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Last week, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, disclosed that the fourth constitution amendment bill would be re-transmitted to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent.

Last week, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, disclosed that the fourth constitution amendment bill would be re-transmitted to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent.

He made the disclosure when he received the report of the 2015 elections European Union Observer Mission in Nigeria from the Chief Observer, Mr. Santiago Fisas in his office. Dogara told his visitors that the constitution alteration bill was duly submitted to former president, Goodluck Jonathan, but was not assented to before he completed his tenure on May 29, this year.
He, however, said the Bill is still very much alive in the National Assembly as both chambers have provided savings for such legislation after amending their standing rules and that they will not commence afresh.
Dogara hinted the EU delegation that the National Assembly had made provisions for independent candidates in the Bill which was also supported by overwhelming vote of two-third majority of the State Houses of Assembly in Nigeria.
“I wish to inform you that some of the recommendations by the mission such as independent candidature has received the support of the National Assembly,” he said.
He, however, regretted that “it is one of the casualties of the non-signing of the Bill by the former President. I want to assure you that we will definitely revisit that amendment as it increases the democratic space and more citizen participation in the electoral process.”
Nigeria, according to the Speaker, “is committed to the growing of a robust democracy that not only meets domestic aspirations, but indeed, that which can stand the test of international best practices in a world that has been reduced into a global village.”
The Speaker's pronouncement is in line with the Legislative Agenda of the 8th House of Representatives. In the 21-paged agenda, the work carried out by the 53 member Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) headed by the former Deputy Speaker, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha was described as laudable. It is therefore, understandable that the House expressed its commitment to see to the signing of the reviewed constitution. The pronouncement made by Dogara could therefore, be seen as the first step to getting President Buhari's assent.
But how good is the work carried out by the 7th House? According to the chairman of the committee, his team worked with the priority areas as deciphered from the feedback from Nigerians.
Ihedioha, while presenting the final product from his committee in July 2013, had assured that this time around, the people were involved in making the laws that govern them. He had said:
“The team of experts carefully analysed the memoranda and sifted from them, the most pressing demands by Nigerians. These key issues were formulated into a forty-three (43) items template of issues, which the Committee put before Nigerians during the Peoples' Public Sessions on the Review of the Constitution, which was held simultaneously in all the three hundred and sixty (360) federal constituencies in Nigeria on 10th November 2012.
“On that day, the 360 members of the House relocated to their constituencies to participate in the sessions with their constituents, elected members of the state Houses of Assembly, elected chairmen of local government councils, representatives of civil society organizations and other stakeholders in the Nigerian project. This was akin to a sort of national referendum, approximating the often cited demand for a Sovereign National Conference by a vocal section of the Nigerian elite.
“The forty three (43) item template of issues which the Nigerian people voted on at the end of the sessions and the collated results from the reports of the sessions submitted to the Committee by the member representing each federal constituency are attached to this Report.
“Since the conclusion of the Peoples' Public Sessions and the public presentation of the collated results arising from them, which was made on 18 April 2013, the Committee had worked hard and undertaken several activities leading up to the preparation of the Report that is being presented today”.
Certain issues dominated the parts of constitution which Nigerians wanted to be amended. Respondents in response to the call for memoranda by the committee had listed issues they want addressed in the new constitution  to include fiscal federalism, financial autonomy and independence of state Houses of Assembly and local government councils, mode of altering the constitution and citizenship and indigeneship question.
Important matters such as devolution of powers from the centre to the states, independent candidacy in elections and the removal of immunity clause for the president, vice-president and governors, creation of states and establishment of state police.
Also, the House referred about 25 Bills to the committee for further legislative action after they had been read the second time following debate on their general principles. The Committee considered those Bills, some of which included    A Bill for an Act to alter Sections 7 and 162 of the Constitution to provide for independence and financial autonomy of local government councils in Nigeria, and for related matters;  2011 (H.B 122). A Bill for an Act to alter the Constitution of Nigeria provide a definite date for the President to present an Appropriation Bill for the next financial year to the National Assembly, 2011(H.B114). There were also- A Bill for an Act to alter the provisions of Part II of the First Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, by deleting the word “Plateau” in line 14 and inserting instead  thereof the word “Nasarawa”, 2011, (H.B 102).  A Bill for an Act to alter sections 89 and 129 to direct the Attorney-General of the Federation to prosecute any person or authority found wanting by the Senate or the House of Representatives; and for connected matters, 2011, (H.B 177).
