The National Assembly has indicated interest in amending the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) to provide for a smooth transition of legislative powers from an outgoing to an incoming National Assembly.
The National Assembly also seeks to reinforce, through constitutional amendment, 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 decision to amend the Constitution in this direction was reached after consideration of the National Assembly Inauguration bill, 2019, which was eventually stood down on Wednesday in the Senate to enable issues raised in the bill to be addressed through a process of 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.
This, according to Suswam, would be achieved by providing a comprehensive legal framework for managing and coordinating the inauguration and swearing-in of newly elected or incoming 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.
The lawmaker added 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 are contained in any extant law with respect to the Standing Orders of any outgoing and incoming National Assembly.
“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,” Suswam stressed.
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.”
Senators who spoke in support of the bill are: Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe; Deputy Minority Leader, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha; and Senator James Manager (PDP, Delta South).
Coming under a point of order, Senator Adamu Aliero (APC, 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.
He said: “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.”
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 advice that we tow the path of 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.”