By Olusegun Emmanuel, Abuja.
Preponderance of opinions at the Senate on Wednesday was against a proposed amendment which seeks to allow the President to initiate a process of constitution amendment even as the Senate fixed Wednesday next week for electronic voting on the proposals.
The proposal submitted by the Senate’s Adhoc Committee on the Review of 1999 Constitution, was meant to amend section 9 of the 1999 constitution to create a window for the President of Nigeria to join the National Assembly in the process of initiating a new constitution.
The Chairman of the Adhoc Committee and Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who led debate on the constitution amendment proposals, said the aim of the alteration being sought in section 9 of the constitution was to make provision for the President of the country in addition to the National Assembly to initiate the process of a new constitution.
Ekweremadu, explained that the Senate in July last came up with the idea that since Section 9 did not make any provision for how a new constitution should come into being, saying there is the need to amend the Section in order to accommodate such possibility in the future.
He also listed section 134 and 179 of the Constitution which aims to extend the time for conducting Presidential and Governorship re-run elections from 7 days to 21 days as contained in clause 4 and 5. As areas that require amendment.
Other amendments proposals put forward by the constitution review committee for debate and approval include “the conferment of exclusive jurisdiction on the Federal High Court for trial of offences arising from, pertaining to or connected with violation of the provisions of the electoral Act and any other election related Act of the National Assembly through alteration of section 251 as captured in clause 7.”
“The empowerment of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to deregister political parties which fails to win Presidential, Governorship, Chairmanship of a local Government /Area Council or seat in the National or State Assembly is also proposed for fresh amendment through alteration of clause 6 of section 225.”
However, Senators while debating on all the proposed amendments singled out for rejection the clause seeking inclusion of the President of the country with the National Assembly in the process of initiating a new constitution.
According to Senator Ahmad Lawan (APC Yobe North), approving such a proposal by the Senate, would amount to the National Assembly relinquishing its most fundamental constitutional roles as Assembly of lawmakers.
He said: “We must not dilute the functions of the executive nor that of the legislature. I can concede that any president can send request and that is provided in the Constitution but when we say initiate, it is now taking some functions of the National Assembly away.
“Because of that I oppose this proposal that we maintain the sanctity, the purity of the functions of the executive and that of the legislature in such a way that there is no lacuna and no confusion. This is necessary so that in the nearest future we don’t run into a constitutional crisis where the constitution amendment process will become neither here nor there,” he added.
Senator Kabiru Marafa (APC Zamfara Central) also spoke against the proposal, arguing that inserting a clause to accommodate the president as one of the parties that can initiate a process for a new constitution, was an attempt to usurp the powers of the executive.
He alleged that going ahead with the alteration would automatically provide a door for President Goodluck Jonathan to give credibility to the National Conference.
Senator Victor Lar (PDP Plateau South) also spoke against the proposal, saying such inclusion and initiation were not necessary now adding that aside necessary amendments, the current constitution should be allowed to play out for the next 20 years.
Other Senators across party lines like Solomon Ewuga (Nasarawa), Ganiyu Solomon (Lagos), Adamu Gumba among others, also kicked against the proposed amendment to section 9 of the Constitution.
There were Senators with different opinions on the matter. Senator Abdul Ningi,(PDP Bauchi Central), Sen. Tukur Bello (PDP Adamawa Central), Sen. Kabiru Gaya (APC Kano South), argued for the proposed amendment to section 9 of the Constitution, but said such window should be opened to all Nigerians and not only the President.
The Senate President, David Mark who made the announcement during the debate said what happened yesterday was just expression of individual senator’s opinion to the amendment proposal preparatory to actual vot