REVIEW. Some landmark changes were adopted and some other very critical proposals were dropped. The ball is now in the court of the House of Representatives and the 36 State Houses of Assembly.
A RECORD101 out of the 109 senators assembled last Tuesday to take a decision on critical issues slated for amendment in the on-going constitution amendment exercise. It was a day the Senate went through clause-by-clause voting on the proposed amendments.
Before the voting exercise, Senate President David Mark enjoined senators to cast their votes according to their conscience as according to him, the outcome of the day’s exercise would impact considerably on the country.
“We are on the threshold of history. I want all of you to vote according to your conscience because how you vote today would be reflected.
Clause-by -clause consideration would be taken. Because of the seriousness of this, we will not resume another debate unless there is a correction to be made. We have gone pass that stage now. A minimum of 73 votes are required for any of the clauses to be passed into law,” he said.
Mark, who had informed his colleagues that the exercise would be carried out electronically, turned out as their tutor, given that it was not only the first time electronic voting would be adopted in the Seventh Senate but due largely to the fact that majority of the senators were serving their first term in the legislature. And all the votes done in the chamber were through voice votes which they are either expected to shout ‘Aye’ or ‘Nay,’ signifying yes or no to any issue they are considering.
Stages of the exercise
Although, it wasn’t easy for the lawmakers in the first three votes made as they were seen making mistakes, but with Mark’s continued intervention, they got it right from the fourth voting stage. So, it became fun for them as they progressed to other stages of the exercise.
Out of the 101 senators who were present to vote on the 31 clauses of the constitution slated for amendment by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu-led Senate Committee on the Review of the Constitution, 73 votes, representing a two-third majority, were required to get any clause passed, otherwise, it remained in the extant law book without a touch.
Among the 31 classes slated for amendment were: Six year single term for president and state governors, financial autonomy for local governments, Nigerian Police, Nigeria Prisons, stripping the president the power assent to any amendment of the constitution, and outright power of the legislature to make any bill passed into law irrespective of presidential assent.
There were also inclusion of former Senate President and Deputy Senate President as well as former Speaker and Deputy speakers of the House of Representatives in life-time pension, separation of the office of Attorney-General of the Federation from the Office of Minister of Justice, Labour, Railways, Youths, Aviation, Arbitration, Environment, Public Complaints, Road Safety and Healthcare, among others.
As the voting progressed, some senators drew the attention of the senate president to the implication of allowing some clauses, which had earlier been passed, to stand, saying they portended danger if not revisited.
Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, PDP, Cross River Central, particularly drew the attention of the Senate to the non-passage of clause 30 (vi), which sought to remove prisons from the Exclusive Legislative List to Concurrent Legislative List. He argued that since state governments were constitutionally empowered to own their law courts, there was nothing wrong if at the same time, they were given the constitutional mandate to own prisons, saying federal prisons were always congested due largely to inmates brought from state courts.
Following this development, the senate president obliged his request that another vote be taken to change the situation, but in spite of this, the issue suffered a setback, as the votes garnered were not up to the required 73.
Another issue that was revisited was pension, following observation by Deputy Senate President Ike Eweremadu, PDP, Enugu West, that since Labour had been move from Exclusive Legislative List to Concurrent Legislative List; it would be unfair to allow Pension to remain in the Exclusive List. But in the second votes taken, at the instance of Mark, unlike the Prisons, Pension scaled through and was moved to the Concurrent List.
But the development caused a stir on the floor of the Senate Chamber and almost disrupted the whole exercise as emotion became high following religious and ethnic sentiments displayed by Senators Ahmad Sani Yerima, ANPP- Zamfara West and Danjuma Goje, PDP, Gombe Central, that the Senate President Mark played double standard in the voting process.
Senator Ahmad Sani, particularly, accused the Senate President of allowing second votes on two issues raised by the Ekweremadu and Ndoma-Egba but refused to call for a second vote on an issue he raised, and threatened to storm out of the chamber if not recognised, which according to him, infringed on the rights of adherents of Islam regarding marriage.
He said the Senate voting to delete Section 29 (4b) was against Islamic laws, insisting that the Constitution forbids the National Assembly from making laws that go against Islamic injunction.
The clause specifically provided that any citizen of Nigeria of full age who wishes to renounce his Nigerian citizenship shall make a declaration in the prescribed manner for the renunciation.It further stated that full agemeans 18 years, adding: ’Any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.’
He argued that considering 18 years as maturity age for a woman was against Islamic injunction, citing a section of the Constitution, which states that the National Assembly could not make any law that would go against Islamic religion.
The Ekweremadu committee recommended that the second definition of a woman of full age be deleted. When the voting was taken on that recommendation, 75 senators voted that it be deleted, a development which attracted a protest from Yerima, who argued that the balloting violated Islamic law, which according to him, provided that any married woman is of full age.
Demand for repeat voting
He claimed that it was not fair for the senate president to have ignored his demand to repeat voting on the matter. Supporting Yerima, Danjuma Goje of Gombe State accused Mark of being unfair. This attracted expression of serious concerns by Mark, who took exception to the use of the word ’double standard’ by Goje, pointing out that it was not a personal matter.
Mark later allowed the demand for a repeat of the voting and the result showed that senators voted in support of the retention of the definition that any married woman is deemed to have attained a full age.
The amendment which sought to remove the Chief Justice of Nigeria,CJN, and other serving judicial officers as the chairperson and members respectively of the Federal Judicial Service Commission was also rejected by the Senate, following a plea letter from the CJN, Justice Aloma Mukhtar, through Deputy Senate President Ekweremadu, to the effect that the amendment was inappropriate and unnecessary.
Mark congratulated his colleagues for indeed making history through their voting. He announced that consequently, a joint committee comprising senators and members of the House of Representatives (to be known as Joint Constitution Drafting Committee) would be set up to harmonise whatever differences that might exist in the versions of the amendments passed by both chambers.