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Senate rejects power devolution, affirmative action for women

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Senate President Bukola Saraki at the National Assembly PHOTO: TWITTER/NIGERIAN SENATE

• Reduces age limits for elective offices
• Okays autonomy for local councils
• Independent candidates in all elections
• Separates justice minister’s office from AGF

In a dramatic voting by the Senate yesterday, the bill which sought to amend the 1999 Constitution to allow for the devolution of powers from the Federal Government to the states was thrown out by the lawmakers.Also, the proposal for the full realisation of “affirmative action” for women failed through an overwhelming two-thirds vote.

At the well-attended session in which the lawmakers voted on all 34 Constitution Amendment Bills, the Senate removed the role of the president from the process of amendment of the constitution.During the voting session that lasted for over four hours, the upper legislative chamber rejected the bill seeking the removal of the Land Use Act from the constitution.

When the question was put to vote on the issue of devolution of power, only 46 voted in support of the bill against the 73 two-thirds majority votes. Some 48 senators voted against it.The Constitution Alteration Bill No. 3, 2017 which provided for the devolution of powers to states “seeks to alter the Second Schedule, Part I & II to move certain items to the Concurrent Legislative List to give more legislative powers to states. It also delineates the extent to which the federal legislature and state assemblies can legislate on the items that have been moved to the Concurrent Legislative List.”

Bill No 11 which sought to amend the constitution to provide for 35% affirmative action at the federal level was rejected when the majority of the lawmakers voted against it. Similarly, the bill seeking 20% affirmative action at the state level was rejected.However, some key amendments were passed. Among them is the Constitution Alteration Bill No. 25, 2017 which sought to alter section 315 of the constitution to remove the lawmaking powers of the executive arm of government.

Section 315 of the current constitution empowers the president to make modifications in all existing acts to bring them into conformity with the constitution.“The appropriate authority may at any time by order make such modifications in the text of any existing law as the appropriate authority considers necessary or expedient to bring that law into conformity with the provisions of this constitution,” section 315(2) reads.

The amendment effected by the Senate yesterday prohibits a person sworn in as president or governor purposely to complete the tenure of another person, from contesting for the same office for more than one term. As many as 88 senators voted in support of Bill No. 16, 2017 tagged “Restriction of Tenure of the President and Governor” to secure the mandatory two-thirds votes.

The upper chamber also passed the constitution alteration Bill, No. 27, 2017 tagged “Reduction of Age Qualification” in which 86 senators gave their votes in support. It sought to alter Sections 65, 106, 131, 177 of the constitution to reduce the age qualification for the offices of the president and governor and membership of the Senate, House of Representatives, and the State Houses of Assembly.

By this amendment, the age qualification for the office of the president has been reduced from 45 to 35, for governors, it was reduced from 35 to 30 while the same age was retained for Senate. To get elected to the House of Representatives, the new age is 25 as opposed to the current 30 years. Also the Senate approved that sections 82 and 122 of the 1999 Constitution be amended to reduce the period within which the president or a state governor may authorise expenditure from the Consolidated Revenue Fund from six months to three months.

With this, the president or governor could make expenditures based on the provisions of the Appropriation Act (or Budget) of the previous year for up to six months, pending the approval of the budget for the current fiscal year. This is considered as part of the reason presidents and governors are not always in a hurry to send in appropriation bill for an incoming fiscal year. A majority of 93 senators voted in favour of this amendment while 11 voted against it.

Yesterday’s voting on the amendments was a serious boost to the drive to give financial autonomy to state Houses of Assembly.Section 121 was altered to give financial autonomy to the assemblies by placing them on first line charge.If this is approved by the House of Representatives and 24 of the state Houses of Assembly, any amount standing to the credit of the House of Assembly in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of a state shall be paid directly to the legislature.

The Senate endorsed the local government autonomy drive as it passed the amendment of Section 162 to abolish state-local government joint account so that each local government maintains an independent special account into which allocations accruing to it shall be directly paid from the Federation Account and the state government.

