Senate Divided Over Moves To Allow President Initiate Constitutional Change

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The Senate was on Wednesday divided over moves to insert a clause into the constitution amendment to grant the President the power to initiate process for a new constitution.

A heated debate broke out following the presentation of the report of the Senate Constitution Review Committee (SCRC) the Bill for an Act to further alter the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.

Presenting the report, the Committee Chairman, Sen. Ike Ekweremadu said the insertion of the new clause was aimed at granting the President powers that were vested only in the National Assembly and that the clause was necessary to take care of Nigeria’s future needs for drafting a new Constitution, since the extant one did not make provision for such exigencies.

The deputy senate president said: “As you amend the constitution, it would get to a point where you would not even know which part of the Constitution has been amended and which has not.

“So, what we are doing now is to open a window so that the National Assembly or the President initiates the process which is in accordance with the rule earlier read by the Senate Leader,’’ he said.

The Deputy Senate Leader, Sen. Abdul Ningi, also a member of the SCRC, said the committee inserted the clause to satisfy the yearnings of Nigerians and accordingly urged the Senators not to view the insertion as an attempt by the current administration to use the outcome of the ongoing National Conference for tenure elongation.

Said Ningi: “Our findings show that there is clamour by Nigerians that the Constitution is not made by Nigerians.

“So, we decided to come up with a provision for creation of a brand new Constitution.

“We thought it should not be a single monopoly of the National Assembly to initiate a new Constitution. So, we brought in the President.

“This is a very serious issue, but we should not be captives of our fears because of past history where a President forwarded a proposal for third term,” he said.

On his part, Sen. James Manager (PDP-Delta) observed that, it was okay for the president to initiate the re-writing of a new Constitution by forwarding it to the National Assembly as an executive proposal, adding that re-writing the Constitution could  be initiated by the National Assembly and a member of the executive in the rank of the President.

While also supporting the proposal, Sen. Tukur Bello (PDP-Adamawa) said it was the timing that created suspicion in the minds of the opposing Senators.

His words: “I support the proposal. The only problem is with this matter and probably the timing, other than that, there is no problem with the proposal.

“The timing is what is creating the fears, especially, considering the ongoing National Conference,” he observed.

On his part, Sen. Ita Enang said that the proposal was for the overall benefit of Nigerians and not intended to give advantage to any single individual.

“I support this amendment proposal. It is not restrictive and not meant to favour any particular person,” he stressed.

But opposing the proposal, Sen. Odion Ugbesia (PDP-Edo) described it as “superfluous” because there are existing provisions for amendment of the Constitution.

“This proposal is superfluous because we don’t need a new Constitution. There are adequate provisions for amendment of the Constitution.” Ugbesia said.

Sen. Victor Lar (PDP-Plateau) argued that the existing provision should not be tampered with; saying the power to initiate a new Constitution was the exclusive right of the National Assembly.

“The National Assembly should exercise the sovereignty which is vested in it by the people as their elected representatives.

“We should not be in a hurry. We should leave this Constitution as it,” he added.

Sen. Ahmed Lawal (APC-Yobe) said the insertion of the President would make the National Assembly become “redundant”, thereby losing its relevance.

He said it would amount to diluting the powers of the National Assembly adding, “we should not allow it else, we may run into Constitutional confusion’’.

Sen. Kabiru Marafa (APC-Zamfara), who also opposed the proposal, advised his colleagues to be wary of making a legislation that would make it cede its Constitutional powers to the executive.

“We should be careful not to make a law that will make us lose our powers and become an ineffective body.

“There are fears and mistrust by many Nigerians that the National Conference is seeking to create a window for its resolutions to be imposed on the National Assembly, “he said.

Sen. Ganiyu Solomon (APC-Lagos) said the provision should be expanded to include the members of the public; otherwise it should be thrown out.

“If you want to create a window, then it should not stop with the National Assembly and the President, but include the Nigerian public.

“There is no need for this proposal. It is superfluous,” he added.

Among other changes, the SCRC is proposing for the inclusion of past Senate Presidents and Speakers of House of Representatives as members of the Council of States.

The review also intends to empower INEC to de-register any political party fails to win presidential, governorship, chairmanship of Local Government Areas or a seat in the National/State Assembly.

It is also seeking to confer exclusive jurisdiction on the Federal High Court for trial of offences arising from the violation of the provisions of the Electoral Act.

The Senate President, Sen. David Mark announced that the senators would vote on the amendment proposals on Wednesday, April 9, adding: “Your argument is not to impress anybody, but to convince others to see or support your position.

“Each of you is expected to vote on Wednesday and any position that enjoys the majority of votes would carry the day,”Mark stated.