NIGERIA: New Constitution by Senate

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After weeks of expectations, the Senate Committee for the Review of the 1999 Constitution submitted its report Wednesday with a recommendation, among others, barring a vice-president or deputy governor who succeeds a president or governor on account of death from contesting for such offices during a general election.

If this recommendation as contained in Sections 136 (2) and 181 (2) of the draft amendment bill, read for the first time on the floor of the Senate Wednesday, sails through, President Goodluck Jonathan would be the first and last vice-president to ascend the office of the president following the death of his principal, to contest a subsequent presidential election.

In the same vein, Sections 136 (1c) and 181 (1c) of the draft bill respectively stipulate that if a president-elect or governor-elect dies before swearing-in, the vice-president-elect or deputy governor-elect shall be sworn in as the president or governor respectively only to serve out the tenure of the deceased, but will not be eligible to stand for subsequent elections.

Also, Section 137 (c) of the draft bill, which seeks to replace the current four-year tenure with a single term of six years, stipulates that anybody holding the office of the president or vice-president before the take-off of the amended constitution, is barred from standing for election for a single tenure of six years.

However, the report as presented by the Deputy Senate President and chairman of the committee, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, was silent on the time of the take-off of the single tenure proposal.

The report stated that recommending a single tenure for heads of executive office was necessary “considering the financial expenses often associated with re-elections and to ensure that the executive heads are freed from distractions so that they can concentrate on public policy issues.
While Section 9(A) in the draft bill outlaws the necessity for president’s signature in the amended constitution, sub-section 3(B) of the section stipulates that the National Assembly can also propose a new constitution.

If this provision succeeds, the agitation for a people’s constitution through a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) will be a forgone conclusion.

The report also recommended the separation of the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) from that of the Minister of Justice and is seeking a single tenure of seven years for the AGF, which according to Section 150 sub-sections 4, 5 and 6 of the draft amendment bill, shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other authority in the discharge of the functions of his office.

The AGF, who will be appointed by the president subject to the Senate’s confirmation, according to sub-section 6 of the draft, can only be removed by the president, acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate praying for his removal over inability to function effectively or on account of gross misconduct.

On states creation, Ekweremadu, who said the committee received no fewer than 61 requests on this subject matter, added that the proposal did not sail through because none of the requests met the requirements for state creation as spelt out in Section 8 (1) of the constitution, as amended.
Section 162 (5) of the draft also grants autonomy to the local government through funding via a first line charge and therefore outlawed the existing joint-state local government account.

Ekweremadu said this recommendation was made to create room for accountability and an effective local government system.

In the same vein, sub-section 6 of Section 162 of the draft also empowers the federal government to withhold funds of any local government that is not administered by a democratically elected leadership, but added that this excludes local councils where elections are not held as a result of natural disasters, breach of peace and other emergencies.

On the other hand, sub-section 6 (b) of the draft seeks to outlaw judicial interventions in the conduct of local government elections, saying, “Nothing in this constitution shall empower a court to stop the holding of local government elections.”

Section 58 of the draft also stipulates that “where the president neither signifies that he assents or that he withholds assent to a bill, the bill shall at the expiration of 30 days become law.”

Controversially, Section 84 (5A) of the draft provides that former senate presidents, former deputy senate presidents, former speakers of the House of Representatives and their deputies shall be entitled to life pension at a rate equivalent to the annual salary of incumbent holders of such offices. This provision is bound to raise eyebrows because the Senate had earlier thrown out a bill seeking to remunerate the aforementioned parliamentarians, describing it as unjustifiable.

Ekweremadu also reported that the committee rejected proposals for state police, saying instead “the committee recommended that the preferred approach at this time is to critically look at the current federal police system with a view to sanitising it”.

Further, he said the committee failed to adopt the proposal seeking the assignment of portfolios to ministers before their names are sent to the Senate for confirmation, noting that “assigning portfolios should be the prerogative of the president for reasons of flexibility”, observing further: “It has been shown that professional qualifications do not necessarily approximate to performance in practical terms.”

The committee also rejected the proposal for the entrenchment of the rotation of the presidency in the constitution, submitting that Nigerian leadership should not be reduced to ethnic or regional considerations.

The committee also ignored the agitation for a provision in the constitution seeking a special status for Lagos State.

“While the committee said it appreciated the peculiar needs and challenges of Lagos, it is our considered opinion that accordingly such special status should be a matter of political decision which should be kept out of the constitution,” the report added.

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