Stop The Blame Game, Pass Constitutional Amendments, Afenifere Urges NASS, State Assemblies

The pan Yoruba socio-political organization, Afenifere, has called on the legislative arms of government at the federal and state levels to ensure that the sections of the 1999 Constitutions meant to be amended are expeditiously passed between now and January 2023 at the latest.

In a statement signed by its national publicity secretary, Comrade Jare Ajayi, Afenifere urged the lawmakers to stop the blame game and pass the amendments into law so that it would not be a case of ‘begin again for the next Assemblies of Lawmakers”.

By this, Ajayi referred to the constitutional amendments made by the 8th Assembly but which went into oblivion because it could not be concluded before the expiration of that Assembly at the end of May, 2019.

“Presently, the National Assembly and Conference of Speakers of Houses of Assembly are trading blames on why the amendments have not been passed. Nigerians are not interested in the bickering. Rather, Nigerians want the amendments to be promptly passed and made to become law. Although the 44 amendments are short of what is expected, they are certainly better than what we have presently because of some powers they confer on state and local governments in the country” Ajayi observed, adding that State Police must be allowed in the Amendments.

The National Assembly had on March 1, 2022, voted on the 68 amendments recommended by the Joint Senate and House of Representatives’ Special Ad Hoc Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution.

But only the 44 of the 68 proposed Amendments that the Lawmakers allowed were transmitted to the States’ Houses of Assembly. On March 29, 2022, the National Assembly transmitted 44 Constitution alteration bills to State Houses of Assembly in line with section 9(2) of the 1999 Constitution which provides that bills passed by the National Assembly must be approved by resolutions of the Houses of Assembly in at least 24 out of the country’s 36 States before it is forwarded to the President for assent.

But as at now, only 16 States out of the minimum of 24 required have considered the amendment bills.

This was said to be responsible for the incapacitation by the National Assembly to complete work on it and transmit same to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent.

The states that have considered the amendments were Abia, Anambra, Enugu, Delta, Edo, Akwa Ibom, Lagos, Ogun, Osun, Ekiti, Kogi, Benue, Nassarawa, Kaduna, Katsina, and Adamawa States. States are threatening not to act on the bills unless four more amendments are considered and passed by the National Assembly.

These demands were contained in a letter sent to the National Assembly Joint Committee on Constitutional Review by the Conference of Speakers.

The four expected amendments are to: Establish State Police; Establish State Judicial Council; Streamline the procedure for removing Presiding Officers of State Houses of Assembly and, Institutionalizing Legislative Bureaucracy in the Constitution.

Renewed interests were sparked on Monday, December 12, 2022, when the Senate President, Dr Ahmad Lawan at a Lecture in Abuja, urged the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El Rufai to prevail on his Governor colleagues to encourage their respective state Houses of Assembly to transmit back to the National Assembly their responses on the Bills sent to them on the Constitutional amendments.

On October 18th, The Senate Deputy Speaker and Chairman, Senate Ad hoc Committee on Constitution Review, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, had accused the 36 state governors of being behind the non-passage of the 44 Constitution Review Bills transmitted to them by the National Assembly.

But three days later, on October 21st, the Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures of Nigeria reacted by saying that its members will not be intimidated or blackmailed by anyone.

The Speakers’ position was contained in a statement by the Chairman of the Speakers’ Forum, Abubakar Suleiman, as a rejoinder to the claims made by the Deputy Senate President.

Suleiman maintained that state legislators are closer to the people at the grassroots and were in a better position to know basic and pressing needs of the people; hence their insistence on the inclusion of these items in the amendment Bills.

“For instance, the issue of insecurity should agitate any conscientious leaders. So we believe this should be tackled frontally by the government. And the best way and the most generally acceptable way to curb the menace, we believe, is by providing for state policing in the constitution.

“Sadly, the proposed amendment was missing in the Resolutions transmitted by the National Assembly to the State Houses of Assembly.

“So, for the great importance of this proposed amendment and others namely, streamlining the procedure for removing Presiding Officers of State Assemblies, Institutionalising State Legislative Bureaucracy in the Constitution, and Establishing State Judicial Council; the Conference of Speakers further appealed to the National Assembly for their inclusion in the exercise”.

Afenifere urged the National Assembly to factor in the amendments suggested by the Speakers “since the Constitution that included them in the process anticipates their inputs…

The Amendments must continue till we get the restructured Nigeria that we desire soonest”. Ajayi added that the provision on Indigeneship as proposed must also be expunged “to protect indigenous peoples”.

Some of the items in the amendment bills are on local government autonomy, uniform retirement and pension rights for judicial officers, separate the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation/State from the Office of the Minister/Commissioner for Justice.

Others include those that grant the legislature power to summon the President or State Governor, provide for independent candidacy in elections, move items such as airports and railways from the Exclusive legislative list to the Concurrent legislative list. But that of the State Police is missing – to the chagrin of many Nigerians.

Ajayi concluded by saying that proper and timely constitutional amendments can correct many of the lapses in the present Constitution “hence our support for their prompt passage and assent”.

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