January 23, 2020

Crisis looms in Senate over who chairs Senate committee on constitution amendment

Nigerian Senate

…As Moves to change the pattern of having the Deputy President of the Senate to Chair thickens

By Henry Umoru

AHEAD of resumption of the Senate next week Tuesday, strong indications have emerged that crisis looms in the Senate over the composition of a committee on the review of the Nigerian Constitution.

It was gathered that the failure of the President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan to put In place such a Committee before the Senators went for the Christmas and New break is among others, heightening the tension.

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According to a source, moves to drop the tradition of having the Deputy Senate President to Chair the Committee may also have led to delay in the composition, just as it was gathered that in place of the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo Agege, All Progressives Congress, APC, Delta Central to head the Committee, the Senate Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, APC, Kebbi North is being considered for the job.

It was also gathered that the Senate Chief Whip, Senator Uzor Orji Kalu, APC, Abia North was first considered to Chair the Committee, but for his present state where he is presently out of the Senate, he cannot be considered for it hence the pendulum is shifting to the Senate Leader.

Recall that the  National Assembly adopted the practice  of appointing the Deputy President of the Senate as the Chairman of the Joint Constitution Review Committee by convention when the Fourth Reputable started in 1999.

The federal legislators adopted the arrangement based on gentleman agreement by both chambers and it has since become the convention in the National Assembly even though it was neither contained in the standing rules of either the House of representatives  nor Senate.

Senator Ibrahim Mantu was the joint chairman of the panel up till 2007 when Senator Ike Ekweremadu  took over.

The arrangement changed with Ekweremadu’s emergence as both chambers have separate committees up till now.

Ekweremadu was chairman of the panel in the Senate between 2007 and 2019.

The fact that the issue was not captured in the Senate rules, could make the Presiding officer to use his discretion to appoint any lawmaker apart his deputy to head the committee.

A ranking senator said, “If you look at the 9th House of Representatives,  the Deputy Speaker is not the Chairman of the Committee.

“Deputy President of the Senate used to be the chairman of the Joint National Assembly Committee on Constitution Amendment. That was why Senator Ibrahim Mantua led the panel for many years.

“It was later split in 2007 and both chambers started having separate panels and chairmen.

“Since the joint panel was split in 2007, the Deputy President of the Senate has always been the chairman of the Committee. For instance, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, was the chairman when he held that position from 2007 to 2019.

“Splitting the joint panel is not even healthy for the economy of the country because it is cheaper for both chambers to come together and do the work instead of duplicating efforts.”

With the non composition of the Committee, All bills relating to Constitution review cannot move beyond the first reading to second reading against the backdrop that no substantive committee to refer such bills to.

Presently, Bills for alteration of the Constitution still in the first reading waiting for the setting up of the Committee are: Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2019 (SB. 109), Senator Babba Kaita Ahmad (Katsina North); Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2019 (SB. 75), Senator Istifanus Gyang (Plateau North).

Others are Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2019 (SB. 48), Senator Rose Oko (Cross River North); Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2019 (SB. 184), Senator Uche Ekwunife (Anambra Central); Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2019 (SB. 204), Senator Gabriel Suswam (Benue North East) and Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2019 (SB. 218), Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi (Ekiti North).

Also waiting are Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2019 (SB. 240), Senator Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa West); Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2019 (SB. 247), Senator Surajudeen Ajibola Basiru (Osun Central): Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Alteration) Bill 2019 (SB.74) By Sen. Gyang, lstifanus Dun (Plateau North)and Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999(Alteration ) Bill, 2019 (SB. 259) By Sen. Bamidele, Micheal Opeyemi (Ekiti Central).

When anxiety was high in December over the delay in the composition, President  of the Senate, Senator  Ahmad Lawan who gave an insight into  why the upper legislative chamber has not set up a committee on the review of the Nigerian Constitution, said that the delay in constituting the  Constitutional Review Committee has been  because the Senate has been pre-occupied with other issues like the 2020 budget.

The Senate President who spoke when he received  in audience the European Union Ambassador to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ketil Karlsen who paid him a courtesy visit,  however assured the nation that the committee will soon be put in place.

In a statement signed by his Special Adviser, Media, Ola Awoniyi, Lawan had said, “Very soon, we will constitute our Committee on Constitutional Review. We haven’t done so yet because we have been engaged so much more with other issues.

“We believe that by the time we passed the budget, then our committee on Constitutional Review will be put in place.

“By next year January, the committee will start some work because we already have some references that require some kind of constitutional review.”

When asked to speak on who  chairs Senate Committee on Constitution Amendment,  Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator  Godiya Akwashiki,  APC, Nasarawa North said that the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, will honour his promise to constitute all outstanding committees on resumption from the Christmas and New Year break.

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Akwashiki  described the issue of Constitution amendment as very important now that many various sections of the country are clamouring for a review of the nation’s laws to tackle insecurity and other social and economic challenges.

He said, “The Senate President has promised to address the issue of Constitution amendment when we resume from our current break. I believe that he will honour his words by announcing the committee once we resume because of the enormous work it is supposed to handle.

“There are issues that needed to be addressed by amendment to the constitution. Hence the committee is very important to us in the Senate.”