Full Text of Press Conference by Rt. Hon Emeka Ihedioha

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The purpose of this press briefing is to present to the Nigerian Public the score card and the work done so far by the Ad-Hoc Committee on Constitution Review of the House of Representatives.

It is a well known fact that the process adopted by the House to alter the Constitution, has been very painstaking and methodical. It has been done in a most transparent and professional manner. It is perhaps the most inclusive and consultative process ever undertaken by the House of Representatives.

The highlight of the process was the highly acclaimed Peoples Public Sessions held all over the country on November 10, 2012. This was a landmark achievement as Nigerians in their various constituencies had an opportunity to express their views on how they should be governed. The Results of the Peoples Public Sessions were openly collated with all the major stakeholders participating actively. These Results were published in the media and on the website of the Committee and to date, no person has disputed the authenticity of the will of the people expressed during those hearings. We therefore take them as the authentic view of the people on the subjects voted on. On 24th July, 2013, the House of Representatives kept faith with the decisions and wishes of the Nigerian people as expressed during the Peoples Public Sessions, in a historic voting on the various sections proposed for amendments.  The House lived up to its billing as the House of the Nigerian people by voting overwhelmingly along the line of the outcome of the Peoples Public Sessions in their Federal Constituencies.

On Thursday January 30, 2014, the House also voted to alter more Sections.

It’s important for me to highlight the key amendments that have been made:

1.     Amendment of Section 4

The House voted by 301 votes for, none against and no abstention to insulate members of the legislature from civil or criminal proceedings in respect of words spoken or written before the House or a Committee.  This is aimed at ensuring that Members of the legislature are not made liable for contributions made on the floor.  This will enhance robust legislative debates by Members and is consistent with international best practices.

2.     Local Government System

The House voted by 284 for, 48 against and 7 abstentions to amend Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution states in part that the system of Local Government by democratically elected Local Government Councils is under the Constitution guaranteed.  This is however observed more in breach as so many States at various times do not have democratically elected local government councils.  To cure this, the House voted overwhelmingly to grant full financial, administrative, executive and legislative autonomy to local government councils (LGCs).  By this effort, the LGCs would be made a tier of government having a uniform 4 year tenure.  Also, any LGC that does not have  democratically elected officials would be denied allocation from the Federation Account and other benefits from the State Government.

The amendments articulates clearly the structure, organs, personnel, procedures for exercise of powers by the organs and functionaries of the Local Government Councils. It replicates to a large extent the Presidential System of Government at the Local Government level.

It equally consequentially amended section 285 of the Constitution to establish for each State, a Local Government Election Tribunal to determine election petitions at the Local Government level.

It also provided for the appointment of an Auditor-General for the Local Government Councils in a new section 126(1) of the Constitution.

3.     Amendment of Section 8

Section 8 was amended by 305 votes for, 22 votes against and 12 abstentions in order to remove ambiguities in the process of creation of new States and boundary adjustment.  The referendum required for a new State shall now be approved by at least two-thirds majority of the ‘registered voters’ of the local government areas where the demand originated from, instead of the current provision of approval by “two-third majority of the people of the area” which is ambiguous and subject to different interpretations.

The referendum will now also be approved by two-third of the State Houses of Assembly.  The current provision requires a simple majority of the entire Nigerian voters and a simple majority of the whole 36 States Houses of Assembly sitting together or separately to vote.

The amendments also made it clear that only “democratically elected” officials and Council can perform the roles assigned in the Constitution for creation of Local Governments, States and Boundary Adjustment.

4.     Amendment of Section 9

Section 9 was amended by 317 votes for, 6 against and 15 abstentions which met the 4/5 majority required to amend the Section. The amendment sought to replace an “Act” with a “Bill” thereby enabling the process to proceed without Presidential Assent.

5.     Amendment of Section 12(1)

This Section was amended to increase the Role of National Assembly in the Ratification of Treaties.

6.     Amendment of Section 25

Section 25 was amended by a huge majority of 292 votes for, 27 against and 20 abstentions to confer on married women the opportunity to elect to acquire indigenship rights either of their husband’s community or to retain that of their paternal community.  It also conferred indigenship rights of a State to a Nigerian citizen who has resided in a particular community of a State for a continuous period of not less than 10 years. However, no person shall claim indigenship of more than one State at a time. The amendment is aimed at accommodating the reality of movement of persons, change of domicile, intermarriages and national integration in modern Nigeria.

