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Needless fuss over constitutionality of Not-Too-Young-To-Run Act, By O G Chukkol

By News Express on 07/06/2018

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•Oliver G Chukkol
•Oliver G Chukkol

 Prefatorily, it is surprising and quite intriguing that there has been much ado about the constitutionality of the ‘Not-Too-Young-To-Run Act’ (hereinafter used interchangeably with the Act). This is so because this is not the first constitutional amendment in Nigeria. In fact, this is the fourth one. This ruckus readily brings to mind how an eminent scholar, Dr Salim B Magashi, of Faculty of Law, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria devoted his time and poignantly dissected the provisions of the Constitution in respect of its amendment to his students, among which I was privileged to be.

To clear a preliminary point, “Not-Too-Young-Title-Run is a title unknown to law. The true citation of the Act isThe Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Fourth alteration) Bill No. 27 2017.” It follows, therefore, that Not-Too-Young-To-Run is merely used for the purpose of publicity. Be that as it may, this article shall still use Not-Too-Young-To-Run to ease the flow of the discourse.

Those who challenged the constitutionality of the Act did that on the following grounds: Being an Act of the National Assembly, the Act cannot amend the constitution; There is a conflict between the provisions of the Act and the provisions of the Constitution.

This article shall address both grounds in turn.

Can an Act of the National Assembly amend the Constitution?

The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), being written in nature, is the only document that has answer/solution to this interesting poser. We, therefore, find Section 9 thereof relevant. It provides as follows:

9 (i) “The National Assembly may, subject to the provision of this section, Alter any of the provisions of this Constitution.”

(ii) “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 in 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 resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the States” (bold for emphasis).

The provisions above are clear and unambiguous. Reading sub-section (ii) above carefully, it opens with the phrase: “An Act of The National Assembly For the Alteration of this Constitution.” By section 318 of the constitution, “Act” simply means a law made by the National Assembly. The implication of the opening words of section 9(ii) of the Constitution, therefore, is that the Constitution is to be amended through the National Assembly by passing a law to that effect.

This was exactly what was done in respect of the Not-To-Young-To-Run Act. The long title of the Act reads:

An Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, to reduce the age qualification for the offices of the President and Governor and membership of the Senate, House of Representatives and the State House of Assembly, and for other related matters.

The Act alters sections 65, 106,131 and 177 of the 1999 Constitution and reduces the age qualification for the office of the President (to 35), governors (to 30) and membership of the House of Representatives and the State Houses of Assembly (to 25)

It should also be noted also that all the requirements of section 9(ii) of the Constitution was met in that the bill was supported by votes of not less than two-third majority of All the members of both the Senate and the House of Representatives and was approved by 33 out of the 36 states (far above the required two-third majority of all the states)  of the federation in Nigeria (see https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Not_Too_Young_To_Run accessed on June 2, 2018).

Not only that, the bill was assented to by the president on the 31st of May, 2018 being a condition precedent for bringing the bill amending the Constitution to life as was decided in the case of Dr Olisa Agbakoba V The National Assembly & Ors FHS/L/1940/2010, delivered by Justice Okeke of the Federal High Court, Lagos on November 8, 2010.

Whether there is conflict between the Act and the provisions of the Constitution.

The question of conflict between the provisions of the Not-Too-Young-Run Act and the provisions of the Constitution is hypothetical and academic, because it has no practical relevance since the purpose of the Act is to amend the Constitution.

The act is now to be read as the Constitution itself. All the age limits mentioned in sections 65, 106, 131 and 177 of the Constitution, prior to May 31, 2018, are now dead. The age limits in the Act are now the valid ages replacing the dead ages.

The position of the law is that the provisions of the Constitution cannot conflict with each other, and none is superior or inferior to the other. There is no better way of putting it than calling in aid the words of emeritus judicial icon, Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili, JSC, In Skye Bank v. Iwu (2017) LPELR-42595 (SC) exactly at page 97 paragraph A, as follows:

“Indeed, provisions in a Constitution are of equal strength and constitutionality. No provision is inferior to the other and a fortiori no provision is superior to the other. See INEC. V Musa (2003) 3 NWLR (Pt. 806) 72 at 102 per Tobi, JSC.”

This being so, issue of conflict between the Act and the Constitution does not arise.

Conclusion

I believe that the unnecessary controversy that trailed the signing of the Not-Too-Young-To-Run bill exists among lawyers and law students only, since other people outside the profession lack the requisite knowledge of constitutional amendment. However, the reason for the ruckus, even among the aforementioned categories of people in the legal profession, is inexplicable.

The reason behind the fuss may be that some of the people challenging the constitutionality of the Act are not abreast with the procedures of amending the Constitution, or were misinformed of the purpose and provisions of the Act by reason of their default in confirming the provisions of the Act themselves.

•Oliver G Chukkol, is a law student, ABU, Zaria, and can be reached on: 08032470318, oliverchukkol@gmail.com

Source News Express

Posted 07/06/2018 11:42:52 AM

 

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