The House of Representatives was Tuesday amended 40 clauses, retaining the power to appoint the new Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission in the hands of the President.
The development foreclosed the clamour by Nigerian people for the National Judicial Council to be involved in the appointment of the commission’s chairman, in line with the recommendations of the Justice Muhammadu Uwais-led Electoral Reform Committee.
It, however, placed INEC on a first-line charge for direct funding from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation, in a bid to guarantee the commission’s financial independence.
The House took the decision in Abuja as members voted on the 44 clauses proposed for amendment in the 1999 Constitution by its Ad-Committee on Constitution Review.
The committee was headed by the Deputy Speaker of the House, Alhaji Usman Nafada, and has 43 other members drawn from the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria.
The House endorsed 40 out of the 44 recommendations made by the committee and amended Schedules One and Two of the constitution.
One of the four recommendations rejected by the House was the proposal to delete Section 66 (1)(h) of the principal Act.
Lawmakers voted in favour of the extant provision, which disqualifies anyone indicted for fraud by an administrative panel or tribunal from contesting election to the National Assembly.
They also agreed that the provision should apply to other aspirants including those for the office of the President (137)(1)(h) governors (182)(1)(i); and those vying for state House of Assembly positions (107)(1)(h).
One of the new recommendations endorsed by the House was the provision for independent candidacy.
The House outlawed defection from one political party to another before a current tenure expires, except on grounds of crisis or merger of the office-holder’s party with another.
However, the House noted that an office-holder expelled from his party would retain his seat, so long as he did not join another party.
An independent candidate cannot join a political party midway through his tenure, according to the House.
On the time of elections, the House approved that they shall not be conducted earlier than 150 days and later than 120 days to the end of a current tenure.
The House also amended Section 145, giving the National Assembly the power to proclaim the Vice-President as Acting President within 21 days of the President proceeding on vacation without forwarding a written declaration to the National Assembly.
The provision also applies to Section 190, in which case the state House of Assembly shall declare the Deputy Governor as Acting Governor within 21 days of the governor’s absence.
On the required age limit to contest election to the National Assembly, the House raised the limit for senators from 35 to 40 years, while the limit for members of the House was raised from 30 to 35 years.
There were tense moments during Tuesday’s session.
Female legislators attempted to walk out on their male colleagues after the latter opposed a proposal that the chairman and deputy chairman of INEC should not be of the same gender.
the committee had proposed that where a man is appointed as the chairman, the deputy should be a female and vice-versa.
But when it was put to vote, the male lawmakers opposed it, prompting the female lawmakers to instigate a protest in the chambers.
The House later amended the provision by deleting gender from it, leaving the provision to read simply as chairman and deputy chairman of INEC.
Before voting commenced, the Speaker, Mr. Dimeji Bankole, appealed to his colleagues to be serious with the exercise.
Bankole noted that the House must not allow the exercise to fail, as had been the experience with previous attempts to amend the constitution.
He said, “The future of this country depends on our patriotism to do the right thing. Let us use this opportunity to strengthen our democratic institutions.
“History beckons on us as we embark on this national assignment; we shall be put on the searchlight.”
Speaking after the voting was concluded, the Chairman of the Sub-Committee on Media, Mr. Ezuiche Ubani, and the Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Mr. Ita Enang, said that the next step was for both the House and Senate to raise a conference committee to harmonise the two versions of the constitution amendments passed by each chamber.
After the conference, they explained that a clean copy of the document would be forwarded to the 36 state houses of assembly for their input, as required by law.
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