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16 Aug

Constitutional Amendment: Applause For The Nigerian Senate, By Damola Adejobi

Just before the euphoria of the 36 amendments made to the 1999 Nigerian Constitution by the 8th Nigerian Senate dissipates, I will like to comment on some of the bills passed. The 8th Senate under the distinguished leadership of Senate President Bukola Saraki deserves to be commended for the amendments so far made to certain sections of our Constitution, an idea which was conceived by the 7th Senate. There is no denying the fact that the long-standing process was almost turning into another reference point of the failure of our legislators in discharging their duties effectively. Of the 36 amendments made, I would be commenting on three (3) which interest me and mentioning their merits in this piece.

Firstly, the deletion of the decree that established the NYSC in the Constitution gives the executive arm of government more control and flexibility in the management of the scheme. The NYSC scheme, as we know, is a compulsory one-year national service to the nation. It was established in 1973 by Former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, with the objective of national cohesion and improvement of cross cultural relation among different tribes. The scheme has no doubt fulfilled its purpose to an extent. I am however of the opinion that it may no longer be a viable policy option in promoting national unity today, as it has been marred by several shortcomings. With the deletion of the decree from the Constitution, I hope to see the executive arm making the scheme voluntary instead of compulsory. This will reduce the huge financial burden on both federal and state governments running the scheme. In the 2016 budget, over 67 billion naira was set aside for the scheme, which covered provision of kits, food, the meagre allowance of 19800 and other sundry matters. Despite the huge amount spent on the scheme, there is little or nothing to show for it. It has been characterised more with the unfortunate loss of lives of young Nigerian graduates who have to travel miles away on dilapidated roads to their states of primary assignment, deaths resulting in poor medical facilities in orientation camps as well as rape and murder of these young promising Nigerians. If the colossal amount budgeted for the scheme is channelled towards reducing the over 10 million out-of-school children in the country and supporting young entrepreneurs by setting up a special subsidy programme that will subsidise the amount paid for business registration or incorporation, certification with agencies such as NAFDAC and SON by fresh graduates who wish to establish their own businesses, the impact will be felt on the socio-economic landscape of the country.

Secondly, the Reduction of Age Qualification Bill is by far the most popular among Nigerian youths. It has been dubbed the Not-Too-Young-to-Run bill. This amendment seeks to alter Sections 65, 106, 131, 177 of the Constitution by reducing the age qualification for the offices of the President, Governor, membership of the Senate, House of Representatives, and the State Houses of Assembly. The 1999 Constitution has been very unfair to the Nigerian youth population that make up the largest demographics of the country. It allows them to vote at the age of 18 but would not give them the privilege of being voted for except they attain a certain age which is out of the youth age bracket defined by the United Nations (18-35). This bill has thankfully addressed that issue. It now gives room for 35 year old candidates to run for the office of President; 30 year olds for Governorship and Senate; and 25 year olds for House of Representatives and State House of Assembly. While I celebrate and rejoice with everyone actively involved in the passage of this bill, I think we have a whole lot more to do than celebrate, considering the need to rid the electoral process in the country of money bags, political brigandage and political god fathers who dictate who governs. Failure to put the kibosh on this trend right from the party level by proposing key reforms such as the reduction of the  cost of obtaining aspiration forms to contest for primaries, we might just have successfully empowered corrupt politicians who will now latch onto this bill to influence the electoral process for their children to assume power. As much as I appreciate the passage of the bill, I think the reform should be more on the quality of participation at the smallest unit up to the national level. This makes me appreciate the work of the current national youth leader of KOWA party who has been creating a unique model for engagement. Like we all know, no one gives power willingly. It is wrestled. But how prepared are we for the forthcoming challenge? Are we going to raise the bar with quality of candidates who can be bold enough to point out their achievements and means of livelihood or go with people of questionable wealth and character or spoilt brats sponsored by wealthy parents?

Thirdly, the Financial Autonomy of State Legislatures bill which seeks to provide for the funding of the Houses of Assembly of States directly from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State is timely. There is the need for the complete independence of the state assemblies, as this will go a long way in reducing neopatrimonialism. It is no story that most state assemblies are rubber stamp assemblies, subject to command and control of the state executive, most especially state assemblies where the majority of members belong to the same party with the governor of the state. A state like Osun comes to mind where for almost 7 years, the full details of the state budget has been shrouded in secrecy. Only the budget summary is presented to the public, despite several petitions from various quarters to Osun State Assembly. It is hard for such assemblies to act in the best interest of their constituents. Governance should be an open process and the state assemblies should be empowered to make this a reality.

I therefore urge the executive arm of government not to delay in assenting to these bills, as they will grow the political space, enhance our image as a country and improve the economy.

Damola Adejobi can be reached via damoladejobi@gmail.com. He tweets using the handle @damoladejobi

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