Law News
Constitution Amendment Splits Senators, Reps

Contrary to the decision of the Senate on some items in the clause-by-clause voting on the 33 bills processed by its special committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution, the House of Representatives yesterday took a parallel position.

The lower chamber voted to retain the State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs), rejected the appointment of a minister from the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and approved 35 per cent affirmative action for women as ministers.

The Senate had, on Wednesday, voted to scrap the SIECs, approved a ministerial slot for the FCT and rejected the 35 per cent affirmative action for women. But at yesterday’s plenary, which was marked by rowdiness and intermittent protests, the House differed from the upper chamber.

In declaring its support for women, the House approved the proposals which recommended 35 per cent and 20 per cent affirmative action for women with respect to appointive offices at the state and the federal levels respectively. While 248 voted for, 46 voted against with one member abstaining.

Conversely, the House rejected the citizenship and indigeneship bill, prompting female lawmakers to protest profusely. The bill seeks to alter section 25 of the constitution to guarantee a married woman’s right to choosing either her indigeneship by birth or by marriage for the purposes of appointment or election.

The protest was preceded by a glitch in the electronic voting platform which was perceived to have shut out members from voting. For the proposal to scrap SIECs and empower the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct the council polls, only 229 members were in favour, 51 against and one abstained.

The members could not muster the required two-thirds of 240 to have the bill scale through. On the appointment of a minister from the FCT, only 191 members supported, 21 voted against while three abstained.

The 191, however, failed short of the 240 two-thirds majority requirement. Similarly, the House differed with the upper chamber by voting against the bill seeking to stop the executive from making laws by altering section 315 of the constitution to remove the law-making powers of the executive arm of government and delete the National Youth Service Corps Decree, the Public Complaints Commission Act, the Na-tional Security Agencies’ Act and the Land Use Act from the Constitution, so that they could be subject to regular process of amendment.

While 209 voted for the removal of NYSC, National Security Agencies, Public Complaints Commission Acts from the Constitution, 47 voted against and five members abstained. The amendment, however, failed as it was short of the 240 two-thirds requirement. Also, on the proposal to remove the Land Use Act from the Constitution, 139 voted for, 148 against and four abstained. This was also rejected.

Meanwhile, the consequential amendment on Civil Defence Corps was passed with 293 voting in favour and only two against. The House, however, concurred with the Senate in many areas as it voted to whittle the powers of the president by passing a bill seeking to, among other things, provide the procedure for passing a Constitution Alteration Bill where the President withholds assent.

The bill seeks to alter sections 58, 59 and 100 of the 1999 Constitution and make it easy for the lawmakers to override the president in order to resolve the impasse where the President or Governor refuses to signify his/her assent to a bill from the National Assembly or withhold such assent.

The lower chamber equally voted alongside the Senate by rejecting the proposal to amend the constitution to provide for devolution of powers, so that more powers and responsibilities could be withdrawn from the centre and given to the states. Although, 210 members voted for devolution, the number was not enough to have it scale through the hurdle. A total of 71 members voted against it.

The House also approved the bill seeking that second schedule, parts I and II of the constitution be altered, to move certain items to the Concurrent Legislative List to give more legislative powers to states. Also concurring with the Senate, the House rejected the proposal to amend the constitution with respect to involvement of local government areas in state creation and boundary adjustment exercises.

The bill to this effect sought to alter section 8 of the constitution to ensure that only democraticallyelected local government councils participated in the process of state creation and boundary adjustment. It also sought to remove ambiguities in the extant provisions to enhance clarity with respect to the procedure for state creation.

The House also approved the inclusion of former presidents of the Senate and Speakers of the House of Representatives in the composition of the Council of State; 274 members voted for it while six voted against it with two abstaining.

Similarly, the House approved immunity for lawmakers like their Senate counterpart. The immunity bill seeks to alter sections 4, 51, 67, 68, 93 and 109 of the constitution to provide immunity for members of the legislature in respect of words spoken or written at plenary sessions or at committee proceedings. While 288 voted in favour of immunity, 10 voted against with one abstaining.

The proposal further seeks to institutionalise legislative bureaucracy in the constitution like the Civil Service Commission in the executive and the Judicial Service Commission in the judiciary; and, obligate the President to attend a joint meeting of the National Assembly once a year to deliver a state of the nation address.

Also approved by the House was the alteration of the constitution to set a time frame within which the president or a governor shall forward to the Senate or state House of Assembly names of nominees for confirmation as ministers or commissioners; and provide for attachment of portfolio.

By this amendment, the president or governor is required by this provision to, within 30 days, forward to the Senate or state Houses of Assembly names of nominees for confirmation as ministers or commissioners; and provide for attachment of portfolio.

The House also voted to alter section 162 of the constitution to abrogate State Joint Local Government Accounts and empower each Local Government Council to maintain its own special account. In the voting, 291 supported this amendment, with 12 against and one abstaining.

It also voted to grant state Assemblies financial autonomy. As promised by Speaker Dogara, the House approved the ‘not too young to run bill’ by voting to reduce the age qualification for contesting elections.

The bill seeks to reduce age qualification for offices of the president and governor and membership of Senate, House of Representatives and state Houses of Assembly; 261 members supported the bill with 23 voting against it and two abstaining. The lower chamber also concurred with Senate as it approved independent candidacy in all elections; 275 voting for it and 14 against and one abstained.

The House, however, rejected the proposal to separate the office of the Attorney General of the Federation/State from the office of Minister/Commissioner of Justice; 234 for, 58 against and three abstained. Other items which were considered by the House include rejection of the proposal to change the names of some councils in Ebonyi, Oyo, Ogun, Plateau and Rivers; 220 members voted in favour with 57, supporting and eight abstaining.

But it voted to change the name of the Nigeria Police Force to become Nigerian Police with 280 votes for and nine against. Also endorsing the Senate’s position on the restriction of the tenure of presidents and governors, who succeeds their dead or impeached principals, 292 voted for with three each against and abstaining.

The House voted to separate the Office of the Accountant General of the Federal Government from Accountant General of the Federation with 274 and 23 against. It equally granted financial independence for the Office of Auditor of Federation/ State with 289 votes and 11 against.

Speaker Yakubu Dogara, however, explained that the decision of the House to vote on items earlier rejected by the Senate was to show Nigerians where the lower chamber stands as such items, according to the rules of the parliaments, are automatically out of the amendment bill.

He described the rejection of the ministerial slot for FCT and the citizenship/ indigeneship bills as unfortunate, but appeals for understanding from Nigerians, saying “we are still growing”.

Source: The Newtelegraph News

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