The proposed January 2020 constitution amendment by the National Assembly has opened up another vista of agitations in the country, Daily Trust on Sunday reports.
The desire for an amendment of a constitution of any country is very interesting, as well as intriguing. And Nigeria cannot be different. With its diverse cultures and alignments, anytime a call for constitutional amendment is being proposed, it heats up the polity with so many agitations. Indeed, a Pandora’s box was opened when Senate President Ahmad Lawan announced recently that the National Assembly intended to undertake a constitutional amendment in January 2020.
However, such amendment is not a tea party and items on the table go through the crucible with lots of adjustments and many not seeing the light of day.
The January 2020 constitution amendment
The 9th National Assembly is expected to commence a fresh constitutional amendment process by January 2020. The process will be kick-started with the constitution of ad-hoc committees to initiate the process of amending relevant sections of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). The amendment would be based on the wishes and aspirations of various stakeholders and their representatives in the country.
Senate President Lawan said the Senate would commence the review while receiving in audience, the European Union Ambassador to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ketil Karlsen, who paid him a courtesy visit on Wednesday, December 4, 2019.
He, however, said the committee to handle the review could not be constituted because the Senate had been pre-occupied with other issues like the 2020 budget.
“By January next year, the committee will start some work because we already have some references that require some kind of constitutional review,” he said.
Similarly, the House of Representatives is expected to pursue a similar goal, just like their counterparts in the upper chamber have started sponsoring various bills calling for acts of the National Assembly to amend various sections of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to accommodate new provisions, introduce, modify or expunge others.
While Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege handles all constitution review matters, Deputy Speaker Ahmed Idris Wase will preside over the committee in the House of Representatives.
Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila has already sponsored the “Smooth Transition Bill,” which was passed by the House for third reading. The bill, which seeks to provide an orderly transfer of power from one government to another, is being considered concurrently in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Areas of amendment
The Senate had, at different plenary, passed to first reading, about 13 constitution (alteration) bills, 2019 that are yet to be deliberated.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives also sponsored the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Alteration) Bill (HB.596) which passed first reading.
The bill, which seeks to prescribe as an offence, contempt of a legislative House, calls for the amendment of Section 89 by deleting Sub-Section 1 (d) and inserting a new Subsection (3).
Another bill sponsored by Chief Whip Mohammed Tahir Monguno seeks to prohibit “Hate Speech” that are capable of inciting violence and civil disorder.
The bill seeks to provide limitations to the freedom of expression as guaranteed by the constitution to prohibit hate speeches that have the consequences of inciting violence and civil disorder. The bill seeks the alteration of Section 39 of Principal Act by inserting after existing sub-section (3) a new sub- clause (4) to state that; “The rights provided in Section (1) shall not extend to: (a) propaganda for war; incitement of imminent violence; advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and incitement to cause harm.”
Submission of ministerial names with portfolios
Ben Ibakpa also sponsored a bill to alter the constitution and provide “For Timeframe For Submitting the Names of Ministerial or Commissioners Nominees; with Portfolios Attached and Evidence of Declaration of Assets and Liabilities of the Nominee.”
The bill seeks the alteration of Section 147 of the Principal Act in Subsections (1) and (2), Sections 192 Subsection (1) line 3.
Nkeiruka Onyejeocha also sponsored a bill seeking to amend Sections 65(2)a, 106(c), 131(b) and 131(d) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to amend the powers of the president on the “Proclamation for the holding of first session of the National Assembly” not less than 48 hours after he was sworn in.
Speaker Gbajabiamila, with six other co-sponsors also presented a bill for the amendment of the constitution to “Strengthen the Principle of Separation of Powers and Guarantee Independence of Different Arms of Government.”
The bill, co-sponsored by Ozurigbo Ogbonna, Abubakar Hassan Fulata, Kayode Akiola, Ifeanyi Momah, Luke Onofiok and Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, seeks to amend Section (4) subsection (8) by deleting subsection (8) and replacing it with a new one. It also seeks the amendment of section (6) by adding a new subsection (6)c.
Local government financial autonomy
A bill to alter the constitution sponsored by Mansur Manu Soro seeks to “Guarantee a Democratically Elected Local Government System” and provide sanctions for breach. The bill seeks to provide financial and administrative autonomy to local governments and uniformity of tenure across the country.
It seeks the alteration of Section (7) by substituting the existing Subsection (1) with a new Subsection (1) and inserting Subsections (1)a,b,c and d.
