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SENATE VOTES TO AMEND CONSTITUTION TODAY

By NBF NEWS
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By Emmanuel Ogala
March 24, 2010 02:05AM
As the Senate votes today to adopt the amendments of some sections of the 1999 Constitution, some of the recommendations of the review committee may not get the required support.

Following the submission of the draft Constitution, with special interest on electoral reform, by the Senate Constitution Review Committee last week, the Senate had gone on to consider clause by clause, the alterations being sought, as recommended by its review committee, and slated voting on the alterations for today.

However, the recommendation by the review committee to delete section 68 (g) from the 1999 constitution did not enjoy popular support from the Senators. The section prohibits lawmakers from changing parties unless there is a division in the party platform on which they were elected.

Contentious section
A sizable number of senators, enough to deny the clause the required two-third majority needed to pass it, opposed the recommendation by the review committee to delete the section, saying it will discourage politics of ideology.

Ike Ekweremadu, the deputy Senate president who led the review committee however argued that the provision was necessary because it was infringing on politicians' right to free association.

He said the section was deleted to allow for 'liberalization of the political space and maintaining the fundamental human right to freedom of association,' adding that since the amended constitution will allow for independent candidates, it was only fair that every other restriction should be removed.

Olorunnimbe Mamora (AC Lagos state) and the rest of his colleagues that argued against the deletion of the restricting section said it was immoral for politicians to cross carpet and that there is no freedom without restrictions.

'No freedom is absolute,' Mr. Mamora observed.
Another amendment which will not likely get the consent of the 73 senators required to pass it is the upgrade of the educational qualification needed by politicians aspiring to run for elected positions.

The review committee recommended that one of the qualifications for election should be that the aspirant must have received tertiary education and obtain the relevant certificates. The recommendation was also opposed by some senators, although they were less in number than those opposed to the scrapping of section 68 (g).

This will sail through
An insertion of two clauses in section 228 to enable the National Assembly make laws that will regulate how political parties practice internal democracy was widely cheered by the People's Democratic Party senators, and is one recommendation that is sure to get the highest number of 'yes' votes.

'The National Assembly may by law provide for guidelines and rules to ensure internal democracy within political parties, including making laws for the conduct of party primaries, and party conventions,' the draft reads.

The section also includes the power for the National Assembly to confer on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), when necessary, the powers to ensure that the political parties observe internal democracy.

An insertion to account for every day a governor or president whose election was annulled but who eventually wins the re-run election spends before the re-run election, was also very popular with the senators.

'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.

Other recommendations that are likely to be passed include clauses which make the Independent National Electoral Commission and its chairman above the authority of the president or any other body, and those that will make the commission, the National Assembly and the Judiciary financially independent of the executive.

The independent candidacy clauses and the recommendations to conduct election within 30 days and not earlier than 150 days before swearing in and not later than 90 days before the swearing in date will be passed as well.

'We now throw the balls back to the people of Nigeria,' Ayogu Eze, the Senate spokesman said in an interview after the plenary.

The votes will be cast electronically and each senator will vote 39 times on the 39 sections up for amendment.