…committee says some State Governors turning conference of speakers, state assemblies to puppets
Twenty five state Houses of Assembly are yet to consider and vote on the 44 bills sent to the National Assembly for constitution amendment, six months after
In a press briefing by the leadership of the Senate and the House of Representatives Committees on progress of Constitution review of the 44 bills transmitted to state Houses of Assembly, the committee lamented that only eleven states have voted on the bills.
The committee headed by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege and co-chaired by Rt. Hon. Ahmed Idris Wase, Speaker, House of Representatives, lamented that the remaining 25 state assemblies have refused to act on the bills saying until the National Assembly passes four bills they proposed in their letter.
The four bills include to: Establish State Police; Establish State Judicial Council; Streamline the procedure for removing Presiding Officers of State Houses of Assembly; and Institutionalize Legislative Bureaucracy in the Constitution
First, let us make a few quick points, and then we will answer your questions. Understandably, we will speak a bit about how far we have come regarding Constitution Alteration in the 9th National Assembly.
Learning from the botched attempt by the National Assembly to rewrite the Constitution in one fell swoop. between 2003 and 2007, successive Assemblies have employed an incremental approach to altering the Constitution. Hence, the First, Second, Third and Fourth Constitution (Alteration) Acts were passed and enacted. These amendments undoubtedly improved our electoral management and adjudication systems, fostered political participation and addressed other fundamental good governance issues.
The current Constitution alteration exercise is a legislative response to relentless agitations by Nigerians to address contemporary constitutional issues. Throughout the Constitution alteration process, the National Assembly adhered to the time-tested participatory approach to constitution amendment. That is why from the process’s inception, we invited written submissions from citizens, interest groups, socio-cultural organizations and civil society organizations. Subsequently, we held zonal public hearings at 12 centres across the six geo-political zones; and a national public hearing in Abuja.
Furthermore, after several meetings and engagements with the State Houses of Assembly, the Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives recommended 66 Constitution Alteration Bills for passage. We considered that those 66 bills have a considerable level of national consensus as garnered from public consultations. Out of the 66 Bills, 44 were approved by the Senate and House of Representatives. Subsequently, the 44 Bills were transmitted to the 36 State House of Assembly on 29th March 2022 for approval in line with Section 9(2) stipulations of the Constitution.
The 44 Bills transmitted to the State Houses of Assembly seek to, amongst others: strengthen the legislature’s authority to enable it to serve as an effective pillar of checks and balance to the executive; strengthen independent constitutional bodies; create and strengthen a culture of good governance; address issues of revenue leakages and unbridled government spending, and enhance effective administration of justice in Nigeria.
Let us very briefly go through some notable Bills among the forty-four.
i. Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fifth Alteration) Bill, No. 1, 2022 (Local Government Financial Autonomy). The Bill seeks to entrench financial autonomy for Local government councils: by abolishing the State Joint Local Government: Account and providing for a particular account into which shall be directly paid all allocations due to Local Government councils from the Federation Account and the internally generated revenue of the State Government. In addition, the Bill provides for the payment of teachers’ salaries to be shared between the three tiers of Government, such that the amount to be deducted from the Local Government Councils is the least;
ii. Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fifth Alteration) Bill, No. 2, 2022 (Local Government Administrative Autonomy). This Bill seeks to establish Local Government Councils as a substantive tier of Government in the Constitution and guarantee their democratic existence and tenure by entrenching .the fundamental. governance structure of the Local Government Councils in the Constitution. It prohibits the exercise of council powers by any entity other than democratically elected council members;
iii. Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fifth Alteration) Bill, No. 11, 2022 (Inauguration of Senators and Members-Elect). This Bill seeks to provide the quorum of members-elect required for the first and inaugural session of members-elect of the National and State Houses of Assembly as a two-thirds majority of members-elect;
iv. Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fifth Alteration) Bill, No. 26, 2022 (Fair Hearing in the Process of Recommending the Removal of Judicial Officers). The Bill requires a fair hearing in recommending the removal of judicial officers by the State Judicial Service Commission;
v. Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fifth Alteration) Bill, Nos. 29, 30, 31, 32,33, and 34, 2022 (Devolution of Powers). These Bills intend to decongest the Exclusive Legislative List by moving some items to the Concurrent Legislative List, thereby giving more legislative. powers to States.. The items include Airports; Fingerprints, Identification and Criminal Records; prisons and railways. These amendments strengthen the federal system and ensure that governance responsibilities are efficiently allocated to the level of Government best able to manage them. It also allows states – to generate, transmit and distribute electricity in areas covered by the national grid within their respective domains;
vi. Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fifth Alteration) Bill, No. 39, 2022 (Power to Enforce Compliance of Remittance of Accruals into the Federation Account and Review of Revenue Allocation Formula). It empowers’ the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation, and Fiscal Commission to enforce compliance with the remittance of accruals into and disbursement of revenue from the Federation Account and streamline the procedure for reviewing the revenue allocation formula;
vii. Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fifth Alteration) Bill, No. 45, 2022 (Time frame for the Submission of the Names of Ministerial or Commissioner Nominees). This Bill provides a timeframe within which the President or a Governor shall forward to the Senate or State House of Assembly names of nominees for confirmation as Ministers or Commissioners;
viii. Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fifth Alteration) Bill, No. 47, 2022 (Establishment of State Security Council). The Bill establishes a State Security Council to advise the Governor on matters relating to public security;
ix. Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fifth Alteration): Bill, No. 48, 2022 (Power to Summon the President and Governors). The amendment grants the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly the powers to summon the President and Governors, respectively; to answer questions on issues of national security or any matter over which the National Assembly and States Houses of Assembly have the power to make laws;
x. Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fifth Alteration) Bill, No. 51, 2022 (Creation of the Office of the Accountant General of the Federal Government). It establishes the office of the Accountant-General of the Federal Government as distinct from the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation. It aims to ensure ease of administration by enabling the Federal Government to have its accounting officer separate from the accounting officer dealing with the other government tiers;
xi. Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fifth Alteration) Bill, No. 53, 2022 (Separation of the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and the State from the Office of the Minister or Commissioner for Justice). It makes the office of the Attorney General independent and insulated from partisanship by separating it from the office of the Minister of Justice or Commissioner for Justice; and
xii. Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fifth Alteration) Bill, No. 58, 2022 (Independent Candidacy), The Bill seeks to alter the Constitution to allow an independent candidate to contest for an elective position. This amendment expands the space for democratic participation by providing a platform outside political parties for persons to participate in and contest elections.
