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
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?