The National Assembly on Tuesday pointedly accused 25 State Houses of Assembly of frustrating the efforts made by the Senate and House of Representatives to amend the nation’s constitution six months after it transmitted 44 bills to them for consideration.
The Senate and the Houses of Representatives Committees on Constitution Review also accused the state assemblies of threatening not to act on the bills passed by the National Assembly which require their consideration unless certain conditions were met.
The Committee, jointly chaired by the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Ahmed Idris Wase, made this known at a joint press conference in Abuja on Tuesday.
Senator Omo-Agege, who read the position of the Committee, however, disclosed that 10 State Houses of Assembly have acted on the bills transmitted earlier to them in line with constitutional requirements for amendment of the document.
He listed the 10 states that have acted and voted on the bills to include Delta, Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Anambra, Edo, Kaduna, Katsina, Kogi, Lagos, Ogun and Osun States.
Amongst the 44 bills transmitted to the state assemblies for considerations and voting include bills seeking Devolution of Powers, Local Government Administrative Autonomy, Local Government Financial Autonomy, Fair Hearing in the Process of Recommending the Removal of Judicial Officers, Independent Candidate and Timeframe for the Submission of the Names of Ministerial or Commissioner Nominees.
He also disclosed that the Conference of Speakers of State Assemblies had written to the National Assembly informing the Committee of their refusal to act on the bills except the National Assembly considers and passes four other bills which they have proposed that were not captured in the amended bills transmitted to them.
The four proposed bills which the 25 state assemblies are demanding the National Assembly to include for their consideration are bills to Establish State Police, Establish State Judicial Council, Streamline the procedure for removing Presiding Officers of State Houses of Assembly and, Institutionalize Legislative Bureaucracy in the Constitution.
Omo-Agege said, “Now, let us give you a sense of where we are with the Bills as of today. Six months after the transmission of these Bills to State Assemblies, it is most disheartening to inform you that only 11 State Houses of Assembly have demonstrated their independence and loyalty to the Constitution regarding the 44 bills. 25 State Houses of Assembly have yet to consider and vote on these bills.
“So far, only Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Anambra, Delta, Edo, Kaduna, Katsina, Kogi, Lagos, Ogun and Osun States have successfully considered, voted on, and forwarded their resolutions on the 44 bills to the National Assembly.
“More worrisome is that while we are still expecting the receipt of the resolutions of the remaining Houses of Assembly, we received a letter from the Conference of Speakers of State Assemblies informing the National Assembly that the remaining states will not act on the 44 Bills unless the National Assembly passes four new Bills they have proposed in the letter. The Bills they propose seek to amend the Constitution to: Establish State Police; Establish State Judicial Council; Streamline the procedure for removing Presiding Officers of State Houses of Assembly; and, Institutionalize Legislative Bureaucracy in the Constitution.
“We want to ensure everyone understands this: The National Assembly is in no way averse to acting on any proposed Bill or memoranda appropriately tabled before it, at any time in its life. However, it is legally inappropriate for the Conference of Speakers to use the four Bills as a quid pro quo to act on the 44 Bills the National Assembly 44 Bills transmitted. It is clear, and we cannot overstate, that this letter is not in keeping with the obligation the Constitution has placed on them regarding the Constitutional amendment.
“Let us be clear, the Bills the National Assembly transmitted to the State Houses of Assembly as required by the Constitution are not about members of the National Assembly. It transcends our personal and political interests. It is about the people who have graciously given us_ the temporary privilege to serve them.
“The offices and positions we each hold belong to the people. And they yearn for a government that is honest, accountable, and responsive to their needs. It is, therefore, disheartening that some State Houses of Assembly, through the Conference of Speakers, would give the National Assembly conditions before fulfilling their constitutional obligations.”
The committee accused state governors of being behind the actions of the state lawmakers, citing undue interference of the governors in trying to control the state legislature.
Omo-Agege stated that “Although the Conference of Speakers did not allude to it in their letter, we are aware of the undue interference with legislative processes and the political capture of some State Houses of Assembly by some State Governors. No doubt, some State Governors have worked tirelessly to turn the Conference of Speakers and some State Assemblies into political puppets, thereby undermining and delegitimizing the legislative institution at the state level. This interference has been ramped up, especially in opposition to the Bills granting financial and administrative autonomy to Local Governments.
“An independent state legislature is essential to the well-being of Nigeria’s constitutional democracy. That is why the ongoing attempt by some State Governors, with the support of some Speakers and allies in the State Houses of Assembly, to eliminate that independence should alarm all Nigerians. This posturing by the Conference of Speakers of State Assemblies should be shown for what it truly is — a total disregard for the Nigerian constitutional system.
“It remains true that each State House of Assembly is independent of the other. However, Constitution amendment Bills require the approval of two/thirds (24) of the 36 States House of Assembly before they can be presented for the President’s assent. Therefore, how a State Assembly decides on each of the Bills is its prerogative. But, there must be a decision for citizens to know where each State House of Assembly stand on the issues the Bills seek to address.
“Please permit us to use this opportunity to appeal to citizens, civil society organizations, interest/professional groups and institutions to prevail on the Conference of Speakers to withdraw their threat to truncate the constitution amendment process. Instead, we should all speak up to defend our Constitution and democracy.
“Suppose we ignore this brazen attempt by some Governors to truncate a constitutional process. In that case, we will ultimately be enablers of the undermining of a critical bulwark of our democracy — which we should not be.
“While we use this medium to applaud all State Houses of Assembly that have successfully considered and approved the Constitution Alteration Bills, we also urge the remaining 25 State Houses of Assembly to keep faith with Nigerians and the Constitution they swore to uphold. May we all honour our pledge to Nigerians to build and reform by listening to the people.”