New bill tests Mark, Tam­buwal’s re­fusal to send rep­re­sen­ta­tives to con­fab

The Se­nate com­mit­tee on Con­sti­tu­tion re­view led by Se­na­tor Ike Ek­w­ere­madu, last week, brought a leg­is­la­tion that sought to al­ter pro­vi­sions of the 1999 Con­sti­tu­tion to al­low Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan pro­pose a new con­sti­tu­tion out of the re­port of the o

Daily Trust - - INSIDE POLITICS - By Tu­raki A. Has­san

The Na­tional As­sem­bly as an in­sti­tu­tion has al­ways op­posed the con­vo­ca­tion of Na­tional Con­fer­ence be­cause leg­is­la­tors ar­gue that in a democ­racy, there can­not be a body which legally rep­re­sents Nige­ri­ans bet­ter than the two cham­bers of the Na­tional As­sem­bly.

The stance of the Ex­ec­u­tive arm of govern­ment and that of the leg­is­la­ture on the con­fab have al­ways been at two po­lar sides which in­formed the de­ci­sion of both Se­nate Pres­i­dent David Mark and Speaker Aminu Waziri Tam­buwal to turn down the re­quest by Pres­i­dent Jonathan to nom­i­nate two Sen­a­tors and two Reps from each of the cham­bers to rep­re­sent them at the on­go­ing con­fer­ence.

Sources in the leg­is­la­ture say the Pres­i­dent had tac­ti­cally wanted to tie the hands of the par­lia­ment by get­ting them to nom­i­nate rep­re­sen­ta­tives from their cham­bers.

While an­nounc­ing the con­vo­ca­tion of the con­fab, Jonathan told Nige­ri­ans that its out­come will be for­warded to the Na­tional As­sem­bly for con­sid­er­a­tion, mean­ing that its de­ci­sions are just a mere raw ma­te­rial for the law­mak­ers to leg­is­late on.

Nige­ri­ans and the leg­is­la­tors alike went to sleep not know­ing that an­other sub­tle plot was be­ing hatched to give le­git­i­macy to the con­fab re­port by both the ex­ec­u­tive and some key mem­bers of the Na­tional As­sem­bly.

The clause in ques­tion is con­tained in the re­port of the Se­nate Con­sti­tu­tion Re­view Com­mit­tee which was sub­mit­ted by its chair­man, Deputy Se­nate Pres­i­dent Ike Ek­w­ere­madu, seek­ing yet an­other amend­ment to sec­tion 9 of the 1999 Con­sti­tu­tion to make for a fresh pro­vi­sion for the in­tro­duc­tion of an en­tirely new con­sti­tu­tion by the Pres­i­dent.

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).

That pro­posal is yet to be taken to the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives when Ek­w­ere­madu’s com­mit­tee came up with a new ver­sion last week.

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 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.

Un­like other bills, this one did not go through nor­mal law mak­ing pro­ce­dure be­cause it was not sub­jected to fur­ther read­ing and pub­lic hear­ing. Ek­w­ere­madu him­self did say last Thurs­day that the bill was first read in the Se­nate on 20th Fe­bru­ary, 2014.

Af­ter the first read­ing, noth­ing was heard of it again un­til last Thurs­day when the com­mit­tee came up with a re­port with­out con­duct­ing any pub­lic hear­ing to hear from Nige­ri­ans as is usu­ally done.

Daily Trust gath­ered that the con­tro­ver­sial clause was in­serted into the re­port dur­ing the meet­ing of the com­mit­tee on Wed­nes­day night, few hours to the sub­mis­sion of the re­port to the red cham­ber on Thurs­day.

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 con­tend­ing 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 pro­posal is su­per­flu­ous be­cause there is ad­e­quate pro­vi­sion in the 1999 Con­sti­tu­tion to cater for any al­ter­ation be­ing sought by the Pres­i­dent with­out nec­es­sar­ily em­bark­ing on a wild goose chase.

Also, Se­na­tor Solomon Ewuga (PDP, Nasarawa), ap­pealed to his col­leagues to re­buff what he called “pres­i­den­tial fiat to ini­ti­ate a process for a new con­sti­tu­tion “.

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, I can con­cede that any Pres­i­dent can send re­quest, 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 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.

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.

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.”

Se­nate leader Vic­tor Ndo­maEgba 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’s name on that day,” Mark said.

Voting on any con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment bill and its clauses is done in the open with Sen­a­tors stand­ing up to say ei­ther “yes” or “no” on each of the clauses un­der live tele­vi­sion. Nige­ri­ans are wait­ing and watch­ing to see who will vote what?

Se­nate Pres­i­dent David Mark Speaker Aminu Waziri Tam­buwal

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