Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, yesterday passed a damning verdict on the 1999 (as amended), saying the National Assembly resolved to amend the document because it has failed to address some critical national questions confronting the country.
Gbajabiamila noted that the constitution was not only supposed to be the foundation of Nigeria’s existence but was also meant 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,” the Speaker stated, adding that the reason for that is “because the 1999 Constitution is the product of a hurried national compromise that we entered into two decades ago in order to ensure that the military return to the barracks and that we return to democratic government.”
Gbajabiamila who spoke in Lagos while declaring open the public hearing on the review of the 1999 Constitution, said the National Assembly could only achieve the task of reviewing the document after getting the inputs and support of the citizens.
A statement from the Speaker’s office listed participants at the 2-day public hearing to include the deputy governor of Lagos State, Babafemi Hamzat, who represented Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu; members of the House of Representatives Special Committee on the review of the constitution; members of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ); Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC); representatives of political parties, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), youth organisations and market women.
Constitution Review: Senate To Hold 2-day National Public Hearing In Abuja
The speaker said though the current exercise was not the first of its kind, it might be the most important one in the nation’s recent history, as the decisions to be made would have far-reaching consequences for the future of Nigeria.
In response to the doubts expressed in some quarters about the exercise, he noted that there is no perfect constitution anywhere in the world.
He however noted that it is 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.
The Speaker urged Nigerians to participate fully in the ongoing process so that their inputs would be captured for the country to have a new direction.
Gbajabiamila added that Nigerians cannot afford to miss the opportunity to address their challenges and sustain their future at this critical moment.
He assured Nigerians of the sincerity of purpose of the 9th National Assembly to deliver a reviewed constitution that everyone would be proud of.
The Speaker stated: “The foundational constitution of the United States of America deemed people of colour to be ‘less than’ and denied women the right to vote. It did not include any limits on the President’s term of office and allowed for citizens to be denied the right to vote for failure to pay the ‘poll tax’. Twenty-seven reviews and amendments, over one hundred years cured these and other defects.
“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.
“Therefore, the task before us now is to use this process of review and amendment to devise for ourselves a constitution that resolves the issues of identity and political structure, of human rights and the administration of government, resource control, national security and so much else, that have fractured our nation and hindered our progress and prosperity.
“Our job is to produce a constitution that turns the page on our past, yet heeds its many painful lessons. It is not an easy task, but it is a necessary and urgent one.
“We will not be able to deliver on this historic assignment if we restrict ourselves to tinkering around the edges of the constitution or by imposing upon ourselves artificial redlines that restrict honest conversation.
“All of us in the House of Representatives will work conscientiously and in good faith so that it may be said of us in this process that we made an audacious attempt at creating for our nation a constitution that recognises our diversity and draws strength from it, and addresses once and for all, the fault lines that distract from nation-building.
“It is all too clear that many of our citizens have come to expect too little of our politics and government. We are suffering from the tyranny of low expectations and the cynicism that causes us to believe that the political process cannot produce anything worthy or worthwhile.
“I understand the causes of this cynicism, but I refuse to share in it. I still believe that politics and government in Nigeria can be a force for good and that by our common endeavour we can achieve the vision of a just, peaceful, and prosperous society.
“However, beyond these Public Hearings, you still have an opportunity to make submissions that will be considered and that will help this process achieve the best outcomes. Please, by all means, participate. Let your voice be heard, and let your vision also inform the direction of this process.
“I urge all who have come to participate here today to do so with decorum and respect for one another. Let our deliberations be well-intentioned, well informed and reflect our patriotism. In this way, we will have a most productive engagement over the next two days.”
In his goodwill message, Governor Sanwo-Olu, who spoke through his deputy, Hamzat, said the need for a special status for Lagos State in the constitution could not be overemphasized.
The governor said being the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria, whatever affects the state has the capacity to affect the entire country, hence the need for a special status.
He also urged members of the National Assembly to prioritise fiscal federalism, local government autonomy, in addition to state police in the ongoing review process.
Akeredolu Calls For Scrapping Of Senate
Meanwhile, Ondo State governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, has called for the scrapping of the Senate from the nation’s constitution.
Akeredolu who spoke at the ongoing public hearing organized by the House of Representatives special committee on review of the constitution said the House of Representatives membership should be part-time to save the current outrageous cost of governance.
He advised that the country should consider dropping the current bicameral structure of the National Assembly and adopt a unicameral legislature.
At the event held at the DOME, venue of the Akure Centre which covers Ondo, Ekiti, and Osun States, Akeredolu, who was represented by his deputy, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, said, “No member should earn allowances not known to the Revenue Mobilisation and Allocation Committee and, more importantly, people they claim to serve.
“The membership of the Assembly should be part-time. Legislators should earn under a uniform salary structure. Allowance peculiarities must not be about obscenity.
“The Senate should be scrapped. The House of Representatives too should not be unwieldy. A maximum of four representatives should come from each Zone.”
Akeredolu further advocated devolution of power by the federal government, noting that the states should be allowed to decide on local governments and control natural resources in their territories, but pay tax to the federal government.
His words: “The parts in the federation should reserve the rights on the number of local governments they desire to have. The inclusion of the names of 774 local governments in the Constitution smacks of over-centralization of administration. It runs against the principles of federalism. States should determine the type of local administration desirable for their growth.’’
You’re Entitled To Your Opinion, Senate Replies Governor
But in responding to the call by Akeredolu for the scrapping of the Red Chamber, the Senate said the Ondo State governor is entitled to his opinion.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP yesterday, the spokesman of the Senate, Ajibola Basiru, said that the ultimate decision would be taken by Nigerians within the provision of the constitution.
“He is entitled to his personal opinion. The essence of the public hearing is to hear diverse opinions. The ultimate decision will be taken by the Nigerian people within the provisions of section 9 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended),” Ajibola said.