John Dyeg also sponsored a bill for the amendment of the constitution to extend the tenure of the National Assembly as well as Houses of Assembly to six years.
The bill, among other things, seeks to provide that in the event that an election cannot hold, the “National Assembly should, by a resolution, extend the period of six years mentioned in Subsection (1) of this section from time to time, but not beyond a period of six months at a time.”
The bill seeks the alteration of sections 64,105, 135 and 137. It also seeks the amendment of sections 180 and 182.
Reps reject state police
Despite the agitation for the creation of state police, the House of Representatives, earlier in May, rejected the bill seeking to repeal the Nigeria Police Act, 2004 and enact the Nigeria Police Reform Act, 2019 to create a state police force across the states of the federation.
The bill, which was sponsored by Edward Pwajok, states that state police would help tackle some of the security challenges in the country.
But most of the lawmakers agreed that the provisions of the bill were in conflict with constitutional provisions establishing the Nigeria Police Force.
It would be recalled that the Deputy Senate President of the 8th Assembly, Senator Ike Ekwerenmadu, sponsored a bill seeking the establishment of state police.
Separate motions supporting the creation of state police were also moved at the time by Senators Emmanuel Bwacha and Kabiru Marafa from Taraba and Zamfara states respectively to stop killings, kidnapping and banditry.
However, since the coming of the 9th Assembly, the agitations died down as there was no fresh bill pushing for the creation of state police. Perhaps, agitators will re-present it in next year’s amendment.
Bills on electoral reforms are being concurrently considered at both Senate and the House of Representatives as part of the constitution amendment process.
In November 2019, the bill seeking to compel the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to accommodate new technologies in the accreditation of voters during elections scaled through second reading in the Senate.
The bill, titled, “A Bill for an Act to Amend the Electoral Act No. 6, 2010 and for other Related Matters, 2019 (SB. 122)”, was sponsored by Deputy President of the Senate, Omo-Agege (APC- Delta) and co-sponsored by Senator Abubakar Kyari (APC- Borno).
It also seeks the reduction of nomination fees charged by political parties and granting of party agents the right to inspect original electoral materials before the commencement of polls.
The bill also wants the electoral body to suspend an election in order to allow a political party that lost its candidate before or during an election to conduct a fresh primary to elect a replacement or new candidate. It also prohibits members of political parties from taking up employments in the INEC and compelling the electoral body to publish the voters’ register for public scrutiny at every registration area and its website, seven days before general elections, among others.
The sponsor of the bill, Senator Omo-Agege, said it was in fulfillment of the legislative agenda of the 9th Senate in the area of electoral reforms.
According to him, the proposed law will not only strengthen the nation’s electoral process in line with global best practices but also remove the lacuna in the current electoral law.
Also speaking at the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room’s Stakeholders Forum on Elections in Abuja last week, he said the Electoral Act, when amended, would make provisions for consequences of violating electoral guidelines and regulations, among others.
Omo-Agege said the proposed bill had passed second reading and now approaching the stage of public hearing. The bill also seeks the reduction of nomination fees charged by political parties, as well as granting party agents the right to inspect original electoral materials before the commencement of polls.
INEC chair on amendment of Electoral Act
One of the areas the chairman of the INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, would want an amendment to the Electoral Act to cover is the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission to ensure speedy prosecution of electoral offences in the country.
Also speaking last week at the last meeting of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES), Prof. Yakubu said the commission would pursue a review of security arrangements for future elections. He said there would henceforth be comprehensive information on security operatives and clear details of their postings and names to ensure that they were held accountable for their actions.
He said the commission would submit proposals to the National Assembly on how the electoral legal framework could be amended to sanction violators and further empower the commission in this respect.
The chairman said penultimate Tuesday in Abuja at the opening of the commission’s meeting with Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) that the INEC would “vigorously” engage with the National Assembly and other stakeholders over the impending review of the Electoral Legal Framework, in the area of the Smart Card Reader (SCR).
He said the SCR “cannot be jettisoned or abandoned,” adding that the commission would seek ways by which its utility in elections can be enhanced for the triple objectives of verification of the genuineness of the Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVC), confirmation of ownership and fingerprint authentication of voters.
Agitations from geo-political zones
There have been agitations by various geopolitical zones of the country to address peculiar developmental challenges in all the six zones.
