Majority of the senators yesterday vehemently opposed the proposal by the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, which empowers the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to initiate the process of writing a brand new Constitution for the country.
To this end, there was disagreement among the lawmakers on how and who should initiate the procedure for a new Constitution, as majority of the senators argued that it is the primary duty of the Nigerian parliament which cannot be taken away from them for any reason.
While debating the report of the Senate Committee on Constitution Review, titled: “Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Further Amendment) Bill 2011, which was sponsored by Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, the lawmakers said it is an indirect way of relinquishing the duty of parliament to the executive.
Presenting the additional report, Ekweremadu said the new proposal intends to alter section nine of the Constitution, such that the President can be allowed by the Constitution to initiate the process of drafting a new constitution.
He said the extant Act reserves exclusive powers only on the National Assembly to initiate the process for new constitution, hence the committee thought it right to open the window to accommodate the President.
In addition, the committee included the ex Senate Presidents and Speakers of House of Representatives in the Council of States, as contained in the alteration proposal read by Ekweremadu.
It also empowers the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to de-register the political parties which fail to win Presidential, Governorship, chairmanship of local governments or area council, or a seat in the National or State Assembly elections.
Similarly, the constitution review committee extended the time for conducting Presidential and Governorship re-run elections from seven days to 21 days, in addition to reducing from 21 days to seven days, the number of days within which the Clark of the National or State Assembly can write to notify INEC of vacancies in the National Assembly seats due to death, resignation or vacation by member.
However, during the debate on the proposal, a lot of the lawmakers insisted that the plot to smuggle in the President to initiate the process implies that the National Assembly is not alive to its responsibilities.
According to Kabiru Marafa (APC Zamfara), insertion of the controversial clause 9 would make the Senate less important, with regards to legislative responsibilities.
Marafa, who alluded that the sudden inclusion of the Section 9 was aimed at how to adopt the resolutions of of the National Conference delegates in the constitution.
He said that if the section is adopted, the National Assembly may have no option than to adopt the resolutions as new constitution, if the President is allowed to initiate the process.
Similarly, Kabiru Marafa (APC Kano), expressed the fear that allowing the President to initiate the move of preparing a new constitution can be exploited by the President in power.
He said this may result in extension of tenure of the incumbent, as he can bring a new constitution and claims that a fresh tenure should commence in an election which he or she will also contest.
In the same vein, Ganiyu Solomon (APC Osun) said the proposal is superfluous, arguing that if the committee wanted to accommodate others, it should accommodate all Nigerians, including members of the public as those empowered to initiate the process of new constitution.
Moreover, Ewuga Solomon (APC Nasarawa), who opposed the insertion of the controversial section, pointed out that it is inappropriate for the lawmakers to allow a force outside the parliament to initiate the process of making a new constitution.
He said that if the National Assembly is denied the exclusive rights to enact a new constitution, the purpose of creating the parliament as an arm of government would have been defeated.
Also, Adamu Gumba (PDP Bauchi) and Umaru Dahiru (PDP Sokoto) said the Section 9 of the constitution is not relevant at this point in time, even as they urged their colleagues to resist and reject the proposal.
They said the insertion of the world ‘President’ should be removed from the section, saying the world ‘executive’ should rather be used.
Odia Ogbesia (PDP Edo), pointed out that there is no need to have the proposal, since it is clear that there can’t be a new constitution for the country, except for the lawmakers to keep amending the faulty sections gradually until a perfect section is made.
On the contrary, some of the senators, including Victor Ndoma Egba, James Manager, Abdul Ningi, Bello Tukur, said there is essence of the section is to ensure that the President and the executive arm is not shutout in the opportunity to propose new constitution.
Meanwhile, the Senate President, David Mark, has suspended debate and voting on the section 9 by the individual senators to next week Wednesday, after which the resolutions would be committed to the committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution.