Se­nate bill em­pow­ers Jonathan to pro­pose new con­sti­tu­tion

It’s a back­door at­tempt to le­git­imise con­fab – Sen­a­tors

Daily Trust - - FRONT PAGE - By Tu­raki A. Has­san

The Se­nate yes­ter­day be­gan con­sid­er­ing a bill which is seek­ing to give Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan pow­ers to pro­pose an en­tirely new con­sti­tu­tion from the re­port of the on­go­ing Na­tional Con­fer­ence.

The bill is con­tained in the re­port of the Se­nate Con­sti­tu­tion Re­view Com­mit­tee, sub­mit­ted by its chair­man, Deputy Se­nate Pres­i­dent Ike Ek­w­ere­madu.

It seeks yet an­other amend­ment to sec­tion 9 of the 1999 Con­sti­tu­tion to make a fresh pro­vi­sion for the in­tro­duc­tion of an en­tirely new con­sti­tu­tion by the Pres­i­dent.

But many sen­a­tors who spoke dur­ing de­bate on the mer­its and gen­eral prin­ci­ples of the bill ex­pressed stiff op­po­si­tion to the new bill, de­scrib­ing it as a back­door at­tempt to le­galise the Na­tional Con­fer­ence.

They said the pro­vi­sions of the bill are su­per­flu­ous, un­nec­es­sary and ill-timed, and could spark pub­lic sus­pi­cion.

Our cor­re­spon­dent re­ports that the Se­nate had in July last year amended sec­tion 9 of the 1999 Con­sti­tu­tion, stip­u­lat­ing a new amend­ment pro­ce­dure

in­clud­ing a pro­vi­sion for a ref­er­en­dum to be con­ducted by the In­de­pen­dent Na­tional Elec­toral Com­mis­sion (INEC).

How­ever, that pro­posal is yet to be taken to the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives when Ek­w­ere­madu’s com­mit­tee came up with a new ver­sion yes­ter­day.

Whereas sec­tion 9 (3B) of the 1999 Con­sti­tu­tion pre­cludes the par­lia­ment from ini­ti­at­ing a pro­posal for an en­tirely new con­sti­tu­tion, the bill passed by the Se­nate last July al­tered that, and em­pow­ered only the Na­tional As­sem­bly to pro­pose a new con­sti­tu­tion.

The Ek­w­ere­madu com­mit­tee yes­ter­day rec­om­mended that clause 2 of the fourth amend­ment bill, which is still pend­ing be­fore the two Houses, be al­tered to em­power the Pres­i­dent to pro­pose a new con­sti­tu­tion, in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the out­come of the on­go­ing Na­tional Con­fer­ence.

Jonathan had said that the out­come of the Na­tional Con­fer­ence would be for­warded to the Na­tional As­sem­bly for con­sid­er­a­tion.

“The Na­tional As­sem­bly or the Pres­i­dent may pro­pose a new con­sti­tu­tion for the Fed­er­a­tion,” the new clause be­ing pro­posed said.

“The aim of this in­ser­tion is to make pro­vi­sion for the Pres­i­dent in ad­di­tion to the Na­tional As­sem­bly to ini­ti­ate the process of a new con­sti­tu­tion,” Se­na­tor Ek­w­ere­madu ex­plained.

‘Sur­rep­ti­tious’

But many sen­a­tors con­tended that the move is a dan­ger­ous one which is “sur­rep­ti­tiously” aimed at giv­ing le­git­i­macy to the on­go­ing con­fer­ence.

Se­na­tor Odion Ugbe­sia (PDP, Edo) said: “The Na­tional Con­fer­ence wants to draft a new con­sti­tu­tion for us. I don’t see the need for new con­sti­tu­tion. At what point do you want to throw this con­sti­tu­tion away and bring in a new one? This pro­posal is su­per­flu­ous be­cause there is ad­e­quate pro­vi­sion.”

Se­na­tor Solomon Ewuga (PDP, Nasarawa) said, “This pres­i­den­tial fiat to ini­ti­ate a process for a new con­sti­tu­tion must be jet­ti­soned.”

Se­na­tor Ah­mad Lawan (APC, Yobe North) said ap­prov­ing such pro­posal by the Se­nate will amount to the Na­tional As­sem­bly re­lin­quish­ing its most fun­da­men­tal con­sti­tu­tional role of law­mak­ing.

“We must not di­lute the func­tions of the ex­ec­u­tive nor that of the leg­is­la­ture,” he said.

“I can con­cede that any pres­i­dent can send re­quest, and that is pro­vided in the Con­sti­tu­tion. But when we say ini­ti­ate, it is now tak­ing some func­tions of the Na­tional As­sem­bly away.

