The Senate yesterday foreclosed the possibility of a brand new constitution in the ongoing constitution amendment exercise, saying such calls are illegal.
There had been calls for a brand new constitution, with advocates of the new law insisting that it would create room for complete reform of the nation’s structure.
Prominent Nigerians, including founder of Afe Babalola University Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD), Aare Afe Babalola (SAN), had argued that a totally new constitution for the country has become necessary, as the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which is currently in use cannot amply address the socio-economic challenges the country is enmeshed in.
Specifically, Babalola implored President Muhammadu Buhari to initiate the drafting of a new constitution that will address the grievance of most Nigerians and empower the different regions to effectively address the challenges of insecurity, unemployment, and poverty in their respective zones.
Other Nigerians, including socio-cultural groups, had also insisted that the 1999 constitution is the creation of the military.
But the Senate yesterday ruled out the idea of a new constitution on the ground that that section 9 of the current constitution has already foreclosed a new constitution
Deputy president of the Senate, and chairman, Senate Committee on Constitution Review, Ovie Omo-Agege, stated this during the national public hearing on the review of the constitution at the International Conference Centre, Abuja.
He noted that the committee was working “in accordance with the extant legal order which is the 1999 constitution.”
He said, “Some of our compatriots have urged that rather than amending the Constitution, we should make a new Constitution all together. We respect this opinion, and we believe it is a most desirable proposition.
“Specifically, 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. Unfortunately, it does not make a similar provision to provide a mechanism for replacing or re-writing an entirely new constitution.”
He pointed out that to embark on any process without altering section 9 of the 1999 constitution to provide the mode through which an entirely new constitution could be made would amount to gross violation of oath of allegiance to the constitution.
“In other words, it will take a new Constitutional amendment to be able to give Nigerians a most desired new Constitution. It would be unconstitutional to do otherwise,” he added.
On why the legislature was embarking on the constitution review, Omo-Agege said 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.”
On his part, the Senate president, Ahmad Lawan, said flaws in the constitution and yearning by Nigerians are the reasons why the National Assembly embarked on the constitution amendment exercise.
“There are broad-ranging agitations and constitutional amendment proposals for devolving more powers to subnational 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 noted
Women Seek 37 Senate Seats
Also, Nigerian women demanded 37 Senatorial seats in the ongoing constitution amendment.
According to them, since there are three senatorial districts with one in the FCT, additional senatorial seats from each state and FCT should be preserved for women, which will bring the number of senatorial seats reserved for women to 37.
Speaking for the Nigerian women at the public hearing, the minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, said women want equity.
Represented by Dr Anthonia Ekpa, a permanent secretary in the ministry, Tallen said women also need 35 per cent representation in all positions.
Speakers Seek Stringent Conditions For Impeachment
On their part, Speakers of state Houses of Assembly under the umbrella of Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures sought for an amendment of the constitution to provide for stringent conditions for the impeachment of a Speaker.
Making the presentation on behalf of the speakers, Speaker of Niger State House of Assembly, Hon Abdullahi Bawa Wuse, said allegations against a Speaker should go through thorough investigation, adding that the amendment should strengthen legislative procedures for the removal of a Speaker.
“The speakers deserve fair hearing and not for those members to come up and remove the speaker without hearing from the speaker,” he said.
NLC, CAN Seek Creation Of More States, Full LG Autonomy
In their presentations, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Christians Association of Nigeria said they support the creation of additional states.
NLC national president, Ayuba Waba, who made the presentation on behalf of 47 labour unions, said any attempt to remove labour matters and minimum wage from the exclusive list would be rejected.
“We support full autonomy for LG, Judiciary, state legislators and we want creation of additional states. We are advocating for one man, one vote, one woman, one vote. So, the electoral system should be strengthened. Politicians facing criminal cases should not enjoy immunity. That is the practice globally,” Waba said, even as he called for a review of revenue sharing formula to favour the states and local government areas.
CAN, in their presentation, called for the creation of new states, including Gurara, Adada, Ogun and other states being requested.
“We are also advocating that when there is a male president, there should be a female vice president. Senate president (male), deputy Senate president (female),” CAN president, Samson Olasupo Ayokunle, stated.
Making the presentation through a legal Adviser, he called for provision in the constitution for women to have equal rights for inheritance.
“There should be separation of the office of the AGF from that of the minister of Justice. Proper definition of indigeneship and residency should be clearly defined.”
Minister Wants Federal Capital City In FCT
Also, FCT minister, Muhammad Bello, in his presentation, called for the creation of a Federal Capital City (FCC) out of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to avoid two leaders running a city.
According to him, FCT is an Area of 800,000 square metres, and 250,000 square metres should be carved out to form the FCC.
FCT indigenes, in their presentation, said they don’t have a government contrary to the provision of the constitution.
The spokesman of the indegines, Dalhatu Ezekiel Musa, said the people of FCT want the creation of the FCC so that the indigenous people can enjoy the status of a state.
He said despite the fact that the constitution and the court granted that FCT should be treated as a state, none of the indigenous people have been appointed a minister since 1999.
APC Seek Reduction Of Political Parties
Also, the All Progressives Congress (APC), in their presentation, called for the reduction of political parties in Nigeria, stating that the number is high.
It urged the National Assembly to consider the el-Rufai committee recommendations on restructuring.
National chairman of APC caretaker committee and Yobe State governor, Mai Mala Buni, who was represented by Prof Tahir Mamman said, “APC urges the Senate to consider el-Rufai’s recommendation on restructuring. Also, the political parties should be looked at. The number of political parties is confusing”.
On her part, former Minister of Education, Dr Oby Ezekwesili, called for an amendment to the constitution to allow for a referendum by Nigerians for a deliberation for a new constitution.
“We need to centre the citizens in our democracy; we need to call for a deep sense of conversation,” she advised.
On his part, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, said efforts must be done in the constitution to avoid instances where court cases linger for up to 30 years.
Represented by a justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Ejembi Eko, the CJN said all stakeholders must ensure there is a robust administration of justice in the country.
Also, magistrates in the country have said they are being treated as if they are not human beings.
Making their presentation, the representative of the magistrates, Sa’id Safiyanu said they are being treated unfairly.
“When it comes to remuneration, we are treated as if we are not human beings. Our colleagues in the high court are treated by the NJC but the magistrates are allowed to be under the state. We want the constitution to address this issue.
“The magistrate should be considered; without it you can get a good dispensation of justice. There are training courses the magistrates cannot do because they are treated as civil servants,” Safiyanu said.
Also, traditional rulers in the country called for the establishment of a federal ministry of traditional rulers, as it is in the states and local governments.
According to the traditional rulers, the new amendment should provide for a role for the traditional rulers since it was removed from the constitution in 1977.
Making their presentation, The King of Nchia Eleme Kingdom, His Royal Highness, King Appolus Chu (JP), said traditional rulers are careful in playing certain roles because of their non-inclusion in the constitution.
Representative of People with Disabilities, Lois Auta, said that over 30 million of their members want 15 per cent of seats in the National and State Assemblies.