Law

Dust over Constitution amendment

Lawyers push for new Constitution

FRANCIS IWUCHUKWU writes that amidst bickering by the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly over amendment of the Constitution, lawyers have faulted the exercise, saying it is a deception that won’t take the country anywhere

 

Some senior lawyers have criticized the on-going con-stitution amendment pro-cess by the National Assem-ly. The lawyers while baring their minds on the issue at the weekend described the 1999 Constitution as a bad document that cannot be amended.

 

The lawyers spoke amidst the controversies trailing allegation by the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, that State Houses of As-sembly want to truncate the amend-ment process.

 

Omo-Agege, who is the Chair-man, Senate Committee on Constitu-tion Review, had on October 18, 2022, announced to Nigerians that the present moves by the National As-sembly to carry out an amendment of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution is being frustrated by State Houses of Assembly.

 

This frustration was made pub-lic by Omo-Agege while speaking to journalists through a press con-ference at the National Assembly Complex, Abuja. While describing the situation as unfortunate in view of the fact that the amendment pro-cess requires the input of the State Assemblies before the amendment can be passed into law, Omo-Agege argued that six months after the pro-posed Bills to be amended in the 1999 Constitution were transmitted to the 36 State Houses of Assembly; only 11 States have forwarded their resolu-tions in line with the provisions of the Constitution, while 25 States have not given any response.

 

This, according to the Deputy Sen-ate President, remains a sign that the Constitution review exercise by the 9th National Assembly may likely not be possible due to the alleged re-fusal of 25 State Houses of Assembly to consider any of the 44 items sent to them for concurrence.

Issues in contention

According to Omo-Agege, 25  States are demanding the National Assembly to include the establish-ment of State Police, State Judicial Council, Streamlining of procedures for removing presiding officers of State Houses of Assembly and insti-tutionalisation of legislative bureau-cracy in the Constitution.

In the words of Omo-Agege, the position of the 25 States against the review exercise without the inclu-sion of their four demands was com-municated to the Senate in a letter written to that effect by the Confer-ence of Speakers of State Assem-blies, just as he added that only 11 out of the 36 States Houses of Assembly have considered some of the 44 Bills transmitted to them for concurrence in March this year.

The Constitution Review Chair-man also expressed disappointment that the Speakers of State Houses of Assembly through a letter to the National Assembly Joint Commit-tee on Constitution Review have given four conditions upon which the remaining 25 States will pass the amendments.

 

Omo-Agege described the said let-ter as the “hands of Esau and voice of Jacob”, with a further insistence that “state governors are behind the action of the speakers to stall the process”.

Omo-Agege listed the eleven states that have sent their resolutions to en-able the Constitutional amendment process to be possible to include Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Delta, Edo, Kaduna, Katsina, Kogi, Lagos, Ogun and Osun.

Governors’ culpability

In pointing accusing fingers at the governors of the affected states that are said to be behind the actions taken by the respective State Houses of Assemblies, Omo-Agege insisted that the action is a way of frustrating efforts at giving financial and admin-istrative autonomy to local govern-ment councils across the country.

 

His words: “Six months after transmitting 44 Bills to State Assem-blies for concurrence, it is most dis-heartening to inform you that only 11 State Houses of Assembly have demonstrated their independence and loyalty to the Constitution re-  garding the Bills.

“More worrisome is that while we are still expecting the receipt of the resolutions of the remaining Houses of Assembly, we received a letter from the Conference of Speakers of State Assemblies informing the National Assembly that the remaining States will not act on the 44 Bills unless the National Assembly passes four new Bills they have proposed in the letter.

“The National Assembly is in no way averse to acting on any proposed Bill or memoranda appropriately tabled before it, at any time in its life. However, it is legally inappropriate for the Conference of Speakers to use the four Bills as a ‘quid pro quo’ to act on the 44 Bills the National Assembly transmitted”.

Omo-Agege also insisted that the National Assembly will not fold its arms at the brazen attempt by some governors to truncate a constitution-al process.

In describing the situation as wor-risome such that some state gover-nors will stop at nothing to pocket the Conference of Speakers and turn some State Assemblies into what he tagged as “political puppets”, thereby undermining and delegitimising the legislative institution at the State level, Omo-Agege revealed that the interference has been ramped up, especially in opposition to the Bills granting financial and administra-tive autonomy to local governments.

“The Bills the National Assembly transmitted to the State Houses of Assembly as required by the Consti-tution are not about members of the National Assembly. It transcends our personal and political interests. It is about the people who have graciously given us the temporary privilege to serve them.

