Nigeria News
National Assembly and the Constitution


The National Assembly is constitutionally empowered to carry out a number of duties, chief among which are lawmaking and appropriation. Omololu Ogunmade reviews the roles of Nigeria’s federal legislature especially on constitution review and lawmaking
After two unsuccessful attempts, the National Assembly carried out its first amendment to the 1999 Constitution in 2011.

The amended constitution, which came into force in March, 2011 had earlier been signed by President Goodluck Jonathan on January 10, after a court judgment which authorised the president to sign the constitution despite spirited battle against it by the federal lawmakers.
The amendment was in fulfilment of Section 9(1,2,3) of the constitution which empowers the federal legislature to amend the constitution through an Act of the National Assembly.
Besides the first amendment, the advent of the seventh National Assembly in 2011 resulted in yet another move to amend the constitution. Hence, both chambers of the National Assembly separately constituted review committees to amend the constitution with the promise that by the end of 2013, the amendment process would have been concluded.
But about two months to the end of 2014, the process appears to have run into a stalemate as both chambers have been unable to constitute a joint committee to be saddled with the responsibility of harmonising their positions.
Harmonisation of the positions of both the lower and upper chambers of the legislature is a mandatory exercise that must precede the dispatch of the harmonised version from the National Assembly to the state legislatures as required by the constitution. The constitution provides that two-thirds of the 36 Houses of Assembly in the states of the federation must pass each amended section before it can become law.
However, the delay in concluding the amendment process in the National Assembly despite voting on the recommendations of the review committees since July last year has created a suspicion that the process may not eventually be completed before the end of this seventh National Assembly in May 2015.
Although the upper legislative chamber had on July 11, 2013, voted on all the recommendations of the Senate Committee on the Review of the Constitution, it again came up with fresh amendment proposals in April this year. These proposals included a section empowering the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to de-register political parties considered not viable as well as an amendment to Sections 134 and 179 of the Constitution.
The later amendment proposal seeks to extend the conduct of governorship and presidential run-off elections from days to 21 days. Others proposals sought to mandate clerks of both the National Assembly and state houses of assembly to notify INEC of the existence of vacant seats in the legislature arising from death, resignation or vacation of such seats within seven days.
Another sought to confer the exclusive jurisdiction to try offences relating to violation of Electoral Act on the High Court as well as the move to make both former Senate presidents and speakers of the House of Representatives automatic members of the National Council of State (NCS).
The committee also proposed amendments to Section 9 of the 1999 Constitution in a way that a completely new constitution can be produced in the nearest future through the conduct of referendum by the INEC.
While voting on other proposals had been successfully done in the Senate, the chamber did not vote on the proposal for the production of a new constitution before embarking on vacation on July 17. Unlike other proposals which required two-thirds of the Senate to be passed, the proposal on new constitution can only be passed with four-fifths of the senators.
There is, however, the suspicion that the National Assembly might have deliberately put the amendment process on hold in anticipation of the output of the national conference which had been submitted to the president by the leadership of the conference in August. How true this perception is remains a matter of time.
Besides constitutional amendment, the National Assembly’s main function is to make laws for peace, order and good governance of Nigeria. How well this arm of government has performed its constitutional responsibility has been a matter of contention. This is moreso that a majority of the lawmakers stay off their duty posts despite a number of vacations they embark on every legislative year.
Section 63 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, provides that the Senate and the House of Representatives each shall sit for a period not less than 180 days in a year. While it is hard to ascertain the compliance of this arm of government with this provision as a result of frequent adjournments, a number of them don’t attend sittings even when the institution is in session.
This perceived flagrant negligence of duty by many of the lawmakers, who draw huge earnings along with a number of fringe benefits such as estacodes from the treasury, has been a subject of commentaries in the national dailies in recent times. Some of the commentaries have lamented that watching the chambers on the television has always been embarrassing to the nation in view of countless number of vacant seats exposed.
The House of Representatives which has a higher number of members appears to be guilty the more of this as it seems doubtful if up to half of them attend sittings especially since they resumed from their eight weeks of vacation on September 16 given the sparing attendance shown every week on the television.
Also, there are many Nigerians who would argue that the National Assembly has not lived up to its constitutional responsibility of lawmaking. At the end of the third session of the National Assembly, the Senate reported that it received a total of 187 bills out of which it passed only 13 when the session ended on June 5, 2014.
Giving account of the parliament’s stewardship at the end of the session, the Senate Committee Chairman on Rules and Business, Senator Ita Enang, said of the 187 bills received, nine originated from the executive, while the remaining 178 were private members’ bills.
He added that besides the 13 passed, the total 187 bills also included those withdrawn, those in the negative, those read a second time and others committed to either standing committees or committees of the whole Senate.
In the House of Representatives, the Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, reported that of the 169 bills initiated during the session, the House passed only 46, beating the record of the Senate however.
But what many could not understand is that till date, members of both houses have continued to initiate bills whose process of passage they know will never be concluded at the expiration of this tenure in May and which will be invalid at the beginning of another term.
Some insider sources told THISDAY that most lawmakers do not initiate bills in fulfilment of their constitutional responsibility or as a mark of patriotism. Rather, they argued that some of them do so only with the intention to list such failed bills as their achievements in the legislature in the nearest future.

Nevertheless, the overall assessment of lawmakers and the eventual verdict on these representatives remain the duty of Nigerians who are left to decide whether they have lived up to their constitutional responsibility or not. And there is no better time to do such a critical review than the nation’s independence anniversary.

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