2020 constitution review in whose interest?

Criticisms have continued to trail the ongoing 2020 constitutional review by the National Assembly as it is perceived in some quarters as deceitful, having no value, and a waste of resources. In this report ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU examines the review processes and asks: In whose interest is the Constitutional review?

Many Nigerians consider the 1999 constitution military-driven hence the reference to ‘we the people’ does not truly represent the people. Consequently, many political actors have been advocating a total review of many aspects of the constitution.

Notably, significant amendments were not made in the first, second, and third alterations to the 1999 constitution during the 6th Assembly (2007-2011).

The 7th Assembly (2011-2015) also undertook a constitution review process, but it ran into a logjam despite the huge amount of state resources deployed. The efforts, however, represented the first genuine participatory process in constitution-making since the country’s return to democracy with public hearing held across the six geo-political zones of the country at both constituency and zonal levels.

Nonetheless, one of the amendments proposed the removal of presidential assent from the process of a constitutional amendment and former President Goodluck Jonathan vetoed the amendments. Since all the amendments were submitted as a single bill, Jonathan refused to grant assent to all the changes.

Facing the threat of legislative override of the veto, Jonathan dragged the National Assembly to the Supreme Court to annul the amendments for failure to comply with the required supermajority.

The Supreme Court directed the maintenance of the status quo, restrained the National Assembly from overriding the veto, and ordered the president and the legislators to resolve their differences over the issues, which the Court said were simple.

On the part, the 8th Assembly (2015-2019) led by Dr Bukola Saraki commenced the review process with the establishment of two separate ad hoc committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate in January 2016.

The Assembly decided to adopt a piecemeal approach to this constitution review process, with each proposed amendment presented in separate bills, to avert the fate of the last amendment proposals that were rejected en bloc.

A total of 33 bills, some of which bundled together related bills making the total 46 bills, covering a range of issues were eventually considered.

Like the past Assemblies, the 9th Assembly embarked on a fresh attempt to review the 1999 Constitution with the composition of a 56-member committee by the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan.

The committee, chaired by the Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, comprises eight principal officers who would serve as steering sub-committees within the larger committee, a senator from each of the 36 states of the federation and two senators each from the six geopolitical zones.

The committee is expected to amend the constitution in a way that the provisions would enhance national unity and be the solid foundation Nigerians could stand on to realise their dreams.

“What is expected of you is to give Nigerians a constitution that will enhance stability, unity and enabling environment that will afford every Nigerian to actualise his or her dreams without let or hindrance,” Lawan charged members during the inauguration of the panel.

Amendment underway

The Senate Ad-hoc Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, Chaired by Deputy President of Senate, Senator Ovie A. Omo-Agege, has formally commenced the process of further alteration to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

The Committee, requested the general public, executive and judicial bodies, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), professional bodies and other interest groups to submit memoranda or proposals for further alteration(s) of the 1999 constitution (as amended) on the underlisted matters or areas and on any other matter that will promote good governance and welfare of all persons in our country on the principles of freedom, equality and uustice, namely:

“Gender equality for women and girls; the federal structure and power devolution; local government/local government autonomy; public revenue; fiscal federation and revenue allocation; Nigerian Police and Nigerian security architecture; comprehensive judicial reforms; electoral reforms to strengthen INEC to deliver transparently credible free and fair elections; socio-economic and cultural rights as contained in Chapter 2 of the constitution. Strengthening the Independence of oversight institutions and agencies created by the constitution or pursuant to an act of the National Assembly; residency and indigene provisions; immunity, the National Assembly and state creation.”

Senate gets 50 memoranda

The Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Constitution Review has received 50 memoranda from various stakeholders. One of them was from the Middle Belt Congress (MBC), which proposed 12 provinces for the country.

MBC’s position was contained in an unsigned copy of a memorandum is submitted to the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, made of journalists in Abuja.

About 49 other groups and individuals have also submitted memoranda to the committee.

The MBC said: “There shall be 12 federating units in Nigeria, to be called Provinces, comprising the states written against their names.

“North-west province shall comprise Sokoto, Kebbi, and the Zamfara states; North-central province shall comprise Kaduna and Katsina states.

“North-north Province shall comprise Kano, Jigawa and Ghari states; North-east province shall comprise Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Bauchi, Amana, Savannah, and Katagum states.

“Middle-Belt west province shall comprise Niger, Kwara, Kogi, Edu and Kainji States; Middle-Belt east province shall comprise Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa, Adamawa, Taraba, Gurara and Apa states.

“Western province shall comprise Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Ose, Okun and New Oyo states; South-west Province shall comprise Lagos, Ogun, and Ijebu states.

“Mid-west Province shall comprise Delta, Edo and Anioma states; Niger Delta Province shall comprise Rivers, Bayelsa and Oil River states.

“South-east Province shall comprise Anambra, Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi, Imo, Aba, Adada, Njaba and Etiti states; South-South Province shall comprise Akwa Ibom, Cross River, and Ogoja states.”

The group also recommended that an additional 19 states be created, to bring the number of states in the country to 56 and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

But only 18 of the states suggested by the MBC were reflected in its memorandum.

Women groups seek extension

Also, about 183 women organisations have urged the Senate to extend the deadline for the submission of memoranda on Constitution review to between 30 and 60 days.

