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LAGOS: LOOMING FEARS OF LANDMINE IN CONSTITUTION AMENDMENT

By NBF News
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Gov. Fashola
On Monday, June 21, Lagos State lived up to its billings as the 'Centre of Excellence' when stakeholders in the state tore the proposal on constitution amendment from the National Assembly into shreds.

The proposed amendment of about 40 provisions in the 1999 constitution was sent to all the 36 states of the Federation to scrutinise with a view to calling for either its rejection or acceptance.

The proposal is tagged Constitution (First Amendment) Bill, 2010 (Harmonized) was sent to all the state Houses of Assembly by the Senate under the sub-head: A Bill for an Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and for other matters connected thereto, 2010.

Approval of two third of the 36 Houses of Assembly, which is 24, is needed by the National Assembly for its final ratification. Present to dissect the document were party leaders, political stalwarts, human rights activists, lawyers, former lawmakers as well as other professionals and representatives of Community Development Associations (CDAs), among others.

The occasion was the public hearing on the proposal organized by the Lagos State House of Assembly located at Alausa under the supervision of its Speaker, Adeyemi Ikuforiji. At the end of the deliberations that lasted over three hours at the Assembly lobby, Lagos State raised the alarm that the proposal was in favour of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Preparing the ground for the alarm was the former Minister of Works, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, who disclosed that 'the proposal has been ratified by the National Assembly,' pointing out that 'what is required from the 36 State Houses of Assembly is simply, 'we accept or we reject''.

According to him, it was too late to make any input into the proposed amendment, reminding all that what remained was the vote from the Houses from which only 24 out of 36 would give the National Assembly the required 2/3 majority to pass the Bill into law. He therefore suggested that any defects in the proposal could be highlighted for future attempts, adding 'this is just the beginning and the first attempt is not always perfect.'

Corroborating Ogunlewe's submission was the radical lawyer cum rights activist, Bamidele Aturu, who observed that 'in view of section 9 of the Constitution, the Lagos House of Assembly can neither remove nor add anything to the proposal,' just as he declared that 'some of us will surely go to court to challenge some of the proposed amendment.' It was against this background that the former Lagos State Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General, Professor Yemi Osibajo (SAN), lamented that 'we are in difficult position.'

Some of the amended provisions, Osibajo pointed out were in favour of the ruling party just as he described the situation as 'dangerous for the parties in opposition,' regretting that 'the ruling party has about 28 out of 36 states.' One of the flaws the Senior Advocate of Nigeria described as a 'land mine' for the opposition parties was Section 272 which gave the Federal High Court power to declare positions of a governor vacant.

Osibajo also disagreed with another section that said electoral petitions should be dispensed off within 180 days asserting that such petitions could not succeed because, according to him, time is not sufficient to gather enough evidence to prosecute electoral petitions.

He submitted that members of the National Assembly just made proposals that are in their own interest, wondering why some of the provisions that the Muhammadu Uwais's Panel's reports had taken care of were not reflected in the proposal!

Major issues of contention at the public hearing were, Cross Carpeting (Section 109), approval of indicted people by probe panels to contest election (Section 107) as well as the issue of state Police. On section 107, where paragraph (h) disqualifies persons indicted by a probe panel from contesting elections, a Senior advocate of Nigeria, Deacon Dele Adesina and Lagos Chairman of the National Action Council (NAC), Oloye Gboyega Adeniji disagreed over the deletion of the paragraph.

Adesina (SAN) supported the deleting of the clause explaining that only a court of competent jurisdiction could impose sanction and not kangaroo panels of enquiry or any probe panel. He also condemned the retention of carpet crossing which he said was an attempt at sneaking into the country a one party system through the back door if allowed to scale through, observing that in Nigeria where it is the winner takes all, what would be obtainable would not be democracy but a resemblance of democracy.

But Oloye Adeniji of NAC, who viewed the deleting as an insult to the sensibility of the Nigerian people stated that it is another tactical way of legalising immorality and corruption, adding that 'it is like removing the real foundation on which the electoral act is built.' On Carpet Crossing, Adeniji, who also doubles as the Secretary of the South West Conference of the Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP), took on the representative of another human rights group, Participatory Democracy, Chief Gbenga Dansalu.

While Dansalu saw nothing wrong in carpet crossing, Adeniji described it as 'immoral and political prostitution.'

Dansalu's words: 'If you contested an election on a party's platform and you later discover that you are surrounded by thieves, there is nothing wrong in crossing to a more sanitised party.' Former Lagos state Deputy Governor, Prince Abiodun Ogunleye expressed displeasure over the cumbersome nature of the 'Recall Provision' in the constitution, lamenting that 'the clause is there truly, but rather difficult or even impossible to implement.'

Although the issue of state police was not included in the proposal, Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) in his submission stressed the need for state police wondering why a governor that is referred to as the Chief Security Officer of his state would not have control over the Commissioner of Police. But former Lagos State Commissioner of Public Transportation and chieftain of the PDP, Chief Lanre Razak expressed opposition to the idea, saying the opportunity to have it would be abused by the state.

Fashola, whose submission was read by his Special Adviser on Political and Legislative Bureau, Hon. Abdul-Lateef Abdul-Hakeem said the idea was obtainable in other federations where every tier of government has its own police force. Fashola's 8-point submission included Principles of federalism, revenue derivation, public finance, local government and state of emergency.

The Lagos State helmsman, who wants 25 per cent for the state from where revenue is derived also warns that should there be any state of emergency, 'it should not include the suspension of democratic structures of the affected government of any part of the country. In his own contribution, a lawyer and former Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief Biyi Durojaye urged the National Assembly to do a good job that would make the constitution endurable, pointing out that the American constitution that has spanned 324 years was amended only 27 times attributing that as a result of a solid job done by their forefathers.

In his keynote address earlier, the Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly, Mr. Adeyemi Ikuforiji said the public hearing was borne out of his earlier promise that the people of Lagos would be consulted always on any matter that has to do with their interest.

The event, Ikuforiji stated was a crucial one because 'it has to do with the country's constitution which is the powerful law that is binding on all of us,' saying 'in that wise, it is normal for the people to contribute.'

He therefore assured the people of Lagos State that their wishes would always be the centre piece of the House activities.

The House Majority Leader, Mubau Kolawole Taiwo, who stood in for the Chairman, Amendment Committee said the purpose of the public hearing was to allow for wider participation and consultation, pointing out that 'only 40 elected members of the Legislative House can not be wiser than 19 million Lagosians.'

While thanking the Military for giving Nigerians something to work on, Taiwo, who represents Ajeromi/Ifelodun Constituency I in the House reminded that 'what the Military did has now taken the politicians eleven years to amend. He then assured the people of Lagos state that 'your contributions would form the bedrock on which our stand on the issue would be built.'

Memoranda were collected from other stakesholders who could not make oral submissions.