Would the 9th National Assembly Pull Through Its Constitution amendment?

Would the 9th National Assembly Pull Through Its Constitution amendment?

Hopes were high that the 9th Assembly will break the jinx and conduct a successful review of the constitution. The committees of both chambers – the Senate and the House of Representatives had hit the ground running after the committee’s inauguration. They followed the template established by the 7th and 8th Assemblies and rather than

Hopes were high that the 9th Assembly will break the jinx and conduct a successful review of the constitution. The committees of both chambers – the Senate and the House of Representatives had hit the ground running after the committee’s inauguration.

They followed the template established by the 7th and 8th Assemblies and rather than pack all the amendments into a single bill, which could see everything being thrown out if there is an error in one, the 9th Assembly have several bills proposing amendments to the 1999 constitution (Amended). The system worked when the then National Assembly sent 30 bills to President Muhammadu Buhari who signed only four of them.

Finding the Working Strategy

But for the segmentation, the President could have declined assent and the whole effort destroyed in one fell swoop. The 9th National Assembly inherited and re-introduced some of the bills that Mr President declined his assent.

That was the strategy adopted by the 9th Assembly. 42 constitution amendment bills were transmitted to the State Houses of Assembly for consideration and approval in March 2022. That was after both chambers have heard public hearings across the country and have jointly ratified the bills. Constitutionally, two thirds of the State Houses of Assembly must approve each of the bills for it to be ripe for transmission to Mr. President for assent.

State Houses of Assembly’s Demands
But, the 36 state Assemblies were not in a hurry to do the needful to the bills that came from the National Assembly partly because they collectively wanted some bills included in what ought to be considered and partly as a result of clash of interest.

State governors who have tremendous influence on their state Assemblies are interested in some of the bills and would love them not to see the light of the day. One of such bills was that of financial autonomy for the local government tier of government. Also, the state Assemblies felt they too deserve some special sitting allowances for working on the constitution review.

They were told the National Assembly budgets one billion naira annually for the committees. For the four-year duration, each constitution review committee of the National Assembly gets two billion each to organise public hearing and town hall meeting in the six geo- political zones. The state Houses of Assembly, whose role is also important in the exercise gets little or nothing. Little wonder the were foot dragging.

One major drawback of the process was that late last year, (2022), the Conference of speakers of state Houses of Assembly threatened to discontinue the process unless the national assembly revisited the constitutional alteration bills relating to, 1. creation of state police ,2. listing of the national assembly service commission and states assembly service commission in the constitution to guarantee their independence ,3. establishment of state judicial council to guarantee financial and administrative autonomy of states judiciary and 4. local government financial autonomy. But the national Assembly they alleged, failed or refused to respond to these demands

In October 2022, Senator Omo-Agege, who is the chairman of the Constitution Review committee, complained that only 11 State Houses of Assembly (SHA) considered and voted on the bills. And that 25 other states had threatened to take no action on the bills unless four more constitution amendment bills are considered and passed by the National Assembly.

The four bills are meant to Establish State Police; Establish State Judicial Council; Streamline the procedure for removing Presiding Officers of State Houses of Assembly; and, institutionalise Legislative Bureaucracy in the Constitution. Their demands were contained in a letter from the Conference of Speakers to the National Assembly Joint Committee on Constitutional Review.

Governors Overbearing Influence on State Assemblies

Senator Omo-Agege lamented the undue interference with legislative processes by some state governors. The governors, he reported, worked tirelessly to turn the Conference of Speakers and some state Assemblies into political puppets. But the National Assembly was not ready to be held to ransom by waiting indefinitely for all its bills to return from the states.

The National Assembly on Tuesday said 35 bills have met the requirement of the provision of Section 9(2) of the Constitution, and has therefore transmitted the 35 out of the 44 Constitution amendment bills to President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent. The lawmakers directed the Clerk to the National Assembly to transmit the 35 bills – that have so far met the requirement of the provision of Section 9(2) of the Constitution – to the president for assent.

