Among the Igbo, it is said that when a woman conceives standing up, she is not likely to give birth to a normal baby. Thus, so many things are expectedly wrong with the 1999 Constitution, given the circumstances of its conception and birth by the General Abdulsalami Abubakar regime. It also explains the agitations for a truly people’s constitution immediately after May 1999.
However, constitution amendment in a multi-ethnic society does not come easy. Efforts to amend the 1999 Constitution suffered serial failure until Senator Ike Ekweremadu emerged in 2007 as the Deputy President of the 6th Senate and chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitution Review. Fortunately, Ekweremadu and his colleagues were able to manoeuvre through the political landmines to break the jinx in 2010.
It wasn’t a walk through the park though, as some proposed amendments fell by the wayside. Successful amendments (amendments assented by the President) between 2010 and 2019 include: amendments to Sections 145 and 190 of the Constitution to compel the President/Governor to transmit a letter to the National Assembly/State Assembly to enable his/her deputy to act whenever he/she is to proceed on vacation or unable to discharge his/her functions. Otherwise, the Vice President or Deputy Governor automatically assumes office in acting capacity after 21 days. There was also an amendment to enable a person sworn in as President or Governor to complete the term of an elected President or Governor, but stand disqualified from election to the same office for more than one more term.
Furthermore, Sections 135 and 180 of the Constitution were amended to straighten the remaining term of office of a President/Governor who won a rerun election to include the period already spent in office.
Sections 81, 84, and 160 of the Constitution were amended to make INEC financially and administratively independent. Section 156 of the Constitution was amended to remove membership of a political party as a qualification for appointment into INEC. Other successful amendments bordering on electoral reforms include: amendments to Section 285 (5) to (8) to set time limits for the filing, hearing and disposal of election petition, to quicken justice; amendments to Sections 76, 116, 132, and 178 to provide for a wider time frame for the conduct of elections; amendments to Section 285 and the Sixth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution to reduce the composition of tribunals to a chairman and two members and the quorum to just a chairman and a member; amendments to Sections 66(h), 137(i), and 182(i) to delete the disqualification of persons indicted by an administrative panel from standing for election. this was due to perceived abuses ahead of 2007 election.
Others comprise: introduction of time limits for filing, adjudication, and disposal of pre-election lawsuits in order to quicken justice; reduction of age qualification for political offices (Not Too Young to Run Bill); amendments to Sections 134, 179, 225, of the Constitution to extend from seven to 21 days the period within which INEC shall conduct run-off election between the two leading presidential/gubernatorial candidates; insertion of Section 225A to stipulate the conditions and process for deregistration of political parties.
Also, the Constitution was amended to grant financial autonomy to the National Assembly to promote checks and balance and independence of the legislature. This was subsequently extended to state legislatures and judiciary in the last National Assembly vide amendments to Section 121 (3), while several Sections and Schedules to the Constitution were amended and a new Section 254 also inserted to make the National Industrial Court a court of superior record and equal in status with Federal High Court.
Meanwhile, the greatest loss to Nigeria was the Fourth Constitution (Alteration) Act 2014 in the 7th Assembly, which the President did not sign. The very elaborate amendments include devolution of powers by reorganising the Legislative Lists to move Railway, Aviation, Power, Stamp Duty, etc, from Exclusive List to Concurrent List and separation of the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation/State from the Office of Minister/Commissioner for Justice. Office of the Attorney-General was made sufficiently independent through financial autonomy, security of tenure, and mode of appointment.
Others were: Procedure for the enactment of a new constitution, which included referendum; inclusion of basic education and primary healthcare in fundamental and justiciable human rights; independent candidature; inclusion of electoral offences as grounds to disqualify candidates from future election; mandatory presentation of yearly State of the Nation address to a joint session of National Assembly by the President; straightening the processes for state creation to make them less cumbersome; removal of presidential assent of constitution amendment bills, as is the case in the US; financial autonomy for Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation, to make it more independent; amendment to Section 59 compelling the President/Governor to transmit assent/veto of a bill to parliament within 30 days (it is 10 days in the US), failing which such bill becomes law automatically. Where override is necessary, parliament must exercise such power within seven days.
Other unsigned amendments include: sanction for disobeying legislative summons; inclusion of all former Presidents of the Senate and Speakers of the House of Representatives in the membership of the National Council of State as former heads of the other two arms (CJN and President/Head of State) are already included; creation of Office of the Accountant-General of Federal Government different from Accountant-General of the Federation to promote transparency and accountability.
Also rejected were the prohibition of courts/tribunals from granting a stay of proceedings on account of interlocutory appeals in electoral matters; and conferment of criminal jurisdiction for electoral offences on the Federal High Court.
Sadly, most of those strategic amendments such as devolution of powers could not even scale through 8th National Assembly; quite a number of amendments passed by the National and State Assemblies were not also signed by President Muhammadu Buhari.
They include: compulsory presentation of budget estimates by President/Governor latest September and passing of same latest December 31; reduction of the period the President/Governor could approve expenditure from the federal/state treasury based on previous year’s budget (in the absence of a new budget) from six to three months; timeframe for submission of ministerial nominees, which must also be accompanied with their respective portfolios; and compulsory savings of a defined percentage of oil revenues for rainy days.
Prominent among amendments passed by NASS, but serially rejected by State Assemblies was the extensive reform of local government system to ensure financial autonomy, uniformity of tenure, and a review of mode of council elections.
Yet there were amendments, such as decentralisation of policing (to create state police) and single tenure of about five/six years for President and Governors, which Ekweremadu championed, were not passed by NASS. Attempts to abrogate the immunity clause were also never approved.
Given all this, there is no doubt that Senator Ike Ekweremadu, CFR, Ph.D. (Constitutional Law), who clocks 58 on May 12, has earned himself a place in the annals of our nation as a consummate constitutional engineer. Happy birthday, Ikeoha Ndigbo, the jinx-breaker, and legislative icon.
•Anichukwu writes from Abuja