Bill To Empower President To Initiate Process of New Constitution Unsettles Senate

Listen to article

It's an attempt to sneak in referendum for Confab outcome, says opposition BEVERLY HILLS, CA, April 02, (THEWILL) - The Senate on Wednesday was sharply divided over moves to accord constitutional powers to the President to initiate processes for a new constitution.

Majority of the Senators opposed the move on the premise that it could be an attempt by President Goodluck Jonathan to sneak in the referendum provision for the ongoing National Conference into the constitution.

They further averred that it is a process that could usurp the powers of the National Assembly.

Nonetheless, President of the Senate, David Mark, announced at the plenary that Senate will next Wednesday vote on the proposed new ammendments to the 1999 constitution.

The announcement was sequel to a bill, titled 'An act to further alter the provisions of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and for others matters connected therewith.

' Leading the debate on the bill, Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 constitution and Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, said the bill seeks to further alter the provisions of the 1999 constitution and proposes an amendment to Section 9, which deals with how a new constitution could be processed.

According to him, "Because as you amend the constitution, it would get to a point where you would not even know which part of the Constitution has been amended and which has not been amended.

"So time will come in the future where we will need to put these things together into a new constitution.

" "Again the society is dynamic to note that at some point , there will be the need to have a new Constitution.

And we won't be the first to do that.
" "Other countries have done that including Kenya, Brazil and Zimbabwe.

So further to that, we proposed an amendment to Section 9 on how a new Constitution can come to force.

"And in that Constitution, we are clear in what we stated that only the National Assembly can bring about the process of a new Constitution".

Continuing, he said; "But at our committe's meeting yesterday, we now looked at our rules in which case the President can bring about a Bill.

" "So, we now felt that it is also necessary to open the door in such a way that it is not just the National Assembly that can start the process, that even the President can send a proposal for a new Constitution.

" "If we leave it as it is now, the President cannot send any proposal for a new Constitution, if it is left as it is today.

Because we have already passed a Bill shutting the President out.

" Most of the Senators speaking in favour of the bill, said the amendment is in tandem with Senate rules which states that; "there is already provision for three classes of bills, namely members bills, executive bills and private member bills.

" In his contribution, Senator Kabir Marafa (APC, Zamfara), faulted the move to insert a clause to accommodate the President as one of the parties that can initiate processes for a new constitution, describing it as an attempt to usurp the powers of the National Assembly.

He added that it will provide a door for President Goodluck Jonathan to give credibility to the National Conference.

Also contributing, Senator Ahmed Lawan (APC, Yobe) said: "We must not dilute the functions of the executive nor that of the legislature.

I can concede that any president can send request and that is provided in the Constitution but when we say initiate, it is now taking some functions of the National Assembly away.

Because of that, I oppose this proposal that we maintain the sanctity, the purity of the functions of the executive and that of the legislature in such a way that there is no lacuna and no confusion.

"This is necessary so that in the nearest future, we don't run into a constitutional crisis where the constitution amendment process will become neither here nor there.

" In his contribution, Senator James Manager (PDP, Delta) said, "An officer of the ranking of the President can also instigate the process of a new constitution by writing to the National Assembly, presenting it as if it is an executive Bill.

" He added; " It will still come to the National Assembly exactly in ways and manners we have been dealing with bills.

"So there is absolutely nothing new in my humble view.

These are very straightforward and unambiguous matters.

" However, the new bill seeks to amend Section 3 (b) of Clause 2 that deals with how a new constitution can be processed.

Section 9 of the first Alteration Bill provided for how a new constitution can come into being through the National Assembly.

The aim of this insertion is to make provision for the President in addition to the National Assembly to initiate the process of a new constitution.

Secondly, Alteration of Section 68 and 109 to mandate the Clerk of the National Assembly and the Clerks of States Houses of Assembly to notify the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in writing seven days of the existence of a vacancy, arising from death, resignation or defection of a member of the National Assembly or a member of the State House of Assembly respectively.

Alteration of Section 134 and 179 which aims to extend the time for conducting presidential and governorship re-run election from seven days to 21 days as contained in Clause 4 and INEC is seeking for an extension of the seven days to 21 days after results have been announced.

" The next is the empowerment of INEC to de-register political parties which fail to win presidential, governorship, chairmanship of a local government area council, or a seat in the National or States Assembly elections.

The conferment of exclusive jurisdiction on the Federal High Court for the trial of offences arising from, pertaining to or connected to the violation of the provisions of the Electoral Act and any other election related act of the National Assembly.

"After our meeting with INEC, they came up with the suggestion that instead of setting up another bureaucracy , that we confer the Federal High Court with the powers to try election offences.

" According to him, "To alter the Third Schedule of the Constitution in Clause 8 to include former Senate Presidents and Speakers of the House of Representatives as members of the Council of States.

Today the Senate President and the Speaker are members but the former Senate Presidents and Speakers are not.

Under the Constitution former Chief Justices are members of the Council of States in addition to the serving Chief Justice of Nigeria.