The Good and the Controversial

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On Tuesday last week, the Senate voted on the
harmonised version of amendments to the
Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
1999 earlier passed by the House of
Representatives.
Tuesday’s vote culminated a three year long
process of constitutional amendment initiated by
the National Assembly. A total of 23 clauses and
sections were approved for amendment by both
chambers. These have now been passed to the
36 state Houses of Assembly, which would vote
on the amendments one by one. Anyone of
them that secures majority support in 24 state
assemblies will then go to the President for his
assent, a step that is itself the subject of an
amendment.
The amendment proposals contain several
interesting items, many of them with far
reaching consequences for politics and
governance in this country. While several of
them enjoy the support of the public as
expressed at various fora during the
amendment exercise, some of the measures are
controversial to say the least.
We welcome the amendment to grant full
autonomy to local government councils. An
amendment to Section 7 strengthens the
administration of local governments by providing
for their funding, tenure, elections and clearly
delineated their powers and responsibilities. It
also insulates them from undue interference
from state governments. In effect, it makes
them a full tier of government. Since the return
to democratic rule in 1999 local governments
have been the least developed and the least
effective tier of government, partly due to
constitutional encumbrances which the
amendments seek to remove. However, state
governors are known to favour the status quo
and may exert pressure on state assemblies not
to approve this change. We strongly caution
them not to pursue that selfishly destructive
path.
A corollary to this is an amendment to scrap
State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs)
and to confer upon the Independent National
Electoral Commission (INEC) the duty to conduct
local government elections. This measure is a
clash between the ideal and the practical. While
it is ideal that functions be decentralised as
much as possible and states be allowed to
conduct local elections, the experiment has
failed woefully since 1999. Majority of the states
fail to conduct local council elections regularly.
And then, in nearly every state where these
elections held, the party in power in the state
“won” every seat on offer. If INEC is allowed to
conduct these elections, we expect them to be
more regular than they are now and they should
also be more competitive. This amendment
should be revisited in another generation.
We also welcome the amendment that separates
the office of the Attorney-General from that of
Minister or Commissioner of Justice. That a
political member of a cabinet is also the chief
prosecuting officer has led to many absurd
situations since 1999 and it allows partisan
political considerations to hold sway in public
prosecutions. The two offices were separate in
the First Republic and it worked much better
than is the case now. Also welcome is the
amendment that creates the office of
Accountant-General of the Federal Government
as distinct from Accountant-General of the
Federation. We expect this measure, long
advocated by state governors, to deny the
president the opportunity to illegally dip into the
Federation Account to the detriment of other
tiers of government.
Yet another measure which we support is the
amendment to Section 225 which empowers the
Independent National Electoral Commission
(INEC) to de-register political parties if they fail
to meet certain conditions such as breach of
registration requirements or failure to win any
legislative seats in a general election. It is hoped
that this measure will end the phenomenon of
brief case political parties that some people
register and use for corrupt purposes in the
electoral process.

Read the complete story on SUNDAY TIMES, the original source of this article.

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