly that have, so far, passed the resolutions of the National Assembly on the Constitution Review was 16.

“They are Abia, Anambra, Enugu, Delta, Edo, Akwa Ibom, Lagos, Ogun, Osun, Ekiti, Kogi, Benue, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Katsina, and Adamawa States.

“We believe the misrepresentation was deliberate to demonise the Honourable Speakers and the State Houses of Assembly in the eye of the citizenry.

“This is also regrettable and disappointing.

“It is very clear that the Press Conference was designed not only to blackmail the state Houses of Assembly but also to undermine them. We like to make it clear that we will not give in to blackmail and intimidation by anyone no matter how highly placed.”

Sulaiman justified the Speakers’ insistence that the four bills: establishing state police, streamlining the procedure for removing Presiding Officers of State Assemblies, Institutionalizing State Legislative Bureaucracy in the Constitution, and Establishing State Judicial Council – must be considered by the National Assembly.

He said it was “based on the fact that as speakers of state Assemblies, we are major stakeholders with knowledge of happenings at the grassroots”

According to him, the Speakers wrote to the Chairmen of the Constitution Review Committee conveying the bills only for the resolutions to be sent back to them without their proposed bills.

All said and done, the two chambers of the National Assembly after passing the 35 Constitution amendment bills last week mandated the Clerk of Parliament to ensure the bills are transmitted to President Buhari for his assent.

The Ninth National Assembly has been on the issue of the constitutional amendment for about three years and the general public has also been expectant of amendments to some sections of the 1999 constitution as reflected in the memoranda individuals and groups submitted to the  constitution drafting committees at the beginning of their work.

Nigerians are, therefore, hopeful that the presidential assent to the constitution amendment bills will bring the necessary change to the nation’s political climate ahead of the 2023 general election.

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