Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

CONSTITUTION AMENDMENT: What Gains For The Working People?

CONSTITUTION AMENDMENT: What Gains For The Working People?

By Ayo Ademiluyi

Recently, the National Assembly approved the verified amendments from the States’ Houses of Assembly in the final move for the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria since 1999. It will be necessary for socialists and genuine working class activists to assess the constitutional amendments vis-Å•-vis the interests of the working people.

Local government autonomy was excluded having been rejected by no fewer than 20 (twenty) states in the country. The proposed amendments in relation to local government autonomy which was rejected states that “a local government council not democratically elected shall not be recognized by all authorities and persons and shall not be entitled to any revenue allocation from the Federation Account or the state government….It shall not also exercise any function exercisable by a local government council under this constitution or any law for the time being in force; and shall stand dissolved at the expiration of a period of four years, commencing from the date the members of the Council were sworn in.”

What this amendment would have meant, despite its limitations, if it has sailed through is a check on the deliberate policies of several state governments to install unelected Caretaker Committees at local council levels. This affords them the opportunity to siphon huge funds that belong to the local councils. What the rejection of local council autonomy by these state governments reflect is the deep unwillingness of many state governments, aided by their state Houses of Assembly to stop these untoward acts.

The National Assembly also empowered the Independent National Electoral Commission to deregister political parties. This was done by inserting section 225A, which states that “INEC can deregister political parties if there is a breach of any of the requirements for registration.” The grounds for the deregistration, is if such political parties fail to win presidential or governorship of at least one state, chairmanship of, at least, one local government/area council or a seat in the national or state assembly election. This was approved by all the 36 states of the federation.

This is clearly an assault on democratic rights as it is a further erosion of the largely limited opportunities for small parties and parties of workers and the poor to grow. The amendment strengthens the provision in the Electoral Act 2010 (2011 amended) and even adds the requirement of winning at the local government council to it.

However, the National Assembly also approved the inclusion of independent candidacy in the new proposed constitution. The extant electoral law in section 177 stipulates that candidates for elections must be sponsored by political parties. But the lawmakers have altered this section by inserting a new paragraph that “a candidate must be sponsored by a political party or he is an independent candidate.” Consequently, any qualified Nigerian can now stand for election without necessarily belonging to any political party.

This is clearly a leap for democratic rights. However, it remains to be seen how the Electoral Act will be amended to reflect this development with likely possibilities of setting bureaucratic guidelines and hurdles especially aimed at hindering working class and poor candidates.

The new amendment also stipulates that every pre-election matter should be filed not later than seven days from the date of the occurrence of the event, decision or action complained of in the suit. Besides, the lawmakers approved that court in every pre-election matter “shall deliver its judgment in writing within 180 days from the date of filing of the suit.” They also requested that an appeal from a decision in a pre-election matter must be filed within 14 days from the date of delivery of the judgment appealed against; and an appeal from a decision of a court in a pre-election matter “shall be heard and disposed of within 60 days from the date of filing of the appeal.”

Furthermore, Section 67 has been altered by substituting for section 67(1) a new subsection “67(1)” which states that a sitting president shall “attend a joint meeting of the National Assembly once a year to deliver an address in respect of the state of the nation.” The report on the amendment further reads, “The National Assembly has also separated the office of the Attorney General of the Federation from the Justice Minister. In a similar vein, the office of the Accountant General of the Federation has been separated from the office of the Accountant General of the Federal Government”.

The assent of the President to the Constitution Amendment Bill would also be the last time any sitting President would sign the constitution as section 9 of the constitution has been amended to ensure that after such amendments have been assented to by two-third of the country’s state Houses of Assembly and the two chambers of the National Assembly, such amendments would become law.

An overview of the above only shows that an overall victory of democratic rights cannot be won under the lopsided capitalist arrangement. Working people must link their struggles for all-round democratic rights to the struggle to throw out all the bands of capitalist marauders and install a working people’s government that will embrace an all-rounded democratic socialist programme to safeguard democratic rights.