From Abubakar Abdullahi, Lafia; John Shiaondo, Makurdi; Lekan Sani, Lagos, Dan Amasingha, Minna and Obinn
a Ibe, Umuahia:
About a forthnight ago The National Assembly took far reaching measures to amend aspects of the 1999 Constitution. While carrying out the amendments, the Senate threw out the contentious Bill on Resource Control, while it voted to abrogate State/Local Government Joint Accounts, and guaranteed the existence of democratically constituted councils. On the whole, 29 of the 33 bills that were considered sailed through. Other bills that were shot down included State Creation and Boundary Adjustment; Citizenship and Indigeneship, and the Land Use Act. The Senate also rejected a clause which had provided a 35 per-cent affirmative action for women at the federal level and 20 percent at the state level. Nigerians from all walks of
life have continued to react to the action of the Legislators in nationwide reports filled by our correspondents.
From Nasarawa State in North Central Nigeria, first civilian governor of the State, who is now a Senator, Abdullahi Adamu said he and his colleagues in the Red Chamber took the right decisions for the overall progress of the country.
Speaking to DAILY ASSET shortly after the state APC caucus meeting in Lafia, the state’s capital, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, who is now representing Western Senatorial District of the State at the National Assembly said he was part and parcel of the National Assembly’s decision and was 100 percent in support of the lawmakers’ decisions. Senator Adamu emphasised: “I was at the Senate chamber when the decisions to amend the Constitution were taken. Although the voting to make some changes was electronically done, which also made the election process secret but I was part and parcel of the National Assembly decision. I am 100 percent in support of the decisions taken.”
Nasarawa State’s first civilian governor said considering the sections that are being changed, the amended Constitution if assented to by the President, would create the enabling environment through legal framework for the overall development of the country.
On his part, Nasarawa State PDP Chairman Francis Orogu said what the National Assembly did would bring about the required progress for the country, saying that the provisions that would give autonomy to the State Houses of Assembly and Local Government Areas, LGAs, would greatly help to propel development at the grassroots.
According to the PDP leader: “Giving autonomy to State Houses of Assembly and LGAs in the country is something that everybody should welcome because it will give respite to the people by allowing them to operate independently without interference from the Federal or State government.”
Orogu who also spoke on independent candidacy said this will make the election process very difficult, as according to him “many politicians would seek for positions as independent candidates and this will make the number of contestants too many and confusing to the electorate.”
On financial autonomy for LGAs, the State PDP Chairman expressed fear that the state houses of assembly may likely halt the process of financial autonomy for LGAs as done in previous attempts to provide for similar provisions in the Constitution.
According to him: “It was state houses of assembly that made the previous move to amend the Constitution to fail as less than the required number of the state houses of assembly voted against the National Assembly’s decision because the felt their state governors were also not in support of the Constitutional Amendment”.
He called on the state houses of assembly to support the National Assembly decision, this time around, in the interest of the country development.
On his part, a Lafia-based legal practitioner, Barrister Abdullahi Ubandoma, said the amendment would bring about the needed change in the governance of the country.
He explained that most of those who find themselves in elective and non-elective positions were those sponsored by political god fathers, something he said the amendments were out to check.
He said the amendment that made provision for independent candidates would help to give room for, independent-minded individuals the opportunity to contest elective positions, and to pilot the affairs of those that voted for them without inference from godfathers or any other influential persons in the society.
According to him, “allowing independent candidate to vie for elective position would reduce, if not eliminate the activities of the so-called moneybags, and bring about the desired development in Nigeria’s politics”.
Ubandoma also said the proposed financial autonomy for the state houses of assembly and local government areas would make them to be financially independent which in-turn will make them to operate independently and effectively.
The lawyer added:” State houses of assembly must not necessarily lobby their governors for everything they would want to do as an institution. This now would make them to function better for the benefit of their electorate”.
From Benue State, also in North Central Nigeria, Professor David Ker, elder statesman, Vice Chancellor Benue State University and Caritas University said “the amendments of the Constitution going on at the National Assembly so far are in tune with the mood of Nigerians.
Professor Ker noted with delight in particular, measures taken on the issue of age reduction for various political offices the Land Use Act, immunity, and others areas. According to the respected Professor: “On the local government autonomy this is an issue we would have been talking about for a long time now, because the local governments need autonomy to run as a proper tier of government. Many of us are comfortable with the decision that local government should have their autonomy.
