BusinessDay

Constitution amendment: National Assembly faces tough task as distrust trails exercise

A fresh move toward the amendment of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution began Wednesday, May 26, 2021 with the National Assembly conducting a two-day public hearing across the country.

The programme, which was organised by the Senate Committee on Constitution Review, saw federal lawmakers tour different regions in the country to get the perspectives of Nigerians and stakeholders.

The hearing was held in 12 venues nationwide.While Jos and Minna hosted the public hearing in the North Central geopolitical zone; that of North East and North West was held in Bauchi and Gombe as well as Kaduna and Sokoto, respectively.

Similarly, that of South East held in Owerri and Enugu, while South-South had theirs in Port Harcourt and Asaba. Akure and Lagos served as centres for South West.

There had been previous efforts and attempts by the National Assembly to amend the 1999 Constitution, they were not successful.However, the current attempt was eagerly awaited by Nigerians due to the multifarious problems bedeviling Nigeria and the current state of the country, which had fueled increased secessionist agitations and clamour for restructuring of the country, among other issues.

In the last few weeks since the committee announced the date for the public hearing, there have been discordant tunes among Nigerians, political leaders and other stakeholders on what they want changed or added into the constitution and even the necessity of the amendment exercise.

Some Nigerians have also made case for a brand-new document, saying that the current constitution must be discarded.

Among the issues that topped therequestsof Nigerians in the two-day exercise across the country were the creation of state police, devolution of powers to the states, creation of more states, restructuring and fiscal federalism.

Interestingly, while some Nigerians such as the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, advocated a return to the 1963 Constitution, his counterpart in Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa called for a new constitution and not an amendment of the 1999 document.

But in Lagos, Governor, BabajideSanwo-Olu, canvassed a special status for the state, which was a former capital of the country.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in its presentation sought the retention of the minimum wage, among other demands, while local government workers under the aegis of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) asked the lawmakers to make local governments autonomous.

Meanwhile, political watchers have equally faulted the current attempt to amend the 1999 Constitution, doubting its ability to produce any desirable outcome capable of solving Nigeria’s immediate problems.

They say that what the country needed now was the convocation of a national conference to accommodate all opinions on how to move the country forward in view of the state of the country.

Others have even doubted the sincerity of incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari to sign the amended constitution into law even if it even scales through the tough and rigour hurdles of amendment.

Also, some sections of Nigerians are of the view that a major issue that must be dealt with was the culture of impunity, which must go in line with a new constitution, rather than amending the existing one.

“Well, personally I am really worried about the culture of impunity in Nigeria which has become part of us. I mean, you can do anything and likely get away with it; people must be held accountable for their actions.

“I do not support the amendment of the 1999 Constitution and I have doubts about this whole process. I don’t think it would work. There are question marks on the sincerity of the lawmakers to me. I would rather want a new one instead, is it not obvious that the current constitution cannot solve our problems?” Bunmi Lawal, analyst and political historian, said.

Afe Babalola, a senior advocate of Nigeria, saidamending the 1999 Constitution, as proposed, is a futile exercise.

He expressed doubts that amending the constitution will be inadequate to fully address the nation’s problems, stressing that the only constitution that could be worked on to make a difference remained the 1963 Constitution.

According to him, “Alternatively, since amendment in law includes substitution for an existing document, why is it that the National Assembly cannot call for a public hearing on the substitution of the 1999 Constitution for the 1963 Constitution which was made with the consent of the people?

“Against the background of the massive demand by Nigerians at home and abroad for a true Federal constitution made by the people and for the people, the National Assembly is calling for public hearing in the country’s six geo-political zones for people’s input on any issue of interest to enable it amend the 1999 constitution, but I have reservations on this.

“The root cause of the nation’s current problems is the 1999 Constitution foisted on Nigeria by the military. It is a well-known fact that everything about the 1999 Constitution is wound round the Presidential system of government.”

According to him, “We all know that previous sessions of the National Assembly made laws to convene a national conference. I, therefore, advise that the current National Assembly should call for a national conference to discuss and make a new, true Federal constitution which will provide for a parliamentary system of government.”

OlisaAgbakoba, a senior advocate of Nigeria, however, is of the view that changing the 1999 Constitution may not guarantee a perfect country, saying that the current constitution, in spite of its imperfections, is not being complied with by political leaders.

“To force a change of constitution outside the legal framework will be considered a revolution. Let’s not assume that a perfect constitution that we all strive for means that by a flick of the switch everything is good.

“Currently, the constitution, imperfect as it is, is not obeyed. So, what is the guarantee to say that the constitution we envisage will be obeyed? The answer to it is something we should reflect on carefully.

“So, as we plan towards strategic intervention in changing the dynamics of the Nigerian states and in placing a new constitution, let’s not overlook the small advantages that we can get by critical engagement,”Agbakoba said.

Former national Publicity Secretary of the Action Democratic Party (ADP),Adelaja Adeoye said the amendment had become desirable to meet the yearning of Nigerians, stressing that the current structure of the country was faulty.

According to him, “As it stands today, the 1999 Constitution does not represent the generality of all Nigerians, and it does not give the people the right as a secular state, because it does not maintain the religious neutrality as it should maintain, therefore, I want all the obnoxious and partial laws in the constitution be expunged from our constitution, and a new constitution that will guarantee rights of all Nigerians without infringing on others’ economically, politically, socially, spiritually and others, must be enacted.

Adeoye further said: “In our quest for a more functional country, the restructuring, devolution of powers, review of revenue-sharing formula, creation of more states and federating units for zonal balancing, rejiging of federal character for appointments, federal, state and community policing must start from this amendment.”

Speaking on the Constitution review exercise on Channels Television interview, Friday, Governor Udom Emmanuel urged the National Assembly ensure the credibility and sincerity of the whole process.

The governor said that some important personalities that would have attended the public hearing in their zone stayed away simply because they were not sure anything worthwhile would come out of the exercise.

“People are asking question- what happened to the Electoral Bill? The National Assembly has not delivered on that. How are we sure the public hearing is not just about buying time? That is the question my people are asking here,” Emmanuel said.

At a public forum recently, Nnia Nwodo, immediate past president of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, said the 1999 Constitution was not a document to be relied upon in the governance of a nation.

Nwodo said: “Forty-nine people were selected to write a constitution. Forty people in the Supreme Military Council promulgated a constitution under General (Abdulsami) Abubakar, a government in which I served. I was in the Executive Council, I never saw that constitution, but I was the minister of information. It was my responsibility to publicise it to the country. On the day of swearing in of (Olusegun) Obasanjo, we didn’t have a copy of the constitution. I didn’t know who was printing it and my ministry was supposed to pay for the printing. And Obasanjo was sworn in on a constitution that had not been read by anybody, and the National Assembly could not be constituted until four days after his swearing in, because there was no clean copy of the constitution.We cannot build on quicksand. A country cannot live on falsehood.”

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