ABUJA—THE Senate,yesterday, struck out proposals for a six year single term for the president and governors even as it rejected agitation for local government autonomy while passing the bill to alter the 1999 constitution.
Yesterday’s voting on the proposals of the Senator Ike Ekweremadu-led Senate Committee on the Review of the Constitution, was at one time interspersed with accusations of religious bigotry as former Zamfara governor at one stage threatened a walk-out on the allegation that the Senate president was not disposed to Islamic interests.
Consideration of a similar report in the House of Representatives was, however, not possible yesterday following mutterings about poor circulation of the report to members.
The senators also altered the constitution to allow automatic codification into the law books of any bill passed by the president after 30 days in the event of the president withholding assent or wielding the veto.
The 101 senators who were present at the session also upheld the committee’s recommendation that election disputes be settled within 180 days and that election disputes be resolved before the inauguration into the elective offices.
The Senators also threw out the committee’s recommendation for a mayoral status for the Federal Capital Territory and the proposal to split office of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation.
The Senate also adopted a recommendation that removed a presidential assent to any bill altering the constitution.
The bill passed by the Senate also gave latitude for underage marriage as it altered section 29, (4), (B) to allow for any woman who is married to be deemed of full age.
The Senate nevertheless rejected moves to include aviation and prison which are presently on the exclusive list on the concurrent list. Recommendations to delete the National Youths Service Corps and Public Complaints Commission from the Constitution were equally rejected.
With the current position of the upper legislative chamber, proponents of local financial autonomy for local governments, six-year single term for president and state governors, as well as mayoral status for the Federal Capital Territory, have completely failed in their efforts at realizing their goal.
The Senate equally okayed proposal for former Senate Presidents and Deputy Senate Presidents, as well as former Speakers and Deputy Speakers of the House of Representatives to enjoy life-time pension amounting to the equivalent salary of the incumbent holders of such offices.
The upper Chamber killed the proposal for the removal of the National Security Agencies Act and the word ‘Force’ from the Nigeria Police Force which the proposal had sought to replace with the word “Service”.
It also rose against the recommendation to transfer Prisons from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List even as it okayed the transfer of labour, pensions and railways, stamp duty, health care, arbitration, agriculture, road safety and youths to the Concurrent List.
The transfer of labour to the concurrent list if approved by the House of Representatives and adopted by the states could liberalise negotiations giving room for the states to negotiate different minimum wages.
The proposal for removal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and other serving judicial officers as chairperson and members respectively of the Federal Judicial Service Commission, FJSC, was rejected.
The Ekweremadu led Constitution Review Committee had recommended for the appointment of a retired Chief Justice of Nigeria or retired President of the Court of Appeal as the chairman of the FJSC, even as the lawmakers approved the proposal for direct payment of funds to State Houses of Assembly, State Judiciary and State Independent Electoral Commissions.
At the end of the exercise which lasted for over five hours, emotion was high as religious and ethnic sentiments came to play in a particular portion of the proposed constitution, following allegation by both Senators Ahmad Sani Yerima, ANPP- Zamfara West and Danjuma Goje, PDP, Gombe Central, that the Senate President, Senator David Mark played double standard in the voting process.
Senator Ahmad Sani in particular, accused the Senate President for allowing a second vote on two issues raised by Senator Ekweremadu and Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, but refused to call for a second vote on an issue he raised, and threatened to storm out of the chamber if not recognized. He said that Senator Mark’s action infringed on the rights of adherents of Islam regarding marriage.
He said the Senate vote deleting Section 29 (4b) was against Islamic laws, insisting that the Constitution forbids the National Assembly from making laws that go against Islamic injunction.
But Senator Mark in a sharp riposte said he took exception to the accusation, insisting that he had been consistent in the conduct of the voting process.
In his remark, the Senate President described the process as ‘historic’ because senators stood up for what they believed in.
“Today is a historic day in the history of democracy in this country.
We have voted in what we believe and we voted for those issues that we think will ensure that democracy continues to mature and take a firm root in this country.
“I want to thank you because I believe that the committee worked very hard to be able to get us to where we are now.
“Whatever emotions or sentiments people had to express we put them in practical terms.
Mark said that a conference committee would be set up between the Senate and the House of Representatives to harmonise their positions before forwarding to State Assemblies. The Senate will today hold a valedictory session for late Senator Pius Ewherido, Delta Central.