Hopes were raised at the weekend that the era of delay in the appointment of ministers by the president might soon be a thing of the past, as the joint committee of the National Assembly on review of the 1999 Constitution proposed a time limit for the submission of the list of ministerial nominees. IONIGERIA learnt that local government autonomy was also pencilled in for consideration in the report of the committee, headed by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu. This raises hopes that the local councils may finally be freed from executive stranglehold.
Ekweremadu submitted the report of the joint committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution to the Senate and House of Representatives on Thursday, with assurances that debate on it would commence on Tuesday. The report contains items that had been adopted by the joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives committees on constitution review.
IONIGERIA gathered that the committee recommended a 30-day deadline from the day of the president’s inauguration for his submission of the list of ministerial nominees to the Senate for approval. It also proposed the reduction of age requirements for election into executive and legislative positions.
The proposed alterations were harmonised at the joint retreat of the Senate and House of Representatives Committees on the Review of the 1999 Constitution penultimate weekend in Lagos.
Local government autonomy has been a perennial topic in constitution amendment processes since the inception of the Fourth Republic in 1999, though it has never succeeded. The closest the issue came to being amended was during the Seventh National Assembly, when Section 162 of the 1999 Constitution was among 23 items amended by the National Assembly and passed to the 36 states Houses of Assembly in October 2014 for concurrence.
Concurrence by two-thirds of the assemblies, that is 24 Houses of Assembly, is required to pass amendment to any constitutional item into law. But 23 states’ Houses of Assembly voted against the amendment that would have given the 774 local governments listed in the 1999 Constitution financial and administrative autonomy. The surprising decision of the state legislatures was believed to have emanated from the governors, who are accused of diverting council funds from the Federation Account paid into the joint state/local government account to the pursuit of their inordinate ambitions.
But last week, hopes of independent local government areas were rekindled, when amendment to sections 7 and 162 featured among items listed for debate in the current constitution amendment process. If the amendment succeeds, the joint state/local government account would be abolished to enable the third tier of government maintain and run independent accounts into which allocations from the Federation Account and the state governments would be directly paid.
Lawmakers of the two chambers of the National Assembly were expected to use the weekend to study the report of the ad hoc committee on constitution review before the commencement of debate on the items list for review on Tuesday.
The amendment in favour of local government autonomy also seeks to implement uniform three-year tenure for elected local government officials across the country. This would eliminate the practice whereby state governors sack elected officials at the third tier of government at will and install their protégés as heads of caretaker committees for months on end.
The amendment to Section 7 provides that only democratically constituted local governments can receive and administer the allocations received from the Federation Account and state governments.
The National Assembly proposed the lowering of age qualifications for elective positions. Under section 130 of the 1999 Constitution, a person must be at least 40 years of age to be elected President or Vice President of Nigeria. Section 68 sets 35 and 30, respectively, as minimum age for senators and House of Representatives members, and section 177 provides that a person must be 35 years of age to be elected governor of a state, while section 106 sets 30 years as minimum age for membership of a House of Assembly.
The amendment to section 121 of the constitution seeks to enhance legislative processes in states by granting financial autonomy to the Houses of Assembly and placing the state legislatures on First Line charge. This would reduce executive control over funds meant for the House of Assembly from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of a state, as monies would be paid directly to the institution.
The joint committee on constitution review also recommended alterations to sections 58, 59, and 100 of the constitution, to provide a 30-day timeframe for the president or governor to assent to a bill passed by the National Assembly or state Assembly, or indicate his refusal of assent.
The amendment provides that if executive assent is not granted in 30 days, the bill automatically becomes laws without the legislature having to activate the process of veto.
Amendments to sections 82 and 122 of the constitution seek to reduce the time within which the president or state governor may authorise expenditure from the Consolidated Revenue Fund from six months to three months. The move is to ensure that the executive sends the appropriation bill in time.
The joint committee also recommended a timeframe within which the president or governor must appoint the cabinet, in addition to a provision that at least 35 per cent of the positions must go to women. It suggested that the proposed portfolio of each nominee for minister or commissioner must accompany the letter of nomination to the legislature.
Alterations proposed to sections 150, 174, 195, 211, 318 and the Third Schedule to the constitution seek to separate the office of the Minister of Justice or Commissioner for Justice, in the case of a state, from that of the Attorney-general of the Federation or of a state. This is to insulate the attorney-general from partisan politics by granting him financial autonomy and security of tenure.