CHUKWU DAVID reports that the proposed review of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) is one of the most challenging legislative tasks facing the Ninth Senate and the National Assembly as a legislative institution
There is no doubt that successive assemblies amended some sections of the nation’s grand norm, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), with a view to addressing some inherent defects inimical to Nigeria’s quest to attain rapid national development over the years.
Even though those attempts have not yielded the anticipated results in bringing about the needed restructuring of the polity, the current National Assembly has also resolved to venture into a review of the constitution, which many analysts see as the most controversial national document. To carry out this important legislative responsibility, the Senate and the House of Representatives, constituted ad hoc committees on the review of the constitution headed by the Deputy President of the Senate and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively.
In the Senate, the ad hoc Committee on Constitution alteration was inaugurated on February 12. However, the committee held its first meeting on August 20, where it hinted on its programme of activities, and when it intends to complete the assignment and submit a report. Speaking at the meeting, the Deputy President of the Senate and Chairman of the Committee, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, disclosed that the report of the committee would be ready by March 2021. He said that the secretariat has been working and had identified many areas that needed to be reviewed in the 1999 Constitution from the various engagements of the past assemblies.
According to him, some of the areas to be looked into include the need to make the constitution more gender friendly and affirm equal rights to women and girls; the need to strengthen the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Federal Character Commission and other agencies as well as the need to address the challenges of residency and indigeneship. Others are the need to address the federal structure of the country to be in tandem with Nigeria’s history and modern realities, the need to re-visit socio-economic and cultural rights as entrenched in chapter 2 of the constitution as fundamental principles of state policy, electoral reforms, fiscal federalism and revenue allocation as well as judicial reforms.
The committee has since called on different interest groups to submit memoranda on the various issues and areas that they want the constitution to be amended. It was also learnt that as much as 100 memoranda have been received by the committee as at last week.
Meanwhile, it was gathered that, from the memoranda received so far by the review committee, creation of state police and devolution of powers dominated requests from the various interest groups. New Telegraph learnt that the constitution review committees of both chambers of the National Assembly are getting ready for harmonization of requests received from the various interest groups across the federation. While some Nigerians have been expressing concerns that the National Assembly might not be fair in the handling of the memoranda, Omo-Agege, however, assured that all the requests would be allowed to pass through the required legislative scrutiny. He added that members of the committee were not under pressure from any group as regards approval of their requests, saying that it is Senate in plenary that will eventually decide on any of the requests.
He further allayed the fears of Nigerians that external influences might hamper the work of the lawmakers in reviewing the constitution, stressing that the committee will not succumb to pressure from external forces to manipulate the process. The Deputy President of the Senate stressed the need for Nigerians to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the committee for call for memoranda, to submit their proposals on any of the 13 thematic areas to the panel. He confirmed that devolution of powers from the federal to the state governments dominated most of the requests made by the various groups in their memoranda as according to him, all the 36 governors were unanimous that more powers should be moved from the Exclusive to Concurrent Legislative List.
It is pertinent to note that, following appeals by stakeholders from various parts of the country, the ad hoc committee has further extended the submission of memoranda by two weeks. The committee had earlier extended the submission deadline by nine days but persistent appeals by stakeholders compelled it to give additional grace of five days to enable those who have something to contribute to do so. A statement issued last weekend by the Office of the Chairman of the Committee, revealed that memoranda will now continue to be received until Friday, September 25. Earlier, deadline for submission of memoranda was Friday, September.
The Office of the Deputy President of the Senate further stated that the extension of deadline would accommodate those who requested for more time to bring their memoranda forward. It also stated that the request for extension of deadline was approved as part of measures to further strengthen the constitution review process and widen opportunities for more groups and individuals to be involved. As the process kick-starts, Nigerians are eagerly waiting to see the outcome of the constitution review as they have continued to bemoan the dysfunctional political system.