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SENATE COMMENCES DEBATE ON CONSTITUTION

By NBF NEWS
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By Emmanuel Ogala
March 23, 2010 02:07AM
The Senate will today commence the third reading on the draft constitution report which was submitted by its constitution review committee last week.

The committee led by Ike Ekweremadu, the deputy Senate president, submitted their report on the draft constitution with regards to electoral reforms on Thursday last week, nearly two years after the committee was set up.

The draft constitution is coming after legislative actions on the various bills making up the constitution review.

A deviation
The Senate will debate and vote on alterations to some significant sections of the constitution that affect electoral process directly or indirectly.

It will also debate provisions for independent candidacy, insulating the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from partisan politics, guaranteeing financial and perhaps, administrative independence for INEC.

A preview of the document shows that the report deviated from some of the recommendations of the popular Mohammed Uwais report.

The president will retain his powers to appoint chairman of INEC and elections will hold between 60 to 90 days before the swearing-in-date.

The committee has given latitude of about three months for the conduct of election. According to the committee's recommendation, elections will hold between January and March of election years, less than six months away from the swearing-in-date as recommended by the Mohammed Uwais-led Electoral Reform Committee.

Documents from the committee show that it had earlier adopted the presidential Electoral Reform Committee's recommendation that voting should hold six months before the swearing-in of elected officials, but later dropped it.

Six months waiting period was suggested by the Uwais panel to enable tribunals and courts dispose of election petitions before winners are sworn into office.

In addition to making INEC financially independent, the committee also recommended the alteration of section 81 of the 1999 constitution to also include the National Assembly in the list of bodies financially independent of the executive.

The constitutional provision, which restricts cross carpeting by lawmakers, has also been deleted in the draft constitution. According to the committee, the intention is to liberalise the political space and maintain the fundamental right to freedom of association.

Tertiary education
However, the committee recommended that an upgrade in the educational qualification requirement for politicians intending to become senators and members of the House of Reps, as outlined in section 65 and 66 of the current constitution.

According to the committee's report, political aspirants must have attended at least a tertiary institution before they are allowed to contest. This means the aspiring politician would have at least an Ordinary National Diploma (OND).

The committee also inserted a clause in section 135 of the constitution to avoid elongation of tenure of office of the president.

'In the calculation of the four year term, where a re-election has taken place and the person earlier sworn in wins, the time spent in the office before the date the election was annulled, shall be taken into account,' the clause reads.