Divisions as Nigeria prepares to rid ‘military’ constitution

Buhari in miliary regalia during his reign in 1983

Buhari in miliary regalia during his reign in 1983

from EMEKA OKONKWO in Abuja, Nigeria
ABUJA, (CAJ News) -THE rejection of the devolution of power and unsuccessful attempts to strip the head of state of some powers during a just-concluded exercise to amend the constitution is the latest bone of contention in Nigeria, the most populous black nation in the world.
The amendments come at a time the country is beset by myriad of divisions and uncertainty around the future and health of its president as well as inter-ethnic tensions.
The constitution, whose drafting was during the era of military rule, has not been spared criticism either amid complaints by some citizens that the document that ushered in the advent of democracy from military rule in 1999 has become increasingly unworkable.
Critics believe the constitution concentrates too much power at the centre, at the expense of state authorities that are closer to the
citizens. Former military ruler, Muhammadu Buhari, elected democratically in 2015, is current president but has been out of the country for weeks because of ill-health.
Hailed as a pioneering and historic legislative exercise, the process degenerated into a reflection of the political and ethnic tensions
battering the West African country of I90 million people.
Tension is palatable in Nigeria as Buhari (74), who left the country for the United Kingdom in May, continues his battle with an undisclosed illness.
His deputy, Yemi Osinbajo,has  been the acting head of state in the absence of the ailing leader.
Amid sharp ethnic divisions and intraparty differences in the ruling All progressives Congress (APC), reports intermittently escalate of a coup being planned with the collusion of the military to block Osinbajo’s ascendancy in the event of the demise or retirement of Buhari.
In the months leading to the death of then-President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who spent time overseas seeking medical treatment, the conflict-prone country endured a power vacuum amid fears this would lead to instability and a possible military takeover.
It is against this background the backdrop of this predicament some
senators sought to alter Section 145 of the 1999 constitution “to provide for a decisive action regarding the president’s state of health.”
However, the House of Representatives voted against a clause that would have weakened the powers of the president.
Some 92 senators, more than the required four-fifths voted to remove the presidential assent.
However, that proposal failed in the House of Representatives, implying the presidential assent will not be expunged in the ongoing constitution review.
The House could not muster the four-fifth votes, which is about 288 votes required to effect the amendment as it was backed by only 271 members, while 20 voted against and none abstained.
The 7th Assembly had in 2015, while reviewing the 1999 Constitution,approved the removal of presidential assent from the process of the amendment.
Legal advocate, Robert Clark, denounced the outcome.
“The funny thing about Nigeria is that we never learn from our previous mistakes. During the case of Yar’adua when he was so sick that he could not come back, instead of going to the constitution and seeing what it says, we started talking about the doctrine of necessity. That doctrine should only apply to a cabinet system, not to the presidential system;where everything has already been spelt out in the constitution,” Clark said.
He added that although the constitution provides for the president to hand over power to the vice president, via a letter to the National Assembly, the same constitution states that unless the president issues another letter to the contrary, “no one can do anything about the office of the president, until he returns.”
The voting trends reflected the divisions between the Senate and presidency since the APC gained power from Goodluck Jonathan and his People’s Democratic Party.
While APC controls both, they have clashed on a number of issues, which is attributed to the fact the presidency was opposed to the current leadership of the Senate assuming reins.
Bukola Saraki won ahead of APC’s preferred candidate Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan after garnering the support of PDP and some APC senators who broke rank with their party.
Senate and Buhari are locked in a standoff over the appointment of key officials such as anticorruption chief, Ibrahim Magu.
Meanwhile, proponents of the devolution of power and secession have received a blow after a closely-contested vote in the Senate.
The call for devolution failed by a count of 48 against 46.  Following agitated demonstrations with Biafra agitations in the South-East, calls for the “restructuring” of the federation and true federalism in the South-West and fears of power and resource control decentralization in the North, the lawmakers appeared to be voting to protect the interests of their constituents.
Nigeria is on the edge precipice in the wake of ultimatums and counter-provocations between some major tribes, each ordering the other to vacate some parts of the conflict-prone country.
This has heightened calls for the partitioning along ethnic lines to resemble the pre-colonial era.
The Ohanaeze Ndi-Igbo, an apex body of the Igbo people that makes 18 percent of the population, expressed disappointment with the outcome.
“The barrage of voices in this country lately shows clearly that majority of Nigerians are desirous of the country running a true federal system and one expected the National Assembly to have appreciated this in all their actions especially in constitutional amendment,” said Ohanaeze Ndi-Igbo President, John Nnia Nwodo.
Research firms stated the National Assembly’s stance on the amendment was in line with public opinion following legislature’s approval of the independent candidacy and the reduction of age restriction bills.
Surveys by NOIPolls, revealed 73 percent of Nigerians vouched for independent candidacy in the 2019 elections. The National Assembly endorsed the reduction of the age from 40 to 35.
In line with the national assembly’s decision to reduce the age qualification for presidency, the poll also revealed that Nigerians would
prefer a middle-aged (48 percent) president in 2019.
While data has shown that public opinion is in line with recent constitutional amendments, it is worthy to note bills approved by the
federal legislature can only take effect following the approval of Buhari.
– CAJ News

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Posted by on Aug 24 2017. Filed under Africa & World, Featured, National, News, Regional. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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