The Joint Senate and House of Representatives Committee on Constitution Review has approved the separation of the office of the Minister of Justice from that of the Attorney-General of the Federation as part of the recommended amendments to the 1999 Constitution.
The matter and about 54 other proposed amendments are expected to be tabled before the legislative arm by the end of this month.
If it is passed by the two chambers and endorsed by at least two-thirds of 36 State Houses of Assembly, Nigeria will join the league of countries with a similar practice.
The Nation learnt on good authority in Abuja yesterday that the joint committee similarly proposed that independent candidates be allowed to contest elective posts.
Such candidates will not need to go through the rigour of consensus or direct/ indirect primaries.
For more representation in elective offices, special seat concessions were recommended for allocation to women at all levels.
Besides, the lawmakers resolved to effect a change in the constitution to outlaw parading of suspects by the police, Department of State Services (DSS), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and other agencies before arraigning them in court.
They were of the view that Nigeria should not subscribe to such an “act of torture” of its citizens.
It was learnt that some of the amendments were considered by the Joint Senate and House of Representatives Committee on Constitution Review on Friday.
A source, who was privy to the deliberation at the session, said: “The National Assembly Constitution Review Committee opted to separate the Office of the Minister of Justice from the Attorney-General of the Federation because the present structure is being politicised. We need to get our justice system right from the top.
“While the Minister of Justice deals with policy and administrative issues, the AGF as the Chief Law Officer of the Federation will oversee dispensation of justice without fear or favour.
“We don’t have anyone in mind, but combining the two offices in Nigeria is becoming complex. We need a drastic reform in this respect.”
On independent candidacy, the source said: “This will enable the system to produce leaders on merit. The prevalent direct, indirect and consensus clauses promote mediocrity and imposition of candidates by state governors.
“Outside of party structure, a good candidate should be able to emerge and win elections.
“But the National Assembly is adding a proviso that at least 20 per cent of voters in a constituency or district must endorse the nomination of an independent candidate.”
The source said the constitutional provision for special allocation of seats for some elective offices is to” promote gender balance and Affirmative Action. ”
On the fate of criminal suspects or those with cases, the proposed amendment “seeks to outlaw parade of suspects before their arraignment in court. But once a suspect is put on trial, he can be paraded.
“This alteration is in line with international best practices. The law says a suspect is innocent until proven guilty.
“Look at some of those arrested and paraded for economic and financial crimes; they have been set free. They have however lost their reputation.
“This amendment will affect the police, EFCC, ICPC, NDLEA, NSCDC and other agencies. It will also guarantee citizens’ access to fair hearing.”
All the proposals have to be considered and approved by the two chambers of the National Assembly and the 36 state Houses of Assembly before the constitution can be amended.
A member of the House of Representatives Committee on Constitution Review said: “All these are proposals by the Joint Committee. The two chambers would have to ratify before we pass the amendments to the State Houses of Assembly.
“Going by Section 9(2 and 3) of the 1999 Constitution, the Joint Committee, the National Assembly cannot alter the 1999 Constitution without the backing of the State Houses of Assembly.
“So, we need to build consensus with the executive at the federal and state levels and the Conference of Speakers of the State Houses of Assembly.
Section 9(2) of the 1999 Constitution says: “An Act of the National Assembly for the alteration of this Constitution, not being an act to which Section 8 of this Constitution applies, shall not be passed by either House of the National Assembly unless the proposal is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of all the members of that House and approved by the resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the states.
Section 9(3) reads: “An Act of the National Assembly for the purposes of altering the provisions of this section, Section 8 or Chapter IV of this Constitution shall not be passed by either House of the National Assembly unless the proposal is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of all the members of that House and approved by the resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the states.”
Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege announced on Friday that the report of the National Assembly Joint Committee on Review of the 1999 Constitution would be presented to both chambers for consideration by the end of this month.
Omo-Agege, who doubles as co-chairman of the panel, spoke during the joint retreat of the Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Constitution review.
He said the recommendations for 55 amendments stemmed from hearings and memos submitted by the public.