By Ifeanyi Nwoko
The National Assembly is now set to begin a clause by clause consideration of the proposed amendment to the 1999 Constitution of which a report was laid last week.
If the amendment sails, it would mark a great achievement for the 8th Senate going by the content of the alteration and the time within which the feat was achieved.
The process began two years ago after the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly led by Dr Bukola Saraki as the President of the Senate and Hon. Yakubu Dogara as the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
If the national assembly succeeds in passing the amendment, it will go down in history for going through the process within the shortest period.
The 7th Senate had attempted an amendment and passed it close to its expiration but former President Goodluck Jonathan withheld assent over certain sections of the amendment.
Jonathan had then insisted that an amendment which removes the power of assent from the President in a Constitution Review Process will not get his approval.
The amendment process died a natural death upon the expiration of the 7th National Assembly prompting the 8th legislature to begin a fresh process in 2015.
Our correspondent who got the proposed amendment reports that many key areas of the Constitution are proposed for amendment if the lawmakers favour them on Tuesday.
Notable among the proposal is the amendment of the clause which allows the executive to spend money for up to six months pending when the budget is approved by the National Assembly.
Section 82 of the Constitution reads: “If the Appropriation Bill in respect of any financial year has not been passed into law by the beginning of the financial year, the President may authorise the withdrawal of moneys in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation for the purpose of meeting expenditure necessary to carry on the services of the Government of the Federation for a period not exceeding six months or until the coming into operation of the Appropriation Act, whichever is the earlier:
However, the Constitution review committee proposed an amendment to substitute the word “six” with the word “three” and completely deleting “or until the coming into operation of the Appropriation Act whichever is earlier:”
The proposal also applied to state governors.
Another proposed amendment is the inclusion of the former Presidents of the Senate and former Speakers of the House of Representatives as part of the Council of State.
Currently, members of the council include: The President, who shall be the Chairman; the Vice-President, who shall be the Deputy Chairman; all former Presidents of the Federation and all former Heads of the Government of the Federation; all former Chief Justices of Nigeria; the President of the Senate; the Speaker of the House of Representatives; all the Governors of the states of the Federation; and the Attorney-General of the Federation.
However, former Presidents of the Senate or Speakers who were impeached would not make part of the Council.
Also forming part of the proposal is the removal of some items like agriculture, health from the Exclusive List and vesting them in the concurrent list so that state governments can make laws on them in their states.
The proposed amendment also seeks to clip the excesses of state governors by granting financial autonomy to State Legislature and Judiciary.
Whereas the executives in the state are financially responsible to the legislaturs and judiciary, the 8th National Assembly proposes to free the two arms of government from the shackles of the executive.
The proposed amendment reads: Any amount standing to the credit of the House of Assembly of the State, and Judiciary, in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State shall be paid directly to the said bodies respectively; in the case of judiciary, such amount shall be paid directly the heads of the courts concerned.
Further proposals to the Constitution amendment seeks to grant partial financial autonomy to the local governments. The National Assembly proposes that the Local governments shall maintain an account called the Local Government Account into which allocations from the federal government shall be paid directly.
Furthermore, the proposal completely ruled out caretaker committees as its clearly stated that any local government council that is not democratically elected shall not be recognised, not allowed to function and will not receive any allocation from the federation account.
Even the salaries of Primary school teachers have been secured under this proposal as their payment will now be made directly to a body if the proposal scales through the legislature and executive.
“The Federation Account Allocation Committee shall deduct and remit the salaries of primary school teachers to a body as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of each State.”
The amendment also proposes that The President should deliver a state of the nation address every year on the first legislative day in May at a joint session of the National Assembly.
The proposed amendments are indeed numerous and they will affect the very fabric of our nation.
The national assembly will begin consideration of the proposed amendment on Tuesday and approval shall be given by electronic vote.
Meanwhile, President of the Senate Dr. Bukola Saraki has described the proposed amendment to the 1999 Constitution as a promised kept.
In a statement by his Media Office, the Senate President described the constitution amendment process as the fulfillment of a major commitment the 8th Senate made to Nigerians at the commencement of their tenure in 2015.
“You will recall that when we first came into office, I made a promise that we will amend the Constitution to reflect new realities that have arisen.
“Now, we are doing just that. With just under two years left to spare in this tenure, we are wrapping up this process, which will then be transmitted to the State Assemblies for concurrence.
“We will continue to ensure that all the promises that we have made to the Nigerian people will be kept. It is also our hope that we can get this Amendment sent to the State Assemblies quickly, so that the new amendments can take effect by the new year and well-clear of the political electioneering season.
“This is the first time ever that we are concluding the constitution amendment process long before the election year so that people can objectively participate in the process without looking at the partisan benefits,” the Senate President said.
The consideration of the Constitution Review Report scheduled to take all the legislative hours this week is following its laying by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, and Deputy Speaker Yusuff Lasun in their respective chambers at last Thursday’s plenary. Ekweremadu and Lasun are the chairman and deputy chairman respectively of the Joint Constitution Amendment Committee of the 8th National Assembly.
Key areas of consideration in the Constitution Amendment Report, which includes 27 different Bills, include a Bill to decongest the Exclusive Legislative List by transferring certain items contained therein to the Concurrent List, thereby enabling the States to make laws in respect of those items; a Bill to alter the Constitution to abrogate the State Joint Local Government Accounts and empower each Local Government Council to maintain its own special account; and a Bill to provide the Independent National Electoral Commission with sufficient time to conduct bye-elections and provide grounds for de-registration of political parties.
Others are a Bill that seeks to alter the Constitution to provide for the timely passage of Bills; a Bill that seeks to alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to provide a timeframe within which the President and Governors shall forward to the Senate or the State House of Assembly names of nominees for confirmation as Ministers or Commissioners; and a Bill to alter section 147 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to provide for the appointment of a Minister from the FCT, Abuja to ensure that FCT is represented in the Executive Council of the Federation.
On Saturday, the Senate also revealed that the Bill to amend the age requirements to run for different offices, which is the objective of the ‘Not Too Young To Run’ campaign is still part of the Constitution Review process.