- Constitution review: Challenges as Reps begin work
The House of Representatives has unveiled its agenda for the review of the 1999 Constitution with the inauguration of a special ad hoc committee, PHILIP NYAM reports
The House of Representatives recently began the process for the review of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) by inaugurating a special ad hoc committee. The committee, which has the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Ahmed Idris Wase as chairman has members from each of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Speaking at the inauguration of the committee, Speaker of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabimila, lamented that Nigeria is struggling to survive as a nation because of myriad of problems militating against her development.
His words: “When you ask me what the state of our nation is, the honest answer is this: We are in a fight for the very survival of our country and the continuation of the Nigerian project. Recent global developments have exposed all our systemic weaknesses so that we can no longer pretend to ourselves that things are on an even keel and slow progress is enough to get us to where we ought to be yet are still so far away from”.
“We are commencing this constitutional review process at a time of great and ongoing upheaval in our country. New challenges emerge daily from every corner. Some of these challenges are of our own making, and others, we could not have foreseen or been prepared for. Whichever may be the case, the Nigerian people look up to us as government to proffer solutions that work, to do the heavy lifting of writing new constitution, one better suited to our current aspirations and reflecting our vision of the future.”
The speaker further noted that “the answer to many of our development questions lies in the pages of a new Nigerian constitution. This 9th House of Representatives has since committed to the cause of reform. Our commitment must neither waver nor wane on the matter of thoughtful and fair overhaul of our nation’s constitution.
“The reality of our current circumstances, and the now certain knowledge that only us can save ourselves imposes on us an obligation to act with greater determination and all the urgency this moment calls for”
He assured that the House would take the issue of electoral reforms very seriously, adding that overcoming our overwhelming national security challenges now requires of us all that we be willing to accept new approaches and consider novel ideas.
Neither the security institutions nor political leaders can afford to hold on too tightly to a status quo whose frustrating limitations are painfully evident, whilst reflexively rejecting innovations that may improve our fortunes if properly implemented.
In his welcome address, Deputy Speaker and chairman of the special committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution, Wase, said the House would consider the creation of states, state police, true federalism, local government and judicial autonomy in the review of the 1999 constitution.
He said: “Let me start by stating that the need and importance of reviewing our extant constitution cannot be overemphasized as a vast majority of Nigerians consider the 1999 constitution a product of military exigency and that the reference to ‘We the people’ in the constitution does not truly represent them. Various political actors have therefore been advocating for a serious review.
“There have been several attempts to amend the 1999 Constitution, yet the agitations for a much more fundamental amendment have not stopped. This is because there are very critical aspects of our constitution that touch on our continued existence as a strong, indivisible nation. Until these critical areas are resolved, we may continue to face clamor for a new constitution.
“Therefore, in order to achieve the much needed success by the 9th Assembly, there are pertinent areas that must be looked into. These are burning issues that have been left to burn for so long without giving them the much needed attention.”
The burning issues according to Wase include, “the federal structure (true federalism), local government autonomy, state policing, state creation and judicial autonomy.”
He said, already over 15 constitution alteration bills have been referred to the committee touching on these broad thematic areas.
Wase observed that “despite the fact that Nigeria prides herself as a ‘federal state,’ it is sadly evident that it is far from what federalism entails.
“Some have stated that our federal system is more unitary than federalist, especially with the number of items on the exclusive legislative list where the Federal Government regulates even simple items like primary education and agriculture. Hence, there has been clamour for more devolution of powers from the centre to the states in order to makes states more viable and economically sustainable.”
On local governments, he said: “As a third tier government, all local governments are supposed to be independent. However, we have not seen such independence in a long time. Arguably, the framers of the 1999 Constitution, created a worrisome situation by giving validity to the existence of 3.162 (6), which prescribes the “state and local government joint account.”
On state police, the deputy speaker said: “While internal security is of paramount importance, the concentration of the power of the police at the central government has created several policing challenges at the states. While some have advocated for the creation of state police, others have expressed worry on the possible abuse of such power by state governors.
