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Constitution: ‘25 states hide behind state police, LG autonomy to frustrate amendment’

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, John Akubo and Msugh Ityokura (Abuja)
19 October 2022   |   4:04 am
Despite earmarking N1 billion, which was approved for the constitutional amendment process, the bid by the ninth Assembly to effect the fifth alteration to the 1999 Constitution has failed...

Senate Deputy Chief Whip, Abdullahi Sabi (left); Chief Whip of the Senate, Orji Kalu and Deputy Senate President/Chairman, Committee on Review of 1999 Constitution, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege during a press briefing on issues around the Constitution Review Bill at the National Assembly Complex in Abuja… yesterday. PHOTO: NAN

Omo-Agege: Some governors turn Assemblies into puppets
• Nigeria not mature for state police, says NLC president
• NULGE urges Nigerians to vote out any party against LG autonomy

Despite earmarking N1 billion, which was approved for the constitutional amendment process, the bid by the ninth Assembly to effect a fifth alteration to the 1999 Constitution has failed, after only 11 of Nigeria’s 36 state legislatures considered and voted on the 44 amendment bills passed by the National Assembly earlier this year.

The states whose Houses of Assembly have voted on the bills were Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Delta, Edo, Kaduna, Katsina, Kogi, Lagos, Ogun and Osun.

This comes about six months after the bills were passed and transmitted to the states for their legislative votes. Twenty-five other states failed to consider the bills.

The states had threatened to take no action on the bills unless four more constitutional amendment bills were considered and passed by the National Assembly. The four bills are the Establishment of state police, and the state judicial council, which streamline the procedure for removing presiding officers of state Houses of Assembly and institutionalise legislative bureaucracy in the Constitution.

These demands were contained in a letter from the Conference of Speakers to the National Assembly Joint Committee on Constitutional Review.

This was disclosed, yesterday, by the Deputy Senate President, who is chairman of the Senate Constitution Review Committee, Ovie Omo-Agege, at a media briefing organised by the leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives, where he accused some governors of frustrating the efforts of the constitutional amendment process through the Speakers of the state Houses of Assembly.

The National Assembly leadership explained that the insistence of governors on state police as a condition for supporting the entire 44 proposed amendments to the Constitution was responsible for the failure of the bid to amend the Constitution.

According to Omo-Agege, an independent state legislature is essential to the well-being of Nigeria’s constitutional democracy.

“That is why the ongoing attempt by some governors, with the support of some Speakers to eliminate that independence should alarm all Nigerians,” he said.

“This posturing by the Conference of Speakers of state Assemblies should be shown for what it truly is — a total disregard for the Nigerian constitutional system. It remains true that each state House of Assembly is independent of the other. However, Constitution amendment bills require the approval of two-thirds (24) of the 36 state Houses of Assembly before they can be presented for the President’s assent.

“Therefore, how a state Assembly decides on each of the bills is its prerogative. There must be a decision for citizens to know where each state House of Assembly stands on the issues the bills seek to address.”

He, therefore, asked Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and professional groups to “prevail on the Conference of Speakers to withdraw their threat to truncate the Constitution amendment process.

“Suppose we ignore this brazen attempt by some governors to truncate a constitutional process, in that case, we will ultimately be enablers of the undermining of a critical bulwark of our democracy — which we should not be,” he added.

The 44 bills were passed by the Senate and House of Representatives on March 1, 2022, and transmitted to the state Houses of Assembly. Only 44 bills were passed out of 68 considered by the lawmakers in the Constitution amendment.

Recall that the lawmakers rejected all five gender bills that sought to promote more opportunities for women in political parties, governance and the society at large – triggering protests from over 200 women groups across the country. The federal legislature also voted to deny citizenship to the foreign-born husband of a Nigerian woman and the ability to take indigeneship of their husbands’ states after five years of being together.

Describing the refusal of state Assemblies to vote on the bills as disheartening and worrisome, Omo-Agege said it is legally inappropriate for the Conference of Speakers to use the four bills as a quid pro quo to act on the 44 bills.

He also accused some governors of interfering in the affairs of state Houses of Assembly and turning some of its lawmakers into puppets for their selfish gains.

“It is clear that this letter is not in keeping with the obligation of the Constitution. We are aware of the undue interference with legislative processes and the political capture of some state Houses of Assembly by some governors. This interference has been ramped up, especially in opposition to the bills granting financial and administrative autonomy to Local Governments,” Omo-Agege said.

President of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba, and representatives of other labour unions have called on governors to stop interfering in the legislative activities of state Assemblies. They also admonished the state Assemblies to approve local government autonomy.

Wabba said: “There is a sad situation of arms twisting here. NLC has a clear position on state police and that is that we are not mature for that. If a state government can sponsor thuggery, if it has state police, it would be worse. Look at the native police before it was disbanded. State INEC is not doing well. So, I commend the National Assembly for standing firm so far. On LG autonomy we stand. We need strong institutions not strong persons.”

Also, the President of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Comrade Ambali Akeem, has urged the electorate to vote against any political party that is not in support of LG autonomy.

He said: “We want to know the position of the Labour Party candidate, as well as those of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and others. Whoever is not ready to support LG autonomy, Nigerians should vote them out. It is not about salary, we believe in the indivisibility of Nigeria and we would rise up to resist them.”

He reiterated that the action of the Speakers is an attempt to blackmail the National Assembly. “For us in labour, we are ready to engage them. The basic fact is that they are delaying this amendment because of Local Government autonomy.

“The governors were thoroughly engaged, we were in Ibadan and Governor Seyi Makinde represented their interest when the National Assembly organised public fora, and they made their presentations. Those who are opposing Local Government autonomy are those who are diverting Local Government funds.”