For months, Nigerians have been demanding the devolution of powers and ‘restructuring’ of the Nigerian State. Amidst all of these, there are also heated debates and agitations by secessionists.
Nigeria’s lawmakers in early June began its zonal public hearings taking place across the country’s six geopolitical zones. The committee invited the general public, executive and judicial bodies, traditional institutions, political parties, civil society organisations, professional bodies and all other ‘stakeholders’ to attend and make necessary submissions.
Shocking Cost of Review Exercise
POLITICS NIGERIA understands that from the 5th to the current 9th National Assembly, several attempts had been made to amend some provisions of the 1999 Constitution.There was also a National Conference, inaugurated by then President, Goodluck Jonathan, on March 17, 2014 to look into this.
To perfect reviews, the lawmakers in the red and green chambers officially spend N1 billion at every constitution review session.
However, an investigative report published in 2015 revealed that a huge chunk of the money is often pocketed by members of the committees in what sources described as ‘unprecedented naira bazaar’ by a committee of the National Assembly’.
Some amendments have been successful in the past while many others suffered serial failures but kept appearing in new proposals. One of the successful amendments was a reduction in the age of individuals seeking to contest for elective posts.
One notable setback was in the 5th National Assembly under the chairmanship of former Deputy Senate President Ibrahim Mantu and Deputy Speaker Austin Okpara. They failed woefully when an attempt was made to smuggle the purported third term agenda of then President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Analysts told POLITICS NIGERIA that the attempt to review the constitution in the 6th Assembly under the chairmanship of Senator Ike Ekweremadu and Representative Usman Bayero Nafada was a mix of failure and achievements.
These included the financial autonomy of the National Assembly, which gave it the power to draw its funds directly from the federation account, otherwise known as the first-line charge.The 7th and 8th assemblies also made attempts.
POLITICS NIGERIA findings reveal that many unresolved constitutional issues keep reoccurring. Some of the constitutional issues are creation of state police, federal structure, power devolution, independent candidacy to contest for an elective office, judiciary and electoral reforms, local government fiscal autonomy; creation of new states and female inclusiveness.
Others are the inclusion of all former presidents of the Senate and speakers of the House of Representatives in the membership of the National Council, single term of five/six years for president and governors, abrogation of the immunity clause, and removal of the Land Use Act from the constitution.
The Deputy President of the Nigerian Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege who doubles as the chairman of the constitution review committee, said sub-committees were mandated to study the constitutional amendment bills sponsored and passed by the previous assemblies, why they were declined presidential assent, the possibility of reconsidering them and advising the panel appropriately.
Seven prominent individuals against review
Meanwhile, many groups and individuals have opposed the ongoing review. While some said the process is a waste of time, others argued that the review is a waste of money.
According to Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, the review is a complete waste of time.
“What is constitutional review? It is just a complete waste of time really. In 2014, they took people to Abuja, they stayed there and they produced a document. Yes, President Jonathan did not sign it because he thought he was going to be re-elected and wanted to sign it after coming back,” he said in an interview with Vanguard newspaper on June 14.
“That document has been on their table since 2015, what have they done with it? Yes, during the life of each National Assembly session, they vote money for the review of the constitution and the National Assembly has to spend the money. That is the exercise going on in there. If anything comes out of it, let us talk again.”
The governor again spoke about his criticism for the review on May 29 during a quarterly media chat to account for the past political-administrative year.
“We need to fundamentally change how we relate in this country and we cannot keep blaming the military. The National Assembly says they are consulting with people about a constitutional review but I think it’s a waste of time. What we are fighting for is central to the development of this country. States should be able to enforce the laws in their states. People ask me about Yoruba Presidency and I say what we need now is not that but restructuring. I am not saying it is a magic bullet”
During his presentation at the constitutional review panel, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo advocated for a return of the 1963 Constitution.
“The 1963 Constitution, which reflected the republican status of the country, remained the best document for a country as heterogeneous as Nigeria. The current exercise, therefore, must not toe the path of the previous attempts at tokenism. The basic law of any country must not be reduced to frivolities reflecting preferred whimsies.”
Also, Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa argued that what Nigeria actually needed was a “new constitution” rather than a review.
Former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Bode George, urged the Federal Government to expedite action on devolution of powers to the states instead of wasting time on the ongoing constitution amendment.
“People are agitating for freedom because the present 1999 Nigeria Constitution cannot allow the various minority tribes to thrive in the country.”
“It was as a result of fear of the minority tribes that the military government led by Yakubu Gowon, created states. But now, every section of the country is educated and they want to have a say in the affairs of the country, so there is the need to review how they are being governed.”
Also, Mao Ohuabunwa, a former Senator who represented Abia North Senatorial District in the 8th National Assembly only a holistic review of the document without tribal religious or political sentiments can produce an acceptable constitution for Nigeria.
“What Nigeria needs is a people-oriented constitution that will address all the contentious issues as a result of the flawed 1999 constitution. I have always said that we need to bequeath to Nigerians a constitution they can proudly call their own, not the one forced down their throats by the military. For me, now is the time to correct the flaws of the 1999 constitution if we want Nigeria to survive its current turbulence”.
Afe Babalola, a legal icon and founder of Afe Babalola University argued that there was no way the National Assembly could amend the 1999 constitution to cure the inherent defects.
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria said rather than constitutional review, the National Assembly could have called for a National Conference where issues bedeviling the nation can be identified, discussed and resolved through a roundtable.
“It is common knowledge that the 1999 Constitution was made by the military, which in its wisdom claimed that it was made by the people. Secondly, it is impossible, by way of amendment, to take away the military system of government under the 1999 Constitution or the power and control of public funds by the President. Or can we, by way of amendment, change the judicial powers of the President under the 1999 Constitution?
“The root cause of our problems, which have brought Nigeria to the brink of extinction, is the 1999 Constitution foisted on it by the military when it was exiting the reign of governance in 1999. The fact remains that you cannot amend a Coconut tree, which has no branches, to become an Iroko tree which has branches. It is a well-known fact that everything about the 1999 constitution is wound round the presidential system of government.”
He said since amendment in law includes substitution for an existing document, the National Assembly should call for a public hearing on the substitution of the 1999 constitution for the 1963 constitution which was made with the consent of the people.
“The proposed amendment to the 1999 constitution, whichever way you look at it, is a futile exercise. We all know that previous sessions of the National Assembly had made laws to convene a National Conference,” he said.
Former governor of Ogun State, Olusegun Osoba, also advocated the return of the 1963 republican constitution.
“I wish we can go back to the 1963 constitution because, at that time, each of the regions developed at its own pace. So it would have been very beautiful if we went back to the 1963 constitution which was negotiated over and over with so many conferences.”
“The 1963 constitution was when we adopted Republican constitution rather than being under the queen of England and I will wish that we go back to that system where each of the regions developed its own resources.”
Speaking on restructuring, Mr Osoba argued that: “It is not something you do overnight and it is not a document you produce by fiat; it is an extensive consultation in all the six zones.”