Law News
Constitution Review: Office of Attorney General, Justice Ministry to be Separated
Senate President, David Mark

Senate President, David Mark

The Senate on Tuesday approved the Conference Committee report of the National Assembly on the review of the 1999 Constitution by adopting 23 out of the 71 amendment proposals recommended by both chambers of the National Assembly.

Chief of the proposed amendments by the National Assembly adopted by the Senate was that of Sections 174 and 211, which separates the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation or Attorney General of the State from the Office of the Minister of Justice or Commissioner for Justice.

Similarly, Section 84(40)(a-f) creates the Office of the Accountant General for the Federal Government.

Sections 82 and 122 also reduced the period within which the president or a governor can authorise the withdrawal of money from the Consolidated Revenue Fund in the absence of an Appropriation Act from six to three months.

The Senate, in addition, retained Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution, which confers immunity on the president, vice-president, governors and deputy governors in contrast with the House of Representatives’ decision which removed it last week.

The lower chamber, while voting on the report of the conference committee of both houses of the National Assembly last week, had rejected the retention of immunity in the constitution but the Senate retained it.

During the voting, the House jettisoned the conference committee report and insisted on its earlier recommendation, which removed immunity for heads of the executive arm of government.

The Senate did not adopt the report last week because it could not secure the required two-thirds majority to do so.

However, the conference committee report which was presented by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Review of the Constitution and Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, told journalists that whereas the House had recommended the removal of immunity clause, the conference committee rejected it and hence, immunity stays.

The conference committee report made available to journalists yesterday also showed that the consideration of the National Conference report for the possible subjection to a referendum, which the House of Representatives rejected during its voting last week, was never listed for deliberation at the conference.

Hence, subjecting the report to a referendum is still an option that could rear its head again.

But the Senate upheld the full-fledged autonomy for the local government areas by “providing for their funding, tenure, elections, and to clearly delineate their powers and responsibilities to ensure effective service delivery and insulate them from undue and counter-productive interference from state governors”.

Consequently, Section 124 of the bill altering the constitution confers on the local governments the power to become a third tier of government by providing for the creation of the Office of the Auditor General of the Local Government as well as the State Local Government Service Commission.

If this amendment sails through, local government funds will be transferred directly to their accounts and only democratically elected councils will draw money from such accounts.

The section also deletes from the constitution the existence of State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC), implying that if the amendment secures the support of two-thirds of the 36 state legislatures, local government elections will henceforth be conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with elected officers entitled to a four-year tenure.

The National Assembly also stripped the president of the power to assent to the amended constitution before it can formally come into force, as according to it, doing so would “enhance the sovereignty of the citizens through their elected representatives”.

It also moved to compel the president to address a joint session of the National Assembly once in a year.

Whereas Section 285 of the bill upholds 180 days for the determination of election petitions, it added that in a situation “where a force majeure occurs, the period of the force majeure shall not be counted in the computation of the 180 days for the purpose of determining election petitions”.

The lawmakers also conferred the exclusive jurisdiction to try electoral offences on the federal high courts, adding that a court or tribunal shall stay proceedings on account of any interlocutory appeal.

While Sections 65 and 106 provide for independent candidacy during elections, Section 225 empowers INEC to de-register any political party for either a breach of registration requirements or failure to win elections from the local government level to the presidency.

Sections 134 and 179 of the bill also extended presidential and governorship run-off elections from seven to 21 days.

Sections 189 and 129 of the alteration bill seek to empower the federal and state legislatures to respectively punish anyone who refuses or neglects to appear when summoned by prescribing civil or criminal sanctions or both against him.

Also, the National Assembly resolved that because Part I of
Second Schedule of the constitution is “congested, cumbersome and unwieldy”, it provided for the decongestion of the Exclusive List by removing items such as pensions, railways, stamp duties and wages from the Exclusive Legislative List, while items such as arbitration, environment, health, housing, railways, road safety, stamp duties, wages, land, agriculture and youths were transferred to the Concurrent List.

Ekweremadu explained that labour was removed from the Exclusive List to enable each state determine its own wages, bearing in mind that each state has its own peculiar nature.

The lawmakers also removed “force” from the “Nigeria Police Force”, renaming it “Nigeria Police”.

However, Senator Ita Enang faulted the Senate’s decision not to revisit some recommendations which were hitherto not considered or voted on by the Senate, arguing that the constitution provides for deliberation and resolution on each clause by a two-thirds majority.

But Senate President David Mark ruled him out of order, citing Section 53(6) of Senate Standing Rules which prohibits a repeat of a concluded legislative work.

After the adoption, he said the bill would promptly be sent to the state legislatures for their decision on the amendments.

In the same vein, Ekweremadu described it as the end of a long journey and expressed hope that the state legislatures would expeditiously pass the amendments.

Click here to read from source.