Jonathan’s men lobby senators
...want Ekweremadu c’ttee bill revisited President seeks support from groups
A proposal to empower President Jonathan to come up with a new national constitution may be reintroduced in the Senate, following intense lobbying on behalf of the president, Daily Trust learnt.
When the clause first came up in the Senate weeks ago, through a bill from the Constitution Review Committee, senators opposed giving the president the same latitude as the National Assembly in proposing a new constitution.
This forced chairman of the committee and Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu to withdraw that aspect of the bill to avoid a negative vote. Under the Senate rules, a bill or part of it can be reintroduced if it is withdrawn before being subjected to a vote.
Daily Trust learnt that there is now a plan to bring back the proposal, and senators are being lobbied to tone down their opposition.
The plan, sources in the Senate said, is to give President Goodluck Jonathan the powers to introduce a new constitution which may be drafted by the on-going National Conference.
The National Conference comprises mostly appointees of
the president, the Federal Government and state governors.
Sources said already the president has identified key provisions that he would want in the new constitution.
They include abolishing of the 774 local government areas as the third tier of government; stoppage of Federal allocation to the local governments; setting aside 50 per cent of oil revenues for the Niger Delta; creation of an additional state for the South-East; and provision of six-year single term for the president.
Twenty committees of the National Conference are to begin work today, and these items are among issues to be discussed and most likely subjected to voting if consensus failed.
The six-year term was first proposed by the Ekweremadu committee in June year but it was rejected by the Senate in July.
Meanwhile, Daily Trust has learnt that President Jonathan has been lobbying interest groups to support his bid to introduce a new constitution.
The president has been meeting with various groups, where he has been personally pleading with them to see reason with him on the need for a new constitution, sources told this newspaper.
Opposition in Senate
The proposal in the Senate to empower Jonathan on constitution change would most likely have received a ‘nay’ vote when the bill came up for voting penultimate week.
This would have made it nearly impossible for Ekweremadu to bring it back during the life of the current Senate.
But he requested that he be allowed to withdraw it, meaning he can bring it back at any time.
“We told our colleagues that we should not allow him withdraw it but we should vote and ‘kill’ it. But we didn’t do that and now they have gone to restrategise and may bring it back,” said a senator who does not want to be named.
Another senator told Daily Trust he was aware of a lobby mounted to persuade senators to either support the bill or stay away from the chambers on the day it will come up for voting.
But senators opposed to the bill have dug their heels, saying they would not allow it to pass if it is tabled again.
Senator Babafemi Ojudu (APC, Ekiti) told Daily Trust: “We are waiting for them to represent the bill…. I am totally against and I will oppose it any day.
“The suspicion is that they want to use as window to bring in the outcome of the National Conference. But election is few months away in February, why do you want to change the constitution? To which end are you changing it?”
Senator Ahmad Lawan (APC, Yobe), who is also a member of the constitution review committee, said: “All the issues they are agitating for can be brought under an amendment but not new constitution. It will lead to chaos to introduce an entirely new constitution and I don’t see how it will pass.”
Senator Umaru Dahiru (APC, Sokoto) said the powers to amend or change any law including the constitution rested with the National Assembly.
But Senator Ita Enang (PDP, Akwa Ibom) thinks the president already has powers to propose a constitution bill.
“If the National Conference proposes at the end that there is the need for a new constitution all the President needs to do is to bring a bill to the National Assembly, it doesn’t matter whether it is a new constitution or an amendment,” he said.
“Whatever it is, it is bill, the President can send it. It is for the National Assembly to say yes or no to it. The State Houses of Assembly can also say no or yes to it.”
For his part, House of Representatives member Ibrahim Tukur El-Sudi (PDP, Taraba) said: “The 1999 constitution is very clear about the powers to alter or modify the constitution rests with the legislative arm… It is therefore our powers to change the constitution and nothing stops the President from sending a proposal in form of a bill for our consideration.”
He added: “The proposal is superfluous and there is no need for it. The President cannot have executive as well as legislative powers. I am very much concerned about these kinds of bills coming from members of the parliament but in every organisation you cannot rule out the existence of Judas. It is very disturbing.”
The Senate is on a three-week recess, and Daily Trust learnt that the bill may be reintroduced soon after senators reconvene on April 29.
If Ekweremadu brings back the bill, it would have to be approved by two-thirds of the Senate before it passes.
Any constitution amendment bill would also have to be approved by twothirds of the House of Representatives as well as at least 24 state houses of assembly.