The National Assembly on Tuesday approved proposed amendments to the 1999 constitution to grant financial autonomy to state legislatures, judiciary and the 774 local government areas in the country.
The approval followed voting on the report of the ad hoc Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bills, 2022.
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The parliament also approved independent candidacy in elections, power of the legislatures to summon president and governors, separation of the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation from that of the Minister of Justice as well as the inclusion of presiding officers of the National Assembly in the membership of the National Security Council.
The federal lawmakers, however, rejected pension and immunity for presiding officers of the legislature, special parliamentary seats for women, diaspora voting and inclusion of Value-Added Tax (VAT) in the Exclusive Legislative List.
Out of the 68 proposed amendments to the constitution, 45 bills were passed by both chambers.
The Senate passed a total of 49 bills during voting, while 19 were rejected.
In the House of Representatives, 52 alteration bills scaled through while 16 suffered set back.
The amendments that were approved by the two chambers of the National Assembly would be sent to the 36 state assemblies for votes.
A simple majority of votes is required in at least two-thirds of state assemblies and the amendments that sail through would be sent to the president for assent.
Senate President Ahmad Lawan, while setting the tone for voting on the bills, explained that only bills passed in both chambers would be transmitted to the State Houses of Assembly for concurrence.
He said any bill, which fails to pass in the Senate or House of Representatives during voting automatically stands rejected by the National Assembly.
The two chambers approved the proposal to abrogate the state joint local government account and provide for the distribution of allocation from the Federation Account directly to local government councils.
They also granted financial autonomy to state assemblies and the judiciary. In the Red Chamber, 83 senators voted for financial autonomy for State Houses of Assembly and Judiciary, while 1 senator voted against.
For local government financial autonomy, 92 senators voted in favour of the proposed amendment, while two senators voted against it.
In the House, 286 members voted in favour of the financial independence of state legislature and judiciary, while 1 voted against.
No pension, immunity for presiding officers
The federal lawmakers during voting on the report rejected pension for presiding officers of the national and state legislatures.
Out of a total number of 88 Senators registered to vote on the bill, 34 voted in support, and 53 were against the bill.
Both chambers also rejected a proposed amendment to extend immunity from prosecution to the heads of legislative and judicial arms of the government.
29 senators voted for the amendment, while 50 voted against it, falling short of the required two-thirds.
Also rejected in both chambers were bills to override Presidential veto in Constitution Alteration, and to override Presidential veto in respect of ordinary money bills.
The bill on Procedure for Overriding Presidential Veto in Constitutional Alteration seeks to provide for the procedure for passing a constitution alteration bill where the President withholds assent.
Also, the National Assembly rejected bills to provide for the removal of Presiding Officers of the Legislature; and to change the name of Barikin Ladi Local Government Area in Plateau State to “Gwol” local government area.
Lawmakers reject special seats for women despite VP’s wife’s presence
The two chambers of the National Assembly also turned down a bill to provide for more seats for women in the National and State Houses of Assembly, despite the presence of the Vice President’s wife, Dolapo Osinbajo in the chamber.
Like the First Lady, Aisha Buhari, the vice president’s wife, was at the National Assembly to witness voting on constitution alteration bills and canvas support for provisions on women issues.
The proposed amendment suffered a setback after 30 senators voted in favour, while 58 voted against.
In the House, 81 voted in favour of the bill, 208 voted against it.
The bill seeks to reserve solely for women in each state of the federation one senatorial seat, two House of Representatives seats and in the Houses of Assembly one additional seat from each of the three Senatorial districts.
Also, a proposal to include at least 35 per cent of women in political party administration also failed to scale through in both chambers.
However, Senate and House differed on the proposal to provide a minimum percentage of women nominees as ministers and commissioners.
While the Red Chamber rejected the bill, the House approved that 20 per cent of women be included in both federal and state cabinets.
Also rejected in both chambers was the inclusion of Value Added Tax (VAT) on the Exclusive Legislative List.
41 senators voted in favour of the proposed amendment, while 44 voted against, failing to meet the required two-third (73) membership.
In the House, 91 members voted in favour, while 209 voted against the bill.
State to generate power, run airports, prisons
Lawmakers in both chambers also passed proposals to allow state governments to generate, transmit and distribute electricity in areas covered by the national grid.
They also approved the movement of railways and correctional services from the Exclusive to the Concurrent List.
Also passed by the two chambers are bills to empower the National Assembly and State Assemblies to summon the president and state governors to answer questions bothering on the security issue and inclusion of presiding officers on the membership of the National Security Council.
Bill to provide for independent candidacy in Presidential, Governorship, National Assembly, State Houses of Assembly and Local Government Council elections was also passed.
Senate, Reps differ on mayorship for FCT, virtual court proceedings
The Senate and House of Representatives differed on proposed amendments to allow court or tribunal proceedings to be conducted virtually as well as provision for the Office of the Mayor for the Federal Capital Territory Administration.
While the Senate rejected virtual court proceedings, mayoralty status for FCT and appointment of a minister from FCT, the House of Representatives approved them.
‘Dropping bill on women monumental setback’
The Chairman of Women in Leadership in Africa (WILI), Maryam Baba, described the dropping of the bill to allocate slots to women as “A sad development for people advocating for fairness and equity.”
She said women deserved special consideration in Nigeria.
According to her, “It is almost very impossible for a woman to get a party post other than ‘woman leader’…Women are just asking for the implementation of a 35% slot allocation, which is fair enough considering their population.
“They don’t have the strength and resources to compete with men and therefore, I am appalled that they throw away the bill. They should have approved it as a mark of honour to the wife of the president and the wife of the vice president who personally went to the parliament to seek for support,” she said.
Barrister Aliyu Usman on the other hand commended the legislators for dropping pension and immunity proposals for presiding officers.
“They leave the parliament with millions of naira as severance and therefore, no need for any pension.
“I commend them for granting autonomy to state houses of assembly and the judiciary. My prayer is that the state houses of assembly should approve these important changes as a way of deepening our democracy.
“Remember that they failed woefully the other time when they were forced by the governors to reject their (state legislators’) autonomy.
“I also hope that this will not be a fruitless effort because they have a limited time to allow the constitution amendment the desired steam to sail through. Once they fail, it means billions of naira and resources wasted,” he said.
Abdullateef Salau, Balarabe Alkassim & Itodo D. Sule