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NEW CONSTITUTION MAY BE READY NEXT MONTH — REPS

By NBF NEWS
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Hon. Speaker, House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole

Nigeria may have a new constitution by the end of May, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Usman Nafada, has said.

The House had on Tuesday amended 40 clauses in the 1999 Constitution, thereby completing the first phase of the constitution amendment process.

The Senate earlier amended 38 clauses of the same document.

Nafada, who is the Chairman of the Ad-Hoc Committee of the House on Constitution Review, explained on Wednesday that the next step was for both chambers to meet at a conference and harmonise the differences in the two versions of the amended constitution.

Nafada, who spoke with journalists at the National Assembly in Abuja, disclosed that members of the conference committee would be nominated by the Senate and the House this week.

He added that after reconciling the differences, a clean copy of the draft constitution amendment bill would be forwarded to the 36 state Houses of Assembly for endorsement.

He said, 'What is left to be done is not as much as what we have already done.

'We have completed the most difficult aspect of the review process.

'It will not take up to two days to send the bill to the states; their role is just to either endorse or reject what we have passed.

'They cannot remove or add to what we have passed. The National Assembly will pass the constitution by two-thirds majority support after it has been returned by the state assemblies.

'We are hoping that by the end of May, the whole process would have been completed and Nigeria will have a new constitution.'

Nafada described the process as satisfactory, adding that the House was proud that it was the first time efforts to review the constitution had been taken this far.

He, however, observed that some lawmakers voted to please their 'godfathers' during Tuesday' session.

He cited an instance with the opposition to the recommendation by his committee that persons indicted by administrative panels or tribunals for fraud, should be allowed to contest elections except when convicted by competent courts of law.

He noted that though the provision was in the current constitution, the Supreme Court, in Atiku Vs the Attorney-General of the Federation, decided that persons indicted by such panels could stand for elections except where a court had convicted them.

'We proposed that the section should be deleted from the constitution, but it was opposed; those in the Executive were using it to stop their opponents from contesting election,' he added.

According to him, lawmakers who opposed the recommendation of the committee on the issue, might have done so to please their godfathers, especially state governors and other financiers.

He said it was possible that some state governors had already set up panels to indict their perceived opponents or they were about doing so.

Nafada said, 'Some of them just voted to please their godfathers; it is all politics.

'Who knows whether what you are voting today will work against you tomorrow? So, that is it.'

The deputy speaker also hinted that the National Assembly would create more states to give a sense of belonging to many Nigerians who had complained of not faring well in their present states.

'We support state creation and we will create more states; that I can assure you', he replied to a question,' he said.

Asked why a provision was not made for Nigerians in the Diaspora to vote during elections, Nafada replied that Nigeria could not afford the cost of organising poll outside the country for now.

'We did the cost benefit analysis and found out that the cost is not something Nigeria can bear for now. We have decided that we should defer it till when things improve,' he said.

When reminded that the Independent National Electoral Commission had already picked four countries where Nigerians in the Diaspora could vote in 2011, Nafada said that the commission would be embarking on an illegal exercise.