Amidst Calls for A New Constitution, Fresh Amendment Process Gathers Momentum

Amidst Calls for A New Constitution, Fresh Amendment Process Gathers Momentum

The momentum for a fresh constitutional review gathered steam at the weekend with the Deputy President of the Senate and Chairman of the National Assembly Committee on the Review of the Constitution, Senator Barau Jibrin called for a robust collaboration among all stakeholders to drive the constitution amendment process to a successful conclusion. But the

The momentum for a fresh constitutional review gathered steam at the weekend with the Deputy President of the Senate and Chairman of the National Assembly Committee on the Review of the Constitution, Senator Barau Jibrin called for a robust collaboration among all stakeholders to drive the constitution amendment process to a successful conclusion. But the process has not diminished sporadic calls for the enactment of a brand-new constitution.

Senator Barau spoke at a joint retreat of the secretariat and the consultants to the Senate and House of Representatives committees on the review of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, in Abuja.

The Deputy Senate President who commended the synergy between the constitution review secretariat and consultants to the Senate and House of Representatives committees, said this will create harmony in the workings of both committees.

Senator Barau assured that the National Assembly will carry out the review of the constitution by a thorough aggregation of the yearnings of Nigerians from all walks of life through public hearings and collection of memoranda from various interest groups throughout the country, as well as embarking on a progressive engagement with state governments and legislatures and the federal government to achieve consensus on all issues.

His words: “We must work together. Our country is facing a lot of challenges and this is the right time to fashion out a constitution that will go in line with the wishes and aspirations of the people of this country.

“The world is dynamic and this compels all serious countries to go with modernity and fashion their laws by contemporary happenings within their peculiarities.

“We have started on a progressive note of collaboration and let us add momentum to this very important collaboration within our ranks to achieve a result that will help in driving the process of making prospective peace, justice, and fair play in the way we run our affairs as a nation,” he said.

The extant Nigerian Constitution has been altered five times. In 2010, 2011,2013,2015, and 2018.

In the first 2010 amendment, which was effected on 3 June 2010, it sought to provide for the financial independence of the National Assembly and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). On 4 November 2010, another alteration sought to provide for new timelines for the conduct of national elections by INEC, and on 15 December 2010, it sought to establish the National Industrial Court of Nigeria.

The fourth constitutional amendment process began in earnest in November 2012. They worked on it for three years and it was submitted to former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for assent in 2015 but he did not assent to it before leaving office on 29 May 2015. It was passed to former President Muhammadu Buhari who assented to it in 2018.

Ms. Rahila Dauda, a legal officer at the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) on Monday: “We have submitted both individually and collectively. Collectively, through a coalition coordinated by Action Aid and we have submitted one individually”, adding that the five unpassed gender bills are part of FIDA’s demand.

A staff of the Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre(WARDEC) who sought anonymity confirmed that the organisation is working on its memorandum to submit later on Monday before the close of submission on Tuesday.

Mrs Mutilat Fijabi, Executive Director, of Sustainable Gender Action Initiatives said: “The constitutional amendment process is still on and the National Assembly relevant committee is receiving memos. Sustainable Gender Action Initiatives has also forwarded its memo on relevant gender clauses including the gender and equal opportunities bill.

“The process is already in place with the submission of memorandums and as CSO we are waiting to follow through on all the stages of amendments”, she stressed.

A – step-by-step – guide – to – the – process – of – Amending – the – Nigerian – Constitution by Policy & Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) explains that Section 9 of the constitution states that the National Assembly can only pass an Act Act to amend the constitution when its proposal is supported by a two-thirds majority of all members( i.e 72 Senators and 240 Members of the House of Representatives) and approved by the resolution of at least two – thirds of the state Houses of Assembly (24 states)

*Proposals for amendment to the constitution usually come in the way of Bill. Usually, a Bill is read for a second time and its general principle is debated during plenary, after which it is referred to a committee that has been specifically assigned within the lifespan of the Assembly to critically examine and legislate over constitution amendment issues.

*The Committee reviews the Bill and ay organised a public hearing and other consultations on the Bill. The amendment proposals are presented as one Constitution Amendment Bill or as several Bills touching on different subject matters in a report to plenary.

*Before the Bill progresses to the third reading, every member of the legislature votes either in support or against each specific item in the Bill.

*The votes are then collated and counted, usually after electronic voting.

*Once two-thirds of the total number of Senators or Members voting in each Chamber is achieved in any of the proposals of the Committee, the process moves to the next stage.

*If an amendment occurs at either of the Houses on the Bill or each House passes the bill with differences, a conference committee will be set up to harmonies the difference.

*If both Houses are not able to harmonies positions, the bill will be returned to respective Chambers for fresh voting.

*The bill is then transmitted to the State Houses of Assembly by the Clerk of the National Assembly for their concurrence.

*A simple majority vote of members in 24 states will be required for each amendment to be approved.

*When two-thirds of the states approve each clause by simple majority, returns are then made to the National Assembly after which it is adopted and transmitted to the President for assent.

There have been divergent calls to the National Assembly on the need for the creation of a new constitution, instead of the statutory amendments or reviews which have been ongoing in the last 20 years.

While some members of the House of Representatives said the process of creating a new constitution would lead to anarchy and chaos, some eminent Nigerians are of the view that the 1999 Constitution is fundamentally flawed and cannot be amended.

Those championing the call for a brand new constitution include The Patriots, a fraction of the Pan Yoruba cultural group, Afenifere, some former state governors, and some legal luminaries while the proponents of constitutional amendment are led by members of the National Assembly.

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Abbas Tajudeen recently admitted that some citizens are calling for the Constitution to be entirely discarded instead of amended, but that even more mature democracies have accepted this position of amending the Constitution like the United States had ratified 27 amendments to its Constitution.

“While some citizens argue that the document should be entirely discarded, it is important to remember that democratic consolidation can only be incremental and gradual,” Hon. Abbas said.

The House Committee on Constitution Review, chaired by Deputy Speaker Benjamin Kalu, has so far received 13,500 memoranda on various subject matters.

These include state police, state creation, devolution of power, local government autonomy, etc. We have subcommittees looking at the various subject matters. By next week (Tuesday or Wednesday) we are holding a town hall meeting to train experts on various subject matters.

However, the chairman of, the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Yemi Adaramodu, said the issue of the amendments will be taken seriously as the lawmakers resume on Tuesday.

“The issue of constitutional review will be taken seriously. The issue of electoral reforms will be taken seriously also. Already, committees had been constituted in the Senate before we went on recess. We are going to hold critical meetings with stakeholders.

“We are going to move to the zones, which is necessary, to get the input of Nigerians and their desires in the constitution amendment and the electoral reforms,” Senator Adaramodu said.

Checks at the Senate revealed that bills and memoranda have been received with the issues of devolution of power, true federalism, local government autonomy, parliamentary system, state police, and giving roles to traditional rulers, among other issues being raised.

The bills are coming as private and member bills while the executive has announced it will submit bills in the amendment process. All the bills, if passed by the National Assembly, must get two-thirds approval from the 36 state houses of assembly.

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