Reps' panel wants immunity for President, govs removed

By The Rainbow

The House of Representatives' Adhoc Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution wants  the President and state governors to lose their current  immunity against criminal prosecution.

They also propose that the President  and governors should spend a maximum of two terms of four years   in office as  provided for by  the constitution.

These are parts of the highlights of the recommendations made by the committee in its report read before the House.

Also proposed by the Committee headed by Deputy Speaker Emeka Thedioha, is the scrapping of the Joint States-Local Government Accounts and the elimination of the States Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC).

The committee recommends that local government councils should maintain their own special accounts to be called Local Government Council Allocation Account into which shall be paid directly allocations made to the local government from the Federation Account.

The committee has recognised the local government as a full autonomous third tier of government. It has therefore granted financial autonomy to them  by scrapping the existing state/local government joint account in the constitution.

In its place, it has created a special account for the local councils where they can draw their funds directly from the Federation Account without interference by the state governments.

Similarly, it has prescribed a uniform four-year tenure for the councils in all parts of the country and removed the local governments from the legislative control of state Houses of Assembly.

By this, the State Houses of  Assembly  shall no longer legislate for the running of the councils. That function will now be performed fully by the legislative councils of local governments.

According to the committee, elections into the councils will be conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission.It therefore wants  the existing state Independent Electoral Commissions to    be abolished.

In addition, there will be no more accommodation for the caretaker committee system of running local government councils in the proposed  constitution.

The report noted,  'The reforms proposed by the committee prescribed the mode of election of local government officials, their functions, tenure, qualifications for elections, and other related matters.

'Under the amendment proposed, elections into local government councils will be managed by the national election management body, INEC .'

One of the most controversial items considered by the committee was the issue fo state creation. The committee said no request for creating of state was valid. It deleted if from its recommendations.

It explained, 'The committee received requests for creation of states running into more than 35 . None of the requests submitted to the committee complied with the procedure for creation of states outlined in Section 8 of the constitution.

'Accordingly, the committee was unable to treat any of these requests. The committee however recognises that the existing provision in the constitution for the creation of new states is unclear and cumbersome. Accordingly, the committee has clarified the process.'

It agreed to a proposal that independent candidates be allowed to contest elections.

The Report of the Committee was laid before the House yesterday.

Ihedioha, who is Chairman of the ad hoc Constitution Review Committee read out the report and its recommendations and laid it before the House at plenary.

According to him, over 200 memoranda were received which covered a wide spectrum of issues, including -Fiscal federalism, Financial autonomy and independence of State Houses of Assembly and Local Government Councils, Mode of Altering the Constitution, Citizenship and indigeneship question.

Other aspects, he said, were: Making aspects of the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy justiciable, Devolution of powers from the federal to the states, independent candidacy in elections, Removal of immunity clause for President, Vice-President and Governors, Creation of States, Establishment of State Police, etc.

He said from the memoranda, key issues were formulated into a 43 item Template of Issues which the Committee put before Nigerians during the Peoples' Public Sessions on the Review of the Constitution which was held simultaneously in all the 360 federal constituencies in Nigeria on 10 November 2012.

'The House of Representatives referred 25 Bills to the Committee for further legislative actions, after they had been read the second time following debate,' he added.

All the amendment bills are to be collapsed into a single bill under the title: 'A bill for an act to further alter the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,1999; and for other matters connected therewith,2013.'

The report highlights important aspects of alterations carried out by the ad hoc committee

Ihedioha said the Ad hoc Committee has done its job in line with the mandate given to it by the House and in response to the yearnings of Nigerians and has produced a Report to take the process forward.

He added: 'In this regard, the Ad-hoc Committee recommends: The proposed alterations to the Constitution attached to this Report should be adopted by the House; the process of consideration of the alterations to the Constitution proposed by this Committee needs to be expedited to enable us achieve its passage. The House should expedite the process of alteration of the Constitution requiring collaboration with the Senate and the State Houses of Assembly.'

Ihedioha got an applause from the members as he laid the report before the House.

Speaker Aminu Tambuwal praised the members of the committee for the effort they have put into the review. He said the possibility that the report would be considered in the next few days would be examined.

'We shall consult with the leadership and look at the possibility of considering the report before the recess,' adding that copies will be made available to the members immediately in order for them to study.''

It however endorsed independent candidacy in future elections and created an Electoral Offences Commission to try offenders after elections.

Furthermore, the assent of the President will not be required for a new constitution to take effect, as the committee proposed amendments to Section 9 of the constitution to 'remove ambiguities in language with respect to the alteration of the constitution and further dispense with the requirement for assent of the President to be obtained for the amendment of the constitution.'

It added, 'The committee came to the conclusion that the rigorous provisions for the alteration of the constitution by members of the National Assembly and the participation of the 36 state Houses of Assembly represented such adequate participation of Nigerians and that assent of the President negated the principle contained therein.'

To guarantee their  independence, the committee placed the offices of the Attorney-General of the Federation, the Accountant-General of the Federation and the Auditor-General of the Federation on the first line charge of the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation to 'insulate' them  from political control.

In line with the position of Nigerians, the committee recommended the separation of the office of the Minister of Justice from that of the Attorney-General of the Federation.

Other recommendations include  the provision of roles for traditional rulers in the proposed  constitution 'for representation of traditional rulers in the National Council of State and the creation of a State Council of Chiefs at the state level.'

In a bid to devolve powers, the committee transferred railways, health, housing and electricity from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent List.

However, the report is not the final position of the House on the issues. Members will have to debate the bill like any other   and take a final vote.