Senate sets December 2016 target to end constitution amendment

Edwin Akwueh, Abuja

The Senate has assured Nigerians that the current constitution review exercise would be concluded by December 2016, to insulate the process from partisan politics and other narrow interests.

Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu gave the assurance on Friday at the opening of the committee’s retreat in Lagos.

He chairs the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution.

“No constitution anywhere in the world was cast in iron, for constitutions are made for the good of the citizens, not citizens for the constitution, hence the tradition to retouch or overhaul or even change a constitution entirely to reflect new imperatives and serve the nation better,” Senator Ekweremadu said.

Fourth Alteration Bill
He regretted the non-assent to the Fourth Constitution (Alteration) Bill but assured Nigerians that the amendments contained in the Fourth Alteration Bill were not lost as the document would form the formwork of the current exercise.

According to the Deputy Senate President, major proposals that scaled through, haven received the approvals of the National Assembly and at least 24 State Assemblies included the removal of presidential assent to Constitution Amendment Bills, prescription of a 30-day time limit for presidential assent to bills or return passed by the National Assembly failing which they would automatically become laws, and separation of the Office of the Minister of Justice from the Office of the Attorney-General.

The separation he said would help to promote justice and anti-corruption war. Other alterations include financial autonomy for State Assemblies, and streamlining of legislative lists and devolution of more Powers from the exclusive list to the concurrent list.

 Pre-election matters
There were also the setting of timeline for the conclusion of pre-election matters and creation of Office of the Accountant-General of the Nigerian Government different from the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation to promote accountability, transparency and good governance.

Senator Ekweremadu blamed the presidential veto of the Bill and the ‘dragging’ of the National Assembly to the Supreme Court by the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, to prevent the federal legislature from overriding the presidential veto for the failure of the Fourth Alteration to become part of the nation’s constitution.

“So, it can be clearly seen that the inability of the Fourth Alteration to become part of our constitution was not in any way the fault of the National Assembly. Unfortunate as the events were, we also have some lessons and experience to draw from them; first is the need to always conclude constitution amendment processes far ahead of election season to reduce the contamination of an otherwise patriotic exercise by personal, political and other narrow considerations,” he explained.

Senator Ekweremadu also reminded members of the Senate Committee on the Review of the Constitution that the retreat had two broad objectives, namely, ‘to engage in a diagnosis of our current constitution, pointing out errors, weaknesses and also to chart a path toward national rejuvenation by offering proposals and suggestions that will make our constitution better.’

The President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki, who inaugurated the Committee, recalled that since independence, Nigerians had sought to develop for themselves a workable constitution.

Although constitution amendment had always been a challenging exercise, Senator Saraki stated that the National Assembly was equal to the task of giving Nigerians a constitution that would make the country better.

He therefore challenged the committee to look at areas that reasonable consensus had been achieved in the last constitution review exercise.

The Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode described the Nigerian Constitution as the guiding principle for good governance.

Mr. Ambode urged the participants to use the opportunity of the retreat to work out ways to engender transparency and accountability in the country and viable federalism.

The Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General of the State, Mr. Adeniyi Kazeem represented the Lagos State Governor.

The retreat is being attended by some members of the House of Representatives Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution led by its Chairman and the Deputy Speaker, Yusuf Lasun and the Speakers of the 36 State Assemblies.