Constitution Review: Senate strips powers from presidency …states to control prisons, railways, pension, others
Senate has whittled down the powers of the Presidency in an ongoing Constitution review by moving certain items from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent List. The amendment was known when the Red Chamber received an interim status report of its Constitution Review Committee (CRC(, chaired by Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu. Ekweremadu said the Second Schedule, Part I and II of the Constitution has been altered to decongest the Exclusive Legislative List in order to give more powers to the states of the Federation.
He said the move will enhance the principle of federalism and good governance. Ekweremadu said pensions, prisons, railways, stamp duties and wages have been moved from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent List. He added that arbitration, environment, healthcare, housing, road safety, land and agriculture, youths and public complaints were also added to the Concurrent List of the Constitution. According to Ekweremadu, the full draft of the constitution amendment bill will be ready, after harmonisation with the House of Representatives, on grey areas.
The Seventh National Assembly embarked on a similar exercise, but former President Goodluck Jonathan, declined to sign it into law. Former minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, approached the Supreme Court to stop the National Assembly from vetoing the president. But, in the CRC report, it recommended a uniform three-year tenure for elected local government council officials and also recommended that local governments that are not democratically elected should not be entitled to any revenue from the Federation Account. In the report, the committee made a provision for national savings of 50 per cent of oil revenues above the bench mark for a particular year and 10 per cent of any non-oil revenue paid into the Federation Account. It amended sections 82 and 122 of the Constitution to reduce the period within which the president or a governor may authorise withdrawal of monies from the Consolidated Revenue Fund in the absence of an Appropriation Act from six months to three months. “Essentially, this will compel early presentation of a budget proposal by the Executive arm of government, thereby giving the legislature sufficient time to scrutinise such proposal,” Ekweremadu noted.
Also, section 121 of the Constitution has been amended to guarantee first line charge funding for Houses of Assembly from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. If passed into law, it will free state legislatures from the grip of state governors. Amendment of sections 147 and 192 of the Constitution would also ensure that the president and governors designate and assign portfolios to persons nominated as ministers or commissioners, respectively, prior to confirmation by the Senate or House of Assembly. It also provided a period of 60 days within which such nominations shall be forwarded to the Senate or House of Assembly following inauguration, with 35 per cent representation for women in the appointment of ministers and commissioners. Sections 51, 67, 93 and 315 were amended to create the National Assembly Service Commission and the State House of Assembly Service Commission and empower the National Assembly and State House of Assembly respectively to provide for the powers and structure of the commissions through subsequent legislations.
It has also made it mandatory for the President to attend a joint meeting of the National Assembly, once a year, to deliver a State of the Nation Address and removed lawmaking power of the executive arm of government under section 315. The extant provision is contrary to section 4 of the Constitution, which confers lawmaking powers exclusively on the legislature. Meanwhile, a bill for an Act to provide for the inauguration of the president and vice president, also known as the Presidential Inauguration Bill, 2016, was read a second time, yesterday. The bill, sponsored by Ekweremadu, seeks to align Nigeria’s presidential inauguration with international best practices, as obtained in the United States of America, and many other democracies. Leading debate on the general principles of the bill, Ekweremadu explained that the bill seeks to move the inauguration of the president and his deputy from the Eagle Square to within the precincts of the National Assembly, but, without precluding the Chief Justice of Nigeria from administering the oath of office on the president and his deputy.
The committee also tinkered with sections 233, 237, 247, 251 and Part I of the Third Schedule of the Constitution, to provide for all appeals from the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court to be by leave of the Supreme Court except in the case of interpretation of the Constitution, death sentences and fundamental human rights. It also proposed that two justices of the Court of Appeal, sitting in chambers to dispose any application for leave to appeal after considering the records of proceedings if the justices believe the interest of justice does not require an oral hearing of the application. Also, Senate resolved to establish a criminal division of the Federal High Court to try electoral offences, terrorism cases, economic and financial crimes cases and provide for appeals from the decisions of the National Industrial Court to the Court of Appeal. According to the report, 12 Justices of the Court of Appeal are to be learned in Labour and Employment Matters for the purpose of hearing appeals from the National Industrial Court and put the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) under the control of the judiciary instead of the executive.
Speaking further on the recommendations, Ekweremadu said: “In line with the Committee’s decision to disaggregate constitutional amendment proposals into different bills, we consolidated and clustered amendment proposals into appropriate thematic and sectional heads. While some amendment proposals were incorporated into existing Senate Bills, others were grouped thematically. “Additionally, some amendments that could not fit into any of the above classifications were produced as stand-alone bills. Those stand-alone bills contain amendment proposals which we deem contentious, hence the need to isolate them from other proposals. “These clusters are given different short titles such as Fourth Alteration Bill No.1, 2, 3, etcetera. The reason for this is to ensure that the rejection of a group of sections dealing with an issue does not affect other clusters dealing with different unconnected issues. “This is to forestall the unsavory experience of the Fourth Alteration Bill as passed in the 7th Assembly, which after satisfying the provisions of section 9 of the 1999 Constitution as amended was not assented to by the then President.”
Ekweremadu explained: “Mr. President, Distinguished Colleagues, you would recall that Nigeria transformed from operating a Parliamentary- Westminster system- to the extant Presidential system modeled after the U.S. Presidential system of government in 1979 and continued to the 4th Republic from 1999 to date. “You would also recall that from the commencement of the 4th Republic to 2015 the inauguration or swearing-in of the newly elected President and the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria had been taking place at the Eagle Square. This practice of inauguration of the President and the Vice President at the Eagle Square is at variance with what transpires in the United States and other democracies where their Presidents and Vice Presidents are inaugurated within the precincts of their Parliaments. “Thus, as you can see, this is a misnomer.
The popular or international best practice is for the leadership of the Executive to be inaugurated within the premises of the Legislature, who are perceived as the true representatives of the people. Suffice it to say that this practice does not preclude or extricate the Chief Justice of Nigeria from administering the Oath of Office on the two.” He noted that the bill further provides for the inauguration ceremony of the President-elect and the Vice President-elect to take place at the Arcade of the National Assembly, where the people are represented. He said it also provides for the setting up of a Presidential Inauguration Committee, which shall consist of a serving Member of the National Assembly as Chairman, six members drawn from the Legislature, two from the Executive, two from the Judiciary, and two from the Civil Society. Section 7 provides for order of Procession with the President leading, while former Presidents, former Heads of State, former Heads of Federal Government, former Vice Presidents, Former Senate Presidents, former Speakers of the House of Representatives, and former Chief Justices of the Federation, follow, accordingly.
Ekweremadu also explained that the bill further provides for the President-elect and Vice President-elect to be the last to come, accompanied by their immediate families and also to be supported by their spouses, serving President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives at the point of swearing-in. The Senate in plenary presided over by the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, approved for the bill to be read a second time and subsequently referred it to the Senate Committee on Special Duties for further processing. The Committee is to report back to the Senate in four-week time. Meanwhile, the Presidential Inauguration Bill was earlier sponsored by Senator Jubril Aminu in 2009 and passed by the 6th National Assembly, but did not receive presidential assent. – The Sun.