Nigeria: Controversy Trails Headship of Senate Committee On Constitution Review

24 January 2020

Abuja — The leadership of the Senate appears divided over, who will head the Senate Committee on Constitution Review, THISDAY has learnt.

This is coming just as 10 constitution review bills are pending before the Senate for further legislative action by the committee more than seven months after the inauguration of the Ninth Assembly.

Investigation by THISDAY revealed that the eight principal officers of the Senate are sharply divided over who chairs the Senate ad-hoc committee on constitution review.

Sources said the inability of the Senate leadership to agree on a particular Senator to head the committee resulted in the membership of the committee not being constituted before the National Assembly went on Christmas break last December.

Unlike the practice in the past when the Deputy Senate Presidents were made Chairman of the committee during the Fifth to Eighth Senate, THISDAY learnt that some Senators are routing for a change in the norm and would prefer a neutral Senator and not the current Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, to head the committee.

The National Assembly had adopted the practice of appointing the Deputy President of the Senate as the Chairman of the Joint Constitution Review Committee by convention when the Fourth Republic took off in May,1999.

The federal legislators adopted the arrangement based on gentleman agreement by both chambers and has since become the convention in the National Assembly even though it was not contained in the standing rules of either the House of representatives or the Senate.

THISDAY further learnt that the fact that the issue was not captured in the Senate rules, could make the presiding officer to use his discretion to appoint any lawmaker apart from the Deputy Senate President to head the committee.

A ranking senator who spoke anonymously said, " the Deputy Senate President used to be the chairman of the Joint National Assembly Committee on Constitution Amendment. That was why Senator Ibrahim Mantu led the panel for many years.

"It was later split in 2007 and both chambers started having separate panels and chairmen.

Since the joint panel was split in 2007, the Deputy President of the Senate has always been the chairman of the Committee. For instance, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, was the chairman when he held that position from 2007 to 2019.

"Splitting the joint panel is not even healthy for the economy of the country because it is cheaper for both chambers to come together and do the work instead of duplicating efforts".

When contacted on the issue, the Senate spokesman, Senator Godiya Akwashiki, refused to be drawn into the issue.

He gave an assurance that the Senate President would constitute the committee once the Senate reconvenes next Tuesday.

Akwashiki said the Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, will honour his promise to constitute all outstanding committees on resumption of plenary after the Christmas and New Year break.

According to him, the issue of Constitution amendment is very important now that various sections of the country are clamouring for a review of the nation's laws to tackle insecurity and other social and economic challenges.

"The Senate President has promised to address the issue of Constitution amendment when we resume from our current break. I believe that he will honour his words by announcing the committee once we resume because of the enormous work it is supposed to handle.

"There are issues that needed to be addressed by amendment to the constitution. Hence the committee is very important to us in the Senate", he stated.

The 10 bills that had passed first reading at the Ninth Senate and awaiting further action by the yet to be constituted Senate committee on constitution review include Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2019 (SB. 109) sponsored by Senator Baba Ahmad (Katsina North), Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2019 (SB. 75), sponsored by Senator Istifanus Gyang (Plateau North) and Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2019 (SB. 48) sponsored by Senator Rose Oko (Cross River North), among others.

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