14 November 2012

Nigeria: No Guarantee for State Creation - Ekweremadu

Photo: Vanguard
Political battles in Nigeria

Hope that new states would be created seems to have dimmed: the National Assembly yesterday declared it could not guarantee the creation of new states.

The deputy Senate president and chairman of the Constitution Review Committee (CRC), Ike Ekweremadu, also said it was unfair and unthinkable for anybody to allege that the process will be skewed in favour of the leadership of the National Assembly.

In the House of Representatives, the bill seeking to outlaw same-sex marriage in Nigeria scaled second reading.

Over 52 memoranda for state creation have been submitted to the National Assembly outside 241 memoranda including issues carried over from the 6th Senate. The zonal public hearings on the constitution review process, which will be conducted simultaneously, commences on Thursday and Friday.

Sen. Ekweremadu, however, described those who have expressed disbelief in the possiblity of success in this current constitution amendment process as men of little faith, just as he refuted allegations of hidden agenda by the leadership in the constitution amendment process.

He further cautioned the south-east zone not to expect automatic state creation. "I don't think that the south-east will expect either myself or any person to announce that they are going to get a state tomorrow or next tomorrow because that is not what the constitutions says. They will naturally follow the provisions which the constitution has provided. I hope this has afforded me the opportunity."

Responding to questions at a press conference in Abuja, Ekweremadu said: "On the issue of state creation, I was in Enugu on Sunday where I met with my own constituents regarding the constitution amendment exercise and I made it clear to them that Nigerians are confusing things and that is why anyone can begin to expect that, at the end of this exercise, somebody will come up to announce that states have been created. That is not going to happen because the constitution does not make such provisions.

"So, the issue of state creation is completely different from what we are doing because, if you look at section 8 and section 9, there are two different issues.

"It is something that can run its own course without involving the committee. What is going on really is that Nigerians are making their request for the creation of states based on the fact that they believe that these two committees can come up with criteria that will favour them.

"We are supposed to make laws for the good governance of this country and, in doing so, as part of this exercise, what we can naturally do is that we have 56 requests for state creation. As responsible citizens of Nigeria, we can advise our colleagues on how many states that can possibly be created and the system can sustain.

"If, for instance, we say, well, in the circumstance, Nigerian system can contain maybe four states, three or eight states, we can possibly advise on how these states would be allocated to the various parts of the country. Then, naturally, the people who are requesting states will still go and generate their requests and submit to the National Assembly and then generate resolutions of the requisite authorities - the council, the House of Assembly and it will still come up to the National Assembly, the Senate and the House will vote, then. It will still go for referendum after which it will go to the House of Assembly of all the states in Nigeria.

"So, even if you are requesting a state in Sokoto, the House of Assembly in Abia State will also vote for it. It is something you don't expect tha, at the end of the constitution amendment exercise, this committee or indeed the National Assembly will announce states that have been created. That is not going to happen.

"So, I don't think that the south-east will expect either myself or any person to announce that they are going to get a state tomorrow or next tomorrow because that is not what the constitutions says. They will naturally follow the provisions which the constitution has provided.

"I hope this has afforded me the opportunity to explain this so that nobody will say I came back from Abuja without bringing a state. Anybody expecting a state must follow all the procedures, and I think we need to do more enlightenment for Nigerians to understand this process clearly because if those accusing any person of hidden agenda understand all these, they will not be worrying themselves, they will go and do more home work because if you look at section 8, it is like passing a big snake through the eye of a needle.

"It is a cumbersome process and it just has to pass through that process because that is what the constitution says."

Reacting to critics' views on the review process, Ekweremadu noted" "I am sure you are aware we are not doing this business for the first time. We have amended this constitution successfully for the first, second and the third time and I chaired the committee during those three processes. Before that, there were attempts that never succeeded.

"So, I am used to this kind of cynical statements and doubts but I never allowed myself to be distracted. I remember I met all of you in this particular room and I told you I don't get myself involved in things that don't work, because even you were not convinced when I started in 2009 but I assured you it was going to happen. I had a meeting with a council of foreign relations in Washington and they said that Nigeria made efforts in the past and it didn't work; what was the assurance that it would work, but I told them I was going to deliver and we delivered. I don't get distracted by men of little faith, I don't allow them to distract me, I focus on the prize and I am sure my colleagues are all part of this process. If it was going to waste our time, we would not start at the first instance. We have enough to bother ourselves. It is something we are determined to do and we are determined because Nigerians want it. If at the end of the day we succeed, fine, but if we don't succeed, everybody will see that it was not because we did not try.