“Reduction of age for those contesting political position is good because that is what is happening now in the world. The decision will make young people to actively participate in decision- making in the country. On the issue of 35% affirmative action I think the Senate and House of representative will reach compromise on that, because the issue of prejudice must be handled carefully. I suspect that with time women will be properly represented, but in my opinion, I don’t think it is something that should be done by law. In other countries women are given positions of authorities but not because of law, they have such positions because of quality. The issue of allocating percentage to women in the Constitution is not proper. I don’t think it is something that should be done by law. “
In his contribution, Shima Ayati former SSA to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar said: “The issue of immunity and that of autonomy to local government areas are unfortunate decisions taken by the national legislators.”
According to him “the issue of local government autonomy is not what we should be talking about now. Local government is a responsibility of the states, because they are closer to the state. The local governments are within the state, and I think they should be completely handed over to them to manage so that if a state wants to crest 50 or 20 or any number, they will be free to do so. If you say it should be controlled by the Federal Government, there will be a lot of anomalies, because right now as it is, some states have more local governments than others. Kano has 44, while Lagos has only 20. The rest are being managed by the Lagos state government. Benue where I come from has only 23, so some states are cheated in the arrangement. I feel local governments should be complete responsibility of the states. If states want 150 local governments they should go ahead and create them because they will be the ones responsible for giving resources to them.”
Former VP Atiku’s aide added: “Power should also be devolved to states. States should even be allowed to have their police. On land Use Act, states are responsible for land matters and deleting it from Constitution is right. Women say what a man can do a woman can do better, and so I don’t think they should be given preference in the Constitution. If they say what a man can do a woman can do better, then why give them preference? Women have equal rights with men, so they should compete with men; they even argue they are not weaker sex so why make them weak”?
Speaking in a similar vein, a former Attorney-General, and Commissioner for Justice, in Benue State Government, Barr. Alex Adum said: “If you want to restructure the country the issue of local government should be handed over to individual states, so that if they want to create additional local government they will do it and go ahead and manage them. If they want to create 100 local government let them go ahead. The Federal Government is too far from local governments, so they can’t manage it. If the local governments are to be given to the states, then states should also be allowed to conduct elections.
On the age limits for political positions he stated: “I commend the National Assembly for that step. Most people seem to think political offices are their retirement benefits, so they go there and start dozing. Reducing the age limits for political offices is one of the best things that have happened in the country. Immunity should not be made a law for the legislators. On the floor of the assembly anything you say is protected, it is a convention. It’s a privilege, just like academic freedom. It is not written but it exists, even though it is not written it is an accepted norm. You don’t need to say it must be in the law, so that if you are a parliamentarian you can do and undo, that to me is not necessary. On the Land Use Act I don’t go with the national assembly for deleting it from the constitution. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the law as it is. As a lawyer, in my time of practice, I don’t have any problem implementing the land use act the way it is.”
From Minna, Niger State, our correspondent reports that a prominent politician from Rafi local Government Area of Niger state and the immediate past Commissioner of Education and a onetime Commissioner of Information in the administration of Dr Muazu Babangida Aliyu, Alhaji Danladi Abdulhamid, described the recent amendment of some sections of the 1999 constitution by the two chambers of the National assembly as self-serving.
Abdulhamid who was a Niger State MAMSER boss and current North Central coordinator of International Institute of Leadership and good governance stated in an interview with DAILY ASSET that section 9 of the current 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria empowers the National Assembly to effect Amendments to the Constitution so long as the sections so altered are supported by 2/3 of the 36 State Houses of Assembly.
Alhaji Abdulhamid noted that the manner members of the National Assembly went about the current Constitutional amendment left much to be desired as their actions have attracted divergent views because of sloppy nature of the exercise.
According to him, at a time that the nation was experiencing heightening of tension as s results of various secessionist groups and those clamouring for restructuring, all eyes were on the National Assembly to do a thorough job, but unfortunately they have not lived up to expecting of Nigeria by addressing the fundamental issues of devolution of power resources sharing formula.
“If those that carried out the amendment both at the Senate and House of Representatives are only interested in doing what will favour them, then there is no problem. They will not be there forever. Government institutions are subject to change, and Nigerians will know what to do at the right time.” Alhaji Abduhamid berated members of the National Assembly for not consulting their constituents before embarking on the Constitutional amendment exercise wondering why an elected representatives of the people will choose to side line those they represent in such an important national exercise.