“However, one thing that is clear is the need for us to take a second look at our internal security superstructure in order to make it work for our people and protect their lives and properties.”
Speaking on the agitation for state creation, he stated that “it is pertinent to note that the current 36 states of our federation were created via military decrees. Hence the true wishes and aspirations of the people were never considered in such creations.
“There is need, therefore to examine the subject of state creation and the associated constitutional rigours and difficulties surrounding it in such manner as to reflect the wishes and aspirations of homogenous people in a democratic system.”
The ad hoc committee chairman further noted that “the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) guarantees the independence of the judiciary in the country including state courts but unfortunately, state courts (judiciary) in Nigeria and of course legislatures have over the years relied on the executive for their funding. This, according to him, is clearly antithetical to the principle of separation of powers as guaranteed under the constitution.
President Muhammadu Buhari in his presentation expressed willingness to assent to the constitution alteration bill should the National Assembly present it to him at the end of the impending constitution amendment exercise.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who disclosed this, said: “Let me assure you that the executive will give complete cooperation to this committee by giving appropriate suggestions, recommendations and finally assent at the end of the process.
“Contrary to the deliberate falsehood being peddled that the country has been wasting resources and that nothing has been achieved in the realm of constitutional alteration, President Muhammadu Buhari evidently remains the president who signed the most constitutional alteration acts since the advent of constitutional democracy in 1999, including the Not Too Young To Run Bill that reduced the age a person must attain to contest elections and the Acts that granted financial autonomy to the judiciary and the legislature.”
Osinbajo, who was represented by the Secretary to Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, emphasised that Nigeria’s constitution “is a work in progress and it is only by its implementation can we identify its weaknesses and address them,”
He stressed that constitutional alteration is not an exclusive reserve of the National Assembly as “the executive, both at the national and state levels, also play an indispensable role in the process. I urge the committee not to discountenance any constitutional alteration proposal, no matter how idealistic but to look at ways to galvanise them to improve our economy, create jobs, guarantee our safety and security and abolish corruption,” he advised.
According to the vice president, “the 9th House of Representatives has continued to prove its determination to be a catalyst for positive change and development in the country. It is therefore my pleasure to be a part this epoch-making ceremony. My presence here underscores the importance this administration attaches to the review of the constitution to be able to address our societal ills and propel the nation towards greatness.
“Looking at its leadership, membership composition and the expertise at its disposal, it is my firm conviction that the committee will discharge its mandate excellently by liaising with relevant government agencies, civil society organisations, multi-lateral and supranational agencies and bodies to achieve a wholesome amendment to the Nigerian constitution.
“This administration places a high premium on a harmonious working relationship with the legislature. We are at the implementation stage of the communique issued at the end of the recent two-day Executive-Legislature parley presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari which had as its theme, ‘Promoting effective executive legislative partnership, finding a middle ground.”
Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, while giving a goodwill message disclosed that the 2023 presidential election has been scheduled to hold on February 18, 2023. He said the nation was 855 days to the next general elections.
He advised the lawmakers to amend the Electoral Act to specify timelines for elections as it is done in other climes, adding that the electoral offences commission has to be looked into too.
His words: “Let me remind this meeting that the 2023 general elections will hold on 18 February 2023. That means that from today to the 2023 general elections, we have exactly 855 days.
“I am not reminding members of the National Assembly that their tenures will soon come to an end. But the truth is that there have to be certainty. So between now and the next general elections is 855. So, you have very little time for the Constitution amendment.”
Speaking further, the INEC chairman said: “There must be a way either by amendment to the electoral act or the constitution to give effect to the Electoral Offences Tribunal. You can’t have a flourishing democracy in which laws are violated with impunity and nothing happens. So there must be a mechanism by which this must be addressed.
“Our elections are too manual, too expensive, too cumbersome and too archaic. The law says we must write the results manually, collate them manually from the unit level to the wards to the local governments, to the state and the national in terms of presidential election. The encumbrance to the deployment of full technology in elections should be removed,” he demanded.
In the weeks ahead, the constitution review committee is expected to engage stakeholders across the nation and aggregate their views as well as hold public hearings.