The attention of International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law is drawn over the inaugural events that unfolded yesterday (09/06/2015) on the floor of the Eight National Assembly of Nigeria particularly at the Senatorial inauguration. The official statement of the new federal governing party-APC, over the referenced events has also been read and analyzed. The emergence of Hon Yakubu Dogara of the APC as the new Federation’s House Speaker with 182 votes against his challenger’s 174; is very commendable. Our only concern in the case of Senator Bukola Saraki of APC, who was returned by 57 Senators present as the new Senate President, out of 109 senatorial membership is that his emergence did not command a commanding and commendable majority capable of soldiering his leadership devoid of rancor and bickering.
Though, the two exercises were in conformity with Sections 54 (1) (one-third of all Senators and Reps)and 56 (2) (simple majority in the case of voting), but it would have been more appropriate and democratically grounded if the new Senator Saraki Presidency had emerged or chosen by most, if not all the new Senators. Be that as it may, the official statement of the All Progressives Congress (APC) deriding the two exercises and threatening to sanction those elected under its party who participated including Senator Bukola Saraki and Hon Yakubu Dogara; is totally frowned at. The Party’s clear lack of understanding of the basic provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria including the oath of allegiance to the Constitution is very alarming, shocking and deafening.
The bastardization and balkanization policy of the APC must be checkmated and restricted to the March 28 Presidential poll exercise. The Party must be made to understand that by successful administration of oaths of allegiance and office on new Senators and House of Reps members, the so called Party supremacy is lowered and subjected to the Constitution. This means the lawmakers, whether of APC or PDP, totally owe their allegiances to the Constitution and the People of Nigeria. The decision of belligerent and primordial Senators of the Party numbering 51 to boycott the inaugural session is legislatively impeachable. By its official statement, the APC encourages division, hatred, primordialism and clannishness in the new Eight National Assembly of Nigeria and governance of the country by extension. The legislator-members of the Party who set aside such divide-and-rule party policy to freely choose their principal leaders must be commended and not derided and threatened. This is more so when the two referenced principal legislators are from the same complainant-Party.
Other than the foregoing, the new Eight National Assembly of Nigeria must distance themselves from parliamentary quackery, mercantilism and lazy lawmaking, which had been the order of the day since 1999. There is need for them to embrace legislative intellectualism and humanitarianism. The Eight National Assembly of Nigeria must also realize that Nigeria is a multi cultural democratic country requiring special national legislative attention at all times. The country’s present politico-legal system is corrupted and bastardized requiring drastic re-arrangement and re-alignment.
For instance, a politico-legal system that promotes primordialism and signs away 80% of the country’s commonwealth into the pockets of a ruling political class of 17,500 citizens who constitute only 0.010% of the country’s 170 million people; urgently requires radical re-visitation and re-distribution; else Nigeria will chronically continue to crawl in its all socio-political and economic ramifications.
All categories of public allowances and overheads expenditures including executive security votes and legislative’s principal officers’ life pensions must be drastically tinkered. The allowances component of the personnel costs as well as the overheads component of the recurrent expenditures is fully responsible for paucity of funds for capital development and provision and delivery of social services in Nigeria. And if nothing radical is done to reverse the dangerous trend, then Nigeria will chronically remain empty and nothing in terms of real growth and development. Another major task before the new Eight National Assembly of Nigeria lies on the need to quarantine public loans/borrowings particularly from local sources. As a matter of fact, there is need for a national moratorium on public borrowings in Nigeria.
Of 123 Bills passed by the defunct Seventh National Assembly of Nigeria, which was inaugurated on 5th of June 2011 and wound up on 4th June 2015, out of 1,068 Bills introduced; only nine are considered as public oriented Bills. The nine Bills under reference are Occupational Safety & Health Bill, Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill, Administration of Criminal Justice Bill, Pension Reform Act Amendment Bill, Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill, Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities Bill, Terrorism Prevention Bill, Proceeds of Crime Bill and Freedom of Information Bill. Most, if not all the Bills as referenced were drafted and sponsored by rights based Civil Society Organizations. The summary o the foregoing is that the defunct Seventh National Assembly performed abysmally and disastrously in the past four legislative years despite squandering over N600 billion or $3 billion in the same period.
There are still mountainous legislative challenges facing the new Eight Republic National Assembly of Nigeria. These include the state of the country’s 33 solid mineral deposits and continuous power epilepsy all retarding the country’s mechanization or industrialization attainment. The new Eight National Assembly must revisit the country’s trade and investment policies and laws including the Land Use Act, industrial, environmental, import and export laws. The privatization of power in the country must be reviewed and possibly revoked. The new Eight National Assembly must also re-visit Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution for the purpose of re-phrasing it to literally suit the country’s secular and multi-religious status. Promotion and encouragement of any form of State religion must be prohibited and criminalized. The right to the freedom of religion in Section 38 of the Chapter Four of the Constitution must be strengthened. In the case of existing socio-religious criminal laws like Shariah Laws of the Northern States which existence threatens the 1999 Constitution and the secular status of Nigeria; there is need to return to the status quo. This means returning to the Penal Code (operational in Northern Nigeria). The Penal Code is a combination of Islamic and non Islamic Criminal laws, borrowed from Sudan. The Penal Code under reference is also overdue for amendment and upgrading.
