By Uche Anichukwu
Constitution amendment in a multi-ethnic society like ours does not come easy, hence efforts to amend the 1999 Constitution suffered serial failure until Senator Ike Ekweremadu emerged in 2007 as the Deputy President of the 6th Senate and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitution Review.
Below is a highlight of Constitution amendment efforts piloted by Senator Ike Ekweremadu.
A. SUCCESSFUL AMENDMENTS (AMENDMENTS PASSED BY THE NASS, APPROVED BY TWO-THIRDS OR AT LEAST 24 STATE ASSEMBLIES, AND SIGNED BY THE PRESIDENT):
1. Amendments to Sections 145 and 190 of the Constitution to compel the President/Governor to transmit a letter to the National Assembly/State Assembly to enable their deputies act whenever they are to proceed on vacation or unable to discharge their functions. Failing to do so, the Vice President or Deputy Governor automatically assumes office in acting capacity after 21 days.
2. Amendments to enable a person sworn in as President or Governor to complete the term of an elected President or Governor, but disqualified from election to the same office for more than one more term.
3. Amendments to Sections 135 and 180 of the constitution were amended to straighten the remaining term of office of a President/Governor, who won a rerun election to include the period already spent in office.
4. Amendments to Sections 81, 84, and 160 of the Constitution were amended to make the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, financially and administratively independent. For instance, a proviso was inserted in Section 160 that in the case of INEC, its “powers to make its own rules or otherwise regulate its own procedure shall not be subject to the approval of the President”.
5. Section 156 of the Constitution was amended to remove membership of a political party as a qualification for appointment into INEC, thereby insulating members from partisan politics.
6. Amendments to Section 285 (5) to (8) to set time limits for the filing, hearing and disposal of election petition because to quicken justice.
7. Sections 76, 116, 132, and 178 to provide for a wider timeframe for the conduct of elections.
8. Amendments to Section 285 and the Sixth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution to reduce the composition of Tribunals to a Chairman and two Members and the quorum to just a Chairman and a member.
9. Amendments to Sections 66(h), 137(i), and 182(i) to delete the disqualification of persons indicted by an Administrative Panel from standing for election. this was sequel to abuses witnessed ahead of the 2007 general elections when many perceived “enemies” of the administration, including former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, were disqualified.
10. Stipulation of timeframes for filing, adjudication, and disposal of pre-election lawsuits in order to quicken justice.
11. Reduction of age qualification for political offices (Not Too Young to Run Bill).
12. Amendments to Sections 134, 179, and 225 of the Constitution to extend from seven to 21 days the period within which INEC shall conduct run-off election between the two leading presidential/gubernatorial candidates.
13. Insertion of Section 225A to stipulate the conditions and process for deregistration of political parties.
14. Also, the Constitution was amended to grant financial autonomy to the National Assembly to make it more independent and promote checks and balance. The same was extended to state legislatures and State Judiciary in the last National Assembly vide amendments to Section 121 (3).
15. Sections 6, 84, 240, 243, 287, 289, 292, 294, 295, 216, 318, the Third Schedule and Seventh Schedule to the Constitution were amended and a new Section 254 inserted to make the National Industrial Court a Court of superior record and equal in status with Federal High Court.
B. AMENDMENTS PASSED BY THE NASS, APPROVED BY TWO-THIRDS OR AT LEAST 24 STATE ASSEMBLIES, BUT NOT SIGNED BY THE PRESIDENT:
1. Devolution of powers by reorganising the Legislative Lists to move Railway, Aviation, Power, Stamp Duty etc. from Exclusive List to Concurrent List.
2. Separation of the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation/State from the Office of Minister/Commissioner for Justice. Office of the Attorney-General was granted financial autonomy and security of tenure to insulate it from political control. Also, to appoint an AGF, the National Judicial Council would advertise, then interview applicants, and recommend three candidates to the President, who would nominate one to the National Assembly for confirmation. Such an AGF could only be removed by a Presidential request supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate.
3. Procedure for the enactment of an entirely new constitution, which included referendum.
4. Inclusion of basic education and primary healthcare in fundamental and justiciable human rights.
5. Independent candidature.
6. Inclusion of electoral offences as grounds to disqualify candidates from future election.
7. Mandatory presentation of yearly State of the Nation address to a joint session of National Assembly by the President.
8. Straightening the processes for state creation to make them less cumbersome.
9. Removal of presidential assent to constitution amendment Bills as is the case in the US; financial autonomy for Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation to make it more independent.
10. Amendments to Section 59 compelling the President/Governor to transmit assent/veto of a Bill to parliament within 30 days (it is 10 days in the US), failing which such Bill becomes law automatically. Where override is necessary, parliament must exercise such power within seven days.
11. Sanction for disobeying legislative summons.
12. Inclusion of all former Presidents of the Senate and Speakers of the House of Representatives in the membership of the National Council of State as former heads of the other two arms (CJN and President/Head of State) are already included.
13. Creation of Office of the Accountant-General of Federal Government different from Accountant-General of the Federation to promote transparency and accountability.
14. Prohibition of courts/tribunals from granting a stay of proceedings on account of interlocutory appeals in electoral matters.
15. Conferment of criminal jurisdiction for electoral offences on the Federal High Court.
16. Pension for former presiding officers of the legislature as is the case with heads and deputy heads of the executive and the judiciary
17. Compulsory presentation of budget estimates by President/Governor latest September and passing of same latest December 31.
18. Reduction of the period the President/Governor could approve expenditure from the federal/state treasury based on previous year’s budget (in the absence of a new budget) from six to three months.
19. Timeframe for submission of ministerial nominees, which must also be accompanied with their respective portfolios.
20. Compulsory savings of a defined percentage of oil revenues for rainy days.
21. Protection of people living with disability.
C. AMENDMENTS PASSED BY THE NASS, BUT REJECTED BY STATE ASSEMBLIES
1. Every bit of attempts at extensive reform of local government system to ensure financial autonomy, uniformity of tenure, and a review of mode of Council elections, etc.
D. PROPOSALS NOT PASSED BY NASS, HENCE NOT TRANSMITTED TO STATE ASSEMBLIES FOR RATIFICATION
1. Decentralisation of policing to create state police, which Ekweremadu serially championed as the panacea for rising insecurity in Nigeria. He has again sponsored the Bill for the Creation of State Police in the current Senate.
2. Single term of five/six years for President and Governors and succession crisis/electoral excesses by incumbent candidates.
3. Abrogation of the immunity clause.
4. Removal of the Land Use Act from the Constitution.
6. Devolution of the Prisons (now known as the Nigerian Correctional Service)
7. State creation.