NASS moves to amend 1999 Constitution to increase presidential powers

The National Assembly has disclosed that it would seek the amendment of the 1999 Constitution, (as amended) to provide for a smooth transition of legislative powers from an outgoing to an incoming National Assembly.

It would also though the process reinforced the powers of the President to dissolve the outgoing National Assembly and convene the first session as contained in the National Assembly bill, 2019.

The resolution was sequel to deliberations on the National Assembly Inauguration Bill, 2019, which was eventually stood down to enable issues raised in the bill to be addressed through a process of a constitutional amendment.

Sponsor of the bill, Senator Gabriel Suswam (PDP, Benue North East), in his lead debate, said the bill among other things, “seeks to ensure a smooth transition of legislative powers from the outgoing National Assembly to the incoming one.”

The former Benue State governor argued that this could be achieved by providing a comprehensive legal framework for managing and coordinating the inauguration and swearing-in of newly elected or in-coming Senators or members-elect after the dissolution of the outgoing National Assembly by the President in exercise of his powers under section 64 (3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.

He further submitted that though Section 311 of Chapter VIII, Part I of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, makes transitional provisions with respect to Standing Orders of the Senate, no such transitional and saving provisions were contained in any extant law with respect to the Standing Orders of any outgoing and incoming National Assembly.

He said: “It suffices to say that by item 68 of the Exclusive List, Part 1 of the Second Schedule to the 1999 Constitution, as amended, the power of the National Assembly to legislate on the inauguration day/date of elected members of the National Assembly is incidental to the Exclusive power of the National Assembly to legislate on the election of members of the National Assembly.”

Underscoring the need to designate a particular day for inaugurating the in-coming National Assembly, Suswam said doing so “would avert a vacuum and constitutional crisis that may arise as a result of the time lag between the inauguration of the President and the swearing-in of newly elected members of the National Assembly.”

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Some of the senators spoke in support of the Bill. Senator Adamu Aliero, however, raised a point of order. The Senator representing Kebbi South while citing orders 63 and 64 of the constitution, warned of an impending conflict likely to arise with the passage of the Bill into law.

The Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, while lending his voice to the debate, said going ahead to consider and pass the National Assembly bill would result in a conflict with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution as amended.

Omo-Agege, therefore, suggested that an amendment of the 1999 constitution in this direction be duly considered by the National Assembly to address all issues identified in the National Assembly Bill, 2019.

“This is a constitutional issue. The only way we can bring this to pass is to amend the Constitution not by passing a bill that will be in conflict with the provisions of the Constitution.

“We have the constitutional review coming up. Those who believe we should do this can do the amendment by reviewing Section 64 that deals with when the proclamation can take place,” he said.

The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, in his remarks on the bill, said “it is clear that even if we sign it into law, the new act cannot vitiate Section 64 of the 1999 Constitution. I will advise that we tow the path of a constitutional amendment.

“There is no doubt that this bill is a good bill and well-intentioned, but we cannot address the problems through this bill. It has to go through a constitutional amendment.

“This bill, however, succeeded in igniting the argument that we have to do something about this. So I will advise that we stand down the debate on this bill and then bring a constitutional amendment to address the issue,” Lawan added.

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