By Rafiu Ajakaye
Nigeria’s House of Representatives on Thursday voted on changes to the country’s constitution, with lawmakers rejecting key provisions to devolve powers to states and allow married women to decide where and how to seek public office.
But the parliament approved a proposal to lower the minimum age for seeking political office and another allowing for independents to stand in future polls. The two proposals also sailed through the Senate on Wednesday.
The House approved 35 percent affirmative action for women in government appointments, but the Senate's rejection of the same means the proposal is technically dead because a proposal must secure two-thirds support in both houses to pass.
A proposal to let married women run for public office in their place of birth or marriage passed the Senate but failed in the House, garnering only 208 votes on a second ballot. The proposal initially polled 216 but female lawmakers called for a fresh ballot. A minimum of 240 votes is required for constitutional proposals to succeed in the lower house.
Like their Senate counterparts, the representatives favored a proposal to end the need for presidential assent for future constitutional changes and another to make former parliamentary presiding officers members of the country’s highest advisory body, the Council of State.
Lawmakers also backed a proposal to confer immunity on themselves for words spoken in parliament and another mandating the president nominate Cabinet members within 30 days of taking office.
- ’Lost opportunity’
Passage of the proposal lowering the minimum age for public office was applauded by many Nigerians. But the lawmakers also drew flack over proposals to remove the need for presidential assent or give themselves immunity and for rejecting the proposal to devolve powers to the states.
“I'm shocked by the reluctance of democratically elected lawmakers to remove structural impediments foisted by decades of military rule,” said Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president and chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Party, reacting to the devolution of powers vote.
“The blocked bill is a lost opportunity to honor one of the APC's election promises to bring change by shifting power closer to the people,” he added.
Critics say the proposed amendments are not sweeping enough to address the shortfalls of the constitution handed down by the military in 1999, while some call some of the new provisions self-serving, especially the one seeking immunity for legislators.
The constitutional review requires a two-thirds majority of both arms of the national assembly to pass. If they pass parliament, they would again require the support of two-thirds of legislative houses across the country's 36 states before the amendments are then forwarded to the president for assent.
The president may veto the amendments, although it is unlikely to fail as a whole as the lawmakers have prepared each of the alterations as a separate bill to forestall wholesale refusal of presidential assent.