EXPLAINER: 8 Steps to Amend the Constitution

Joy EruraneJanuary 16, 20249 min

Over time, as society evolves and development aspirations expand, there arises a need to establish or amend rules to fit current situations and values. The constitution of the country is not immune from such amendments

One thing that’s constant in life is change. From technological advancements, to shifts in cultural norms, down to political reforms, all forms of societal evolvement raises a need to change existing laws or formulate new laws to accommodate transformation. This is necessary in order to protect the rights of citizens, maintain order in the country, set standards and ensure accountability where necessary.

What is a Constitution? 

According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, the constitution is a system of laws and basic principles that a state, a country or an organisation is governed by. Basically, the constitution is the rulebook of a nation. It’s a manual that guides how the nation is organised and how it behaves.

The current rulebook for Nigeria is the 1999 Constitution, which made the transformation from military rule to civilian rule official. The 1999 Constitution took over from the 1979 Constitution, marking a new dawn for Nigeria as notable changes were seen including distinct separation of powers, multiparty system, federal system of government, and all the other normalities we see in Nigeria’s system of government today.

Gaps and the need for amendment

The perceived shortcomings in Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution have sparked a call for amendment, driven by rising insecurity in Nigeria and the call for state police, concerns over insufficient punishments for criminals, human rights infringement, federal imbalance, etc. Citizens have also complained about lopsided political appointments favouring sections of the country which is a violation of the federal character principle, as stated in Section 14 (3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

These and other concerns have resulted in calls by some citizens for amendments including a call mandating death penalties for banditry and kidnapping and a call for the establishment of state police, due to the rise in criminal activities. Additionally, some propose stiffer rules to address federal imbalance in the country.

Hence, the desire to align with current needs prompts the review and modification of established principles and laws. In Nigeria, Section 9(2) of the 1999 Constitution gives us a guideline on how the constitution can be amended, processes to follow, and steps to take. The National Assembly has the power to amend any part of the constitution whenever they deem fit.

What is a constitutional amendment?

As the name implies, it involves editing the rule book of the country, by adding new laws, removing existing laws, or introducing brand new laws, to provide legal backing to policies and or norms. 

You might have experienced frustration with the constitution, questioning the absence of certain laws or the presence of others, wondering why the government can’t just tweak it a bit to rectify perceived shortcomings.

Well, as usual, we are here to help you with all the information you need to demand change!

These steps are similar to the steps on ‘how bills become laws’ which you can read in the link below:

READ ALSO: 7 steps of how bills become laws

8 Steps to Amend the Constitution

Let’s dive into the eight steps to amend the Constitution.

Just like every other law, the amendment of the Constitution starts as a bill “Constitution Amendment Bill.” This bill can come from the President or eiher of the chambers of the National Assembly. When the presiding officer of the respective chamber  gets the bill, it is forwarded to the committee in charge of scheduling (Rules and Business Committee) to add it to the Order Papers, for introduction into the House or the Senate as the case may be.

Gazetting the bill 

Typically, every bill begins its journey with gazetting. Before making any changes to the rules (constitution),  public notice is given, just like posting an announcement on a staff board for everyone to see. This allows everyone to see the proposed amendments, and what’s going to be changed and share their thoughts before the initial review and before the legislature considers it. This is the first and crucial step as it helps transparency and democracy. 

First Reading 

Here, the constitution amendment bill is formally announced to the National Assembly, appearing on the order paper.  The clerk of the respective chamber reads it out during plenary sittings and tables them before the officer presiding over the House or the Senate. Then the bill is moved  to the next stage 

Second Reading

Here, members debate the general principles of the constitutional amendment bill, followed by a vote to determine whether it should proceed to the next stage or not.

Committee Consideration and Report

After the second reading, the Constitution Amendment Bill goes to relevant committees for more detailed examinations, consideration, public hearings, and consultations.  This is where you come in and as detailed here, DON’T SLEEP ON IT! 

Afterward, the committee may make amendments before reporting back to plenary where the House or Senate, as the case may be, then dissolves into the Committee of the Whole to thoroughly consider the report and make possible amendments to the Constitution Amendment Bill. The bill then proceeds to the next stage. 

Third Reading 

This is where the bill is usually ‘passed’ like you’ve heard or read before. Here, lawmakers debate the final version of the constitutional amendment bill based on the committee’s report, and another vote is taken to decide whether the bill should proceed to the next stage or not. 

Harmonisation by a Joint Conference Committee

You know the bill is examined differently by both chambers in separate sittings. Here, in case of any disparities between the versions passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives, a Joint Conference Committee is formed to harmonise the differences. In simpler terms, a few members from each chamber get together to figure the issues out and make everyone happy.  Then it is sent back to plenary where it must be approved by a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. It is at this stage that it can be said that the National Assembly has passed the bill.

2/3 Majority of Houses of Assembly of States

The passed constitutional amendment bill is taken to the 36 States for the Houses of Asssemblies to either concur or reject the bill. At this stage, a two-thirds majority (24 states) must approve of it before it can be said to have been successfully passed by the legislature of Nigeria. Once this criteria is met, a clean copy of the bill is sent to the President for the final approval. 

Assent by the President

As usual, a bill doesn’t become a thing till it is signed by the President, who has the power to approve or reject it. A rejected constitutional amendment bill is the ultimate end of that proposal as far as the life of the legislative assembly is concerned. It is unlike the case with a regular bill where presidential rejection of a bill can be over-ridden by a veto effected by a two-third majority vote of all members of the National Assembly. 

EXCEPTION:

All of the above processes apply to all sections of the 1999 constitution (as amended) except section  8 and section 9 which have to do with state creation and a change in these very procedures of amending the constitution.

Learnt something new?

I hope this article was helpful! Stay tuned to this space for more educational content like this, share your comments and follow us on our social media platforms @OrderPaper for more! 

Joy Erurane

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