THE process of amending the 1999 Constitution by the Eighth National Assembly will be completed early next year, Senate President Bukola Saraki said yesterday.
A statement by Special Assistant to the Senate President on Print Media Chuks Okocha said Saraki spoke on Wednesday when the executive of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), led by its President, Balarabe Mahmud (SAN), visited him at the National Assembly, Abuja.
The statement quoted Saraki: “On the issue of constitution amendment, we started early on this because we know it can be a problem if it comes close to election year. Our view is that we have simplified the process. We are working on the earlier document, which was completed in the last Assembly but was not signed into law.
“We try to take important issues first and members of the committee are working on this. By the time it will be ready, we will send it to the Speakers of States Assembly.
“Working in collaboration with the House of Representatives, we hope the document will be similar and reduce areas of difference. I am looking at the end of this year or the first couple of weeks in January next year or thereabout, we should be able to debate and pass the amendments and send it to states.”
On the Electoral Act, he said: “We started this process early and it has gone through second reading, gone through public hearing. Stakeholders have contributed. Some of the issues as postponement of elections, electoral voting, some of the un-envisaged cases as the case in Kogi State have been taken into consideration and I believe the sooner we can pass the amendments, the better it is in the interest of Nigerians.”
Saraki urged the NBA to continue to speak out on behalf of the people.
He said: “NBA needs to have that big voice and that voice should be loud and clear. As leaders, we have to choose between our comfort and what we believe in. And I think at this point, we all ought to do what is right in the interest of the country. It might not be popular, but I think that is the responsibility we have at this time for the interest of the country.”
On the economy, Saraki said: “We met early in 2015 with members of NBA and the people in the private sector. We also met with the Nigerian Economic Summit Group and we are addressing the laws that will ease doing business in Nigeria. We came up with different laws. It is at the back of that, that we came by the economic bills that we have either passed or are being worked upon, like the Petroleum Industry Bill, Nigeria Railway Act, and others.
“We believe we must encourage private sector participation in infrastructure. We know government cannot do it alone.”
The Senate president, who described the NBA as partners with the Senate, added: “I think there is a role that the NBA has to play in working with us. What I can assure you is that when we get those laws, we have to work closely with each other and some of our laws are so outdated and not in line with modern economy. Some of these laws were made as far back as 50 years ago.”
Mahmud told the Senate president and his colleagues that the association was interested in the amendment of the Electoral Act, especially regarding the postponement of elections on the basis of security related issues, constitution amendments, Justice sector reforms, particularly Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Prisons Reforms and Legal Aid Council.
He said the timely completion of the constitution amendments would help to stabilise and strengthen the nation’s democracy.
Mahmud identified other grey areas crying for attention like the recent postponement of an election due to security concerns.
He noted that postponement of elections due to contrived security reasons was a threat to the independence of INEC.