From all indications, the nation’s lawmakers – National and State Assemblies – may just be paying lip service to the all-important constitution review exercise. The National Assembly has over the years spent billions of naira on the matter without any headway.
Since 2003, N1 billion is always voted each legislative year for the two chambers to prosecute the constitution amendment bill – N500 million for the Senate and N500 million for the House of Representatives.
The much-awaited constitution amendment process embarked upon by the 9th National Assembly is facing a setback despite the passage of 44 bills by the lawmakers. The bills require the approval of two-thirds of State Houses of Assembly or 24 out of the 36 State Assemblies to become laws.
Four months after the National Assembly transmitted the 44 amendment bills to states for concurrence, they are yet to return the bills. The danger in this is that if the bills fail to return to the National Assembly before the tenure of the 9th Assembly elapses, it will be an exercise in futility. And the lawmakers appeared not to be bothered that time is running out.
The current happenings have succeeded in creating the perception among Nigerians that members of the National Assembly are not really interested in constitution amendment, but in the money voted for the exercise. Perhaps, the main motivation for frequent constitution amendment by the lawmakers is the billions of naira voted for the exercise each legislative year.
Again, not much has been heard about the exercise except the public hearings that were simultaneously held in the six geo-political zones in May, where there were calls for state police, devolution of powers to the states and local governments, creation of more states, restructuring and fiscal federalism.
In the South West, representations centred on devolution of powers, state police, restructuring and financial autonomy of local governments, as well as true fiscal federalism. There was also call for a return to the 1963 Constitution which allowed the three regions to develop at their own pace.
For the South-south geo-political zone, review of revenue allocation formula, oil derivation, state police, as well as power devolution were the major proposals presented before the committee on the review of the constitution. And a true federalism with 100 per cent resource control.
At the North East zonal hearing, the people identified inadequacies in the constitution to include revenue allocation, security provision, as well as inclusiveness in running the affairs of the country.
The Northwest, on their part, stressed the need for a truly balanced, equitable and fair federal structure. This includes decentralising the police to enable the states to exercise effective control in securing their residents and communities.
The South East’s demands include creation of additional state in the region, state police, power devolution, as well as restructuring.
In all of these, it is obvious that the people are in support of a constitution review if the nation desires to make any meaningful progress. Unfortunately, the lawmakers are now too preoccupied with the 2023 general election and electioneering to care about completing the constitution review exercise. This is especially so as most of them failed to get return tickets during the last party primaries.
In National Assembly alone, no fewer than 178 lawmakers failed to get return tickets. But that should not be an excuse. They should look beyond individual interests and sentiments and put the country first, which is one of the cardinal attributes of patriotic leaders. They were elected to serve Nigerians and solve problems and not for self-enrichment.
We share the opinion that constitution amendment is not a tea party by any means. Without doubt, it is a tedious exercise approached with the seriousness it deserves. But that is not to say it is a Herculean task that cannot be accomplished if the lawmakers show enough commitment to the exercise.
Though the authors of the 1999 Constitution knew it would have to be amended, they also knew it should never be amended frivolously or haphazardly. The framers knew it would be impossible for the Constitution they were writing then to address every situation that might come along. This is to ensure that the document evolves and grows along with the nation.
We, therefore, call on the legislature, both at federal and state levels, to see themselves as drivers of this constitution amendment exercise, and thus treat the issue with the fervent patriotism it deserves. The state lawmakers, especially, need to show true commitment to nation building by doing the needful. Time is running out!