Senate Postponed Voting On 1999 Constitution Because of Poor Attendance

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By Olusegun Emmanuel, Abuja.

Poor attendance by Senators on Wednesday stalled the voting on the proposed fresh amendments to the 1999 constitution earlier planned last week after concluding debates on the proposals, even as the voting was postponed indefinitely.

Also, the Upper Chamber struck out plan  to include the President of the Country in the process of new constitution initiation as proposed by its committee on Constitution Review Committee last week through alteration of the section 9 of the 1999 Constitution.

Senate President David Mark lamented the poor attendance by Senators describing constitution amendments as a serious thing which requires the input of all the senators

He said: We have voted clause by clause here before. We want many more Senators to be in the chamber to be able to vote. The number at the moment is too close to the margin. It means many senators are not around. The Constitutional amendment is a serious issue and I think it is proper. And I think it is important we all participate in it. Whether we are ‘for’ or ‘against’ it doesn’t really matter.

“A senator’s stand on a Constitutional matter should be very clear. I think when we have so many absentees it doesn’t look nice. So I have no objection to deferring it. When we debated the other day there was a very controversial issue debated upon, a situation that requires all Senators to be present at such time”.

On the withdrawal of the controversial clause 9, Mark said the committee acted rightly as the clause generated intense debate among senators last week” the committee in its own wisdom decided to withdraw it,thats the right thing for the committee to do, it shows they are sensible, so we defer voting on this till another legislative day and that amendment withdrawn”

The bill seeks to amend Section 3 (b) of Clause 2 of the constitution dealing with how a new constitution can be processed. You will recall that Section 9 of the first Alteration Bill provided for how a new constitution can come into being through the National Assembly. The aim of this insertion is to make provision for the President in addition to the National Assembly to initiate the process of a new constitution.

Secondly, Alteration of Section 68 and 109 to mandate the Clerk of the National Assembly and the Clerks of States Houses of Assembly to notify the Independent National Electoral Commission in writing seven days of the existence of a vacancy arising from death, resignation or defection of a member of the National Assembly or a member of the State House of Assembly respectively.

“Alteration of Section 134 and 179 which aim to extend the time for conducting presidential and governorship re-run election  from seven days to 21 days as contained in Clause 4 and INEC is seeking for an extension of the seven days to 21 days after results have been announced.”

The bill further seeks to,The next is the empowerment of INEC to de-register political parties which fail to win presidential, governorship, chairmanship of a local government area council, or a seat in the National or States Assembly elections.

“The conferment of exclusive jurisdiction on the Federal High Court for the trial of offences arising from, pertaining to or connected to the violation of the provisions of the Electoral Act and any other election related act of the National Assembly.

After our meeting with the INEC they came up with the suggestion that instead of setting up another bureaucracy that we confer the federal High Court with the powers to trial election offences.”

” To alter the Third Schedule of the Constitution in Clause 8 to include former Senate Presidents and Speakers of the House of Representatives as members of the Council of States. Today the Senate President and the Speaker but the former Senate Presidents and Speakers are not. Under the Constitution former CJs are members of the Council of States in addition to the serving CJN.”

Majority of the Senators who opposed the inclusion of the President in the initiation of the new constitution said it may be an attempt by President Goodluck Jonathan to sneak in the referendum of the ongoing National Conference into the constitution  and in the process usurping the powers of the National Assembly

Most of the Senators speaking in favour of the bill said the amendment is in tandem with Senate rules which states that “there is already provision for three classes of bills, namely members’ bills, executive bills and private member bills.”

However, the Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu who is the Chairman of the committee on the review of the 1999 constitution told the Senate yesterday that committee in its own wisdom has decided to withdraw clause 9 of the proposal

He said: “During debates on the proposed amendment to Section 9, there were some issues that arose, and the Committee on Constitution Review decided to meet yesterday (Tuesday), to review some aspect of our proposals.

“The Committee resolved and mandated me to seek the indulgence of the Senate to withdraw further amendment to the Section. But every other item would remain. So, on behalf of the Committee I make this solemn application”