At least 24 state assemblies as required by law have passed the bills, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele reported to the Senate.
The state assemblies, however, failed to vote on the two bills that sought financial and legislative autonomy for local governments.

The Senate at its sitting on Tuesday also urged the Gombe, Jigawa, Kebbi, Kwara, Oyo, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba, and Zamfara assemblies, which have yet to forward their resolutions on the bills, to do so.

The resolution to transmit the 35 bills followed the deliberation on a motion sponsored by the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo- Agege, and 66 other senators.

Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, from Ekiti state ,who presented the report, said the 27 states that have forwarded their resolutions on the bills are Abia, Adamawa, Akwa-Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Borno, Cross-River, Delta, Ebonyi and Edo States. Others are Ekiti, Enugu, Imo, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kogi, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Rivers and Yobe States.

Would the President Sign the Bills?

The ball is now in the court of Mr. President. The bill will have to undergo another bureaucracy at the executive arm of government, where officials will synchronise the new laws with existing laws and ensure that there are no contradictions and that none of the laws takes away or usurps the authority of the executive arm of government.

Time is running out fast as the National Assembly has only a few more months in office. Members have proceeded on a recess now and may not be back until sometimes in March 2023 after the governorship and state Assemblies elections. Some who will participate in the election may equally be distracted by developments at the various Election Tribunals after the election.

An Expert’s Perspective

NDR spoke to an expert on the issues involved in the making of the amendments and the remaining hurdles to be crossed. Ms Nkiru Uzodi, Programme Manager, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre(PLAC) a Civil Society Organisation that worked tirelessly with the national Assembly to ‘clean’ the bills said the prospects of the amendments scaling through depends on the political will of Mr President.

Ms Nkiru Uzodi

Her words: “the president can actually veto some of the amendments. He can say ‘no’ to some of them. So it depends on how it affects his own powers, the executive powers. That has been the trend. The executive is usually reluctant to sign off legislation that tends to curtail or regulate their own powers. But considering the fact that the president is on his second tenure and is on his way out, the disposition this time around may be different.

To achieve the desired goal of the President assenting to the bills, Ms. Uzodi said a lot would depend on advocacy, public advocacy and pressure on why Mr. President should assent to some of these bills.

Is There Enough Time?
There is enough time, she answered. Her words: “Yes. I think there is enough time. Even though the elections are coming up very soon, and everybody is focused on it, but ‘yes’ there is enough time for the president to sign.

“The 10th Assembly can continue if he declines assent. A lot of these bills that were passed are bills that came from the 8th Assembly. Some of them did not scale through. Some of them, the President did not sign and they brought them back in this 9th Assembly. If the same thing happens, the 10th Assembly can continue but they will need to reintroduce the bills.

“Assent will depend on the political will and the nature of each of the bills. The good thing is that they are going as different bills. The president can choose which of the bills that he believes he should sign”, she stressed.

Those familiar with the workings an thinking in the Presidential villa, Abuja say chances are high that President Buhari would sign some of the bills. They said his administration has time to get legal advise on some of the contentious bills from the Attorney General of the Federation.

It would be recalled that President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan signed the Freedom of Information Act on 28th May,2011 the eve of his inauguration as President.

Keen observers of President Buhari’s action opine that the president would want to do things that will etch his name in gold, not minding whose ox is gored. He wants to leave behind some positive legacies.

More importantly, it could be pay-back time from the President to the National Assembly which has been exceptionally generous and supportive of President Buhari in the last four years. He may want to assent to most of the bills as a parting gift to some the National Assembly for their support in the last eight years. The Senate President was reported saying the 9th National Assembly would approve any bill emanating from the President. They demonstrated this by approving every loan request presented to the National Assembly. Senate President Lawan said “any request that comes from Buhari is “good for the nation” and the Senate will take immediate action on them”. It is time to see if President Buhari would reciprocate their good measures.

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