Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, on Tuesday said the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria fell short of its expected standards, and was more so because it was a product of a hurried national compromise reached for the country 20 years ago.
He said the document failed to address some critical national questions confronting the country hence the resolve by the legislature to amend it, adding that a nation’s constitution is not only the foundation of its existence but is supposed to set the terms of the nationhood and define the manner that reflects her common truths and highest aspirations.
“Our constitution falls short of this standard”, he stated on Tuesday at the Lagos centre of the ongoing zonal public hearing organised by the House of Representatives special committee for the review of the constitution.
The speaker said though the current exercise was not the first of its kind, it might be the most important one in the nation’s recent history as the decisions to be made would have far-reaching consequences for the future of Nigeria.
On the doubts expressed in some quarters about the exercise, the Speaker noted that there was no perfect constitution anywhere in the world, but that it was imperative for Nigeria to have a near-perfect constitution to enable the country to confront and resolve many of its political, economic and socio-cultural challenges.
“The foundational constitution of the United States of America deemed people of colour to be ‘less than’ and denied women the right to vote. It did not include any limits on the President’s term of office and allowed for citizens to be denied the right to vote for failure to pay the ‘poll tax’. Twenty-seven reviews and amendments, over one hundred years cured these and other defects.
“No nation in the world has a perfect constitution, but we need a near-perfect constitution in Nigeria and we can achieve that through substantive amendments that significantly alter the character of our nation. Therefore, the task before us now is to use this process of review and amendment to devise for ourselves a constitution that resolves the issues of identity and political structure, of human rights and the administration of government, resource control, national security and so much else, that have fractured our nation and hindered our progress and prosperity”, he stated.
Participants at the two-day public hearing included the Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Dr. Babafemi Hamzat, who represented Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu; members of the House of Representatives Special Committee on the Review of the Constitution; members of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ); Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC); representatives of political parties, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), youth organisations and market women.