7.     Amendment of Section 26

Citizenship by registration is being made available to any person, irrespective of gender married to a Nigeria, allowing for both paternal and maternal relationships, as basis for citizenship by registration through marriage, as opposed to the extant provisions that is paternal, by making citizenship by registration only available to a woman married to a Nigerian man. This also advances gender equality constitutionally.

8.     Amendment of Section 33

The House voted by 305 for, 9 against and 25 abstentions to amend the section to redefine the use of reasonable force by law enforcement agents.  It now means that only a “commensurate, proportionate or equal force can be used in self defence by law enforcement officials thus providing for a more restrained method of policing the nation in order to protect the fundamental rights of Nigerians.

9.     Amendment of Sections 34(2), 35(7), 39(3), 42(3), 89(2), 129(2), 214, 215, et cetera

The House voted overwhelmingly by 314 for, 1 against and 24 abstention to amend S.34(2); by 318 for, 2 against and 19 abstention to amend S.35(7); by 315 for, 5 against and 19 abstentions to amend S.39(3); by 319 for, 2 against and 18 abstentions to amend S. 42 (3); and consequentially, any other section where the term “Nigerian Police Force” appears and replaced with “Nigeria Police”. The rationale was to emphasize the civil nature of policing, rather than celebrate “brute” force. There is nowhere else in the world where such a term as “force” is added to the name of the Police system.  Section 42(1) was also amended to include “disability” as a ground under which a person should not be discriminated against.

10.    Amendment of Section 45

Perhaps one of the most revolutionary amendments is the introduction of new section 45A – 45D.  By this, four items currently under Chapter 2 of the Constitution on the fundamental objectives and Directive Principles of State policy were moved to Chapter 4 on the Fundamental Human Rights in order to make them justiciable.  The House voted by 321 for, 2 against and 16 abstentions to provide for a new section 45A which grants every citizen of Nigeria a right to free basic education; by 322 for, 1 against and 16 abstentions to provide for a new section 45B which grants a right to a favourable environment; by 318 for, 2 against and 16 abstentions for a new section 45C which grants a right to free primary and maternal Health Care Services; while it voted by 317 for, 4 against and 18 abstentions to provide for a new section 45D which grants a right to basic housing.

11.    Amendment of Section 50 and 92

The House voted by 327 for, none against and 12 abstentions  to amend Sections 50 and 92 to introduce new Sections 50A and 92A to incorporate the National Assembly Service Commission and the State Houses of Assembly Service Commissions in the Constitution. This is a deliberate effort to strengthen the capacity of the legislative institutions and bring them at par with their counterparts like the Federal Judicial Service Commission and the Federal Civil Service Commission which are already constitutional bodies.

12.    Amendment of Section 58

This amendment replaces an “Act” of the National Assembly with its legal connotation of a presidential assent, with a “Bill”.  It also specifically dispenses with the requirement of the assent of the President, as it was felt that 2/3 majority votes of the National Assembly and 2/3 of the entire Houses of Assembly were sufficient for the purpose of determining the will of the Nigerian people.

13.    Amendment of Section 59

The House voted by 317 for, 1 against and 19 abstentions to amend the section to introduce a new subsection 4 to require the President of the Senate to convene a joint session of the National Assembly within seven (7) days to reconsider any money Bill vetoed by the President, thereby removing the lacuna in the current provision.

14.    Amendment of Sections 65(2)(b); 106(d); 131(c)  and 177(c)

The House voted overwhelmingly by 313 for, 8 against and 12 abstentions to endorse independent candidacy in elections in order to further open up the political space.  To ensure that the provision is not abused, section 228 was amended to introduce a new section 228(e) which states that “The National Assembly may by law provide for procedures, guidelines and qualifications for access to the ballot by political parties and independent candidates”.

15.    Amendment of Section 67

The House voted by 293 for, 7 against and none abstention to make it mandatory for the President to attend a joint meeting of the National Assembly once every year to deliver an address on any issue(s) in respect of the State of the Nation in a manner prescribed by the National Assembly. This is aimed at achieving more transparency and accountability in government.

16.    Amendment of Sections 68 and 109

The House voted by 286 for, 5 against and 3 abstentions to amend the sections to ensure that a member of a legislature who becomes a member of a Parliamentary body or similar bodies by virtue of his office in the Legislature, does not have to vacate his seat.