"So, we are going to put all the cards on the table, put all the issues before Nigerians, put it before the National Assembly members and people will vote. We are not going to influence anybody to vote one way or the day. So, if we believe that what we are doing will add value to our system and deepen democracy, Nigerians will see the enemies of the people who do not want things to work. We are going to drive it to the last point and Nigerians will see where it fails but God forbid that it fails.

Reacting to allegations by the Kano State governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, that the leadership of the CRC was nursing a hidden agenda ahead of the process, Ekweremadu said: "I have addressed this issue before and I don't intend to join issues with my friend, the governor of Kano State. If I have differences with him in respect of the conduct of what we are doing, I would like to discuss that with him directly.

"From Section 9 (1), it is obvious that the process of constitution amendment is so rigorous that 109 senators are involved, 360 members of House of Representatives are involved and all the members of the state assemblies in 36 states are involved. So, there is certainly no way an individual can come up with an agenda and expect to market that agenda or get it through. It is practically unthinkable. So, I don't know where he got that idea from, and if he is thinking of state creation, I want to refer you to section 8 of the Constitution to see how states are created and see whether it's something any individual can wake up and say that states have been created.

"So, you can see how difficult it is to even create a state. For any person to say someone has an agenda, I don't think that person is being fair because you will require the votes of the House of Reps, the Senate, the Assembly, councillors and the ordinary people from where the state would be created. It is such a cumbersome process and I don't think it something any person can sit down at the National Assembly or anywhere and say he has created. So, we have to make this clear.

The issues slated for discussion include: devolution of powers, state creation, constitutional recognition for the six geopolitical zones, local government system, fiscal federalism, residency and state of origin, and the police system.

Others are rotation of offices, immunity clause, executive (terms of office and system of government), judicial reforms, mayoral status for the Federal Capital Territory, gender and special interest matters. Nigerians will also be expected to bare their minds on constitutional roles for the traditional rulers, and removing the Land Use Act, National Youth Service, and Code of Conduct from the 1999 Constitution.

Anti same-sex marriage bill passes second reading in House of Reps

"It is alien to our society and culture and it must not be imported. Religion abhors it and our culture has no place for it." With these words, the majority leader, House of Representatives, Mulikat Adeola-Akande, led federal lawmakers yesterday to unanimously pass for second reading a Bill for an Act prohibiting same-sex marriage in Nigeria.

In November last year, the Senate passed the bill banning same-sex marriages, defying a threat from Great Britain to withhold aid from countries violating gay rights.

The bill, which makes same-sex marriage punishable by a 14-year jail term, still has to be ratified by the House before being signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan. It also seeks to tighten existing legislation, which already outlaws gay sex, by criminalising anyone who witnesses or assists such marriages and making same-sex public displays of affection a jailable offence. Under the new law, groups that support gay rights would also be banned.

In wide-ranging debates on the bill, representatives Adams Jagaba Adams (Kaduna/PDP) and Bimbo Daramola (Ekiti/ACN) said Nigeria must be defiant against threats from western nations to freeze foreign aid to Nigeria over the touchy legislation.

The chairman, House Committee on Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa (Lagos/ACN), speaking in support of the Bill, however, called for caution in view of the touchy human rights implication on persons likely to be affected by the legislation.

According to the House minority leader/leader of opposition, Femi Gbajabiamila (Lagos/ACN), "The bill represents a convergence of both law and morality. This issue (same-sex marriage) is both illegal and immoral".

Gbajabiamila said same-sex marriage was in clear breach of Nigeria's Marriage Act. Also, the chairman House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje (Abia/PDP), described the bill as "a competition between religious principles and international convention which Nigeria is signatory to."

House Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal referred the bill to the Committee of the Whole for further legislative action.

Homosexuality is illegal in most African countries based on remnants of sodomy laws introduced during the British colonial era and perpetuated by cultural beliefs.

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