Attempts by the Senate to address public outcry against retention of section 29 (4) (b) of the 1999 Constitution, which stipulates that “any woman who is married in Nigeria is of full age,” has hit a brickwall. The lawmakers are now divided along religious lines, Daily Sun gathered yesterday.
The Upper Chamber is reportedly divided into three camps comprising Muslims, Christians and those indifferent about the retained constitutional provision.
Senate, it would seem, appears helpless to redress the situation as those who want the chamber to revisit the issue are in the minority, it was learnt yesterday.
The Senator Ike Ekweremadu-led Constitution Review Committee (CRC) recommended that section 29 (4) (b) which states that, “any woman who is married, shall be deemed to be of full age” be deleted from the constitution.
Senators agreed on the first vote with 75 in favour. It was at that point that former Zamfara State governor, Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima, who is also the Deputy Minority Leader, disagreed.
He argued that the chamber acted unconstitutionally as “this amendment is against the Second Schedule, Part I, Item 60 of the constitution. It states that the National Assembly shall not make any law that amends Islamic law..” and demanded that the vote be taken again.
The chamber agreed and the clause was retained because only 60 senators voted in favour, 13 members short of the constitutional two-thirds of 109 members needed for it to go through.
On resumption of plenary yesterday, Senate immediately dissolved into an executive session where concerned members expressed worry over the nationwide condemnation of Senate’s action on section 29 (4) (b).
Some senators had been lobbied by various women groups and reputable Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to reverse the decision taken last Tuesday.
And so, the decision was taken to re-introduce the matter through a motion but that was quickly aborted because “the feelers we got was that it would be defeated. Some of us pointed at the religious sentiments whipped up by Senator Yerima which caused a re-vote on that day.
“From the consultations in the chamber, it was obvious that even if we vote 10 times on that section and bring either an amendment bill or motion in it, it would always fail because those who voted in favour of its retention are not ready to shift ground.
“Some even told us that having taken that position, they cannot reverse themselves and that it would amount to political suicide…As it is, it is now a religious fight.”
Another Senator simply told Daily Sun, “look, the issue is no longer renunciation of citizenship; it is a religious matter and no senator would want to risk his political future for such an issue which has already been concluded.”
Curiously, Senator Yerima was absent at the closed-door session, but showed up in the chamber immediately the matter was concluded, said a senator who was at the session.
To salvage the situation, however, some senators are looking up to the House of Representatives when both chambers meet at the Conference Committee.
The committee is expected to iron out areas of differences in the amendment of the 1999 Constitution before the harmonized clauses are sent to the state Houses of Assembly for concurrence.
“The long and short of it is that we will never get back 75 senators to support us…All hope is not lost. We are seriously hoping that the House would salvage the situation when we go to conference,” another source said.
It also emerged that a section of the chamber is seriously lobbying some Representatives on financial autonomy for local governments.
A high ranking senator disclosed this yesterday, noting that “the way some of our members voted on local government autonomy was scandalous. When they meet you one-on-one, they tell you they support autonomy, but because some of their governors are against it, they couldn’t do anything, but pander to them.
“Some senators from a particular geo-political zone told us that they were specifically instructed by a former governor from the zone to vote against local government autonomy and they had no choice, but to abide by his wishes.
“We have approached the House of Representatives to help us because we all know that governors are against it. If they vote in favour of financial autonomy, we will also vote in favour when we get to the Conference Committee…”, he said.