While the new move by the National Assembly might be laudable, observers believe that the constitutional  issues raised when the Bill was forwarded to former President Goodluck Jonathan are yet to be addressed. Jonathan had kicked against the Bill, citing certain areas he felt uncomfortable about. He had approached the Supreme Court and eventually secured an injunction which hindered the last Assembly from overriding the decision of the former president.
Jonathan had questioned the rationale behind the reversal of certain privileges enjoyed by the president and arrogated such to members. Raising about 13 grounds, President Jonathan, in a letter entitled: “Re: Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Fourth Alteration Act, 2015,” had questioned the authority  of the National Assembly to arrogate to itself, the power to pass any constitution amended without the assent of the President.
He had also picked holes in whittling down the power of the President, allowing the National Judicial Council, NJC, to appoint the Attorney-General of the Federation, separating the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation from that of the Federal Government, and limiting the period when expenditure can be authorised in default of appropriation from six months to three months, among others.
Leading lawyers, who endorsed the former President Jonathan's action then were Professor Itse Sagay (SAN), Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN), Mr Festus Keyamo and Mr Kayode Ajulo.
Shocked by the President's letter, the National Assembly Conference Committee, comprising members of the Constitution Review Committee in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, then began a two-day retreat to look into the Bill and the attendant consequences of the President's action.
The former Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN,) had said that the National Assembly would go ahead to do the needful in the interest of the country.
According to him:“We are still reviewing the situation. But I guess that by next week, a clear position will emerge. There is no reason to entertain fears that the efforts of the National Assembly will be wasted efforts. I believe that whatever decisions we take regarding our next step in respect of the Constitutional amendment will be in the best interest of the Nigerian people.
“We are meeting, we are reviewing the situation, we keep getting served with court processes. We are reviewing it. We are still reviewing every aspect of the constitution. By next week, you will have a very clear picture. We are being served on a daily basis with different court processes and that is still under review. We have just been served but definitely, we will brief lawyers to represent the National Assembly.”
Similarly, the then chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Senator Ita Enang had also argued, saying: “As at now I am speaking, I have not seen the court order to know the parties and to know the prayers before the court and the details of the order and to whom it was directed. So, I will reserve all comments until we are served with the court order and we know the contents of the order, and the result of it on legislative process, therefore, we will not be able to be categorical on this matter.
“It is about the action of the court which we are bound but we have to know, if it is about the action of the court, let us know whether we are the parties and whether it is in relation to the matter that is being handled by us. Unless and until we are served to know the terms of the order, we will not be able to be precise on what to do.”
The Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu who was the Chairman of the Constitution Review Committee had said that no amount of propaganda from any quarter was going to deter the National Assembly from going ahead with the constitution amendment even as he then said that it had not been served with any court process stopping the amendment.
He had said, “As I speak to you, there is no court process that has been served on National Assembly. So, as far as I am concerned, there is nothing in court. We also read in the papers that Bayo Ojo wrote a letter on behalf of the government, asking us not to deliberate on the matter pending the matter in court. I want to also say that no letter was received from Bayo Ojo or anybody whatsoever. It's just share media propaganda. But I want to assure Nigerians that we will resist it.”
Prominent political commentator and chairman of Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA), Emma Onwubiko is one of those who support the move by the House to re-present the bill for the president's signature. Onwubiko who spoke with Daily Sun in Abuja, said it will amount to a waste of scare resources if the bill isn't signed into law.
For him, Buhari's signature will save the country money and time, especially as the constitution can always be amended to suit the wishes of the people.
He said: “Nigerians are keen on having a constitution that will be good enough to capture all the developmental areas; so we will have a democracy that is beneficial to the people.
“For instance, one of the high points of the work carried out by the 7th Assembly is the issue of state police. We in HURIWA, think that having state police as recommended by the 7th Assembly is good. This is because we think that having state police is one way of ensuring that lives and property of Nigerians are well secured. Of course, you know that securing lives and property is the fundamental duty of government as stated in the constitution.
“Yes, there are certain areas that the constitutional  amendment process ought to have tackled that it didn't,  the immunity clause being one of them. But by and large, based on the fact that a lot of money has been wasted in amending the constitution, about four billion was spent, it will be good that the process is concluded. Let the president sign the bill into law no matter how imperfect or incomplete it is. He should sign the bill so that we have a beginning point to constitutional amendment and the whole exercise that was carried out by the 7th assembly will not come to waste”.
Culled from Dailysun Newspaper.

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