Since inauguration of the House of Representatives’ special committee for a further review of the 1999 constitution, there have been inflow of demands by stakeholders on what should be added, altered or removed from the extant document. JOSHUA EGBODO writes on the issues, and the challenging task before the deputy speaker, Idris Wase-led panel
On Monday March, 22, 2021, a fresh journey as seen by many into another alteration of the Nigerian constitution by the House of Representatives began, flowing from the earlier inauguration of the committee by Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila. On that day, members of the panel under the leadership of Deputy Speaker Idris Wase, went through a preparatory tuition on what was expected of them in the waiting exercise.
To get the members focused, Wase told them during his opening remarks at the workshop that some specific burning issues of national interest will be on the table for assessment and action of the committee. He noted that the house will prioritise local government autonomy, state creation, women participation in politics, electoral and judicial reforms, amongst other issues as they come up.
He stated at the event that it was evident the country was passing through serious challenges as a result of the local government system which was not working as it should, stressing the need for members of the committee to pay special attention to the issues of concern to Nigerians as they embark on the fresh journey.
In his words, members of the panel were by the exercise, offered the opportunity to write their names in gold by ensuring that they do everything possible to give Nigerians a people-oriented constitution, noting that the review of the electoral process was particularly important to give Nigerians a direction in its democratic progress.
“This is about our nation building. We have the opportunity to write our names in gold in whatever we are going to do here. We should be guided by the fact that Nigeria needs very critical reforms at this moment”, the lawmaker said.
On May 24, 2021, the Wase-led committee announced that two for each, public hearing centres have been designated for the six geopolitical zones of the country, where stakeholders inputs would be received on the respective provided dates for each of the centres, inviting the general public, executive and judicial bodies, traditional institutions, political parties, civil society organisations, professional bodies and all other stakeholders to fully participate.
It was explained that for the north central zone; Jos, the Plateau state capital will host stakeholders from Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa state and the FCT, while Lokoja will serve as the second centre, with attendees from Kogi, Niger and Kwara states, while the northeast had Bauchi as centre, which played host to partisans of Bauchi, Borno and Yobe states, and Yola hosting stakeholders from Adamawa, Taraba and Gombe states.
Also, Birnin Kebbi as one of the centres for the north east was designated for Kebbi, Zamfara and Sokoto states, as Kano played host to attendees from Kano, Kaduna, Katsina and Jigawa states on the 2nd and 3rd of June, 2021.
For the Southeast, Enugu was named as centre to host Enugu, Anambra and Ebonyi states, while Owerri was a centre to host Imo and Abia states. It could however be recalled that the Owerri centre was later suspended due to security concerns. In the build up to announcement of the public hearing centres, Imo State was in the news for reported attacks on public institutions and mindless killing of innocent citizens, one of which was the gruesome murder of a political aide to former President Gooddluck Jonathan, Ahmed Gulak. The panel in a statement personally signed by Wase said the suspension was indefinite.
The South west had a centre in Akure, playing host to participants from Ondo, Ekiti and Osun states, while Lagos was Centre for those from Lagos, Oyo, and Ogun states. The South-south zone had Asaba Centre, hearing for which held on 2rd and 3rd June comprising participants from Delta, Bayelsa and Edo states, while Uyo centre held on 1st and 2rd June, with Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Cross River states as catchment.
“I’m appealing to you all to think only about Nigeria and work for Nigeria and ensure we deliver for our country the best constitution, as he also revealed that the members of the committee will be posted outside their zones to have a feeling of what is obtain in other geopolitical zones.
“We have an opportunity to write our names in gold. Let us not waste this golden opportunity as all eyes are on us. We must ensure that we do not betrayed the confidence Nigerians have in us”, the Deputy Speaker had again, stated in his mobilisation message to the citizens.
Reports from the centres have so far suggested that there were as usual, multiple requests before the review committee; from demands for state creation, there were calls for general restructuring, which will see drastic devolution of power from the centre, fiscal federalism, resource control and many more, leaving the committee with plethora of requests to filter and make the needed recommendations to the larger house.
With the hearings done, save for the Imo State centre, a lot of promises appeared to be providing some succour to agitators seeking reforms in various sectors of the polity. For instance, speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila who participated at the Lagos centre faulted the existing constitution, which he said was hurriedly pieced together, and defective.
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.
And on doubts so far expressed by citizens about the exercise, Gbajabiamila 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. “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” he stated in his remarks
His deputy, Wase who participated in his home state of Plateau also gave assurance that the committee he was leading in the exercise will, put the interest of Nigerians first,
From Asaba in Delta State, Minority Leader of the House, Ndudi Elumelu assured Nigerians that their views will count, as reports from the various hearing centres are collated, stressing that every democratic constitution must be a product the people’s inputs.
“As we go into this exercise, we must bear in mind that every democratic constitution is made by the people for the fulfilment of their collective aspirations and objectives as a society. Consequently, any constitution that does not guarantee the fulfilment of such aspirations, is to the extent of such shortcomings, defective, frustrating and cannot deliver benefits to the people. Instead, such constitutions breed discontentment dissonances, agitations, violence, restiveness, economic retardation and political frictions” he stated.
Feasibility of addressing challenges
With the superabundance of demands on issues expected to be addressed, and reactions already trending over the timing of the exercise in the face of widespread security challenges, critical stakeholders are already worried on how the committee will be able to harness the diverse opinion, and present a widely acceptable report before the house. For people familiar with the challenges of gaining a common ground on ethnicity, religion and regional politics in Nigeria, the ongoing effort may yet, be another futile venture.