States have the right to hear from their people (on the document) but the sum total of it (is that) they don’t have the right to change ‘A’; they merely have the right to disagree, so that’s what happened to the document.
Over a week ago, the 36 State Houses of Assembly, operating under the aegies of the Conference of Speakers of States House of Assembly, returned the harmonised copy of the amendments to the 1999 Constitution presented to it by the National Assembly. Although, some states assembly subjected the document to public hearing/referendum to adequately reflect what they considered the views of their people, The Tide On Sunday learnt at the National Assembly shortly after the submission of the document that the states did not alter any clause or section of the amendment but merely agreed or disagreed with them.
This is contrary to wide expectations and indeed, contrary to the initial apparent stand of some of the states, including Lagos and Kwara that gave their people the opportunity of scruitinising the document and contributing to it through newspaper advertorials and public hearings. Curiously, The Tide On Sunday accosted a member of the National Assembly to explain why the states resolved, in the final analysis, not to tamper with the document but to merely toe the path of affirmation; concurrence or disagreement with the articles of the amendments. Hon. Christopher Berewari of the House of Representatives, representing Andoni, Opobo/Nkoro federal constituency said the states couldn’t have altered the amendments because they have no constitutional right to do so.
“The states have the right to hear from their people (on the document) but the sum total of it (is that) — they don’t have the right to change ‘A’; they merely have the right to disagree so that’s what happened to the document”, he explained.
Then if the states have no constitutional right to change ‘A’ or ‘B’ in the document, what is the rationale behind subjecting the document to public hearing, advertorials and referendum having been aware of this constitutional provision. Berewari said there was nothing wrong with the steps taken by the states and that it was not a waste of time and efforts on their part. “if in order to confirm why they’ll agree or disagree with it, they choose to seek opinions does not mean that they will add to the document. They will not! They don’t have any right to add anything to it but they must look at it. Their final position is based on their findings, based on the opinions from their people and all that. They’re representing people, they’re state assemblies, they have their own interest – the state and the people they represent’s interest”.
Does that in a way merely present the states assembly as ‘rubber stamp’ in the constitution amendment exercise who are just passive rather than being active? Again Hon. Berewari disagreed with this school of thought – which of course, is held by not a few Nigerian. He told The Tide On Sunday”, if you’re saying that we expected them to be ‘rubber stamps; I think it’s wrong”.
His reason is that the National Assembly “requires certain percentage of states – 2/3 to pass the amendment,” arguing further that “if we’re expecting that they’ll rubber stamp it, we’ll assume that 100 per cent; because we know that it will not be a rubber stamp, that people will look at it and they don’t necessarily need to agree with what we have done, although, we expect that majority of the states would see it the way we see it”.
Berewari described the journey so far in the constitutional amendment process as ‘commendable, noting that when it all started, it seemed as if they’ll not make headway ‘but I think now that Nigerians have seen that the National Assembly is serious to see that the constitution is amended”.
The Tide On Sunday drew Berewari’s attention to a recent development on the document on the floor of the House and sought reaction – the allegation that it was not the ‘certified’ or harmonised copy that the leadership of the Senate forwarded to the states Houses of Assembly, with Speaker Dimeji Bankole reacting swiftly and ordering the Clerk of the National Assembly to withdraw the copy and the Senate President firing back, describing him as being ‘mischievous’ Hon. Berewari put the issue in proper perspective and strived to erase any iota of doubt or ill-feeling that it might have generated in the minds of Nigerians.
Said he: “ Well, on that issue, I think the Speaker himself has made public statement, the Speaker made it clear that he is not in any way at war with the Senate President, he sees him as his elder brother. The Speaker and the Deputy has clearly pointed out what actually transpired. He continued:
It was a member who raised the issue on the floor of the House, the member alleged that the serialised copy in the newspaper, as published by the Lagos State House of Assembly, there were some differences between the harmonised copy that were sent by the House and the one that Lagos State House of Assembly published. I think the reaction of the Speaker was clear. That they should look into it and if it’s true, they should withdraw it, that’s what the member said should be looked into and if it’s found to be true, that the Clerk should withdraw the copy and the correct version sent. That was what the Speaker said so it’s for them to look at it to see what the member is alleging whether it is true or not.
According to Berewari, they are not in any way antagonising the Senate; they’re not in any way confirming that what the Senate sent was a doctored copy. But he said, ‘yes, this man has raised this issue, look at it find out whether it is true. If it is true, what will you expect him to say? Is it not to withdraw it? If we have harmonise copy and doctored copy is sent out, the rightful thing that anybody would say is bring the wrong copy back, send the harmonise copy! But the way it was presented was as if outrightly, the Speaker confirmed the allegation made by the member.
That was how, maybe, the papers presented it. That was why the Senate President, who also equally has the right to react the way he reacted.
He continued, “if he has sent the correct copy and now you are coming, telling the whole world that what he sent is a doctored copy, he has a right to react, he has a right to say what he has said but I think what I’m saying is actually what transpired. It’s alleged that what is published by states Houses of Assembly is not the harmonised copy – the Speaker now said, “Ok, look into it, see if what the member is saying is correct, if he is correct, tell them to return it. He did not at anytime accuse Senate.”
Justus Awaji, Abuja