The stage is now set as the Senate will today commence voting on 33 items proposed for amendment in the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
But the issues at stake are all geared towards the restructuring of Nigeria, just as issues listed for amendment have generated heated tension among senators.
Key among the bills proposed for the constitution amendment include power devolution to states, scrapping of joint state/local government accounts, financial autonomy for State Houses of Assembly, strengthening of local governments as a political institution as well as a bill compelling the president and state governors to attach portfolios to nominees for ministerial and commissionership respectively.
Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, had tabled the report on constitution amendment during Tuesday’s plenary while members made general remarks pending voting by senators on listed bills today.
The Bill on Power Devolution seeks to alter the Second Schedule 1 & 2 of the constitution to move certain items from the Exclusive Legislative list to the Concurrent Legislative lists to give more legislative powers to states.
If the bill is eventually passed, items like Trade and Commerce, Police and other security establishments, Prisons, Railway, Broadcasting, Labour and Trade unions, roads and maintenance and others currently in the Exclusive Legislative List would be moved into Concurrent List.
There is also a Bill on Distributable Pool Account which seeks to alter section 162 of the constitution to scrap the state joint local government accounts, while empowering each local government council to maintain its own special account into which all allocations due to it would be directly paid from the federation account.
Part of the amendment to the constitution is also contained in a Bill on Local Government, which is aimed towards strengthening the third tier in which case the local government would have its democratic existence, funding and tenure of office for officials.
A Bill on Legislature seeks to alter sections 4, 51, 67, 68, 93, and 109 of the constitution to provide immunity for members of the legislature in respect of words spoken or written at plenary sessions or at committee proceedings is also on the items for consideration.
There is also a bill on time frame for submitting names of ministerial and commissioners nominees which seeks to alter the constitution to set a time frame within which the President or a governor shall forward names of nominees for confirmation as Ministers or Commissioners while attaching portfolio, with 35 per cent affirmative action for women.
The constitution amendment also involves a proposal of 35 years as the minimum age for the office of the President and being elected to the Senate; and 25 years for the House of Representatives.
But Senators during debate sang discordant tunes on issues like Power Devolution, issue of whether to retain the position of the Land Use Act which vested control in the hands of the Federal Government or reverse it in favour of states.
The senators also fretted on the issue of granting autonomy to local government areas through the scrapping of the State and Local Government joint account as well as empowering INEC to conduct local government polls generated heated debate.
The Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, had interjected at critical moments to to calm frayed nerves as he declared that the leadership had not taken any position on any proposal.
Indications that senators may take the issue of Constitution Amendment as life and death emerges with series of meetings held the previous night amidst high wire politics and horse trading on the matter to arrive at different conclusions ahead of today’s voting.
Bills for constitution amendment suggests that the calls for devolution of power to the states should involve a review of the content of the Exclusive List in line with the country’s revenue sharing system and power to control resources in various states.
For instance, Senator Foster Ogola (PDP, Bayelsa) argued for “true federalism and economic restructuring in a way to make every state control the resources within its confines.
What seems like an opposition to the plan for power devolution came when Senataor Adamu Aliero, (APC, Kebbi) asked the Senate to step down the item on devolution of power because, according to him, it was wrong to give state more powers without greater share of the national revenue.
Bill on Revitalisation of Capital Market scale second reading
Meanwhile, a bill for an Act to facilitate the development of Nigeria’s Capital Market known as Demutualization Bill), scaled the second reading on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday.
The bill seeks to enable the conversion and re-registration of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, NSE, from a company limited by guarantee to a public company limited by shares and for other related matters.
Acting Chairman, Senate Committee on Capital Market, Senator Foster Ogola (PDP Bayelsa West), who presented the Bill for consideration, said the proposed demutualization of The Exchange was an integral element of the 10-year Capital Markets Master Plan and it underpins the rapid growth that is envisioned over the next decade.
He said the bill, if passed, would result in an increased value of the exchange, enabling it to compete favourably in the global market, open the doors for significant investment into Nigeria and ultimately enhance the nation’s capital market. Ogala said,
“The approval of the demutualization bill will generate substantial motivation for the development of an agile Exchange thereby consolidating its innovativeness and strengthening its leadership both at local and international levels whilst also adding value to its stakeholders.
“As a demutualized entity that is profit-seeking, the NSE will be in a better stead to capitalize on new income opportunities, free from any limitations arising from conflicting member interests and existing laws and more importantly be able to better support the economic growth of Nigeria”.
Senator Mao Ohuabunwa, (PDP Abia North) while seconding the motion on the Bill, called for expeditious passage, stressing that the demutualization when implemented, would give the Exchange the ability to take a number of strengthening actions, that will promote transparency and increase efficiency in its operations.
The bill, however, enjoyed unanimous support of majority of Senators when Saraki put it to vote.
The bill was sent to Senate Committee on Capital Markets for further legislative action.
The committee now has four weeks to report its findings to the Senate at Plenary.
Bill to separate NFIU from EFCC passes second reading
In what appears to be an expedited move to get Nigeria back into the EGMONT Group, the Senate has passed for second reading, a Bill seeking to remove the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The Daily Times recalls that the move began last week following a motion at plenary by Senator Chukwuka Utazi (PDP, Enugu North) on the need for the federal government to step up effort in fulfilling all the conditions stipulated by the EGMONT Group, which led to Nigeria’s suspension from the group in the first instance. The bill seeks to strip the EFCC of control over the existing NFIU.
The NFIU is currently under the anti-graft agency. Following the accelerated passage of the bill which was read for the first time on Thursday last week, the Senate directed its committee on anticorruption and financial crimes to carry out further work on it and submit its report today for further legislative actions.
The Daily Times further recalls that the upper legislative chamber had last week mandated the Ministries of Justice, Finance and Interior to do all within their powers to ensure that Nigeria’s suspension from EGMONT Group of Financial Intelligence Units is immediately reversed.
The Senate also directed the Ministries to ensure that all specified by the EGMONT Group are met to re-admit and improve Nigeria’s standing within the group while increasing their levels of cooperation and co-ordination to ensure that Nigeria achieves membership of TATF.
The Senate also urged the executive to include in any supplementary budget estimate that may be presented to the National Assembly before the end of the year, a budget for the NFIU in view of the need to lift the suspension of Nigeria as soon as possible.
EGMONT Group is a network of national financial intelligence units and is the highest inter- governmental association of intelligence agencies in the world, with about 152 member countries or state parties who sit regularly for the purpose of sharing criminal intelligence and Financial Information bothering on money laundering, terrorism financing, proliferation of arms, corruption, financial crimes, economic crimes and similar offences geared towards the support of local and international investigations, prosecutions and asset recovery.
It will be recalled that at its July 2017 meeting in China, Nigeria’s NFIU, the agency of government that represents Nigeria at the meeting of the group, was suspended till January 2018 with a threat of an expulsion if Nigeria does not meet the standards of the group with regards to its operations.