Four months after the National Assembly transmitted the 44 constitution amendment bills to the 36 state Houses of Assembly for concurrence, 31 states have yet to vote on the proposed reforms.
The Chairman, Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures in Nigeria, Abubakar Suleiman, disclosed to our correspondent in Bauchi on Thursday, that only Kogi, Edo, Abia, Katsina, and Ogun States had voted on the various amendments to the constitution.
The National Assembly had in March transmitted the 44 constitution alteration bills to the 36 state Houses of Assembly for concurrence.
The Clerk to the National Assembly, Mr Amos Ojo, distributed the copies of the bills to clerks of the state Assemblies at a transmission ceremony in Abuja.
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.
To amend a clause in the Constitution, two-third or four-fifth majority of each of the Senate and the House has to approve the amendment after which it will be transmitted to the state Houses of Assembly, where two-third or 24 of the 36 of them have to concur.
But giving an update on the amendments to one of our correspondents, the speakers’ forum chairman stated that the state assemblies would object to any amendment ‘’ that will not be for the good of the people.’’
He explained that the resolutions of the State Houses of Assembly on the constitution review would be transmitted to the National Assembly by the first week of August.
Suleiman, who is also the Speaker of the Bauchi State House of Assembly, said, “The state Houses of Assembly have resolved to play their constitutional role in the ongoing review of the constitution in a good time. In other words, after due consideration, we shall transmit back to the National Assembly the resolutions on the ongoing Constitution Review by the first week of August, 2022.
“The National Assembly has passed its resolution. If we (state legislatures) find any proposed amendment that will not go down well with the people particularly at the grassroots, we will not hesitate to object to it.
“However, until we carry out our legislative function by way of consultation and public hearings, such areas, if any, can’t be established.”
He said that the forum, during its 2022 first quarter general meeting in Ibadan, Oyo state, agreed to hold public hearings at their various states to gather inputs from the public.
The chairman further said that as of the time the resolutions were sent to the assemblies, most of them were on their annual recess, noting, however, that five states have so far passed them (the Resolutions).
He added, ‘“All the state Houses of Assembly are working on the Resolutions of the NASS presently. The Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures of Nigeria (an umbrella body for the speakers of the 36 State Houses of Assembly), in its first quarter general meeting held on April 2, 2022 in Ibadan, Oyo State, resolved among other things, that each state assembly should carry out public hearings in order to galvanize the inputs and views of the people at the grassroots on the ongoing Constitution review exercise.
“We decided not to rush and do a shoddy job. So, if the expectations were that we are going to transmit the Resolutions back to the National Assembly within a week of its receipt, then we would not have done justice to the exercise and that would be a great disservice to the nation.
“Like I have mentioned above, state Houses of Assembly are conducting public hearings on the Resolutions with a view to carrying people along and ultimately for the State Legislatures to take informed decisions that will stand the test of time.’’
Speaker explains delay
Explaining why it took the state legislatures some time to work on the document, the speaker stated, “Again, around the time the document was transmitted to State Assemblies, most of the assemblies were on recess and then came the party primaries and other activities that affected legislative activities in assemblies.
“About five states have so far passed their Resolutions. Many others are at the verge of concluding the required legislative actions from the state level. We are hopeful that all the State Houses of Assembly in Nigeria will have passed the Resolutions and transmitted the same back to the National Assembly by the first week of August, 2022,” he noted.
According to him, the five states are Kogi, Edo, Abia, Katsina, and Ogun.
But the Benue State House of Assembly Speaker, Titus Uba, said there was no deadline for the state Assemblies to conclude legislative work on the 44 bills transmitted by the National Assembly as some bills that involve finances have to receive the nod of governors before a decision is taken.
Speaking to our correspondent in Benue on the telephone, the speaker, who is the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the state, said that the Conference of Speakers had met with the Nigeria Governors Forum to have a meeting point in some areas that needed financial backing.
According to Uba, taking decisions on financial autonomy for State Assemblies and the Judiciary was a complex issue.
He said, “The issue of financial autonomy for state Assemblies and Judiciary is a complex one because some states are strong while some are not strong; when you talk about finance it shouldn’t be at the back page.
“At a point we decided that each state of assemblies should meet with their state governors to discuss this amicably to arrive at a consensus.
“We (assembly members) in Benue State are still meeting on this and the difficult aspect of it is that if we agree on a particular amount it may be difficult for other states to implement it.
“For example, if we in Benue approve N300m, how much is my (Benue) state getting from the federation account? Benue is a civil servant state, it has one of the highest wage bills in the country. So, how do we do that? Our Internally Generated Revenue is meagre.