“The National Assembly members decide to do it to favour themselves by granting themselves immunity and other trivial issues, but we can be rest assured that it will boomerang, if you are representing people and without consulting them you go and act against their interest, then you are digging your own grave”.
He however, urged Nigerians not to give up on the process as the National Assembly has only kicked start a process that is yet to run its full circle until the States conduct their public hearing and accept memorandum before accepting or rejecting the proposed alterations in the 1999 Constitution as approved by the National Assembly. Constitution review a sham.
From Lagos is a report which described the constitution review by the National Assembly “as a hollow ritual that can only set Nigeria on the part of auto restructuring.”
Spokesperson of Yoruba socio political organization, Afenifere,Yinka Odumakin, in an interview with DAILY ASSET in Lagos, accused members of the National Assembly of concentrating on minor issues, while they left unattended to, fundamental issues that are threatening the existence of Nigeria as a nation.
According to Odumakin, changing the nomenclature of the Nigeria Police Force to Nigeria Police, granting immunity to themselves and reducing the age of presidential hopefuls to 35 years were not the major challenges confronting the country at the moment.
“It is a futile exercise. It is a waste of time and they just set Nigeria on the path to auto restructuring. Nigeria would restructured without the National Assembly. The way they voted was a north/south affair and this cannot augur well for the country.
In fact, the centrifugal forces are now going to rise more than ever. You can see that some people are now coming out in the South West asking for Oodua Republic, saying that restructuring is too late. You can see IPOB mocking Ohaneze,” he said.
Also reacting, a former member of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Adebowale Olasoji also berated NASS for embarking on a fruitless exercise.
Speaking on age limit of 35 years, he said it was a mistake for Nigeria to compare itself with the Western world where the ages of their presidents are between 35 and 45 years.
According to him, military incursion into politics devastated the country’s political culture and as such, the youth missed the opportunity of proper schooling in the art of politics.
He noted that there was hardly anyone of 35 years of age that can perform wonder as Commander-in-Chief, adding that acquiring political experience was better than age for political office holders.
He berated senators for inserting immunity provisions for themselves in the Constitution, adding that such a move was a ploy to cover up criminal activities by NASS members.
Olasoji Nigeria cannot run away from devolution of power. He said that there must be state police and prisons to reduce the current crime rates, including kidnapping, ritual killings and armed robbery.
He also added that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should have no business conducting council polls in states, noting that local governments as a tier of government should not feature in the constitution but left to states to manage as they deem fit.
From Umahia in South East, is a report that the National Assembly move is being hailed by the people of the region, while others said it is far from achieving desire objective.
Dr. Nyerere Chinenye Anyim, the 2015 Governorship candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC), in Abia state told DAILY ASSET that the time for amendment of the 1999 constitution was long overdue.
The recently appointed Commissioner in the National Pen com board said that the Constitution was midwifed by the Military junta stressing the need to away with it to pave the way for the peoples constitution.
Anyim further pointed out that there were grey areas in the Constitution and such fundamental areas must be addressed adding that it was what gave room for agitations.
He maintained that issues of financial autonomy for the Local Governments which people have also been clamouring was being addressed by the new Constitution as envisaged.
“Whether you amend, restructure, repackage, Sovereign national conference we are all saying the same thing. It is a matter of nomenclature”, Anyim said.
Another frontline politician in the state, Chief Allen Nwachukwu said that the National Assembly should be more serious in carrying out the Constitution review and not stop at it mid-way
The Ex officio member of South East PDP harped on the need for financial autonomy of the local government and the need to separate its account from the state.
Nwachukwu who was an immediate past state deputy chairman of PDP described local government as a rubber stamp of the Governors who dictate who should be chairman or not adding that it is not good for the governors to be controlling council chairmen.
He maintained that in 1999 during the NRC era he was local government chairman and it was not common where the party in power in the states by then would clear all contestable positions unlike what obtains today.
The veteran politician therefore called for amendment of electoral reforms where only INEC conduct both council polls, state and national elections in order to give democracy a true meaning.
As for Hon. Chief Dan Egbeogu (KSM), the pioneer member of Abia House of Assembly said that no constitution is perfect that it is not late to amend the current one.
He lauded the National Assembly for their initiative to amend the current one while urging them to do more in other areas in the days ahead.