17.    Amendment of Section 80(4) and 120(4)

The House voted by 325 for, 2 against and 12 abstentions to replace the above sections with new ones that completely captures  Appropriation of any form of revenue accruing to or derived by any Fund, Agency, Entity or Department of Government of the Federation or of a State by the National Assembly or a State House of Assembly. This is aimed at bringing some order to the budgetary process and plugging leakages from the Consolidated Revenue Fund and Public Funds of Nigeria by ensuring that no expenditure is made by any organ of government without appropriation.

18.    Amendment of Sections 81(1) and 121(1); 81(2) and 121(2); introduction of new sections 81(3a) and 121(A) and sections 82 and 122

The House voted by 329 for, 1 against and 9 abstentions to amend section 81(1) that allows the President to lay a budget before the National Assembly at “anytime” in each financial year to now read “not later than 90 days before the end of each financial year”.

Section 81(2) was amended to introduce “Other Public Funds of the Federation set up for specific purposes” as part of the estimates which the President must lay before the National Assembly for Appropriation.  In order words, the amendment will ensure that the budgeting of such entities as NNPC, NIMASA, Customs and Excise, CBN, et cetera must now be laid before the National Assembly.

The new section 81(3A) defines the estimate of revenue and expenditure to be introduced by the President to include any form of revenue received or a return on government investment by any Agency of Government.

The House also amended sections 82 and 122 to limit the period during which the Federation or a State may operate without an Appropriation Act  in any new financial year to three (3) months rather than six (6) months as is currently the case.

19.    Amendment of Section 81 and 121

The House voted by 327 for, 3 against and 9 abstentions to amend the sections in order to include –

the National Security Agencies; and the Nigerian Police, alongside the State Houses of Assembly, Attorneys- General, the Auditors-General, as bodies to be included in the first line charge of the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation and states.  This shall grant them financial autonomy to enable them carry out their assignments without the hindrance of non-release of their allocations.  This will assure their operational autonomy.

20.    Amendment of Sections 84(5) and 124(5)

The House voted by 284 for, 18 against and 36 abstentions to amend S. 84(5); by 293 for, 13 against and 32 abstentions to amend S. 124(5) to include the presiding officers of the National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly to join the President, Vice President, Governors, Deputy Governors and Leadership of the Judicial Arm as persons entitled to pension after leaving office, provided they were not impeached or removed.  This is to correct a historic wrong perpetuated by the military in government against the legislative arm, either to deliberately or otherwise undermine it as a co- equal branch in the administrative and governance  structure of Nigeria.  It was wrong to have provided for the leaders of the executive and judicial arms of government and excluded the leaders of the legislative arm.  This will also help insulate them from financial and even political manipulations and corruption while in office.

21.    Introducing new Sections 84A – 84F

The House voted by 321 for, 7 against and 11 abstentions to split the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation and introduce a new Office of the Accountant-General of the Federal Government.  Under the proposed new structure, the Accountant-General of the Federation shall have a five (5) year tenure and be charged with handling the disbursement of allocations from the Federation Account to the three tiers of  Government while the Accountant-General of the Federal Government shall have a four (4) year tenure and charged with administering the accounts of the Federal Government.

It is significant that under the new structure, the Accountant-General of the Federation is to be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the National Economic Councilwhich is made up of all the Governors of the States.  The Senate shall confirm the appointment.

22.    Amendment of Sections 89 and 129

The House voted by 299 for, 1 against and none abstention to amend S. 89; by 304 for, none against and none abstention to amend S.129 to prescribe civil and/or criminal sanctions for any failure, refusal or neglect to obey the summons issued by a legislative House or any of its Committees.  It also included the Sergeant-At-Arms among persons authorized to execute a summons or warrant.

This is aimed at strengthening the oversight functions of the legislature and ensuring that any person summoned to provide any information attends at the pain of a criminal or civil penalty.  It is also to ensure that the summons are duly served where the Police may be hamstrung to do so.

23.    Amendment of Section 125 – Auditor-General of Local Government Councils

The House voted by 324 for, 7 against and 8 abstentions to amend S.125, in order to check the excesses that may arise from the introduction of full autonomy at the local government councils, an Independent Auditor-General of Local Government Councils of a State was created.

24.    Amendment of Sections 135 and 180

The House voted by 306 for, 17 against and 14 abstentions to amend S.135; 294 voted for, 24 against and 19 abstentions to amend S.180 which decided that conviction of a sitting President, Vice President, Governor or Deputy Governor is a ground for the person to leave office.