“But we had a meeting with the Nigeria Governors Forum to look at it holistically so as to arrive at a point that will be suitable for everyone.’’
Uba , however, said a central collation centre had been opened at the national secretariat of the Conference of Speakers.
“We don’t want members to speak on this (constitution amendment) individually but collectively,” he said.
Asked when the State Assemblies would complete work on the amendment bill, the Speaker said, ‘just give us a little time’.
An official of the Gombe State House of Assembly said work had yet to be completed on the constitutional amendment bills sent to the state.
The official who pleaded anonymity said, “The committee has been set up by the Speaker, Abubakar Luggerewo, but due to the holidays and other breaks, they are yet to submit the resolution for adoption by the house. Currently, some of the members of the committee travelled for Hajj.”
He added that as soon as the house reconvenes, the committee would tidy up its findings.
In Kano, the state House of Assembly has constituted an Ad hoc committee under the leadership of the deputy speaker to work on the constitutional amendment bills.
The Public Relations Officer of the State Assembly, Uba Abdullahi, who disclosed this in a telephone interview on Thursday, revealed that the deputy clerk was the committee secretary, noting that the committee had been directed to submit its report to the House by the first week of August.
He said as soon as the committee submitted its report, the House would commence deliberations on the bills.
The Leader of Government Business, Ekiti State House of Assembly, Gboyega Aribisogan, said on Thursday that the legislative body would begin legislation on the constitutional amendment bills within the next two weeks.
Aribisogan said, “We have yet to legislate on it. We have the bill, we have just received it, we are about fixing a date for resumption of activities on it. We are hoping to start deliberations in the next two weeks. We are expected to turn it in by September.”
The House Leader said that the bills had gone through processes at the regional level before it was forwarded to the legislative houses in the six states in the South-West region separately.
He said, “The amendment bill has gone through processes already. When it was transmitted in March, we held a regional conference in Ibadan in May. In June, we set up a committee on it to look at the 44 clauses so that each member state can look at it and make their positions known.
“In Ekiti State, we have just been given; we are working on it, by next week, we will begin to sit down and look at the grey areas and what can be done to fine-tune it and send it back,” Aribisogan said.
The Lagos State House of Assembly says it has deliberated on the amendment bills. Confirming this, the Chief Press Secretary of the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Mr Eromosele Ebhomele, stated, “Yes, the Constitutional Review Bills have been transmitted to the Lagos State House of Assembly. The House deliberated on the items contained in them during plenary last week Thursday; some of the sections of them were accepted while some were rejected.”
Ogun backs amendments
Meanwhile, Ogun state House of Assembly has thrown its weight behind all the 44 amendments.
Also supported by the state lawmakers were the bills on financial autonomy for state Houses of Assembly, Judiciary, Local Government and others authorizing the name change for Egbado-North and South Local Government Areas.
Other bills approved by the lawmakers included a bill to abrogate the State Joint Local Government Account and provide for a special account into which shall be paid, all allocations due to local government councils from the Federation Account and from the government of the state; and for related matters.
The lawmakers also approved independent candidacy in Presidential, Governorship, National Assembly, State Houses of Assembly and Local Government Council elections.
The approval by the assembly followed the adoption of the report of the Committee of the Whole House chaired by the Speaker, Olakunle Oluomo, as presented by his Deputy, Akeem Balogun, who also moved the motion for its adoption. It was seconded by the Majority Leader, Yusuf Sheriff and supported by other lawmakers.
However, the Chairman, Transparency International, Nigeria, Mr Rafsanjani said that the Presidency and the ruling All Progressives Congress should be held responsible for the delay in the passage of the amendment bills.
He said, “The issue here is that the current administration has not prioritized constitutional amendment as one of its major objectives. If the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration was serious about the constitutional amendment, the issue would have been well coordinated by the federal legislative and executive arms, especially with the support of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress.”
The Convener, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, Dare-Ariyo Atoye observed that the state governors may not want the state assemblies to be autonomous, hence the delay in the passage of the amendment bills by the state legislatures.
“So, the next assembly coming should ensure that it is completed within 30 months. The key aspects of the amendment is devolution of power, electricity and some of the items from the exclusive list to the concurrent list,’’ he added.
But Chief Sani Agabi, SAN, argued that promulgating a new constitution may be a better option given the number of amendments the 1999 constitution had been subjected to.
He said, “Considering the number of amendments we have effected to the constitution since its promulgation in 1999, and having regard to the fact that our situation appears to be worsening, we must wonder whether the problem is with the constitution or with ourselves. In any case, if so many amendments appear justified over such a short time, we might as well promulgate a new constitution.’’