17 July 2013

Nigeria: Constitution Review - Senate Rejects Autonomy for LGs, Okays Marriage for Underage Women

Photo: Médecins Sans Frontierès
Women and children.

The much-awaited voting on recommendations of the Senate Committee on the Review of the Constitution took place Tuesday with the parliament throwing out the recommendation of a six-year single term for the president and governors.

It also rejected autonomy for local governments as well as the moves to separate the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) from that of the minister of justice.

On its part, the House of Representatives, which was billed to begin debate on the report of its Constitution Review Committee Tuesday, has shifted it, following disagreement over the procedure to adopt in carrying out the exercise.

The voting in the Senate, which lasted for about five hours, also witnessed the adoption of Section 9 of the draft bill of the amendment, which empowers the National Assembly to make an entirely new constitution for the country.

The senators also adopted Section 3A of the draft, which rejected the president's assent to the amended constitution before taking effect.

The Senate also resolved to alter Section 29 (a) of the constitution that stipulates that a woman shall not be qualified for marriage until she attains the 18 years as they deleted age specification for women being married from the draft constitution and left the marriage age for women open.

While deleting the section from the draft constitution yesterday, the Senate claimed that a woman is deemed to be "full of age" once she is married irrespective of the age she did so.

The parliament, which had earlier retained this section by its voting, opted to alter it in submission to the alarm raised by Senator Ahmad Sani (Zamfara West), who claimed that the provision which stipulates a certain age for women before getting married, was at variance with Islamic law.

After a moment of controversy, Senate President David Mark asked his colleagues to vote afresh on the provision, a situation that eventually went in favour of Sani, who, thereafter, thanked the Senate president and his colleagues for supporting his cause. It is worthy of note that Sani had two years ago married a 13-year-old Egyptian in violation of the constitutional provision.

Also yesterday, the chamber rejected the placement of the AGF's office on a first line charge but passed the recommendations on the State Independent Electoral Commissions, Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), judiciary, Human Rights Commission (HRC) and state legislatures to be put first line charge.

It also okayed a recommendation that a bill automatically becomes law if the president fails to assent to it after 30 days of its transmission.

The senators as well rejected a recommendation barring a deputy governor or vice-president, who succeeds his boss on account of death from standing for election, after serving out the tenure of his or her boss.

They also overwhelmingly adopted a recommendation that election disputes should be resolved within 180 days and before the swearing in of any purported winner.

But the Senate rejected the moves to outlaw the headship of the National Judicial Council (NJC) by the incumbent Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) was rejected.

However, rather than begin debate on the report on the draft constitution yesterday as scheduled, the House decided to halt the consideration of the 135-page report following confusion over the appropriate methodology to adopt in handling it.

Following the submission of the report on July 4, the House had announced that it would dedicate a whole week to debate the report and thereafter vote on it clause by clause. However, this was aborted after some members raised objections to the procedure.

As a result of the controversy, Majority Leader of the House, Hon. Mulikat Akande Adeola, moved that the House should dissolve into the Committee of the Whole to consider the report. In a bid to move ahead with the report, Speaker of the House, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, directed that the report be circulated to all members by today to enable the House consider it.

He announced that the House would dedicate the hours between 10a.m. and 2p.m. in remaining part of the legislative days in the week to the report, adding that there would be no other committee assignments such as public hearing and oversight tours during the period.

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