By Muyiwa Bamidele
Proposal made by the Senate Committee on Constitution Review for alteration of section 9 of the 1999 constitution as a way of creating window for President of Nigeria to join the National Assembly in the process of initiating a new constitution was overwhelmingly rejected by Senators yesterday during general debate on all the fresh amendments proposed by the committee.
The Chairman of the Committee, Ike Ekweremadu had in the course of making a lead debate on the fresh constitution amendment proposals said the aim of the new insertion in section 9 of the constitution was to make provision for the President of the country in addition to the National Assembly to initiate the process of a new constitution.
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 also listed section 134 and 179 of the Constitution which aims to extend the time for conducting Presidential and Governorship re-run elections from 7 days to 21 days as contained in clause 4 and 5.
Other amendments proposals put forward by the constitution review committee for debate and approval include the conferment of exclusive jurisdiction on the Federal High Court for trial of offences arising from, pertaining to or connected with violation of the provisions of the electoral Act and any other election related Act of the National Assembly through alteration of section 251 as captured in clause 7.
The empowerment of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to deregister political parties which fails to win Presidential, Governorship, Chairmanship of a local Government /Area Council or seat in the National or State Assembly is also proposed for fresh amendment through alteration of clause 6 of section 225.
But the Senators while making general debates on all the amendment proposals singled out the one seeking for inclusion of President of the country with the National Assembly in the process of initiation of new constitution for total rejection while they made varied submissions on other proposals.
According to Senator Ahmad Lawan (APC Yobe North), approving such a proposal by the Senate, will amount to the National Assembly relinquishing its most fundamental constitutional roles as Assembly of lawmakers.
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”
Senator Kabiru Marafa (APC Zamfara Central) also kicked against the proposal by arguing that inserting a clause to accommodate the president as one of the parties that can initiate process for a new constriction, was an attempt to usurp the powers of the legislative.
He alleged that going ahead with the alteration would automatically provide a door for President Goodluck Jonathan to give credibility to the National Conference.
Ditto for Senator Victor Lar (PDP Plateau South) who kicked against the proposal by saying such inclusion and initiation were not necessary now adding that aside necessary amendments, the current constitution should be allowed to play out for the next 20 years.
Other Senators across party lines like Solomon Ewuga, Ganiyu Solomon, Adamu Gumba etc, also kicked against the proposed amendment of section 9 of the Constitution as regards inclusion of President of the Country in the initiation process of a new constitution.
But some other Senators like Abdul Ningi,(PDP Bauchi Central), Tukur Bello (PDP Adamawa Central), Kabiru Gaya (APC Kano South) etc, called for the proposed window of amendment in section 9 of the Constitution to be opened to all Nigerians and not only the President.
Meanwhile the Senate had fixed Thursday next week for electronic voting by the Senators on the proposals.
The Senate President, David Mark who made the announcement during the debate said what happened yesterday was just expression of individual senator’s opinion to the amendment proposal preparatory to actual voting on them next week