Also, some sections of the constitution, such as 58, 59, and 100 were amended to provide a 30-day timeframe for the president or governor to assent to a bill or indicate his refusal of assent. “Where he/she does not do so, it automatically becomes a law after 30 days.”During the voting, the Senate also agreed to set a timeframe within which the president and governor must appoint ministers/commissioners to form the federal executive council/state executive council. It got 75 votes to approve this. The provision is to avert a situation where some governors prefer to run as sole administrators in breach of the constitution, while a president may take an unusually and unnecessarily long period to appoint ministers.

Also, it was approved that the letter nominating ministers/commissioners shall be accompanied with their respective portfolios.The Senate approved the amendment of Sections 65, 106, 131, and 177 of the constitution to provide for independent candidates in all elections.Another approval given by the Senate yesterday was in respect of the alteration of Sections 150, 174, 195, 211, 318 and the Third Schedule to the constitution to separate the office of the minister or commissioner for justice from that of the attorney-general of the federation and of states. The Senate said the aim was to remove the office of AG from partisan politics.

The amendment sought to make the office of the AG very independent with financial autonomy and security of tenure as well as rigid process for removal. Approval was given for an amendment to set a timeframe for the adjudication on pre-election disputes.But the bid to amend Section 25 to guarantee a married woman right to choose her ‘indigeneship’ either by birth or her place of marriage for election or appointment purposes failed.

Senate President Bukola Saraki, at the end of the voting, said: “What we have done today definitely is to lay the foundation for a far-reaching reform of our political, economic and social development.”

“We have today through the amendments redefined our budget processes. We have addressed issues that have held our country down for many years. We have addressed the issue of saving money earned by the federation which has always been an issue in this country for many years. The fact is that as a nation, we now have a constitution that makes it paramount for the country to save for the rainy days.”

Members of the House of Representatives deferred clause-by- clause considerations and voting on the proposed items for review till today.The electronic voting machine, which members had relied on to accept or reject each of the proposed amendment items in the ongoing constitution review process failed accuracy test when it was time to commence the voting yesterday.

The disappointment started when the machine failed to capture the presence of 260 members. In an instance, it showed 257, in another, it showed 239.But the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) dismissed the on-going review of the constitution as “an effort in futility”.They, however, advised Nigerians to look into the 1963 constitution and the confab report of 2014 as acceptable guides for restructuring the country.

To them, the 1999 Constitution is fundamentally flawed, irredeemable and should be discarded as “Old Military Decree 24.”Addressing newsmen after its 19th National Executive Council (NEC) meeting in Ibadan, Oyo State, the council described the 1999 constitution as the foundation of all ethnic crises in the country.

In a statement read by its General Secretary, D.r Kunle Olajide, on behalf of the President General, Chief Idowu Sofola (SAN), YCE described the constitution as a pseudo-federal document which is actually a unitary constitution in disguise.

“It cannot work in a multi-ethnic country like Nigeria. A constitution that virtually neutralises the local government system which is nearest to the people has invariably consigned the people to irrelevance and put development at the grassroots in reverse gear.

“A constitution and system of government that continue to explore natural resources to enrich the ruling class at the expense of the people can not endure. This constitution compels corruption.“Our country is presently confronted with daunting challenges of increasing youth unemployment which is fueling insecurity, kidnapping, armed robbery and separatist agitations. These challenges clearly show that Nigeria’s problems are foundational and structural, therefore, constitutional. Unending piecemeal amendments of the 1999 Constitution cannot work. It will merely be postponing the doomsday.

“The constitution must be discarded, and the 1963 Constitution and the resolutions of the 2014 National Conference should be used as a template for a new ground rule which will be submitted to the people in a referendum.”The council also hailed regional integration efforts of governors in Southwest states and assured them of its support as they raise the stake in preserving the values of the Yoruba people.


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