“It is therefore disheartening that some State Houses of Assembly through the Conference of Speak-ers would give the National Assem-bly conditions before fulfilling their constitutional obligations. “The plot by the State Governors and Speakers and members of Houses of Assem-blies is in total disregard of the Na-tion’s Constitution, stating that the independence of legislation is being threatened.

“An independent State legislature is essential to the well-being of Nige-ria’s constitutional democracy. That is why the ongoing attempt by some state governors with the support of some Speakers and allies in the State Houses of Assembly to eliminate that independence should alarm all Ni-gerians.

“This posturing by the Confer-ence of Speakers of State Assemblies should be shown for what it truly is, a total disregard for the Nigerian Con-stitutional system.
“It remains true that each State House of Assembly is independent of the other. However, Constitution amendment Bills require the approv-al of two-thirds (24) of the 36 States’ House of Assembly before they can be presented for the President’s as-sent.

“Therefore, how a State Assem-bly decides on each of the Bills is its  prerogative. But, there must be a deci-sion for citizens to know where each State House of Assembly stands on the issues the Bills seek to address”, Omo-Agege said.

 

Explaining how the National As-sembly came about the 66 Bills for amendment, Omo-Agege explained that the Constitution review com-mittee had extended invitations for written submissions from citizens, in-terest groups, socio-cultural organisa-tions and civil society organisations. He further explained that the Ad-hoc Committee held zonal public hearings at 12 centres across the six geo-political zones; and a national public hearing in Abuja.

Omo-Agege added that after sev-eral meetings and engagements with the State Houses of Assembly, the Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives recom-mended 66 Constitution Alteration Bills for passage.

Out of the 66 Bills, only 44 were approved by the Senate and House of Representatives, resulting in the 44 Bills being transmitted to the 36 State House of Assemblies

He commended all State Houses of Assembly that have successfully considered and approved the Consti-tution Alteration Bills.

Omo-Agege further urged the re-maining 25 State Houses of Assembly to keep faith with Nigerians and the Constitution they swore to uphold by considering the 44 Bills.

Speakers’ Conference fumes

Meanwhile, the Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures of Ni-geria, while reacting to Omo-Agege’s allegation vowed not to allow the Na-tional Assembly or anybody to black-mail the Forum concerning issues of Constitution Amendment.

In a statement, the Forum’s Chairman, who is also the Speaker of Bauchi State House of Assembly, Abubakar Suleiman, regretted that the comments credited to the Deputy Senate President on the ongoing Con-stitution review exercise.

Suleiman said: “Although a re-joinder to the claims made by the Deputy Senate President would have been unnecessary, it however became necessary to react to it in view of the fact that it was with the intention of blackmailing and undermining the State Houses of Assembly and with the aim of misleading the public.

“It is very clear that the press conference was designed not only to blackmail the State Houses of As-sembly but also to undermine them. And we like to make it clear that we will not give in to blackmail and in-timidation by anyone no matter how highly placed.

“It is therefore imperative we make clarifications in the misrepresenta-tions of the Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures of Nigeria and indeed the State Houses of Assembly in the press release”.

According to him, Omo-Agege rightly alluded to a letter by the Con-ference of Speakers of State Legisla-tures of Nigeria conveying the four Bills for consideration by the National Assembly, just as he pointed out that the letter was addressed to the two Chairmen of both the Committees of the National Assembly on the Consti-tution Review separately.

Suleiman explained that what was being raised in their letter as highlighted by the Deputy Senate President remains the same issues they have raised constantly in several  forums of their engagements with the two committees on Constitution Review of the National Assembly long before the transmission of the resolutions of the National Assem-bly to the State Houses of Assembly.

As a major stakeholder in the Constitution alteration exercise and the representatives of the people at the grassroots, Suleiman argued that they are by far in a better position to know the basic and pressing needs of the people; hence, their appeal for the inclusion of the Bills.

“For instance, the issue of insecu-rity should agitate any conscientious leaders. So, we believe this should be tackled frontally by the government. The best and the most generally ac-cepted way to curb the menace, we believe, is by providing for state polic-ing in the Constitution.

“Sadly, the proposed amendment was missing in the Resolutions transmitted by the National Assem-bly to the State Houses of Assembly.

“So, for the great importance of this proposed amendment and oth-ers namely, streamlining the proce-dure for removing Presiding Officers of State Assemblies, Institutionalis-ing State Legislative Bureaucracy in the Constitution, and Establishing State Judicial Council; the Confer-ence of Speakers further appealed to the National Assembly for their inclusion in the exercise.

