From Alifa Daniel:

FROM Minna, Niger State in January 2009, to Uyo, Akwa Ibom State last week, the division in the National Assembly over the review of the 1999 Constitution has reared its ugly head once again: The 44 members of the House of Representatives did not show up for the exercise that is billed to gulp over N2 billion in 2009 and 2010.

Ego became the issue, with the members of the House declining to attend because they were not sure whether the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, would preside over the meeting or he share the honour with the Deputy Speaker, Usman Bayero Nafada, as co-chairman, sources said yesterday.

But indications are rife that the House members would proceed to Kaduna in two weeks’ time to consider the technical report before them as the Senators did in Uyo.

Whatever the case, the reviewed document will, after the exercise, be passed separately in each of the Chambers and be harmonised at a later date by a joint committee.

Many people had thought that ego and the criteria for spending the N500 million budgeted for the exercise by each of the Chambers this year, like last year was the issue. But observers, however, suspect that there is an unseen hand working to thwart efforts aimed at giving the country a befitting Constitution.

A federal lawmaker pointed out yesterday that the manner of amending Section 145 of the Constitution in the last two weeks was instructive.

“While the House is still at the public hearing stage, the Senate has gone ahead to pass it,” he said.

The fear is that if a fifth columnist is at work, he could sabotage all efforts at amending this critical section, and indeed the Constitution itself.

The Akwa Ibom State Government that had made arrangements to receive the 88 federal lawmakers was said to have been disappointed.

It would be recalled that two weeks ago, The Guardian reported that the new Constitution put together by the National Assembly would outlaw cross-carpeting among legislators, state governors and even the President once they are elected into office.

Following recommendations of the Justice Muhammadu Uwais Electoral Reform Committee (ERC), the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the National Assembly will get on the first-line charge of the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF).

Details of the areas that will be tinkered with include the issue of independent candidacy, going by the reports of two technical consultants that assisted the 88 members of the National Assembly.

It was learnt that most of the recommendations considered in Uyo are being re-defined as Senators altered the recommendations of the technical committees.

Once passed in both Houses, the harmonised work of the National Assembly will go to the State Houses of Assembly for passage.

“If this goes through in the State Assemblies, then we will have a new constitution,” a source said two weeks ago.

“The Speakers are eagerly awaiting the National Assembly’s work. That is why we have been carrying them along with our work. The Speakers even have a committee on this matter,” the source added.

Also, a brief on the planned retreat of the federal lawmakers a fortnight ago noted that “the technical team has made appropriate recommendations to address the issues of the structure, funding and autonomy of the Independent National Electoral Commission.”

The team has also made proposals to address the issues of electoral litigation, staggered elections, independent candidature, carpet-crossing, among others.

In addition, non-fundamental provisions in the 1999 Constitution that have to do with elections had been deleted and transferred to the proposed Electoral Act.

THE Guardian had reported on January 18, 2009 that, the love of money, ego, and allegations of sectionalism, were forcing the Senate and the House of Representatives to carry out separate Constitution review exercises.

The issue of the appropriate nomenclature for the Deputy Speaker, Usman Bayero Nafada, tore the Joint Committee on Constitution Review (JCCR) apart that Friday in Minna, Niger State, 13 months ago.

National Assembly sources had feared that with the face-off between both Houses, there would be a costlier, more cumbersome, and more time-consuming exercise that might lead to both Houses operating separate budgets.

First, it was thought that a quiet disagreement between Senate President, David Mark, and House Speaker, Dimeji Bankole, was what delayed the review for almost a year. But as the drama from Minna, the Niger State capital, showed with House members walking out on the Senators to the embarrassment of the state governor, Babangida Aliyu, and his officials, it was discovered that a quiet disagreement between Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, and Deputy Speaker, Usman Bayero Nafada, could be another factor.

Besides hundreds of millions used to purchase of cars and office equipment, the 88 members allegedly collected over N175 million before the 2009 Christmas break, to sensitise their constituents towards the exercise.

And for proceeding to Minna for the retreat, over N10 million was expended for Duty Tour Allowance, and the booking of hotels and halls, among others.

It was learnt that, as soon as the federal lawmakers began to arrive in Minna, the air became fouled with rumours that of the six accommodation chalets provided in the state capital, Senators had hijacked five, leaving only one for the House.

By Friday morning, a delegation of House members was sent to Ike Ekweremadu in his hotel. Senator Maina Mohammed, who arrived as the meeting was on, denied that six chalets were provided, adding that he and other principal officers of the Senate were lodged in single rooms.

That dealt with, the members wondered why there were two separate programmes, one showing their deputy speaker as co-chairman and the other addressing him as vice chairman.

Ekweremadu was said to have referred the members to the meeting he and the Deputy Speaker had with the Senate President, and the meeting of the JCCR where the then Deputy Clerk of National Assembly (DCNA) (now Clerk of National Assembly (CNA)), Chief Yemi Ogunyomi, pointed the constitutional provision and the precedents set by the past JCCR.

The members told Ekweremadu that the House position was that the Deputy Speaker was co-chairman; but Senators insisted that the Senate position was that he was a vice-chairman.

As the meeting got heated, the governor of Niger State arrived for the opening ceremony of the JCCR retreat. The Deputy Senate President stepped out to receive him. When he returned to the meeting, it was already a charged atmosphere with opposing camps unwilling to back down.

It was resolved that the opening ceremony and meetings be concluded the next day so that the lawmakers could enter a closed session and resolve the differences.

Ekweremadu left to dress up for the opening but was shocked to find that his counterpart in the House was not seated, as protocol required. He sent the Secretary of the JCCR, and others to get Nafada. They failed to persuade him to show up.

The House members alleged that Ekweremadu walked out on them at a peace meeting, and he should be brought to apologise. The Deputy Senate President was said to have sent word back to them that whatever grievance was there would be resolved later. The House members refused to budge.

Senators and House members went into separate closed sessions to find a way out, as the governor was left in the lurch, waiting for the lawmakers to finish their meetings.

The leadership of the Senate was given the go-ahead to engage the House members. However, the members reportedly packed their bags and left for Abuja.

The Senators resolved to go ahead with the retreat, and conclude the reconciliation process in Abuja.

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