Written by Idowu Samuel, Taiwo Adisa and Ayodele Adesanmi:
THE Senate and the House of Representatives, on Thursday, respectively endorsed the Constitution Amendment Report by the (House) Committee on Constitution Review and passed into law, the electoral reform aspect of the constitution amendment bill.
While there were points of convergence in the Thursday resolutions of the two chambers, there were equally points of differences.
As an instance, the two chambers differed on the issue of cross-carpeting. While the House outlawed it, the Senate endorsed it.
The report on constitution amendment presented to the plenary session by the Deputy Speaker, Honourable Usman Nafada, outlawed defection by political office holders, while allowing independent candidacy.
According to the amendments, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), National Assembly and state Houses of Assembly had been granted financial autonomy, as they would now be paid directly from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the federation and states.
The approved report also indicated that to become president, vice-president, governor, deputy governor and member of the National Assembly, candidates must possess a degree from a recognised tertiary institution, just as it also indicated that a member of the National Assembly who had served before could contest, even without being a graduate.
An executive summary of the report, which was made available to the Nigerian Tribune, indicated that sections 65, 106, 131 and 171 of the 1999 Constitution was amended to accommodate independent candidacy.
Also, sections 68, 109, 135 and 180 of the constitution was amended to deal with defection, thus making a defector to automatically lose his seat.
According to the amended sections, where a person elected on the ticket of a political party decided to join another political party without evidence of a merger or factions in his former political party, he would vacate his seat.
The amended portion of the constitution also specified that where a person who was elected as an independent candidate became a member of a political party before the expiration of the period of his tenure of office, he would vacate his seat.
Any political office holder who was expelled by his political party, according to the amendment, would retain his seat only if he refrained from joining another political party when his tenure was still on.
Sections 81 and 121 so amended made provisions for inclusion of INEC, National Assembly and state Houses of Assembly for payment in the consolidated revenue fund of the federation and the states.
According to the proposed amendment, section 65, 131 and 177 had been altered to encourage a certain level of academic qualification among contestants into the office of president, vice-president, governors, deputy governors and member of National Assembly, such that contestants for the offices would need to possess a minimum of tertiary institution level or its equivalent, while obtaining relevant certificates of service as a member of the National Assembly for a complete tenure.
Sections 145 and 190 dealt with the periods of election in which a maximum of 60 days to a minimum of 30 days were required before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of the office to a minimum of 120 days and a maximum of 150 days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of that office.
The report also recommended relevant sections of the Nigeria’s electoral law to accommodate the alterations and adjustments made in the 1999 Constitution.
Also, on Thursday, the Senate passed the electoral reform aspect of the constitution amendment bill into law, with the approval for a change in the time for holding general election which could see the next election holding between January and March 2011.
The senators had voted in favour of the amendment of all the clauses of the electoral reform bill on Wednesday, but they deferred the passage of the bill for the third and final reading because of the discovery of the omission of Section 109 and errors on other aspects of the bill.
The Senate thus directed that the errors be corrected and the bill represented for final passage on Thursday.
The bill passed by the Senate indicated that general election would hold, not earlier than 150 days before the expiration of the term of office of the office holder and not later than 90 days before the expiration of the tenure.
Another feature of the bill is the approval of the nominees for resident electoral commissioners (RECs) by the Senate, which were, before now, appointed by the president.
The senators, also on Thursday, approved the missing Section 109 of the constitution to pave the way for cross carpeting by members of the Houses of Assembly.
It was also approved that anyone who would seek elective office must be a university graduate or its equivalent, besides that he must be a citizen of Nigeria by birth, attained the age of 40 years and sponsored by a political party of which he is a member.
The amendments also provided time frames for the disposal of election petitions before the swearing in a and general conduct of elections.
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