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Despite N1 billion allocation, constitution amendment in limbo

By Abdullateef Salau, Balarabe Alkassim &  Saawua Terzungwe   There are indications that the fifth alteration to the 1999 Constitution may not see the light…

By Abdullateef Salau, Balarabe Alkassim &  Saawua Terzungwe

 

There are indications that the fifth alteration to the 1999 Constitution may not see the light of the day as speakers of states’ Houses of Assembly have given conditions to act on the bills transmitted to them by the National Assembly.

The demands of the speakers include bills seeking the establishment of state police and state judicial councils.

Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, disclosed this while briefing newsmen on Tuesday on the state of the constitution review exercise at the National Assembly, Abuja.

The federal lawmakers had in March voted on 68 bills aimed at amending the 1999 Constitution, after which 44 were approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives and transmitted to the state assemblies for concurrence.

A simple majority of votes is required in at least two-thirds of state assemblies (24 out of 36) and the amendments that sail through would be sent to the president for assent.

Omo-Agege, who is also the Chairman of the National Assembly Adhoc Committee on Constitution Review, said only 11 state Houses of Assembly have acted on the bills six months after transmission.

He said so far, only Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Anambra, Delta, Edo, Kaduna, Katsina, Kogi, Lagos, Ogun and Osun states have successfully considered, voted on, and forwarded their resolutions on the 44 bills to the National Assembly.

Omo-Agege said the Conference of Speakers of State Assemblies, in a letter to the National Assembly, informed that the remaining 25 houses of assembly would not act on the 44 bills unless the federal parliament considers and passes four new bills they have proposed.

The proposed bills are those seeking to establish state police; establish state judicial councils; streamline the procedure for removing presiding officers of state Houses of Assembly and institutionalise legislative bureaucracy in the constitution.

He said it was legally inappropriate for the Conference of Speakers to use the four bills as a quid pro quo to act on the 44 bills the National Assembly transmitted, alleging that state governors are behind the action of the speakers.

He said, “Although the Conference of Speakers did not allude to it in their letter, we are aware of the undue interference with legislative processes and the political capture of some state Houses of Assembly by some state governors.

“No doubt, some state governors have worked tirelessly to turn the Conference of Speakers and some state assemblies into political puppets, thereby undermining and delegitimising the legislative institution at the state level.

“This interference has been ramped up, especially in opposition to the bills granting financial and administrative autonomy to local governments.

“An independent state legislature is essential to the well-being of Nigeria’s constitutional democracy. That is why the ongoing attempt by some state governors, with the support of some speakers and allies in the state Houses of Assembly, to eliminate that independence should alarm all Nigerians”

 

‘Your threat won’t intimidate us’

Omo-Agege said the federal parliament would not be arm-twisted into considering the assembly speakers’ demands by threatening to withhold their votes on the 44 bills transmitted to them.

He said, “Even this position they are taking right now, the position seeking to pretty hold these bills to ransom, this position only came after the votes.

“Maybe if you told the members of the National Assembly that unless and until you pass these bills, we would not consider the others, I don’t know if maybe members would have been intimidated. For sure I would not be.

“But if there are members that would have been intimidated by that kind of threat, maybe it could move them. But the bottom line is that these threats only came after the votes had been taken.”

Omo-Agege said state police was among the bills considered during committee deliberations but it was voted down, with members fearing that state governments may not be able to properly fund it.

He also said the governors clamouring for state police also failed to lobby members of the National Assembly to convince them.

 

N1bn budgeted for exercise

There are concerns that the current constitution review exercise may end up as a jamboree like the previous ones despite the huge amount of money voted for the exercise every National Assembly session. Though Omo-Agege declined to mention the amount that had been expended on the review exercise when asked, our correspondent reports that N1 billion is earmarked for the exercise during every session of the National Assembly.

The Deputy Senate President said though the state assemblies were holding the review exercise hostage despite having the free will to reject any bill, the process is not dead.

He said, “The process is not dead. We just felt having played our role, we felt it is important we let you know where we are at the moment.

“We still have a few months left to have them do the right thing. It is not just about the 44 bills. Of the 44 the most fundamental to a lot of us is the local government autonomy.

“Even if they shoot down every other bill as not being important to them, at least this is so fundamental.”

He, therefore, called on civil society organisations and all Nigerians to prevail on the assembly speakers to withdraw their threat to truncate the constitution amendment process.

He also urged the remaining 25 state assemblies to keep faith with Nigerians and the constitution they swore to uphold by voting on the bills.

 

Why we wrote N/Assembly — Speakers

The Speaker of Bauchi State House of Assembly, who is also the Chairman, of the Conference of Speakers of State House of Assemblies in Nigeria, Abubakar Y. Suleman has explained why they wrote the National Assembly.

Suleman, who spoke to one of our reporters, acknowledged that they wrote a letter to the National Assembly, proposing the four additional bills.

“We have written to them and they have responded to our letter. What we said was we will suspend legislative processes on the 44 bills earlier submitted to us until we hear from the National Assembly.

“They have written a letter to us. I think on October 6 and a meeting was convened where we deliberated on the letter and there and then we directed all the state assemblies that have not yet passed their own to pass it as soon as possible.

“So, to me, for them to say that we gave them conditions doesn’t arise. Since they have already responded to the letter we have written to them and based on their response, as I am talking to you now, every speaker, especially those that have not passed the transmitted bills, we have written to them and asked them to proceed with action on it.

“So, I don’t know how and why they decided to issue that press statement. In addition, the bills we sent, if you see them, one is for the establishment of state police. We and the governors were the ones at the state level.

“We are the ones that know what is going on at the state level and we felt that state police is very important and that was why we forwarded it.

“And then, the issue of state judicial council, we felt it is very important and the issue of procedure for removing the speaker. Today, in Nigeria, the speakers are the most vulnerable of officers where a member or two will decide, maybe they have an issue with the speaker, they just mobilise their colleagues and ‘they say, we impeach you.’’

He said it was after they met over the 44 bills transmitted to them by the National Assembly that they realised the need for an additional four bills. “We did not issue a condition,” he insisted.

“So, I see no reason they issued this. There were correspondences. We wrote to them, and they wrote to us because we don’t want to be used to kill the whole exercise,” he said.

 

NGF mum

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) kept mum yesterday when contacted to comment on the matter.

The spokesman for the Forum, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, neither answered his phone call nor responded to a text message sent to him.

Similarly, the Interim Vice Chairman of the Forum and Kebbi State governor, Atiku Bagudu didn’t respond to a text message sent to his phone for comment.