With the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and North-East Development Commission (NEDC) which received presidential assent on October 2017, the quest for the establishment of other commissions in the remaining geopolitical zones has gained momentum.
Three bills were recently introduced in both chambers to that effect. Senator Mohammed Sani (APC, Niger-East) had sponsored the bill for the establishment of a North-Central Development Commission, which has passed the first reading.
This comes barely a week after the Senate introduced a bill seeking the establishment of the South-West Development Commission, sponsored by Senator Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun Central, APC).
Before then, the Senate re-introduced a bill seeking to establish the South-East Development Commission (SEDC), sponsored by Senator Stella Oduah (PDP, Anambra North).
Also, Senator Barau Jibrin (APC, Kano North) had sponsored a bill seeking for the establishment of North-West Development Commission and it also passed the first reading.
Lawmakers set agenda for constitution amendment
Senator Barau Jibrin (APC, Kano-North), in an interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, said the Nigerian constitution needed to be amended to create more states from the North-West to cater for the growing population in the region.
He said the bill for the establishment of North-West Development Commission was conceived to deal with the growing population, especially with the influx of migrants from the North-East who overstretched the meager resources in the region and the recent banditry crisis devastating the Katsina, Zamfara and other parts of the region.
“More states should be created because we are the most highly populated region in the country. Kano alone is supposed to be three states, but our statutory allocation is not different. What we usually get is the same thing given to South-South and South-West. The constitution needs to be amended in the overall interest of the country,” he explained.
Speaking on telephone, the spokesperson of the House of Representatives, Benjamin Kalu, said the National Assembly would continue constitution amendment process from where the 8th Assembly stopped, with some adjustments and new proposals.
“We will continue from where they (8th Assembly) stopped. We will consolidate on whatever is there before the assembly ended and take up from there. There are new things to be added to it. We will update with our own and go in for it. The House Committee on Rules and Business will bring it up and the House will continue from there,” he said.
Process of constitution amendment
A document prepared in 2015 by the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) stated that Section 9 of the constitution stipulates that, “The National Assembly can only pass an act to amend the constitution when its proposal to amend the constitution has been supported by two-thirds majority of all the members of each chamber and is approved by the resolution of at least 24 Houses of Assembly of the states.”
The document, titled, “Step by Step of Amending the Nigerian Constitution,” also pointed out that proposals for amendment to the constitution usually come in the way of bills. It stated that bills originate either from the Executive or a member of the National Assembly as a Private Member Bill. While Executive Bills are initiated by the President, Chief Justice of Nigeria or other government official on the one hand, Private Members’ Bills are initiated by interest groups and sponsored by members of either the Senate or the House of Representatives on the other hand.
The presentation of the bill is preceded by its receipt by the President of the Senate or Speaker of the House of Representatives as the case may be and sent to their respective Rules and Procedure Committees for scheduling on the Order Papers for an introduction into the Houses.
It stated that at its presentation, the long title is read out for first reading, marking the beginning of the legislative process. It is important to note that the bill goes through the same procedure in each chamber of the National Assembly.
Also, it explained that usually, a bill is read for a second time and its general principles debated during plenary, after which it is referred to a committee that has been specifically assigned within the lifespan of the Assembly to critically examine and legislate over the issues in contention.
Bills proposing amendments to the constitution are forwarded to the Committee on the Review of the Constitution in the Senate or House of Representatives, which is an ad-hoc committee that it usually sets up to steer the constitution review process in the National Assembly. Thereafter, the committee reviews the bill and may slate a public hearing and further consultations, and then, propose amendments to the plenary.
The PLAC document also explained that at this stage, bills are not only critically examined by the committee but by identified stakeholders in the public, who are often required to make written submissions of their views through a memorandum and propose amendments where necessary.
Besides, the committee is at liberty to develop new amendment proposals based on received submissions and outside of those committed to it through an executive or private member bill and thereafter, the amendment proposals are presented as one constitutional amendment bill in a report to the plenary.
At this stage, if it is adopted, the bill progresses to the third reading, but after every member of the Legislature votes either in support or against on each specific item in the bill. Here, the proposals to the constitution are often presented in the form of a clause. A two-third majority of all the members of each House is needed for each clause to be deemed as passed, except where the proposal borders on the creation of new states, boundary adjustments, new local government areas, fundamental rights and on the mode for altering the constitution. In such cases, a four-fifth majority is needed.