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Constitution review: 7 controversial clauses as NASS panel finalises report

The joint Senate and House of Representatives Committee on Review of the 1999 Constitution has recommended over 50 amendments to the country’s main law book.…

The joint Senate and House of Representatives Committee on Review of the 1999 Constitution has recommended over 50 amendments to the country’s main law book.

The current review exercise would be the fifth alteration to the Nigerian constitution. While some amendments were successful, several others suffered serial failure. 

The joint National Assembly panel, eight months after holding a zonal public hearing to collect inputs from Nigerians on the document, held a retreat last week, where members considered the proposed amendments clause by clause. 

The lawmakers recommended amendments to the constitution to provide for independent candidacy, diaspora voting, mayoralty status for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and power devolution.

They also approved amendments to preserve elections of candidates to the office of president or governor, whose deputies have been found to have deficiencies in their qualifications. 

Others are restriction on formation of political parties, timeframe for submission of ministerial nominees, separation of the Office of the Minister of Justice from that of the Attorney-General of the Federation, among others. 

Lawyers and civic groups expressed mixed feelings on the proposed amendments. They said while some were long overdue and a way of meeting demands for restructuring, others may harm Nigerians, especially the working class. 

Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege, who co-chairs the review panel, assured that the report would be presented to both chambers for consideration at the end of this month.

For the amendments to sail through, they have to be approved by the two chambers of the National Assembly and not less than two-thirds of the 36 state assemblies. 

The panel recommended an amendment to section 142 of the Principal Act. It states that where a candidate has been elected to the office of the president or governor and his running mate has been found by a competent court or tribunal not to possess the requisite qualification for that office as required, his election shall not be voided because of such defect. 

It, however, stated that such a candidate shall nominate another person as his deputy from the same political party that sponsored him. 

If this amendment is passed, it would put an end to the Bayelsa scenario, where David Lyon of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who was declared winner of the state’s 2019 governorship election but had his election invalidated on account that his running mate, Degi Eremienyo Wangagra, who submitted a fake certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). 

The joint committee also recommended an amendment to section 177 to allow eligible Nigerians within and outside the country to vote during legislative elections. 

The current system only allows Nigerians who have attained the age of 18 and residing in the country to vote.

The proposed alteration seeks to allow eligible citizens to vote in Nigerian legislative elections, who have lived in Nigeria for at least five years from a minimum age of 10 years and as legal residents in any country where the person seeks to vote, for at least 12 months. 

It stated that guidelines for diaspora voting will be issued by the INEC. 

The committee approved alteration to section 222 of the constitution to enhance existing provisions on the formation of political parties to ensure viability and sustainability. 

The proposed alteration states that, in addition to having a headquarters in the FCT, a political party should have verifiable, equipped and staffed offices in at least two-thirds of all the states of the federation; the names and addresses of its national officers; and members shall be registered with the INEC and the list of such members shall be accompanied with an affidavit of non-membership of an existing political party. 

Another recommendation is empowering federal and state lawmakers to summon the president and governors respectively to brief them on security issues. 

The lawmakers also recommended the creation of the office of a mayor of the Federal Capital Territory. 

The proposed section 303 states, “There shall be for the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, a mayor who shall be chief executive of the FCT Administration.”

To qualify for election as mayor, a person shall be a citizen of Nigeria by birth, has attained the age of 35 years, is a member of a political party and sponsored by that party, or is an independent candidate and has been educated up to at least school certificate level. 

There is also a recommendation to appoint a minister from the FCT. 

In section 147, the president is mandated to appoint at least one minister from each state, who shall be an indigene of such state. 

In appointing a minister from the FCT, the proposed amendment stated that the person shall be a resident and registered voter in the territory. 

The lawmakers also recommended the insertion of a new section 147(7) to mandate the president to nominate ministers for Senate confirmation within 30 days after taking the oath of office.

The submission of names of the ministerial nominees to the Senate for confirmation shall be accompanied by the assigned portfolio of each nominee. 

They also recommended that not less than 10 per cent of persons appointed as ministers shall be women.

The same provisions apply to the state governors regarding the appointment of commissioners. 

On devolution of power, the lawmakers recommended the transfer of some items from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent list. This means that both federal and state assemblies can make laws on them.

The items are airports, correctional services, including the establishment of custodial facilities, geological surveys, railways, public holidays, fingerprints, identification and criminal records, insurance and labour, including trade unions, safety and welfare of labour, industrial relations, disputes and arbitration.

Lawyers, CSOs react

Lawyers and civil society groups have hailed the proposed amendments to the Nigerian constitution, saying they were long overdue in a country with compatriots across the world.

They, however, expressed reservations on others, saying that passing and signing them into law may preserve or mar the institutions of government. 

A lawyer, Nnamdi Ahaaiwe, said if the amendments scaled through, the Nigerian constitution would be like those of other countries, where major items are concentrated on the concurrent list instead of the exclusive list.

On policing, he said it was wrong that farmland fights would be reported to the office of the Inspector-General of Police, whereas in other countries, policing is decentralised to the lowest level.

A member of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies (CSLS), Kelvin Mejulu, said the amendments were a welcome development.

“It is difficult for the federal government to perform because it is taking so many responsibilities for so many things than the states. It is even doing what local governments should do,” he said.

The director, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, also said one of the positives in the proposed constitutional amendment was the provision for diaspora voting. 

“This is long overdue, especially when we look at diaspora remittances, which constitute a huge part of the country’s gross domestic product,” she said. 

She also said stifling the registration of political parties was a positive proposal, but it would depend on the side of the players. 

“This is more so that the electoral act has made provisions for it and that the Supreme Court has ruled on it,” she said.

She described the move to give the FCT a mayoral status as a good development, which would give the country’s capital what any international city would look like.

She, however, said moving labour to the concurrent list would be negative for Nigerian workers, especially on the minimum wage issue.

Speaking on disqualification of candidate’s election with questionable certificates, the executive director, Centre LSD, Mr Monday Osasah, said, “In the past, we have had pockets of disqualification of elected candidates due to defect in running mate qualification. 

“I think the ideal thing is to uphold the people’s mandate and allow the party source for an alternative running mate,” he said. 

He argued that stiffening requirements for political party formation would mean that those who have no interest in other big parties due to differences in ideology would be either constrained to participate or disenfranchised from participating. 

He also said thta diaspora voting had become imminent in Nigeria. 

“According to reports, the remittances of people in the diaspora constitute 6.1 per cent to the gross domestic product of Nigeria’s economy, which should not be taken for granted; hence the need to make provision for their participation in elections in Nigeria,” Osasah said.

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