Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha on Tuesday presented what can be described as a landmark report on the concluded nationwide review process of the 1999 Constitution highlight of which includes undeniable right to free basic education and free healthcare services for all Nigerians.
The report is a summation of the resolutions of the State Houses of Assembly on the amendment of the constitution which is a culmination of the process for amending the nation’s grundnum after both chambers of the National Assembly have harmonized their positions as stipulated by law. A two-thirds majority of the state assemblies is required for any proposed amendment by the national assembly to pass and takes effect after assented to by the President of the country.
Ihedioha who laid the report during plenary in his capacity as chairman of the House Committee on the Review of the Constitution, informed his colleagues that new sections 45A and 45B were introduced to lift two items bordering on free basic education and free primary and maternal healthcare services from Chapter 2 to Chapter 4 in order to make them justiciable. By this amendment, citizens are guaranteed the freedom to go to court to seek redress for perceived breach of these rights by government.
In another landmark amendment which returned approved from the states, national security agencies, the Nigerian police, State Houses of Assembly, Attorneys-General, Auditors-General are now listed as bodies and offices to enjoy a first line charge from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation. “This shall grant them financial autonomy to enable them carry out their assignments without the hindrance of non-release of their allocations and ensure their operational autonomy,” the deputy speaker quoted the report.
A significant amendment that also scaled through from the states is the endorsement of independent candidacy in elections in “order to further open up the political space” and a further ancillary amendment in terms of a new section 228(e) which states that “the national assembly may by law provide for procedures, guidelines and qualifications for access to the ballot by political parties and independent candidates.”
The report also stated that the amendment process from the states upheld an amendment which originated from the Ihedioha committee in the House to remove the word ‘Force’ from the name of the Nigeria Police Force in order to emphasize the civil nature of policing “rather than celebrate brute force.”
The report from the states also indicated that some ambiguities hindering the creation of new states and boundary adjustments with respect to section 8 which states clearly in the amended constitution that “the referendum required for a new State shall now be approved by at least two-thirds majority of the ‘registered voters’ of the local government areas where the demand originated from, instead of the current provision of approval by “two-third majority of the people of the area” which is ambiguous and subject to different interpretations.”
Several other highlights of the report as detailed in Ihedioha’s presentation include introduction of a new office of the Accountant –General of the Federal Government as separate from the office of the Accountant –General of the Federation; introduction of civil/criminal sanctions for failure or refusal to honour summons issued by a legislative House or its committees; separation of the Offices of Attorney –General of the Federation (and State) from Minister (and Commissioner) for Justice; amendment for the 180 days and 60 days respective timelines for filing of election petitions and delivery of judgement by tribunal (or court) to take unforeseen events of force majeur into consideration; and the insulation of members of the legislature from civil or criminal proceedings in respect of words spoken or written before the House or its committees.
The deputy speaker in his highlights however informed the House that some items like autonomy for local government councils and the creation of an independent Auditor-General for the councils were rejected by two-thirds majority of the state legislatures.