Constitution Amendment: Electoral Reform Tops Agenda

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By Aaron Ossai

The Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, SCRC, has assured that the amendment would be concluded in earnest to further reform the nation’s electoral system.

The alteration will also reposition the local government system, devolve more powers to the States, and reform the judicial system.

The hints were given by the Chairman of the SCRC, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, at the end of the Committee’s meeting at the National Assembly on Wednesday.

Ekweremadu, who also doubles as the Deputy President of the Senate, said experts working with the House of Representatives and the Senate Committees on the Constitution amendment project had already harmonised the positions of the two Committees ahead of their joint retreat to vote and adopt the proposals before presenting them to both chambers of the National Assembly for approval and subsequently to the State Assemblies for ratification.

Among the key electoral reform efforts, according to him, is a proposed amendment to Section 285 of the Constitution to set a timeline for the conclusion of pre-election matters. He explained that such timeline was successfully set for election petitions during the 6th Senate.

Ekweremadu said: “The idea is for every pre-election matter to be filed not later than 14 days from the date of the occurrence of the event, decision or action being complained of in the suit.

“We are also looking at ensuring that judgment in every pre-election matter is delivered in writing within 180 days from the date of filing of the suit, while the appeal from a decision in a pre-election matter shall be filed within 14days from the date of delivery of the judgment that is being appealed. An appeal from a decision of a Court in a pre-election matter shall be heard and disposed of within 60 days from the date of filing of the appeal.

“Again, we seek to alter the Section to provide that where a preliminary objection or any other interlocutory issue touching on the jurisdiction of the tribunal or court or on the competence of the petition itself is raised by a party, the tribunal or court shall suspend ruling thereon and deliver same at the stage of final judgment. This is to ensure that no court stays proceedings on account of an interlocutory issue”.

He also explained that Sections 134(4) and (5), 179 (4) and (5) as well as Section 225 of the 1999 Constitution were proposed for amendment to extend the time for conducting presidential and Governorship re-run elections from seven to 21 days to allow the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) adequate time to prepare.

Ekweremadu added that “the proposed amendments will also empower INEC to de-register political parties, which breach registration requirements or failure to win at least one of presidential, governorship, Local Government chairmanship elections or a seat in the National or State Assembly elections”.

Also, the proposed amendment to Section 65 would allow independent candidacy in order to expand the electorate’s choices.

Concerning the Local Governments, the Senator said the Committees were proposing “to strengthen governance at the grassroots by amending Section 7 of the Constitution to properly situate the Local Governments as a third tier of government of the Federation with elaborate provisions for their funding, tenure, and elections, and also to clearly delineate their powers and responsibilities”.

Ekweremadu explained that this would include the abolition of the Joint State-Local Government Account and increased autonomy to ensure effective service delivery and insulation from undue and unhealthy interferences from State Governments.

Other expected amendments, Ekweremadu said, include alteration of Sections 82 and 122 of the Constitution to reduce the period within which the President and Governor may authorise withdrawals from the Consolidated Revenue Fund in the absence of an Appropriation Act from six months to three months.

“We are also proposing an end to the prevailing share-all attitude by amending Section 162 of the Constitution to make provisions for 10% of any amount, which is paid into the Federation Account, to be compulsorily saved for the future before any distributions to the respective levels of government; and such savings must not be tampered with for at least five years”, he said.

On the nation’s federalism, Ekweremadu stated that there were plans to amend the Second Schedule, Part I of the Constitution, to restructure the Legislative Lists and ensure proper devolution of powers to allow the States the needed leverage and room to take initiatives for competitive development.

He said Pensions, Prisons, Railways, Stamp Duties, and Wages would be moved from the Exclusive Legislative List, while Arbitration, Environment, Healthcare, Housing, Prisons, Railways, Road Safety, Land and Agriculture, Youths, Public Complaints, and Aviation would be added to them to constitute the Concurrent List.

On Judicial reforms, he said they were proposing, amongst others, amendments to Section 233 of the Constitution to provide for the disposal of applications for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court by three Justices sitting in Chambers if they believe an oral hearing of the application is not required.

Also up for amendment is Paragraph Twelve, Third Schedule dealing with the Federal Judicial Service Commission.

Senator Ekweremadu said the proposal here was to alter the composition of the Commission by removing the Attorney-General of the Federation from its membership, while the next most senior Justice of the Supreme Court is to become the Deputy Chairman of the commission.

Also, membership of the Nigerian Bar Association in the Commission is to be increased from two to four, while the tenure of members of the Commission would become non-renewable.

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