There shall be created the Ethno-Religious Violence & Related Offenses Commission so as to manage the country’s age-long religious and ethnicity violence and related disturbances including arrest and trial of the perpetrators and their sponsors. The victims and their families should also be entitled to adequate compensations from the government. Dates should be set aside for National Sorry & Remembrance Day for dead victims of the referenced violence and related disturbances.
Creation of Electoral Violence & Related Offenses Commission is also long overdue in Nigeria. It still saddens our heart that till date, a legion of international treaties and conventions are yet to be domesticated by the National Assembly in accordance with Section 12 of the 1999 Constitution. They must be identified and passed into law as urgently as possible so as to be fully operational as integral part of the country’s municipal body of laws.
Nigeria as a multi cultural and religious democratic country must be structured evenly to ensure fiscal, geopolitical, socio-religious and demographic equity and fairness in accordance with Section 14 (3) of the Constitution as it concerns the number of States, LGAs, Senatorial Districts and Federal Constituencies allocated to each federating unit (State) or geopolitical zone. In the world over, population, not landmass is a pivotal criterion for allocation of resources and demographic dividends. It is, therefore, shocking and disheartening to observe the present gross lopsidedness in the allocation of Local Government Areas (LGAs), States, Senatorial Districts and Federal Constituencies in democratic Nigeria. The grossly lopsided allocations are as follows: Local Government Areas: Northwest (186), Northeast (112), North-central (115), Southwest (138), South-south (123) and Southeast (95). For instance, Kano and Jigawa States (formerly old Kano State) alone have 77 LGAs.
As it concerns Federal Constituencies, which are designed in such a way that the transfer of national resources and distribution of public office personnel are anchored on proportionality; the referenced lopsidedness is very pronounced as follows: Northwest (92), Northeast (48), North-central (49), Southwest (71), South-south (55) and Southeast (43). The allocation of Senatorial Districts and States is also provocatively lopsided. While the Southeast zone is the least with 15 Senatorial Districts; Southwest, South-south, North-central and Northeast have 18 districts each, whereas the Northwest zone has 21. In the number of States, the Southeast is the least with 5 States, while North-central, Northeast, South-south and the Southwest zones are allocated with 6 States each. The Northwest zone has the highest number of States with 7 States. We demand firmly that the monumental imbalances above highlighted be legislatively re-visited and corrected. There should be balanced number of LGAs per geopolitical zone; else let the LGA system be removed from the Constitution and handed over to the States.
Other than these imbalances, the new Eight National Assembly of Nigeria should amend and upgrade the Criminal Code (operational in the Southern Nigeria) and the Penal Code (operational in Northern Nigeria) to bring them in conformity with the new Criminal Procedural Act (ACJ 2015) and the Evidence Act (amended in 2011) as well as to factor them into modern electronic criminal investigation, evidence, prosecution and sentencing management. Importantly, the ouster clauses under the right to personal liberty provisions in Section 35 of the 1999 Constitution in the Chapter Four should be thoroughly reviewed and streamlined. For instance, there must be an end to criminal investigations and trials in Nigeria. Specifically, Section 35 (4) (5) (6) (7) must be revisited; otherwise the aim of passing into law the Administration of Criminal Justice Act of 2015 will be defeated.
Another key provision of the 1999 Constitution requiring legislative attention of extreme public importance is Section 18 (3) (free education) and Section 6 (6) (c) (non justiciablity of the Chapter Two). The phrase “when practicable” should be deleted as it concerns free primary and secondary education with their adult literacy programs.
The paragraph “c” in Section 6 (6) of the Constitution (section 6 (6) (c) should be deleted to judicially empower Nigerians to hold the political office holders accountable at all times with respect to the Fundamental Objectives & Directive Principles of the State Policy of the Constitution(Sections 13-23). Section 12 (3) of the same 1999 Constitution requiring a majority of the Houses of Assembly passage of a national law before a treaty or convention can be domesticated; should be done away with. The passage and assent of the domesticating law should be restricted to the National Assembly and the Presidency.
Lastly, the N4 billion said to have been wasted by the defunct Seventh National Assembly in the futile constitutional amendment exercise must no repeat itself; likewise about N9 billion wasted in the 2014 National Conference. The unpopular provision made by the defunct Seventh National Assembly in the amended draft Constitution as Life Pensions for the principal officers of the National Assembly; must not be allowed to see the light of the day. We also demand that key issues agreed upon at the 2014 National Conference must be legislated into law.
Emeka Umeagbalasi, B.Sc. (Hons) Criminology & Security Studies
Board Chairman, International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law
Uzochukwu Oguejiofor, Esq., (LLB, BL), Head, Campaign & Publicity Department
Chiugo Onwuatuegwu, Esq., (LLB, BL), Head, Democracy & Good Governance Program