David Mark: Constitution Stands Amended

2010-07-17
THISDAY Newspaper- Kunle Akogun and Yemi Adebowale

Following the much anticipated submission of the joint resolution on the amended portions of the 1999 Constitution by the Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures yesterday, the President of the Senate, Senator David Mark has declared that the constitution has been amended.


Mark’s statement confirmed THISDAY’s exclusive report yesterday that the first amendment of the constitution has been effected. The first amendment covers revisions to those sections of the constitution that got the requisite two thirds of the vote of the state houses of assembly.


Mark’s statement was made just as the Deputy Senate President and Chairman of the Joint Constitution Review Committee of the National Assembly, Senator Ike Ekweremadu explained why the legislature did not include critical areas urgently requiring revision.


Key issues that were left untouched include constitutional amendments to the Land Use Act, the creation of more states in the federation, constitutional backing for the establishment of state police forces, devolution of power, and resource control.
The senate president, who spoke at the presentation ceremony of the joint resolution on the constitution by Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures, said the amendment was a landmark feat and urged Nigerians not to falter nor succumb to private or sub-group interests at the expense of the overall national interest.


He called on the elite, particularly the political class to conduct an introspective assessment of our responsibility to the nation as individuals with honesty and commitment.
Mark further stressed that Nigerians as a people must muster enough courage, make the needed great sacrifices and resolve to exhibit a high sense of patriotism.


“The elite must grow and nurture the political will that would make the constitution operable to serve our collective national interest," Mark said.
“We must therefore revisit and reconstruct the foundation for an enduring political will, a prerequisite for our development and growth as a nation."


On receipt of the joint resolution, the National Assembly leadership subsequently announced that those sections of the amendments that failed to scale through the approval of the state houses of assembly would be made to go through another round of amendment process.


In his remarks, , the chairman of the Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures, Hon. Istifanus Gbana said the state houses of assembly regarded the exercise as one of the most important national assignments in the nation's political history.
Gbana, however, said it was difficult to determine whether or not Section 121 that deals with the financial autonomy for state legislatures met the two-thirds requirement needed for its passage.


He said contrary to speculations in certain quarters, the state assemblies have not been emasculated by their governors.
Gbana explained that the various state houses of assembly adopted different patterns of voting in their consideration of the 50 clauses proposed for amendment.
He said the clause-by-clause analysis of the two-thirds of 36 states required to pass each clause would be undertaken by the National Assembly.


He pointed out that procedurally, state assemblies have no power to amend the constitution but merely approve or reject clause by clause what has been passed by the National Assembly.
Also briefing the press shortly after the presentation, chairman of the Senate Committee on Information and Media and member of the Senate Review Committee, Senator Ayogu Eze, confirmed that the collation of the analyses of the resolutions from the state houses of assembly should be ready within two weeks.


Eze said: “We are now going to the next stage of picking up those areas that met the requirement of the two thirds majority.
Then there are areas that will fall short, but if we feel strongly about them, we will start the process of reprocessing them for amendments but once we finish this one, we will go on to deal with other matters regarding the creation of states.”


He noted that since Nigerians are clamouring for the creation of additional states, the National Assembly has taken the matter very seriously adding that if the reports meet the requirements and procedures that had been set out by the constitution, legislators would go further to prove to Nigerians that states can be created in a democratic dispensation.
Eze stressed that with the presentation by the state houses of assembly, the constitution has been amended to the extent that some sections had been passed by two thirds of the state assemblies adding that unlike other bills, the amendment of the constitution does not require the assent of the president.


“The process does not require the assent of the president or any other process. “Technically, the constitution has been amended. The sections that received two thirds of the votes stand as part of the constitution, and the sections that failed to get two third votes, will not be part of the constitution,” he explained.
Ekweremadu, who spoke exclusively to this newspaper, noted the review of the constitution, which started as far back as 2006, encountered so many obstacles that had to be overcome before getting to this stage.


He explained that one of the problems with the review process was the number of issues, some which were contentious, that had been brought to the table and were too many to address all at the same time.


Continuing, the deputy senate president added: “As a result, we the lawmakers decided, for now, to address issues in which he had a national consensus and those that are critical for the purpose of the forthcoming 2011 election.


“This led to the current amendments we have today. However, we do recognise that key issues that were not touched remain critical and shall be handled incrementally.”


Ekweremadu expressed satisfaction with the state of the constitution review conducted so far, saying “I am a very happy man and Nigerians can be assured of the National Assembly’s ability to conduct future reviews and to continue to amend the constitution.”
When asked when exactly the next review would take place, he said, “Well, you know we are going on vacation. When we come back, we shall go back to the drawing board.


“This process is a learning curve. However, we already have enough material to address the review of the Land Use Act, states creation, the formation of state police and other critical issues.
“You must understand that constitution reviews are ongoing processes and will continue as long as society remains dynamic.
“Even the US has been amending its constitution since it attained independence over 200 years ago.”


Elaborating on the issue of the creation of state police forces, Ekweremadu said this is one issue he remains very passionate about personally, because “it is germane to the security of the country.”
He said: “I have presented several papers in the past on the issue because I believe that security in Nigeria cannot be assured until policing is decentralised. That is the beauty of federalism.”


 

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