25.    Amendment of Sections 150; 174; 195 and 211

The House voted by 321 for, 7 against and 11 abstentions to amend S.150; by 328 for, 3 against and 8 abstentions to amend S. 174; by 324 for, 5 against, 10 abstentions to amend S.195; by 324 for, 4 against and 11 abstentions to amend S. 211 which separate the Offices of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Attorney-General of a State from the Minister of Justice and Commissioner for Justice of a State.  It introduced new Section 174A – 174L and equivalent sections for the States.  The proposal is that the Attorney-General shall be a distinguished legal practitioner who has knowledge of the workings of the criminal justice system and shall be independent of any authority or person.  He shall not belong to any political party and will have complete control and authority over public prosecutions.  He shall have a 5 year fixed term which may be renewed for another 5 years and no more.  His appointment shall be on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council at the federal level and the State Judicial Service Commission at the States level.  He can only be removed by a 2/3 vote of the Senate or the House of Assembly. The office as already stated shall be on first line charge in order to further guarantee financial and operational independence.

26.    Amendment of Section 153

The House voted by 317 for, 2 against and 19 abstentions to establish an Electoral Offences Commission as one of the federal bodies in the Constitution.  This is a bold attempt by the House to tackle the hydra-headed problem of electoral integrity and ensure effective sanctions for electoral malpractices.

Furthermore, the word “Executive”, in the section was expunged as it was felt that some of the bodies listed therein, like the National Judicial Council cannot really be called “an executive body”.  The House also voted to establish an Electoral Offences Tribunal.

27.    Amendment of Section 162

The House voted by 326 for, 4 against and 9 abstentions to amend Section 162 so that the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation shall be funded from the Federation Account pursuant to an Act of the National Assembly.  The Section was also amended to empower the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) to table proposals for revenue allocation from the Federation Account directly to the National Assembly and not for the President   to do so upon receipt of an advice from RMAFC.  This is to avoid the delay and possible interference in the work of the RMAFC so that it could serve the entire nation in a neutral capacity.

It was further amended to abolish the “State Joint Local Government Account” and establish instead a “Local Government Council Allocation Account” into which shall be paid directly allocation to each local government council from the Federation Account and from the States Governments.  This is to ensure financial autonomy for the local government councils.

28.    Amendment of Section 201 and 202  – Abolition of the State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs)

The House voted by 331 in favour, 16 against and 11 abstentions to abolish the State Independent Electoral Commissions in order that all elections shall be conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). This is to cure the current scandalous situation where the credibility of elections conducted by SIECs have left much to be desired. In any case, and in spite of concerns on issues of federalism, Nigerians voted overwhelmingly during the Peoples Public Sessions in support of this measure.

29.    Amendment of Section 228

This proposed alteration is to reflect a paradigm shift through the constitutional adoption of independent candidacy in our politics thereby providing for access to ballot by independent candidates and political parties in order to engender efficiency in electoral management and healthy competition for political offices.

30.    Amendment of Section 241

The House, relying on the returns of the Peoples Public Sessions which endorsed measures to undertake judicial reforms to ensure quicker dispensation of justice, voted overwhelmingly by 324 for, 7 against and 8 abstentions for the reforms.  In one of the most significant amendments of the current process, the House voted for a new sub-section (3), to wit, “ a court or tribunal shall not stay any proceeding on account of an interlocutory appeal”.  This amendment could impact in a very effective and positive manner on the time spent in court by litigants.

31.    Amendment of Section 285

The House voted by 250 for, 10 against and 7 abstentions, decided to cure any injustice that may be occasioned by the requirement on the tribunal or court of appeal to deliver judgment within 180 days and 60 days respectively of the filing of election petitions and delivery of judgment by the tribunal.

It voted to allow that where a force majeure occurs that makes it impracticable for the court or tribunal to sit, the period of the said force majeure shall not be counted in the computation of the 180 days and 60 days respectively.

The House also voted to provide that where a preliminary objection or any other interlocutory issue touching on the jurisdiction of the tribunal or court or on the competence of the petition itself is raised by a party, the tribunal or court shall suspend ruling thereon and deliver same at the stage of final judgment.

32.    Amendment of Section 291

The House voted by 324 for, 7 against and 8 abstentions to amend this section in furtherance of judicial reform and welfare of retired judicial officers by reducing the age of entitlement to retirement benefit from 15 years service to 10 years service.  This would enable a judge who was appointed before age 55 to enjoy pension benefit before retirement at age 65.

The House also voted to enhance the pension entitlements of retired judges by providing for a rate equivalent to the annual salary of the incumbent holder of the office  as opposed to the current provision of pension entitlement of his last annual salary.  This will take care of inflation and other cost of living adjustments.

