Friday, 5 July 2013

Reps’ panel wants immunity for President, govs removed

If the House of Representatives okays  the recommendation of its Adhoc Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, the President and state governors may be 50 per cent away from losing immunity against criminal prosecution.
The recommendation, which is one of the highlights of the committee’s report, will  also  have to receive the nod of the Senate before it becomes a sealed matter.
In the report laid before before the House in Abuja  by  its chairman, Mr. Emeka Ihedioha,on Thursday, the committee also suggested that the President  and governors should spend a maximum of two terms of four years   in office as  provided for by  the constitution.

However, the report largely adopted the demands of Nigerians during the November 10, 2012 People’s Public Sessions on the constitution.
During the sessions, which were held in the 360 federal constituencies in the country, Nigerians voted on a 43 issues they wanted to be included in the new constitution.
Giving the highlights of the report to the House, Ihedioha, who is also the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives,  said that the committee also worked on 27 constitution amendment bills proposed by members.
One of the comprehensive proposals  in  the report is on local government councils.
The committee has recognised the local government as a full autonomous third tier of government. It has therefore granted financial autonomy to them  by scrapping the existing state/local government joint account in the constitution.
In its place, it has created a special account for the local councils where they can draw their funds directly from the Federation Account without interference by the state governments.
Similarly, it has prescribed a uniform four-year tenure for the councils in all parts of the country and removed the local governments from the legislative control of state Houses of Assembly.
By this, the State Houses of  Assembly  shall no longer legislate for the running of the councils. That function will now be performed fully by the legislative councils of local governments.
According to the committee, elections into the councils will be conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission.It therefore wants  the existing state Independent Electoral Commissions to    be abolished.
In addition, there will be no more accommodation for the caretaker committee system of running local government councils in the proposed  constitution.
The report noted,  “The reforms proposed by the committee prescribed the mode of election of local government officials, their functions, tenure, qualifications for elections, and other related matters.
“Under the amendment proposed, elections into local government councils will be managed by the national election management body, INEC .”
One of the most controversial issues in the amendment process is the creation of states. But, the committee   recommended that there would be  no new states.
It explained, “The committee received requests for creation of states running into more than 35 . None of the requests submitted to the committee complied with the procedure for creation of states outlined in Section 8 of the constitution.
“Accordingly, the committee was unable to treat any of these requests. The committee however recognises that the existing provision in the constitution for the creation of new states is unclear and cumbersome. Accordingly, the committee has clarified the process.”
It however endorsed independent candidacy in future elections and created an Electoral Offences Commission to try offenders after elections.
Furthermore, the assent of the President will not be required for a new constitution to take effect, as the committee proposed amendments to Section 9 of the constitution to “remove ambiguities in language with respect to the alteration of the constitution and further dispense with the requirement for assent of the President to be obtained for the amendment of the constitution.”
It added, “The committee came to the conclusion that the rigorous provisions for the alteration of the constitution by members of the National Assembly and the participation of the 36 state Houses of Assembly represented such adequate participation of Nigerians and that assent of the President negated the principle contained therein.”
To guarantee their  independence, the committee placed the offices of the Attorney-General of the Federation, the Accountant-General of the Federation and the Auditor-General of the Federation on the first line charge of the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation to “insulate” them  from political control.
In line with the position of Nigerians, the committee recommended the separation of the office of the Minister of Justice from that of the Attorney-General of the Federation.
Other recommendations include  the provision of roles for traditional rulers in the proposed  constitution “for representation of traditional rulers in the National Council of State and the creation of a State Council of Chiefs at the state level.”
In a bid to devolve powers, the committee transferred railways, health, housing and electricity from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent List.
However, the report is not the final position of the House on the issues. Members will have to debate the bill like any other   and take a final vote.