Constitution review: National Assembly insists on continuous engagement

Edwin Akwueh, Abuja

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President of the Nigerian senate Ahmad Lawan has assured Nigerians that the National Assembly remains open to engagement on any other relevant issue, even though it has identified certain items as thematic areas in the ongoing constitution review process.

Similarly, chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitution Review, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege insisted that it would be impossible to draft a completely new constitution as being clamoured in certain sections of the country, adding that his committee is working “in accordance with the extant legal order which is the 1999 constitution.”

These views by the principal officers of the senate were expressed at the first day of the national public hearing on the review of the 1999 Constitution in Abuja.

Agitations for amendment
Senator Lawan who declared open the event, said that the constitution review exercise embarked upon by the 9th Assembly was imperative in view of the flaws in its provisions which has attracted agitations, noting that “there is a deep concern among legislators and other stakeholders, just as there are divergent opinions on what we should do to remedy the flaws.”

According to him, such agitations and constitutional amendment proposals were focused on devolving more powers to sub-national governments, for resource control, greater representation and participation of women in governance and public life, return to the regional system of the post-independence era, creation of additional states and local government, enhanced residency and indigene rights, decentralized policing, and local government autonomy, amongst others.

He therefore advised that such agitations be built around a national consensus needed to amend the provisions of the Constitution in line with their expectations.

“It is important to similarly note that agitations are democratic expressions and indications of dissatisfaction with our extant Constitution. Honestly engaging with each other, amid a good faith, is the best way forward. And at this point, I want to take this opportunity to appeal to all Nigerians, especially those that hold strong views, that what we need to do is to build consensus around those views – national consensus.

“That is the hallmark of statesmanship, and that is the best way to handle the National Assembly and, indeed, the state legislatures to amend the Constitution as they desire. We recognise in the National Assembly that the underlying role of participatory democracy is not to replace representative democracy but to supplement it and make it function better”, he said.

New Constitution advocacy
Senator Omo-Agege said that Section 9 of the constitution empowers the National Assembly to alter the provisions of the constitution and prescribes the manner in which it is to be done but “unfortunately, it does not make similar provision to provide mechanism for replacing or re-writing an entirely new constitution.”

He also asserted that attempting to create a new constitution “without altering the provisions of Section 9 of the constitution would amount to gross violation of our oath of allegiance to the constitution.”

The Deputy Senate President said that the senate places high value on public participation in the law making process, assuring everyone that his committee is “strongly committed to its obligations to facilitate public involvement in the constitution review process.”

He further explained that the Senate engaged “a select group of competent and non-partisan consultants to further examine specific recommendations from the reports of the 2014 National Conference and the All Progressives Congress, APC Committee on True Federalism requiring constitution amendment for implementation.”

He also disclosed that the committee revisited some bills in past constitution amendment that were not ratified by the legislature, or assented to by the President. Several interest groups and individuals including the Labour unions, Civil society organisations, Traditional Institutions, and Women groups are participating in the exercise which ends on Friday June 4.

 

Nneka Ukachukwu

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