September 17, 2009
By Our Reporter
Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu has said the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill will be passed before the end of the year.
Speaking at the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) forum in Abuja, Ekweremadu said the Senate had no problem with the bill, assuring that it would be passed within “a short period”.
“The FOI Bill is alive in the Senate as we have always said. It has gone through second reading and we have sent it to our committee and the committee has concluded discussions on it and returned it to the Senate.
Sen. Ike Ekweremadu, Deputy Senate President
“We are hoping that before the end of the year, we will be able to bring it back for third reading. We don’t have any problem with the bill.The Senate as far as I am concerned is on track and we will pass it within a short period,’’ he said.
He recalled that the bill was passed by the last National Assembly but it was not assented to by the former President.
“If the President has signed it, we won’t be talking about it now but because it was not signed, we have to start all over again because our rules say any business that is not concluded, has to start afresh.
“We have never had any issues with the FOI Bill,’’ he said.
Ekweremadu denied knowledge of the contents of the bill being watered down by the Committee on Information which worked on it.
The committee presented its report to the Senate after conducting a public hearing on the bill in May but the upper chamber is yet to consider the report.
Also yesterday, Ekweremadu described the crisis in Niger Republic is a major threat to the continued existence of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Ekweremadu, who spoke on the forum in Abuja, said: “The major problem now is that what is happening in Niger if it is allowed to take place without any challenge, it sends a wrong signal that the community is weak and that any person can do whatever he likes.’’
He noted that all countries in West African sub-region agreed to the ECOWAS Protocol on good governance.
“Now the situation in Niger is such that the constitution is being subverted. The 1999 Constitution prescribes a two-term of five years each for the President of the country.
“The President of Niger has done his first term which ended in 2004 and he is there for a second term which is supposed to end on December 22, 2009.
“What he has done now is to propose a fresh Constitution which he subjected to a referendum instead of passing it through the Parliament as provided by the Constitution,’’ he said.
Ekweremadu noted that the Niger President then dissolved the Parliament and also dissolved the Constitutional Court and went ahead to prepare a draft constitution which he sent to the people directly through a referendum.
“Now he is proceeding to conduct elections based on the so-called constitution. We find it very disturbing because what it means is that any Head of State in Africa or West Africa can then copy what he is doing.
“It appears to us that he seems to be getting encouragement from some of his colleagues from other parts of Africa. We intend to ask ECOWAS in the days ahead to put pressure on the President to go back to the 1999 Constitution.
“If he wants to amend it, he has to amend it in accordance with the provisions of that same Constitution. We are going to engage the Chairman of ECOWAS Heads of States who is our own President to ask him to call the Niger President to order,’’ he added.
The Deputy Senate President said the parliamentarians would also meet with the Niger President to tell him their feelings about what is going on in his country.
“To add insult to injury, he has been harassing parliamentarians from Niger and accused some of them of different crimes and has issued an international arrest warrant against those in Nigeria attending the ongoing conference of ECOWAS Parliament.
“This is not acceptable to us because parliamentarians have immunity while sitting. We need to get him to respect the treaties that he has signed,’’ he said.