Now, let us give you a sense of where we are with the Bills as of today. Six months after the transmission of these Bills to State Assemblies, it is most disheartening to inform you that only 11 State Houses of Assembly have demonstrated their independence and loyalty to the Constitution regarding the 44 bills. 25 State Houses of Assembly have yet to consider and vote on these bills. So far, only Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Anambra, Delta, Edo, Kaduna, Katsina, Kogi, Lagos, Ogun and Osun States have successfully considered, voted on, and forwarded their resolutions on the 44 bills to the National Assembly.
More worrisome is that while we are still expecting the receipt of the resolutions of the remaining Houses of Assembly, we received a letter from the Conference of Speakers of State Assemblies informing the National Assembly that the remaining states will not act on the 44 Bills unless the National Assembly passes four new Bills they have proposed in the letter. The Bills they propose seek to amend the Constitution to:
* Establish State Police;
* Establish State Judicial Council;
* Streamline the procedure for removing Presiding Officers of State Houses of Assembly; and,
* Institutionalize Legislative Bureaucracy in the Constitution.
We want to ensure everyone understands this: the National Assembly is in no way averse to acting on any proposed Bill or memoranda appropriately tabled before it, at any time in its life. However, it is legally inappropriate for the Conference of Speakers to use the four Bills as a quid pro quo to act on the 44 Bills the National Assembly 44 Bills transmitted. It is clear, and we cannot overstate, that this letter is not in keeping with the obligation the Constitution has placed on them regarding the Constitutional amendment.
Let us be clear, the Bills the National Assembly transmitted to the State Houses of Assembly as required by the Constitution are not about members of the National Assembly. It transcends our personal and political interests. It is about the people who have graciously given us the temporary privilege to serve them. The offices and positions we each hold belong to the people. And they yearn for a government that is honest, accountable, and responsive to their needs. It is, therefore, disheartening that some State Houses of Assembly, through the Conference of Speakers, would give the National Assembly conditions before fulfilling their constitutional obligations.
Although the Conference of Speakers did not allude to it in their letter, we are aware of the undue interference with legislative processes and the political capture of some State Houses of Assembly by some State Governors. No doubt, some State Governors have worked tirelessly to turn the Conference of Speakers and some State Assemblies into political puppets, thereby undermining and delegitimizing the legislative institution at the state level. This interference has been ramped up, especially in opposition to the Bills granting financial and administrative autonomy to Local Governments.
An independent state legislature is essential to the well-being of Nigeria’s constitutional democracy. That is why the ongoing attempt by some State Governors, with the support of some Speakers and allies in the State Houses of Assembly, to eliminate that independence should alarm all Nigerians. This posturing by the Conference of Speakers of State Assemblies should be shown for what it truly is — a total disregard for the Nigerian constitutional system.
It remains true that each State House of Assembly is independent of the other. However, Constitution amendment Bills require the approval of twothirds (24) of the 36 States House of Assembly before they can be presented for the President’s assent. Therefore, how a State Assembly decides on each of the Bills is its prerogative. But, there must be a decision for citizens to know where each State House of Assembly stand on the issues the Bills seek to address.
Please permit us to use this opportunity to appeal to citizens, civil society organizations, interest/professional groups and institutions to prevail on the Conference of Speakers to withdraw their threat to truncate the constitution amendment process. Instead, we should all speak up to defend our Constitution and democracy.
Suppose we ignore this brazen attempt by some Governors to truncate a constitutional process. In that case, we will ultimately be enablers of the undermining of a critical bulwark of our democracy — which we should not be.
While we use this medium to applaud all State Houses of Assembly that have successfully considered and approved the Constitution Alteration Bills, we also urge the remaining 25 State Houses of Assembly to keep faith with Nigerians and the Constitution they swore to uphold. May we all honour our pledge to Nigerians to build and reform by listening to the people.
HE Senator Ovie Omo-Agege
Deputy President of the Senate Deputy
Rt. Hon. Ahmed Idris Wase
Speaker, House of Representatives, Co-Chairman