Deputy President of the Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremmadu has said that the ongoing review of the 1999 constitution will partly involve restructuring. Speaking over the weekend at the end of the two-day joint retreat of the Senate and House of Representatives Committees on the Review of the 1999 constitution which took place in Lagos, Ekweremadu stated that the issue of restructuring which has been a burning issue will be considered in part.
He said that there was need for the federal government to shed some of the ‘weight’ it was carrying by moving some items from the executive list to the legislative list.
He said: “We have been talking about the restructuring of Nigeria. One of the components of restructuring is that they are saying that there too much power in the hands of the federal government and we need to strip some of them from the federal government. So what we have done is to look at the nitty-gritty issue where some of the items which they actually need will be removed from the executive list to the concurrent list where the federal and the states can make laws regarding some of those items. And where there is conflict, the laws of the national assembly will prevail.
“So, things like railways will have to be moved to the concurrent list, the idea is that state can build railways within their states and then a couple of state can then decide to build railways across their states. The federal government can also be building railways across the country and make policy around it. That is why we moved it to the concurrent list so that areas both the state and federal government can make laws to guide it.
“We have broken all the sections of the constitution that will be amended into specific bills. Between yesterday and today we have looked at about 23 separate issues which will amount to separate bills. The idea is to ensure that by the time we vote, each of them will succeed or fail on its own. When we conclude the work and send it to the State Houses of Assembly to approve, we will return it to the National Assembly; then we will collate and ensure that the provisions of the constitution have been fulfilled regarding the alteration and we will send it to the president for his assent.
“The implication therefore is that if he assents some, then those one becomes a part of the constitution. And for the one he refuses to assent to, we might decide whether to veto it. We want each of them to have a separate life on its own. And this is based on our own experience in the last exercise where everything was in one single document and when the president withheld his assent, all of them collapsed. This is just an improvement on what we did last time. It is something we innovated base on our experience in the last exercise.
“We have gone through some specific issues like the time frame within which a governor or president will be able to assent to a bill. If you look at our constitution, I think Section 58; if you pass a bill, you need to send it to the president for his assent and he has to assent it within 30 days. But the law did not state what will happen if after 30 days he fails to assent to it. So, we have introduced a time frame based on the provisions of the American Constitution. In American Constitution, if you send a bill to the President and he doesn’t sign it within 14 days, it automatically becomes law because they believe that within 14 days, the president would have made up his mind to assent or not. Now, we have also increased the threshold to 30 days. So, if the president refuses to sign or withhold his assent within 30 days and have not returned it to the National Assembly, it becomes automatic law.
“The other issue is the time frame within which the president can authorise expenditure from the revenue fund. The argument is that the constitution as it is today, if budget had not been passed, the president or governor can authorise expenditure up to six months into the year. That is why the executive will not bring the budget on time, because they believe that the previous budget was not quickly dispensed with.
“Now there will be grace of up to three months because you cannot operate the previous budget beyond three months of the year. We also tried to withdraw some items from the executive list to the concurrent list.”
On the issue of minimum wage and local government autonomy, he stated that the National Assembly has decided to leave the minimum wage at N18,000 which will apply to all states. He also said that the issue of local government autonomy was still contentious, but will be resolved.
He said:” On the issue of labour, there was the argument that each state should be able to decide their minimum wage; that there should be minimum wage for both the public sector and private sector. That is to say that if the wage is N5000, no state should pay any person less than N5000.
“We also looked at the removal of the Joint local government account. The challenge there has been how you take care of the issues of teachers’ salaries because it is from that joint local government account that primary school teachers’ salaries are paid. So, we wanted to be sure that if we remove the joint account, we will not jeopardise the payment of teacher salaries. We have to do further consultation with the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and other stakeholders before we can take a decision on that to be sure that we don’t create more problems when we are trying to solve an existing problem.
“What we plan to do is that over the next one week, we should have this laid before the National Assembly and then before we go for our holidays on July 27, we will vote on it.
“We want to ensure that we finish the process of this constitutional amendment before the end of 2017 so that it would not be stressed by election issues once we get to 2018.
“What we have said here are all going to be recommendations to the National Assembly. So, nothing is final. We are going to still debate them at the National Assembly and then we will vote on each of the items. We are going to vote and ensure that each of them gets at least two-third votes of the members of the Senate and House of Representatives. It is the items that scales through that requirement that will be sent to the state House of Assemblies and in the House of Assemblies we are going to get a simple majority in two-third of the states”.