Constitution Review: Lawmakers to vote on VAT, power devolution, others Tuesday

Constitution Review

The National Assembly will vote on 67 bills starting Tuesday in an attempt to revise the 1999 Constitution once more.

The joint constitution review committee has presented 67 proposals, one for each of the topics up for revision.

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The “Report of the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bills 2022” was laid by Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege.

Ahmed Idris Wase, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, did the same in the Green Chambers.

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The 67 legislation presented by the Joint Committee in the Report will be voted on by both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

A proposal must be supported by two-thirds of members in order to pass.

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The Value Added Tax (VAT), which is in dispute between the federal and state governments over who should collect it and how it should be shared, is a significant subject to be voted on.

On August 10, 2021, a Federal High Court judge granted Rivers State’s request to begin collecting VAT within its jurisdiction.

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The status quo should be maintained, according to the Court of Appeal.

The Supreme Court is presently hearing the case. Other states, including as Lagos, have also joined.

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The parliamentarians will vote on putting VAT on the Exclusive List, putting it under the control of only the Federal Government.

Bills on devolution of powers, local governments, the legislature, judicial reform, women and vulnerable groups, institution strengthening, and good governance are among the other important topics.

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Political parties and elections, the Federal Capital Territory, fundamental human rights, and national security are among the others.

Lawmakers will also vote indigeneship, another flashpoint in many parts of the country.

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On devolution of powers, the lawmakers will vote on six bills, such as who should establish and manage airports.

This function is presently being undertaken by the Federal Government through agencies like the police, National Identify Management Commission (NIMC) and others.

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Another issue is the setting up and management of Correctional Services, Railways and National Grid System (power).

Both the Correctional Service and railways are on the Exclusive List, but lawmakers will vote on allowing states to participate in these areas.

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There have been arguments that states should be allowed to build and operate prisons.

Some states have set up power generating stations but have no legal backing to transmit them.

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There are eight bills on local government administration and financial autonomy.

Although there is already a constitutional provision on local government autonomy, the reverse is the case in reality as state governors have vowed not to set LGAs free.

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The Supreme Court recently struck down President Muhammadu Buhari’s Executive Order 10 granting financial autonomy to state Houses of Assembly and state high courts.

They will also vote on eight bills which include financial autonomy for state legislatures and state judiciary, the procedure for overriding the President’s veto in constitution alteration, ordinary/menu bills, removal of presiding officers and pension for presiding officers of the legislature.

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There are 12 bills on judicial reforms. They include bills on the establishment of the Federal Revenue Court and the revenue court of a state, timelines for determination of civil and criminal causes, the uniform retirement age of judicial officers and pension rights, judiciary (visual/remote court hearings) and the inclusion of judges of the National Industrial Court in the composition of the election tribunals.

At the moment Justices of the Supreme Court retire at age 70, the Justices of the Court of Appeal, 70 and judges of the Federal High Courts retire at 65, while state High Court judges also retire at age 65.

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The bills if adopted may see Supreme Court Justices retiring at age 75, while Justices of the Appeal Court and judges of the Federal High Courts may both retire at age 70.

There are additional six bills that deal with women and other vulnerable populations. Special seats for women, the expansion of citizenship through registration, and affirmative action for women in political party administration are only a few examples.

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The MPs will vote on three legislation related to political parties and electoral concerns, including restrictions on the formation of political parties, independent candidacy, and voting by diaspora.

The Federal Capital Territory is also the subject of three bills. They are: FCT Mayoral Status, FCT Ministerial Appointment, and FCT Abuja Boundary Correction.

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From next week, it seems unlikely that the Red and Green Chambers will vote in lockstep. While the Senate can pass some laws, the House can reject them if it so wishes.

Any discrepancies between bills adopted or rejected by either chamber would be handled by a harmonisation committee, which would be formed promptly after the voting by both legislatures.

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Speaker of the House Femi Gbajabiamila has threatened to disclose the identities of MPs who do not participate in the voting process.

Gbajabiamila, while speaking at the plenary yesterday, urged lawmakers to participate because of its significance to the country.

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He said: “Honourable members, we will be voting on the first set of constitution amendments on March 3 and 4.

“It is important that all members should be present on Wednesday and Thursday. We will publish any name that is not present on that day.”

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The First Lady, Aisha Buhari, was present during the proceedings.

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