19th NASS and agenda for fresh Constitution review

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By Olugbenga Salami

In the last few days, the National Assembly, has begun the legislative process for fresh amendments to the 1999 Constitution. While the Senate named a 45-man constitution review committee, the House of Representatives unveiled a 43-member to serve on the panel.

The constitution review exercise is expected to be completed within 24 months.

As the practice during the previous assemblies, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Jibrin Barau and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Benjamin Kali are the chairman and co-chairman of the committee, respectively while all the principal officers of both chambers are members as well as each state and geo-political zone being represented in the panel.

During the inaugural meeting of the committee, its chairman in the Senate, Senator Barau said the panel is unique under the 10th National Assembly in the sense that it has all female senators as members. He, therefore, promised that the committee would operate differently from previous committees to achieve it’s set objectives.

He commended the leadership of the Senate for putting into consideration wealth of experience and knowledge in parliamentary work in selecting members. These includes former governors, principal officers of assemblies and long serving legislators.

According to him, the committee will be guided by the rules and engage stakeholders in going about the assignment, adding that a work plan would be submitted for consideration and approval by members

The Deputy Senate President reminded members that the committee was not constituted to write a new constitution, but look at ways of altering parts of the 1999 Constitution in line with realities of contemporary issues in the nation’s socio- political and economic development. He assured that the assignment will not be business as usual because there are a lot of national issues to be dealt with.

Senator Barau disclosed that eminent Nigerians, including the academia have shown interest to work with the committee as consultants. But added that there will be a political committee while most of the consultants will work majorly with the committee secretariat.

Also speaking at the meeting, the North Central representative, Senator Sani Musa (APC Niger East), said the committee should prioritize bills to be presented especially those that will have direct impact on development of the nation having in mind certain bills that were not signed by former President. He said it is important to know the direction of the President on any bill to be presented for assent.

Also, the North East representative, Senator Abdul Ningi (PDP Bauchi Central), said what is important is the result of what is achieved by the committee. This, he said would put to test political will of members.

He, however, warned against putting first divisive tendencies like political, religious, ethnic sentiments as against national interests.

On his part, Senator Adamu Aliero (PDP Kebbi Central) for North West zone advised members to try to avoid controversial issues but find ways of reaching compromise on certain issues, adding that there should be a timeline in handling the assignment.

Senator Olalere Oyewumi (PDP Osun Central) for the South West zone said the committee should not work in isolation, but in tandem with the executive. This, he argued would reduce variance in opinion and that such should be adopted at state level in which state governors should be carried along.

Former Speaker of the House of Representatives and Sokoto State governor, Senator Aminu Tambuwal also sided time consciousness while calling for deepening consultations of stakeholders. He said the constitution as the most important document that governs the country is imperfect and it prescribed ways through which it can be reviewed.

He suggested the inclusion of youths and Nigerians in the diaspora through a platform

Former Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan advised that as representatives of people, members should gather ideas and opinions on issue from their constituents. He said if people don’t participate, the exercise might not succeed. “A lot of Nigerian have no voice, so we have to listen to our people and present their opinions,” he said.

According to him, former President Muhammadu Buhari signed some of the bills by the 9th Assembly, hence the need to start in time and present qualitative suggestions to make Nigeria better.

Meanwhile, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Tajudeen Abbas, at the inuguration of the committee in the Green Chamber, asked members to revisit some of the gender bills that were rejected in the last assembly, notably the bill on the creation of extra-legislative seats for women.

He said: “I urge you to revisit the issue of additional or reserved seats for women across legislative bodies, twinning in joint tickets and conferring citizenship on foreigners married to Nigerian women.”

Abbas also charged the committee to further deplete exclusive legislative list to consolidate some of the strides made during the last alterations. He added that the ongoing alteration is going to be the most comprehensive ever done. He listed state police and local government autonomy as some of the priority issues.

“We expect the Sixth Alteration under this Tenth National Assembly to be the most comprehensive yet. As such, the task before the Constitution Review Committee is profound.

“The House Agenda is ambitious in its scope and encompasses wide-ranging issues pivotal to our national growth. Among these are: devolution of powers, including state policing; enhancement of fiscal federalism through local government autonomy; further de-congesting the Exclusive Legislative List,” he stressed.

In his remarks, the Deputy Speaker and chairman of the committee, Ben Kalu, also listed some of the issues that the current assembly is going to prioritise, including resource allocation, state police, and others.

“As we gather here today, it is important to highlight the areas that are currently at the forefront based on the bill proposals we have received so far – some of them include the establishment of state police; state access to mines; increased participation of women in politics; clear specification of the taxes/levies to be collected by each tier of government and the provision for the office of the Mayor of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja,” he disclosed.

On his part, the chairman of the Conference of Speakers of State Houses of Assembly, Hon. Deborah Ogundoyin, said the state assemblies would stop at nothing to ratify the constitution alterations bills once they are transmitted by the National Assembly.

Ogundoyin, who doubles as the Speaker, Oyo State House of Assembly, said: “I assure you that through the Conference of Speakers, that all states will work to ratify the documents once they are passed on by tg National Assembly.”

He, however, added that the debate on the constitution review is an endless one until Nigerians get the constitution they deserve.

The National Assembly, during the last alteration exercise, rejected the five gender bills, prompting protests from women groups and civil society organisations.
However, despite the outrage, the lawmakers did not rescind the decision.

One of the bills sought to grant citizenship to foreign-born husbands of a Nigerian woman. Already, a Nigerian man’s foreign-born wife is automatically a Nigerian citizen.

Another bill sought to allocate 35 per cent of political positions based on appointment to women while there was one that sought to create special seats for women in National and State Assemblies.

The last alteration deleted power, correctional facilities and railways from the exclusive list. Those items were moved to the concurrent list. With the alteration, both federal and state governments can now legislate on these matters.