33.    Amendment of Section 292

The House voted by 322 for, 4 against and 13 abstentions to introduce a provision that before the President or a Governor can act on an address supported by the 2/3 of the Senate or a House of Assembly to remove a judicial officer, the National Judicial Council must have certified that a prima facie case had been made against the judicial officer.

The House also voted to vest sole responsibility on the National Judicial Council to suspend, reinstate or exercise any form of disciplinary power over judicial officers.  However, in cases of suspension or disciplinary control, the suspension shall be once and not exceed a cumulative period of more than 90 days.  This is aimed at removing interference from any person or authority on issues of disciplinary actions of judicial officers and vesting it exclusively on the Council.

34.    Amendment of Section 308

Perhaps one of the most courageous decisions of the House in this exercise is the removal of criminal immunity from the President, Vice President, Governors and Deputy Governors, leaving only immunity against civil proceedings.  This was effected by a vote of 292 members  for, 26 members against and 30 abstentions.  Members simply opted to keep faith with the decisions  of their constituents at the Peoples Public Sessions.

35.    Amendment of Section 315

The House voted by 323 for, none against and 16 abstentions to delete section 315(2), 315(4)(a)(i) and (ii), and 315(4)(c) in order to bring to an end the anachronistic position that allows the President or a Governor to function, both in an executive and legislative capacity by way of having the power to repeal or alter, by modifications of any existing law.  The provision was meant to be transitional but there was no time limit placed on its use, unlike in the 1963 Constitution where a similar provision was stipulated to last for only six (6) months before it lapsed.

36.    Amendment of Section 315(5) of the Constitution and Section 19 of the National Youth Service Corps Act

The House voted by 300 for, 2 against and none abstention to mandate the National Youth Service Corps to insure every corp member against loss of life or serious injury incurred or occasioned while performing official duty or while traveling, seven days preceding the date of commencement of the service period or seven days after the end of the service period, from the place of residence or mobilization to the place of deployment and vice versa.

It also extended the coverage of the Public Officers Protection Act to every corp member and any other person employed under any undertaking or project for the duration of this service.

This provision is aimed at strengthening the Service and ensuring that compensation is paid to the family of any corp member who suffers loss of life in the course of the service.

37.    Role for Traditional Rulers

The House voted by a huge majority voted by 317 for, 10 against and 12 abstentions to provide for a role for Traditional Rulers in the Constitution at the national, State and Local Government Levels. At the national level, six (6) Traditional Rulers reflecting the federal character of Nigeria are to be members of the National Council of State for a four (4) year duration.  At the State level, a State Council of Chiefs is to be established for each State.  A similar provision shall be made at the council level.  Their role shall be mainly advisory in nature.

38.    The Second Schedule, Parts 1 and II, Section 4

The House voted by 306 for, 2 against and 21 abstentions to amend these provisions by transferring some items, such as Railways, from the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List; and then moving some other items like Health and Housing from the Residual List to the Concurrent List.  The rationale for moving Health and Housing, apart from the extensive practical involvement of the Federal Government on both matters, is that the decision to transfer the Right to Primary and Maternal health Care and Basic Housing from Chapter II to Chapter IV as fundamental rights would bring undue pressure on the Governments of the States, hence the decision to cast the burden on both the States and the Federal Governments.

39.    Conclusion

The House Committee on Constitution Amendment and indeed the entire House of Representatives has carried out its assignment objectively with the interest of the Nigerian people at heart. The House carried out alterations on 71 Sections of the Constitution. It has done its best as Representatives of the people. Because we operate a bicameral legislature, the House will have to meet with the Senate to harmonize the two versions of the Reports of the two Chambers.

To this end, the House will name a Harmonization Committee as soon as we resume plenary. The harmonized Report will be subjected to further legislative action before being forwarded to the 36 States Houses of Assembly for their concurrence.

This will present the most crucial test of the amendment process.  I therefore call on Nigerians and particularly the civil society organizations, professional groups and labour unions to be exceptionally vigilant when we get to that stage so that all these efforts will not be in vain.

It remains for us to thank all members of the Committee, the leadership and members of the House of Representatives for their hard work and dedication. This exercise would not have been successful without the support and cooperation of the media, civil society organizations, other stakeholders and the Nigerian people. We thank you all.

Thank you and God bless.

Rt. Hon. Emeka IhediohaCON

Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives/Chairman,

Ad-Hoc Committee on Constitution Review

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