The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, has said that the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria failed to address some critical national questions confronting the country, hence the resolve by the legislature to amend it.
The speaker also said that the constitution was not only the foundation of its existence but it’s supposed to set the terms of the nationhood and define the manner that reflects her common truths and highest aspirations, noting that “Our constitution falls short of this standard.”
He said the reason for that was “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 returned to the barracks and that we returned to democratic government.”
According to a statement from the speaker’s office, Gbajabiamila spoke in Lagos while declaring open the public hearing on the review of the 1999 Constitution, saying the National Assembly could only achieve the task after getting the inputs and support of the citizens.
Participants at the 2-day public hearing included the deputy governor of Lagos State, Dr. Obafemi 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.
The speaker said though the current exercise is 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, the Speaker 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.
The Speaker, therefore, urged Nigerians to participate fully in the ongoing process so that their inputs would be captured for the country to have a new direction, adding that they could not afford to miss the opportunity of addressing their challenges and sustaining 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.”
He added that “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 through his deputy, Hamzat, said the need for a special status for Lagos State in the constitution could not be overemphasised.
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.