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Uproar in Senate over review of constitution

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Otei Oham (Abuja), Tunji Omofoye (Osogbo) and Oluwaseun Akingboye (Akure)  
26 July 2017   |   4:34 am
The issue became so contentious that the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, severally intervened to calm frayed nerves as he declared that the leadership of the National Assembly had not taken any position on any proposal.

The issue became so contentious that the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, severally intervened to calm frayed nerves as he declared that the leadership of the National Assembly had not taken any position on any proposal.

• Reps begin voting on clauses today
• Scrapping is the answer, says Akande
•’All angels in heaven can’t make it work’

There is uncertainty over the constitution amendment by the National Assembly as lawmakers disagreed on key issues in the exercise yesterday. Among them is whether to retain the position of the Land Use Act which vests control in the the Federal Government or reverse it in favour of the states. This became contentious when the Senate opened a debate on the constitution review yesterday.

Also, the issue of granting autonomy to local governments by scrapping the state and local council joint account as well as empowering the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct local government polls generated a heated debate.

Constitution Alteration Bill No. 32, 2017 as proposed by the Senate Committee on Constitution Review recommended the deletion of the Land Use Act.

Specifically, the bill seeks to alter the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to delete the Land Use Act from the constitution so that it can be subject to the regular process of amendment.

But many lawmakers argued against the proposal, insisting that the position of the Land Use Act should be left intact. This, however, met strong opposition from another group of senators who argued that the time had come for real change to be effected on the control and ownership of land.

The issue became so contentious that the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, severally intervened to calm frayed nerves as he declared that the leadership of the National Assembly had not taken any position on any proposal.

Meetings were to be held last night to conclude negotiations on the matter before the Senate resumes in chamber today to vote on the bills. The Ekweremadu-led committee proposed 32 bills on different issues to amend the constitution.

During the debate yesterday, and in its bid to redeem the local government areas from the control of state governments, the Senate resolved to amend the constitution to transfer the responsibility of conducting local government elections to the INEC.

This is the 33rd item for amendment which came via the adoption of a motion which was sponsored by Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West) and seconded by Sunny Ogbuorji (PDP, Ebonyi State).

The Senate said there was a compelling need to strengthen the third tier of government. If passed into law, the 1999 Constitution would be altered, striping states of powers to constitute electoral commissions to conduct local government elections. The alteration is part of constitutional reforms by the legislature to make local governments become autonomous and independent of states.

While contributing to the debate on constitutional review, Melaye said the proposal that the state-local government joint account be separated for the purpose of guaranteeing local government autonomy could not be achieved as long as the state electoral bodies are allowed to conduct council elections.

“The electoral bodies constituted by the state government are practically a joke. The council election has to be conducted by INEC in order to guarantee its credibility nationwide.

‘’What used to happen is that governors sit in the comfort of their offices and select who to be pronounced as chairmen of local governments by the electoral commissions in their states. There is always no conduct of actual local council election in any state. Allowing states to oversee the conduct of local government elections will continue to make a mess of the call for council autonomy,’’ Melaye said.

The Ekweremadu’s panel report had included proposal for democratically elected local government councils which can directly receive allocations from the federation accounts. The bill also proposes that no local council should receive allocation except it is democratically constituted.

The members of the House of Representatives will today begin clause-by-clause consideration and voting on areas of the 1999 Constitution that have been proposed for amendment.

According to the Deputy Speaker of the House, Yusuf Lasun, who is the chairman of the House ad hoc committee on the review of the constitution, the voting would be done electronically and might extend to tomorrow.

Announcing the commencement of the voting at yesterday’s plenary, Lasun urged members to shelve their engagements within and outside the National Assembly so that they could participate actively in the legislative exercise.

Lasun, who said the plea was apt in view of two-thirds requirement for adopting each of the clauses that have been proposed for amendment, added that the adopted clauses would be forwarded to state legislatures for consideration and possible endorsement.

But a former interim chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Bisi Akande, said no amount of amendment to the 1999 Constitution would make it work.

According to him, the ongoing review efforts by the National Assembly would be a mere waste of time. He insisted that no amount of amendment would solve the defects of the constitution.

Akande, a former governor of Osun State, made the comments yesterday at the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA) during the launch of a book Nigeria: The path we refused to take written by the Secretary General of Afenifere, Bashorun Seinde Arogbofa.

Akande, who was the chairman of the occasion, advised that the constitution should be scrapped and a new one written for the benefit of the people, rather than amending it.

“The 1999 constitution is the greatest Nigeria’s misadventure since Lord Lugard amalgamation of 1914. The constitution puts emphasis on spending money rather than making it.”

This, he said, would continue to “intensify the battles for supremacy between the legislature and the executive while the judiciary is being corruptly tainted and discredited.”

“The constitution breeds and protects practices and criminal impunity in governance. It can never be beneficially reviewed and the ongoing adjustment or amendment can only totally bloat the essence of national values and accelerate the amalgamation of Nigeria. All the angels coming from heaven cannot make that constitution work for the progress of Nigeria. It would plunge the nation into disastrous and catastrophic bankruptcy.”

The APC leader suggested that the 1999 Constitution should be scrapped and replaced with the 1963 regional constitution until a new one is written, saying the current document would continue to hamper the nation’s economy and stifle the country’s social structure.

“It should be scrapped as a bad relic of military mentality and it ought to be temporarily replaced with the 1963 Republican constitution to enable a transition for the writing of a suitable constitution.

“Today Nigeria is at a stage of what we can call criminal revolution. We gathered here today to present a book titled Nigeria: the path we refuse to take by Arogbofa.

“To me, it is a pleasure and privilege to be asked to be the chairman of this occasion but I choose to talk not on the path we refuse to take but on the path of misadventure that led Nigeria to the present crossroads.

“The military involvement in politics for 29 years out of Nigeria 57 years of independence has done bad to the sense of democracy and good governance among the political leaders, so much that political discussions are no longer issue-based and are no longer interesting.”

Among those present at the book launch were Afenifere leader, Chief Reuben Fasoranti; Deputy Governor of Osun State, Titi Laoye Tomori; Chief Olu Falae; Afenifere spokesman, Mr. Yinka Odunmakin.

Others were: Chief Kole Omololu, former governor of Kano State, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau; Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu and members of the academic community.