Senate to vote on constitution amendments next week

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The upper legislative chamber, The Senate will next week Wednesday vote on proposed new amendments to the 1999 constitution.

Senate President, David Mark, stated this on Wednesday following a debate on the report of the Senator Ike Ekweremadu’s committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution.

The bill essentially seeks to further alter the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and other matters connected therewith. It among others, proposes an amendment to Section 9 which deals with how a new constitution could be processed.

Specifically, Ekweremadu, while presenting the report said the alteration being proposed on Section 9 “is to make provision for the President, in addition to the National Assembly, to initiate the process of a new constitution”.

The development generated heated debates among the senators as some called for the rejection of the bill, which according to them was aimed at legitimising the National Conference, through the National Assembly.

Some also argued that a new constitution was unnecessary because it will further create more problems for the nation’s democracy.

Senators Ganiyu Solomon, Solomon Ewuga, Victor Lar and Adamu Gimba, Abdul Ningi, Kabiru Gaya and Kabiru Marafa, among others, cautioned against the alteration of the constitution to pave the way for a new one.

Marafa for instance, explained that inserting a clause to accommodate the president as one of the parties that can initiate 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 provided a door for President Goodluck Jonathan to give credibility to the National Conference.

Senator Bello Tukur said the senate should limit its activities to the amendments of certain clauses identified by stakeholders instead of injecting new ones.

Senator Ahmed Lawan, however argued that the process of a new constitution was currently the exclusive preserve of the National Assembly.

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.”

But Senator James Manager disagreed with those who opposed the amendment. “An officer of the ranking of the President can also instigate the process of a new constitution by writing to the National Assembly, presenting it as if it is an executive Bill.”

He added that “It will still come to the National Assembly exactly in ways and manners we have been dealing with bills. So there is absolutely nothing new in my humble view. This are very straightforward and unambiguous matters.”

Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, said “there is already provision for three classes of bills, namely members bills, executive bills and private member bills.”

He argued that the amendment being sought was in tandem with the provision of the senate rules.

Ekweremadu, also 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 would come into being we need to amend Section 9 in order to accommodate such possibility in the future.

He said, “Because 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 been amended.

“So time will come in the future where we will need to put these things together into a new constitution. Again the society is dynamic to note that at some point there will be the need to have a new Constitution. And we won’t be the first to do that.

“Other countries have done that including Kenya, Brazil and Zimbabwe. So further to that we proposed an amendment to Section 9 last on how a new Constitution can come to force.

“And in that Constitution we are clear in what we stated that only the National Assembly can bring about the process of a new Constitution. But at our committee’s meeting yesterday, we now looked at our rules in which case the President can bring about a Bill.

“So, we now felt that it is also necessary to open the door in such a way that it is not just the National Assembly that can start the process, that even the President can send a proposal for a new Constitution.

“If we leave it as it is now, the President cannot send any proposal for a new Constitution, if it is left as it is today. Because we have already passed a Bill shutting the President out.”

Ekweremadu explained that what his committee was doing was to open a window so that the National Assembly or the President can initiate the process which is in accordance with the rules of the senate.

Mark in his final comments on the issue asked the senators to determine whether a new constitution would emerge either in content or nomenclature.

He therefore ruled that every member of the senate will on Wednesday vote on each of the ammendments so far proposed by the committee.

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