“Be­cause of that I op­pose this pro­posal that we main­tain the sanc­tity, the pu­rity of the func­tions of the ex­ec­u­tive and that of the leg­is­la­ture in such a way that there is no la­cuna and no con­fu­sion.

“This is nec­es­sary so that in the near­est fu­ture we don’t run into a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis where the con­sti­tu­tion amend­ment process will be­come nei­ther here nor there.”

Se­na­tor Kabiru Garba Marafa (APC, Zam­fara) also stoutly op­posed the bill, and cau­tioned his col­leagues to be care­ful of the kind of laws they passed as they risk ced­ing their pow­ers to the Pres­i­dent.

“We passed the CBN Act which made us cede our pow­ers of ap­pro­pri­a­tion to the board of the CBN that is why we could not scru­ti­nise their budget. To­day there is a lot of mis­trust in Nigeria and the buck stops at this Se­nate,” he said.

“It all borders around the on­go­ing Na­tional Con­fer­ence. Some people are try­ing to cre­ate a win­dow so that the re­port will find its way as our new con­sti­tu­tion,” Marafa said.

“Why are we bring­ing any win­dow now for any doc­u­ment? We are try­ing to make our­selves ir­rel­e­vant. Most people don’t be­lieve in the con­fab and we will be ced­ing our pow­ers.”

Se­na­tor Ganiyu Solomon (APC, La­gos) con­tended that if win­dow must be cre­ated for the Pres­i­dent to ini­ti­ate a new con­sti­tu­tion, it must then be made widely open for all Nige­ri­ans to be able to do so.

Op­pos­ing the bill, Se­na­tor Kabiru Gaya (APC, Kano) said un­der the ex­it­ing pro­vi­sions in the con­sti­tu­tion the Pres­i­dent can bring a bill for al­ter­ation of any sec­tion.

“Why do we let us go into an area that we will have prob­lem with Nige­ri­ans?” Gaya queried.

But Se­na­tor Heineken Lokpo­biri (PDP, Bayelsa) coun­tered Gaya, say­ing that the new pro­posal is only seek­ing for an evo­lu­tion of a new con­sti­tu­tion by al­low­ing the Pres­i­dent to also be able to ini­ti­ate a new con­sti­tu­tion like the Na­tional As­sem­bly.

Deputy Se­nate Leader Ab­dul Ningi (PDP, Bauchi), who is a mem­ber of the Ek­w­ere­madu com­mit­tee, told his col­leagues that they should not be cap­tives of their fears be­cause of “our past his­tory”.

He said at­tempts by for­mer Pres­i­dent Oluse­gun Obasanjo to elon­gate his ten­ure in 2005 when he or­gan­ised sim­i­lar con­fer­ence were re­jected by the Na­tional As­sem­bly but the rec­om­men­da­tion was in­formed by the to­tal­ity of opin­ions col­lated dur­ing pub­lic hear­ings.

Ningi, who de­scribed the Na­tional Con­fer­ence as “so-called”, said he does not be­lieve in it but that the amend­ment is be­yond Pres­i­dent Jonathan. He said the com­mit­tee was look­ing at the fu­ture and that “we don’t have mo­nop­oly of wis­dom, other key ac­tors should be al­lowed to con­trib­ute.”

But Se­na­tor Bello Tukur (PDP, Adamawa) said the tim­ing of the amend­ment will bring sus­pi­cion and doubt in the minds of the people be­cause of the on­go­ing Na­tional Con­fer­ence say­ing, “be­cause of what is hap­pen­ing to­day people are think­ing that we are cre­at­ing a win­dow for that.”

Se­nate Leader Vic­tor Ndoma-Egba coun­tered the ar­gu­ment, say­ing the pro­posal was con­ceived in Au­gust 2013 by Se­nate Pres­i­dent David Mark when he pre­sented a paper at the Nige­rian Bar As­so­ci­a­tion con­fer­ence.

The Se­nate Leader said al­ready the com­mit­tee has two pro­pos­als for a new con­sti­tu­tion be­fore it sub­mit­ted by Pro­fes­sor Ben Nwabueze and for­mer NBA Pres­i­dent Olisa Ag­bakoba.

Se­nate Pres­i­dent Mark said sen­a­tors should get ready to vote on the bill on Wed­nes­day and that it can only scale through if 73 sen­a­tors vote in sup­port.

But he ex­pressed some reser­va­tions over the new pro­posal.

“Is the con­sti­tu­tion go­ing to be new en­tirely in nomen­cla­ture or con­tent? If you have one sec­tion car­ry­ing from this present one, then it is not new. When we come to vote next week Wed­nes­day ev­ery­body will an­swer his fa­ther’ snake on that day,” Mark said.

Dep Sen Pres­i­dent Ek­w­ere­madu

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