Senate yesterday passed the amendments on the 1999 Constitution, in which it approved both financial and administrative autonomy for the local governments in Nigeria.
The upper chamber also approved the recommendation by the Constitution Review committee, which allows for independent candidacy in Nigeria electoral process as obtains in is the United States of America and other advanced climes.
Provisions for independent candidacy in future elections in Nigeria was made by the federal lawmakers, through amendments of sections 65 and 106 of the 1999 Constitution to provide for such.
While amending section (7) of the Constitution which has granted autonomy to local governments, the Senate strengthened their administration by abolishing the state/local governments’ joint account.
Others are provision for their tenure, elections and to clearly delineate their powers and responsibilities to ensure effective service delivery and insulate them from interference from state governors.
The upper chamber has also withdrawn presidential assent to future amendments on the Constitution before it can come into force, provided that such amendments have secured the approval of the two/third of all the State Houses of Assembly in the country and that of the federal lawmakers.
Other critical amendments on the 1999 Constitution are the conferment of immunity on the lawmakers in respect of words spoken or written in the exercise of their legislative duties, through amendment of section 4.
The new amendment also makes it mandatory for the President of the country to attend a joint meeting of the National Assembly once a year to deliver a State of the Nation Address to the joint session of the National Assembly as contained in section 67.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has also being empowered through the new amendments to de-register political parties for non -fulfillment of certain conditions such as breach of registration requirements and failure to secure/win either a presidential, governorship, Local Government Chairmanship or a seat in the National or State Assembly.
Another striking feature of the amendments is section 124 which abolishes States’ Independent Electoral Commission and creates the office of the Auditor -General of the Local Government as well as the State Local Government Service Commission.
Section 81 of the amended Constitution which according to the report, aims at engendering accountability and efficient service delivery, constitutionally empowers the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation, National Security Agencies, the Nigeria Police and the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission for direct funding from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation.
Also Included in the amendment is the transfer of some sensitive constitutional items like wages, pensions, Railways etc, from the Exclusive List to the Concurrent Lists.
However the 23 amendments will have to be approved by 2/3 of the State Houses of Assembly before they can become operational, a necessity that made the Senate President, David Mark, to direct the forwarding of the report to all the 36 states of the federation immediately.
But after the Senate adopted the report, its Chairman on Rules and Business, Senator Ita Enang (PDP Akwa Ibom North) kicked against the process of the adoption.
According to Enang, since the Senate debated only 8 out of the 23 amendments , it was wrong for it to have adopted the whole report without needed debate.
He was however ruled out of Order by the Senate President who quoted senate standing order 53(6) to knock him off his argument.
Making clarifications on section 308, which confers immunity clause on the 36 states governors but purportedly removed by the House of Representatives last week, the Deputy Senate President, Ike EKweremadu at a briefing after the session, said the House position was rejected by the Senate at the conference committee.
According to him, “upon rejection of the move by the House to remove immunity confered on the governors by section 308 of the 1999 Constitution, lawmakers from both chambers adopted the Senate position of retaining the power of immunity for the governors, which made any amendment of the section not to appear in the already approved harmonized report at both chambers”.