Nigeria Gets New Constitution As States Transmit Resolution

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ABUJA, July 16, (THEWILL) - The present legislature in Nigeria is on the verge of history as the first democratically elected representative of the people since independence to successfully amend the Constitution following the transmission by the State Assemblies of their resolutions on the first amendment to the 1999 Constitution to the National Assembly.

This signifies that a new Constitution may soon come into force as soon as the National Assembly completes the clause-by-clause analyses and consideration of the 50 proposed amendments voted on by Assemblies. However, only amendments that have secured the required 2/3 endorsements of at least 24 states of the Federation shall become law.

The resolutions of the 36 states, which were presented to the Senate President, David Mark by the Chairman of the Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures in Nigeria, Hon. Istifanus Haruna Gbana and obtained by THE WILL indicates that out of the 50 proposed amendments, about 25 of them were endorsed by more than 24 states. These include section 132 and 178, which proposed that Presidential and Gubernatorial elections shall hold 120 to 150 days before the expiration of the tenure of the incumbents. This means that the next General Elections will hold in December, 2010 if the amendment becomes law.

The resolution also show that over 24 states voted in favour of sections 135 and 180, which prohibits tenure extension for president or governors who win re-run elections and section 239 that seeks to make the Appeal Court the first court of jurisdiction for petitions on Presidential, Vice Presidential; Governorship and Deputy Governorship elections petitions.

Another important amendments endorsed by over 24 states Assembly are the controversial sections 145 and 190 that is now amended to empower National Assembly or State Assembly as the case may be, to pass a resolution making the Vice President or Deputy Governor Acting President and Acting Governor respectively should the President or Governor fail to transmit a vacation letter after 21 days of absence from office.

Also more than 24 State Assemblies endorsed section 81 and 84 that grants financial autonomy to the National Assembly, judiciary and INEC. Similarly, section 160, which gives INEC powers to make rules for its operations also scaled through the 2/3 hurdle.

Sections 156 and 200, that bars card carrying members of political parties from being members of Federal or state executive bodies including INEC also scaled through.

While receiving the resolution from the Chairman of Speakers, President of the Senate, David Mark declared that for the Constitution to be operational, the elites must be courageous enough to make sacrifices in the national interest.

Assisted by the Chairmen of the Senate and House of Representatives Constitution Review Committees, Senator Ike Ekweremadu and Hon. Usman Bayero Nafada, the Senate President described the occasion as historic for all Nigerians saying their determination to reshape Nigeria’s march to greatness proved skeptics, who never gave the legislature a chance to amend the Constitution wrong.

"We were aware that there were people who never believed us. Our critics judged we could not do it. The skeptics believed we would not do it. In deed, the skeptics disbelieved us. The pessimists tried to convince everyone else we could not do it. The cynics sneered at our ever attempting to do it.

According to Mark, a constitution is truly a Constitution only when the will to abide by its contents is held supreme. "We must as a people, muster enough courage, make the needed great sacrifices, and resolve to exhibit a sense of patriotism. The elites of all classes must grow and nurture the political will that will make the Constitution operate-able to serve our collective national interest."

He urged his colleagues in the National Assembly not to jubilate yet saying "It is not time for self-congratulations, nor is it time to play the lizard that fell from the Iroko tree with self praise indulgence. For now, it is cockcrow at dawn; there are still challenges ahead before the day breaks. Let us keep our loins girded and remain steadfast. History shall absolve us with tributes for this historic national service."

Submitting the resolution on behalf of the State Assemblies, Chairman Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures and Speaker of Taraba State House of Assembly, Hon. Istifanus Haruna Gbana said the state assemblies have done their bit and it is left for the National Assembly to carry out a clause by clause analysis of the two third required to pass each clause.

The Chairman insisted that contrary to speculations, the State Assemblies did not amend any section of the Bill explaining that they never had such powers and only approved or rejected some of the clauses brought to them by the National Assembly. He denied that section 121 of the Constitution amendment Bill, which seeks to grant financial autonomy to state Houses of Assembly, has failed as earlier speculated.

"I want to make it abundantly clear that the clause by clause analysis of the 2/3 of 36 states required to pass each clause to this Bill, will be done by the National Assembly. Similarly, I want to dispel the rumours making the rounds that some State Houses of Assembly amended some sections of the Bill before deciding on them.

"Procedurally, State Assemblies have no such powers. Ours was mainly to approve or reject clauses by clause of what was brought to us by the National Assembly", he stated.

Gbana explained that despite the ‘tremendous pressure’ mounted on the state lawmakers by various stakeholders, the State Assemblies were focused because they regarded the exercise as one of the most important national assignment in our political history.

Addressing the press after the submitting the resolution, Hon Gbana, said that there is no way to know what clauses scaled and which ones failed because the resolutions of all the 36 Houses of Assembly have not been compiled.

"Nobody will be able to tell you that the clause that seeks to provide financial autonomy to State Houses of Assembly has been rejected or didn’t meet the required 2/3rd votes. I don’t even know that but I do know that some states voted in favour of that section", he stated.

It will be recalled that the National Assembly had on June 15, 2010 transmitted the harmonized amendment to the State Assemblies, which were earlier scheduled to present their resolutions to the National Assembly on July 7, 2010. The process was however stalled following the inability of some state Assemblies to complete work on the harmonized amendment submitted to them.