Ekweremadu: A half-time appraisal

Ekweremadu: A half-time appraisal

Written by Uche Anichukwu

The Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, apart being unanimously reelected Deputy President in 2011, is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitution Review. He is also the Chairman, Governing Council of the National Institute of Legislative Studies. At the sub-regional level, he was unanimously elected the Speaker of the Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS Parliament, in August 2011. Yet he has demonstrated that he has all it takes to drive the institutions and tasks placed on his shoulders.
Uche AnichukwuMidway into his term as the Deputy President of the Senate, Ekweremadu and his principal, Senate President Senator David Mark, have continued to maintain stability and entrench a culture of honour and legislative excellence in the Red Chamber. The ability of the duo to guide the Upper Chamber to strike a balance between national interest and other multifarious intervening interests- political, individual constituency, ethnic, religious, and even personal, etc- is a high mark of leadership.
Two years down the line, Senator Ekweremadu has several Bills and Motions to his name. Among them is the State of the Nation Address Bill currently awaiting presidential assent. It seeks to provide for a formal and mandatory platform where the President will lay the account of his or her stewardship, assessment of the polity and the policy thrusts of his or her administration – economy, security, politics, foreign policy, etc on the table for public scrutiny.
He further sponsored the Bill for an Act to Amend the Federal High Court Act (2005) to make provision for increase in the number of Judges of the Federal High Court from 70 to 100. It is a common knowledge that the Federal High Court suffers from inadequate manpower on the bench. This is despite the far-reaching expansion of its jurisdiction over time. The workload of the Judges who are spread thinly across the Divisions of the Court is fast assuming unbearable and embarrassing proportions. It is therefore obvious how far this Bill, which has already been passed by both Chambers of the National Assembly, will go in helping our go-slow judicial system.
The legislature bears the harshest brunt of military rule. It is always sacked by the invading khaki men, resulting in loss of legislative capacity and culture. Ekweremadu was therefore at the forefront of midwifing and founding the National Institute for Legislative studies through an Act of Parliament in 2011. NILS emerged from the success of the Policy Analysis and Research Project (PARP) as a capacity building institution of the National Assembly. As the Chairman of the Governing Council of NILS, he has continued to work with Management to propel the Institute on the path of quality academic and professional research, policy analysis, training, documentation and advocacy on democratic governance and legislative practice and procedures for Nigerian and African legislatures at all levels.
However, Ekweremadu’s name has become more synonymous with constitution amendment and true federalism. Drawing experience and inspiration from the breaking of the jinx of amending the 1999 Constitution during the 6th National Assembly which laid the foundation for the relative success of the 2011 general election, Ekweremadu and his team are on the match again. The Ekweremadu Committee has so far shown that it bears no allegiance to any, except that which it owes to the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He has effectively guided the Committee on the path of superior argument and public will.
Landmark recommendations in the proposed Bill already presented to the Senate include: a single term of 6 years for the executive to reduce do-or-die politics associated with reelection and the cost of election; procedure for drafting and enacting a new constitution with a provision for a referendum in the process (the 1999 Constitution only provides for an amendment, which cannot take care of some fundamental changes in our federalism); abolition of the state and local government joint account so that the local governments can get their funds directly; separation of the Office of Attorney-General and Minister/Commissioner of Justice at the federal and state levels to promote justice and give force to anti-graft war; plus an elected mayoral system of administration for the Federal Capital Territory as is the practice is the practice in other major cities of the world. Others are the express provisions on 30 days maximum waiting period for a President or Governor’s assent of a Bill after which it automatically becomes a law if not signed or returned; devolution of more powers from centre to the states; gender equity and child rights/protection in the area of renunciation of citizenship; protection of the physically challenged from discrimination; direct payment to State Independent Electoral Commissions, House of Assembly of the State, and State Judiciary from the Federation Account to give them financial autonomy.
At the sub-regional level, Senator Ekweremadu inherited a Parliament that was largely obscure and strictly consultative or advisory- unable to make laws, carry out oversight functions, approve budgets or some statutory appointments. Apart from raising the Parliament’s visibility and deploying it as a real tool for regional integration, he has vigorously pursued his major agenda of enhancing of the powers of the Parliament to conform with other serious-minded regional parliaments like the European Union and even the East African Legislative Assembly. Within two years, the Ekweremadu-led Parliament has raised, adopted, and transmitted a Draft Supplementary Act for the Enhancement of the Powers of the Parliament to the ECOWAS Commission. This quest has received immense support from the Chairman of ECOWAS, President Alassane Ouattara and other ECOWAS institutions and organs. A Roadmap for the Enhancement project was recently adopted in Accra, while the Financial Chain Team of ECOWAS has considered the Financial Budget and Draft Organogram component of the Draft Supplementary Act. If all goes according to plan, Ekweramadu and indeed the ECOWAS Parliament are at the threshold of history.
Furthermore, Senator Ekweremadu has undertaken robust infrastructural development of the Parliament, securing Nigerian Government’s grant of N932,264,779.50, as the host country, for the construction of a brand new state-of-the-art office complex for the Parliament. In addition, reconstruction of the existing structure is in progress. But more importantly, from Guinea Bissau to Guinea Conakry, Mali, Cote D’Ivoire, etc, the ECOWAS Parliament under Senator Ekweremadu has continued to play greater part in consolidating democracy. It has repeatedly voiced its opposition against all forms of sit-tight syndrome, unconstitutional takeover of power, militancy, insurgency, and terrorism. He has brought parliamentary diplomacy to bear on building partnerships and addressing many challenges facing West Africa.
As the 7th Senate returns for the second half of its lifespan, all eyes will be on Senator Ekweremadu to sustain and possibly surpass the already garnered momentum on all fronts.
Uche Anichukwu is Special Adviser Media to the Deputy President of Senate.