Among them are Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), founded by Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi; Women in Politics Forum; Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ); and Women Wing of the Christian Association of Nigeria.

Others include: Gender and Constitutional Reform Network; Women Aid Collective and Women’s Rights Advocates Policy Advisory.

The women organisations stated their position in a letter to Deputy Senate President and Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, Ovie Omo-Agege, titled: Appeal for An Extension on the Deadline of the Call for Memoranda.

Northern Elders Forum knocks review

The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) has opposed the proposed review of the Nigerian constitution by the Senate describing it as a waste of time and resources.

The forum faulted the over N1 billion allocation for the constitution review process since 1999 stating that it makes little or no meaningful impact on the lives of Nigerians.

The forum’s Director of Publicity, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, who made this known recently at a press conference, urged the National Assembly to convince President Muhammadu Buhari to end the insurgency in the North-east and killings in other parts of the country rather than review the constitution.

He also faulted the entire process describing it as a predictable waste of time, resources and energy of the country and advised the Senate to scrap “the wasteful idea of giving Nigerians the impression that it is involved in a serious review of our constitution.”

Baba-Ahmed further stated that, “Nigeria’s future rests largely on its willingness to address major constraints to equity and justice, a functional structure, consistent good governance, security for all citizens, a credible electoral process, growing understanding between and among all groups and an economy that grows and narrows inequalities between and classes and regions.

“The legislature and executive branches of government have large quantities of reviews, recommendations, and reports from past attempts at amending the constitutions. These represent enough resources for a review if the legislature is serious about this vital national priority.

“Even this is not likely to produce a genuine effort to address the basic requirements of securing a stable, secure and prosperous Nigeria, because both arms of this administration are unlikely to accept to put through wide-ranging reviews of the constitution.

“The Northern Elders Forum recommends the alternative of leaders of thought, elders, groups and professional organisations and representatives of government to freely discuss every element of our co-existence as a country under principles of voluntarism, genuine representation mutual respect and integrity of the process.

“A Nigerian Peoples’ Conference on Review of the Constitution will benefit from past work in this direction in addition to contemporary challenges, which the country needs to address in a context that allows free and productive engagements without pre-determined ends.

“The outcome of this conference should be submitted to the two arms of government, which should provide for a referendum in the constitution so that Nigerians can directly decide on how they want their nation to be structured and function.

“No northern group should encourage further waste of public funds which should be channelled into battling killers, kidnappers, poverty and poor governance. The North wants a major review of the constitution, but it is also ready to resist attempts to create wealth for a few while it leaves parts of the country to quarrel and blame each other for the state of the nation.

“Northerners are willing to discuss current challenges of the region and the state of the country with any group, anywhere, provided it sees evidence of sincerity and respect for each other.”

…It’ll reduce acrimony, Ohanaeze insists

The Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, an Igbo socio-cultural group, has said the ongoing constitutional review is of benefits to the people because it will reduce acrimony in the country.

President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, John Nwodo, expressed hope that, when the review is genuinely carried out, it will unite the country.

Nwodo, who spoke through his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Chief Emeka Attamah, in phone chat told Blueprint Weekend that the process will only become a waste of time when it is not of benefit to the people.

“It is not a waste of time. It will become a waste of time when it fails to address or when it is not of benefits to the people. The benefits of a constitutional review that is honestly carried out will be that it will unite this country.

“It will reduce the acrimony, it will reduce the tension and all these falsehood that pulling at the government. So people will rest assured that they are part of the project Nigeria.

“Because in a situation where there are inequalities. Where some people are happy and some are not happy, then peace cannot prevail. But if they agree to a constitutional amendment that ensures that all the segments of this country, all the part of the country are happy with the setup and are contributing their quota to the development of Nigeria, then peace will reign.

“So, the constitutional amendment is okay. But to those who think is not necessary and if the federal government also think it is not necessary, then the government should go back to the 2014 National Conference and incorporate some of the recommendations into the constitution,” he said.

Afenifere rallies support for process

The Publicity Secretary of the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, has said the constitutional review committee should be given benefit of the doubt.

Odumakin in a phone chat with our correspondent said “Well, we share the view of the NEF but we will give them the benefit of the doubt and see whether something good will come out of it.

“But clearly, what they have been doing in the last 4 years is just for them to spend the budget. So we hope that that is not what they are doing with this constitutional review.

“We will make a presentation alongside our colleagues. The presentation is to give them benefits of the doubt. But we are not so optimistic.”

‘Nigerians’ll benefits if genuinely done’

A political analyst Aminu Muhammed has said Nigerians stand to benefit a lot from the ongoing constitutional review if genuinely done.

Muhammed told Blueprint Weekend in a telephone interview that, “The constitutional review is to give room to the needed amendment. So to me, it is a good thing.

“My concern is the amount of money budgeted for the exercise. The committee should give room to Nigerians to contribute to the process. There are so many issues the amendment can help address if genuinely done.

“So, the constitutional review is a welcome development, Nigerians from all works of life should act accordingly, to give room from proper amendment for the unity and development of the country.

“In whose interest? I will say that constitutional reviews across the world address so many interests hence if genuinely done Nigerians will benefit from it.”

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