Senate President Bukola Saraki has denied plans by the legislature to encourage removal of governors and installation of sole administrators in the ongoing review of the emergency powers of the President and state governors.
Saraki said it was unconstitutional for an elected governor to be removed due to the declaration of a state of emergency in any state of the federation.
He said this on Monday in his address at the opening of a public hearing organised by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters on four bills.
The bills are the National Commission for Peace, Reconciliation Establishment Bill 2017, sponsored by Senator Shehu Sani; Revised Laws of the Federation Bill 2017, by Senator David Umaru; Emergency Powers Act 1966 (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill by Senator John Enoh; and the Arbitration and Conciliation Act Amendment Bill 2017, by Senator Monsurat Sunmonu.
But the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation has opposed the move by the Senate to create two new agencies with functions already being performed by existing government establishments.
The Senate President stated, “The Emergency Powers Bill 2017 seeks to repeal the 1961 Act and provide for a legal framework for the declaration of a state of emergency in Nigeria. A state of emergency could result from insurgency, arson, civil unrest and unmanageable natural disasters in any part of Nigeria.
“The Emergency Powers Act No. 1 of 1961, which came into operation on March 30, 1961, has been utilised for the purpose of maintaining and securing order and good government during the period of emergency in the country.
“The Act actually predates the 1963 Republican Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and it is not contained in the 1990 compilation of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria and the current compilation of the 2004 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria.
“It must be clearly stated today that this bill has nothing to do with removal of state governors and appointment of sole administrators during a state of emergency. Under the present constitutional arrangement, as contained in Section 188 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, an elected state governor can only be removed or cease to hold office by impeachment, resignation, permanent incapacitation, death and by expiration of tenure.
“Any attempt to remove an elected state governor under the guise of declaration of state of emergency will be undemocratic and unconstitutional.”
The Senate President explained that the National Commission for Peace and Reconciliation Establishment Bill, which seeks to establish an administrative mechanism for creating bonds, unity and reconciliation, would go a long way in dousing the pockets of tension and violence in different parts of the country.
He added that it would stem the tide of disenchantment and secession bid from the Nigerian state.
Saraki said, “The onus lies on us all to admit whether or not the establishment of a commission of this sort, with accordant powers to grant amnesties for serious violations of human rights rather than adopting punitive measures, is the best way to ensure a peaceful coexistence among various ethnic groups and individuals living in Nigeria.”
On the Revised Laws of the Federation Bill 2017, the Senate President explained that it sought to address the major shortfalls associated with the review and codification of the laws of the federation.
He added, “The primary purpose of this bill is to provide a legal framework for the periodic review, codification and publication of Acts of the National Assembly and other subsidiary legislation of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in order to prevent the duplication of laws and ensure ease of reference by members of the general public.
“As a matter of fact, the absence of a timeframe for the conduct of the codification of our laws and the prevailing practice, whereby the National Assembly is required at all times to pass a law to approve every compilation, is uncoordinated and makes it very difficult for lawyers and constitutional researchers to keep tabs with the existing laws in operation.”
Speaking on the amendment to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act 2004, Saraki noted that arbitration had become the modern way of dispute resolution, stressing that it was important “we tweak our own law to update our statutes in order not to be left behind by the international community.”
He added, “This bill seeks to achieve this by making ‘interim awards’ made by arbitral panels immediately binding on parties, as opposed to having to go through the court process for enforcement in the middle of arbitration, thereby delaying the process of adjudication.
“With increased potential for disputes arising from increased foreign and local investments in Nigeria, it is very important we make our litigation process less cumbersome and guarantee the swiftness of getting dispute resolution through arbitration and conciliation.”
In his submission, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), said the intended functions of the Bill on Revised Laws of the Federation, if allowed to sail trough, would clash with the functions of the Nigeria Law Reform Commission.
Malami, who was represented by an Assistant Director in the Legal Drafting Department of the Ministry, Mr. Patrick Eyoh, cited Section 5 of the Nigeria Law Reform Commission Act as giving the responsibilities of law revision, which the new bill primarily seeks to achieve.
“This, to us in the justice ministry, is not necessary to avoid creating an agency for the functions already being carried out by an existing one legally,” he stated.
The AGF also criticised the bill seeking to establish the National Commission for Peace and Reconciliation, noting that the National Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution was already in place to carry out the functions relating to peace and conflict resolutions within Nigeria and Africa.
Malami stated, “Our take on these two bills is that they should be jettisoned since their intendments have already been taken care of by existing agencies legally put in place.
“And if they are seen not to be carrying out their functions efficiently and effectively, we are not against the National Assembly, by way of legislation, strengthening their capacities to function better.”