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26 Jul 2017

Constitution Amendments: 10 Key Highlights You Need To Know

Constitution amendments is underway after they have been passed by at least 24 state houses of assembly and two-thirds of the national assembly.

The committee, which was led by Ike Ekweremadu, deputy senate president, worked on amending some sections of the 1999 constitution.

In January 2016, Senate President Bukola Saraki inaugurated the committee with a resolve to address some “knotty aspects of the constitution”.

The committee, which comprised members of the senate and the house of representatives, concluded its work weeks ago, and subsequently turned in its report.

The joint session of the national assembly expected to consider the report tomorrow.

Here are some highlights of the proposed amendments to the constitution:

1. IMMUNITY FOR THE LEGISLATURE

In the amended the constitution, the legislature sought to provide immunity for its members in respect of words spoken or written at plenary sessions or committee proceedings and to institutionalise legislative bureaucracy. The provision reads: “(7A) In the course of exercising the foregoing legislative powers, no civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted against a member of a legislative House in respect of words spoken or written before the house or a committee thereof.”

2. COMPOSITION OF MEMBERS OF THE COUNCIL OF STATE

In the amended constitution, the legislature included former heads of the national assembly in the council of state. Currently, only the sitting heads of the national assembly – senate president and speaker – are members of the council. However, it added a clause: “Provided that such a person was not removed from office by the process of impeachment.”

3. AUTHORISATION OF EXPENDITURE

The legislature altered the provisions of the constitution to reduce the period within which the president or the governor of a state might authorise the withdrawal of money from the consolidated revenue fund in the absence of an appropriation act from six months to three months. This is to hasten the pace at which budget proposals are submitted to the national assembly, passed and assented to.

4. FINANCIAL AUTONOMY OF STATE LEGISLATURE

The national assembly amended the constitution to provide for the funding of the house of assembly of states directly from the consolidated revenue fund of the state. Houses of assembly are currently tied to the apron strings of their state governments. The provision reads: “Section 121 of the principal act is altered by substituting for subsection (3), a new subsection (3) – ‘(3) Any amount standing to the credit of the- house of assembly of the state, and judiciary, in the consolidated revenue fund of the state shall be paid directly to the said bodies respectively; in the case of judiciary, such amount shall be paid directly the heads of the courts concerned.”

5. DISTRIBUTABLE POOL ACCOUNT

The legislature altered the constitution to abrogate the state joint local government accounts and to empower each local government council to maintain its own special account. Currently, local councils are heavily dependent on state governments for funds.

6. POLITICAL PARTIES AND ELECTORAL MATTERS

The legislature amended sections of the constitution to provide the Independent National Electoral Commission with sufficient time to conduct by-elections. It extended the time for conducting by-elections from seven to 21 days. The amended provisions read: “Section 134 of the principal act is altered – (a) in subsection (4), by substituting for the figure,’7’ in line 2, the figures, ‘21’; and (b) in subsection (5), by substituting the figure, ‘7’ in line 2, the figures, ‘21’.”

7. PRESIDENTIAL ASSENT

The national assembly also amended sections of the constitution to provide for timely passage of bills. The amended sections read: “(5) where the president withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each house by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the president shall not be required. “Section 58 of the Principal Act is altered by inserting, after subsection (5), a new subsection ‘(6)’ – (6) Where the president neither signifies that he assents or that he withholds assent, the bill shall, at the expiration of thirty days from the date of receipt, become law. (5) Where the president withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each house by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the president shall not be required.”

8. TIMEFRAME FOR CABINET NOMINATION

The legislature made a provision which requires the president and governor to submit the names of persons nominated as ministers or commissioners within 30 days of taking the oath of office for confirmation by the senate or state house of assembly. The provision reads: “The nomination of any person to the office of a minister for confirmation by the senate shall be within thirty days after the date the president has taken the oath of office; the submission of names of the ministerial nominees to the senate for confirmation shall be accompanied by the assigned portfolio of each nominee; and thirty-five percent of persons appointed as ministers shall be women: provided that the president may appoint a minister at any other time during his tenure and such appointment shall be subject to confirmation by the senate.

9. INDEPENDENT CANDIDATURE

The proposed amended constitution also provides for independent candidature in elections. The criteria for independent candidate to participate in an election will be set by INEC.

10. REDUCTION OF AGE FOR ELECTION

In the amended constitution, the national assembly reduced the age for qualification for the offices of the president and governor from 40 to 35, and membership of the senate, house of representatives and the state house of assembly from 30 to 25.

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