“Expectedly, a reply by Sen. Ovie Omo-Agege to our letter was received on the 6th October, 2022 acknowledg-ing the importance of the four Bills for incorporation in the alteration exercise and appealing to the State Houses of Assembly to proceed on the initial 44 Bills transmitted”, he stated
With the strong appeal by Omo-Agege and assurance that the four Bills would be considered, Suleiman revealed that the State Houses of As-sembly have already proceeded on the ratification of the resolutions of the National Assembly on the Con-stitution Review.

His words: “It is rather very dis-heartening that the Deputy Senate President could make a turnaround within few days of his reply to our letter to blackmail the Hon Speakers of the State Houses of Assembly by erroneously saying the Conference of Speakers are using the four Bills as a ‘quid pro quo’ to act on the 44 Bills the National Assembly trans-mitted to State Houses of Assembly.

“The inconsistency and flip-flop displayed in his statements are re-grettable and beneath the dignity of the occupant of such a revered office.

 

by Sen. Ovie Omo-Agege, the actual number of the State Houses of As-sembly that have so far passed the resolutions of the National Assem-bly on the Constitution Review is 16. They are; Abia, Anambra, Enugu, Delta, Edo, Akwa Ibom, Lagos, Ogun, Osun, Ekiti, Kogi, Benue, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Katsina, and Adamawa States. We believe the misrepresen-tation was deliberate to demonise the Hon Speakers and the State Houses of Assembly in the eye of the citi-zenry. This is also regrettable and disappointing.

“The Deputy Senate President in his statements has undermined the Hon Speakers of the State Houses of Assembly by suggesting that they are stooges to the Governors. Sena-tor Ovie Omo-Agege would perhaps want to see the Hon Speakers of the State Houses of Assembly be con-frontational with the Governors in their respective States.

“Agreed, one of the cardinal prin-ciples of democracy is checks and balances, but it must not be carried out in a confrontational manner. It is not out of place if the Executive Governors are carried along in the process of altering the Constitution of the nation, but it is wrong to in-sinuate that the Hon Speakers have abandoned their constitutional role for the Governors.

“His Excellency, the Deputy Presi-dent, Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in his statements said the transmission of the resolution of the National Assembly has been made for six months now. It is correct. How-ever, it should be made clear that the transmission was done when politi-cal parties’ National, Sub-National Conventions as well as parties’ pri-maries were being conducted in the country. Hence, the political parties’ primaries and other activities de-layed the process at the State level.

“The Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures of Nigeria has never truncated and will never truncate any constitution alteration exercise in the country. The Confer-ence has rather consistently served as a platform for the effective accom-plishment of the noble goals of the exercises”.

Lawyers speak

Some senior lawyers have argued that the 1999 Constitution has foisted a ‘suffocative system’ on the country and as such the current attempt at amending it is nothing but an exer-cise in futility. The lawyers; Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) and Mr. Ebun-Olu Ad-egboruwa (SAN) maintained that efforts of the National Assembly should be geared towards providing a brand new Constitution for the country, rather than amending the existing one.

In his view, Chief Mike Ozek-home, insisted that the 1999 Consti-tution is a “bad document” which cannot be amended.

Ozekhome said: “The National Assembly members are afraid; they want to amend. Can you amend a bad document? Even if you give it one million amendments, it cannot solve our problems”.

The silk is of the view that Nigeria currently operates under a “suffoca-tive system”, as a result of the Consti-tution which he described as a “false document from the pit of hell”.

On his part, Mr. Femi Falana, posited that Nigeria does not have a Constitution.
“What we call a Constitution is a legal document which is better called Decree 24 of 1999 signed into law by Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar.

“The Nigerian Constitution is not a legitimate document, but a legal document which we had all thought was going to midwife civil rule that will ultimately lead to genuine de-mocracy in our country”, Falana said.

For the senior lawyer, those ruling Nigeria are never interested in the debate about a new Constitution on the reason that “the current decree which they call a Constitution is suf-ficient for them”.

In his views, Mr. Ebun Olu-Adeg-boruwa, disclosed that the ongoing process by the National Assembly to review the 1999 Constitution is a deception that won’t take the country anywhere.

The silk called for a referendum to determine Nigeria’s continued existence, saying the country needs a new Constitution.

Adegboruwa said: “In Section 9 of the Constitution for which the National Assembly is hiding, there is a provision there that states that if you want to amend a constitution, if you want to do things that require fundamental operations of the exis-tence of this nation, all you need do is to ensure there is a referendum, there is a particular process that will go around all the states of Nigeria.

“In other words, it is possible for the National Assembly in the ef-forts they are making, if at all they are sincere, with all due respect to them, to use this particular process to convene a National Conference for the purpose of agreeing on what will be the terms of the existence of this nation”.

 

 

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