Barristers & Solicitors
Constitution review: We won’t be intimidated, blackmailed – Speakers

The Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures of Nigeria has declared that its members will not be intimidated or blackmailed by anyone irrespective of their position.

This was in reaction to a statement credited to the Deputy Senate President and Chairman of the Constitution Review Committee, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, who blamed the 36 state governors for being behind the non-passage of the 44 Constitution Review Bills transmitted to them by the National Assembly.

The PUNCH had reported that Omo-Agege, while speaking at a press conference organised by the National Assembly Joint Committee on Constitution Review in Abuja, on Tuesday, lamented that only 11 states had so far considered and performed their constitutional role of passing amendments to the constitution, alleging that the Speakers of State Houses of Assembly, through a letter to the Joint Committee, had given four conditions upon which the remaining 25 states would pass the amendments.

He described the action by the state assemblies as the “hands of Esau and voice of Jacob”, saying state governors were behind the action of the Speakers.

But in a statement he personally signed, which was sent to our correspondent by his spokesperson, Abdul Burra, on Thursday, the Chairman of the Speakers’ Forum, Abubakar Suleiman, said a rejoinder to the claims made by the Deputy Senate President would have been unnecessary.

He, however, said it became necessary to react to it in view of the fact that it was with the intention of blackmailing and undermining the State Houses of Assembly and with the aim of misleading the public.

He vowed that they would not be cowed or intimidated by anyone declaring that they would remain firm in the discharge of their constitutional duties.

“It is very clear that the press conference was designed not only to blackmail the State Houses of Assembly but also to undermine them. And we like to make it clear that we will not give in to blackmail and intimidation by anyone no matter how highly placed.

“It is therefore imperative we make clarifications in the misrepresentations of the Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures of Nigeria and indeed the State Houses of Assembly in the Press Release,” he said.

He said Sen. Omo-Agege rightly alluded to a letter by the Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures of Nigeria conveying the four Bills for consideration by the National Assembly pointing out that the letter was addressed to the two Chairmen of both the Committees of the National Assembly on the Constitution Review separately.

According to him, what they raised in their letter as highlighted by the Deputy Senate President, were the same issues they have consistently raised in many fora of their engagements with the two committees on Constitution Review of the National Assembly long before the transmission of the resolutions of the National Assembly to the State Houses of Assembly.

Suleiman said as major stakeholders in the Constitution alteration exercise and the representatives of the people at the grassroots, they were by far in a better position to know basic and pressing needs of the people; hence their appeal for inclusion of the Bills.

“For instance, the issue of insecurity should agitate any conscientious leaders. So we believe this should be tackled frontally by the government. And the best way and the most generally acceptable way to curb the menace, we believe, is by providing for state policing in the constitution.

“Sadly, the proposed amendment was missing in the Resolutions transmitted by the National Assembly to the State Houses of Assembly.

“So, for the great importance of this proposed amendment and others namely, streamlining the procedure for removing Presiding Officers of State Assemblies, Institutionalising State Legislative Bureaucracy in the Constitution, and Establishing State Judicial Council; the Conference of Speakers further appealed to the National Assembly for their inclusion in the exercise.

“Expectedly, a reply by Sen Ovie Omo-Agege to our letter was received on the 6th October, 2022 acknowledging importance of the four Bills for incorporation in the alteration exercise and appealing to the State Houses of Assembly to proceed on the initial 44 Bills transmitted,” he stated.

The Speakers’ Chairman said with the strong appeal by Omo-Agege and assurance that the four Bills would be considered, the State Houses of Assembly have already proceeded on the ratification of the resolutions of the National Assembly on the Constitution Review.

He said, “It is rather very disheartening that the Deputy Senate President could make a turnaround within few days of his reply to our letter to blackmail the Honourable Speakers of the State Houses of Assembly by erroneously saying the Conference of Speakers ‘are using the four Bills as a quid pro quo to act on the 44 Bills the National Assembly transmitted to State Houses of Assembly’.

“The inconsistency and flip-flop displayed in his statements are regrettable and beneath the dignity of the occupant of such a revered office.

“Contrary to the number given by Sen Ovie Omo-Agege, the actual number of the State Houses of Assembly that have, so far, passed the resolutions of the National Assembly on the Constitution Review is 16. They are: Abia, Anambra, Enugu, Delta, Edo, Akwa Ibom, Lagos, Ogun, Osun, Ekiti, Kogi, Benue, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Katsina, and Adamawa States. We believe the misrepresentation was deliberate to demonise the Honourable Speakers and the State Houses of Assembly in the eye of the citizenry. This is also regrettable and disappointing.

“The Deputy Senate President in his statements has undermined the Honourable Speakers of the State Houses of Assembly by suggesting that they are stooges to the Governors. Sen Ovie Omo-Agege would perhaps want to see the Hon Speakers of the State Houses of Assembly to be confrontational with the Governors in their respective States.

“Agreed, one of the cardinal principles of Democracy is Checks and Balances, but it must not be carried out in a confrontational manner. It is not out of place if the Executive Governors are carried along in the process of altering the Constitution of the nation but it is wrong to insinuate that the Hon Speakers have abandoned their constitutional role for the Governors.

“His Excellency, the Deputy President, Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in his statements said the transmission of the resolution of the National Assembly has been made for six months now. It is correct. However, it should be made clear that the transmission was done when Political Parties’ National, Sub-National Conventions as well as Parties’ Primaries were being conducted in the country. Hence, the political parties’ primaries and other activities delayed the process at the state level.

“The Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures of Nigeria has never truncated, and will never truncate, any constitution alteration exercise in the country. The Conference has rather consistently served as a platform for effective accomplishment of the noble goals of the exercises.”

He assured Nigerians that all the State Houses of Assembly shall ratify the resolutions of the National Assembly in the ongoing Constitution Review exercise in no distant time.

Suleiman, however, warned that “It should also be stressed that no amount of blackmail and intimidation will stop or distract the State Houses of Assembly from diligently carrying out their constitutional roles. Alteration exercise of the Constitution is too important for a few to assume exclusive powers for.”

He added that, “While reiterating our resolve to ratify the resolutions of the National Assembly on the ongoing review of the Constitution, it is important to educate that State Houses of Assembly are individually empowered by the Constitution to play their roles according to the needs of the people, and that we shall do without playing to the gallery.”