Constitution review and matters arising

In this report, TOPE SUNDAY revisits the move by the National Assembly to review the 1999 Constitution.

Barring any changes, the House of Representatives is set to complete the activities for the review of the 1999 Constitution in December 2025. Currently, 40 constitutional alteration bills are before the House and are at various stages of consideration.

The process of reviewing the Constitution is a pivotal moment in any nation’s legislative calendar, and for Nigeria, this period is marked by intense debates, diverse viewpoints, and significant stakes.

As the House of Representatives embarks on this crucial task, several key issues and contentious points have come to the fore, reflecting the complex and multifaceted nature of constitutional amendments.

Blueprint Weekend recalls that the Deputy Speaker and Chairman of the House Constitution Review Committee, Benjamin Kalu, speaking early this year, said, “It is also the view of MMrSpeaker that we set a realistic timeline that does not conflict with electoral activities, which could inadvertently affect the alteration process, specifically December 2025, the time we are looking at to conclude the activities of this committee.

“It is not out of place to guess that there is some level of fatigue in the Amendment process by some vocal sections of the populace. Whatever opinion you hold, it is important to let you know that we presently have 40 bills that are at various stages of consideration which relate to the Alteration of the Constitution.”

The review

The current review of the Constitution is driven by a multitude of factors ranging from the need to address outdated provisions to demands for more equitable representation and governance. Members of the House have been vocal about various aspects they believe need amendment, including federal structure, devolution of powers, electoral reforms, and civil liberties.

As the House of Representatives continues its deliberations, the outcome of the constitutional review remains uncertain. What is clear, however, is the significance of this undertaking. The amendments have the potential to shape the nation’s future governance, social contract, and national identity. Thus, the process must be conducted with the utmost diligence, fairness, and foresight.

Crux of the matter

For Chief Afe Babalola, SAN, one of Nigeria’s leading legal luminaries and the founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, the 1999 Constitution should be replaced.

In his article, Constitutional review or a new Constitution?; Nigeria at a crossroads,’ Chief Babalola described it as an imposition and part of the several sores inherited from the military rule in Nigeria.

He said, “It is with mixed feelings that Nigerians welcomed the news of another round of tinkering with our military constitution of 1999. The Constitution has been subjected to a series of amendments. These amendments were necessary to cure various anomalies in the Constitution discovered over time and anomalies that were caused by adopting a constitution that did not resonate with the pluralist state of the ethnicities in Nigeria.

“On February 15, 2024, the Senate announced the need to once again “touch some aspects of the constitution to bring them in line with current realities.” To achieve this aim, the Red Chamber set up a 45-member Committee to review and amend the Constitution. The President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio, explained that the 1999 Constitution needs a review because it contains many issues that need to be “put right.”

“Most frankly, I disagree with him entirely on this. The 1999 Constitution does not contain a few provisions that need to be put right, rather, it needs to be replaced in its entirety because the entire constitution is unfit to be used in a country like Nigeria.

“We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,… Do hereby make, enact and give to ourselves the following Constitution.” There is no reality in Nigeria as false as the preamble to the 1999 Constitution. ‘We Nigerians’ never agreed to anything. Rather, the 1999 Constitution was an imposition and part of the several sores inherited from the military rule in Nigeria.

“The mistake we made as a nation was failing to revert to the 1963 Republican Constitution which was made by Nigerians, for Nigeria when we had the chance. To better understand this regret, I will examine the first two constitutions in Nigeria, and accentuate their contributions to national development and governance.

“I, therefore, reiterate my recommendations severally published that the Federal Legislature should take advantage of this constitutional review to revert to the 1963 Republican Constitution which was tailor-made for Nigeria. Nigeria should adopt the parliamentary system of government again, and executive powers should be concentrated in regional governments.

“The 1963 Constitution can be amended to bring it at par with current realities, but not so much as to discard it as a tool. This is direly needed now. Any nation will rise or fall based on the quality of its constitution.

“Nigeria has experienced tremendous prosperity under the 1960 and 1963 constitutions which heralded parliamentary and regional government. Conversely, Nigeria has experienced such economic rot and declining national security under the presidential system of government, a system of governance that was forced on the nation by a fraudulent constitution.

“To attempt to review the 1999 Constitution is an act of indirect validation of a constitution that ought not to have existed. What we need is purely a brand new and truly a new Federal Constitution with autonomous regions and parliamentary system of government.”

But a political analyst and lecturer at the Department of Political Science, Federal University Oye Ekiti, Mr. Femi Fayomi, disagreed with Chief Babalola, saying that the Constitution review is highly necessary and requires especially on the background that the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended was a military creation which has no input of the people in its draft.

He said, “Since the return to civil rule on May 29, 1999, successive National Assembly have continued to embark on one form of review or the other wi limited success in review of the some not so fundamental constitutional issues such as devolution of power, state police, and revenue allocations to name a few.

“It is instructive to note that the constitutional review is highly necessary and requires especially on the background that the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended was a military creation which has no input of the people in its draft.

“There is a need for a strong political will on the part of the critical stakeholders in the constitutional review process for a successful review exercise. Without this, the ongoing constitutional review attempt by the 10th National Assembly will end up in futility like the previous efforts.”

However, a programme director at YIAGA Africa, one of the groups advocating for gender bills, Cynthia Mbamalu, said structural challenges, patriarchal norms and biased systems put limits on women who want to run for office.

“The numbers are still poor. We still have 11 or so state assemblies where there are no women and some of those states have not had a female legislator since 1999 when we transitioned to democracy. As long as we don’t have a constitutional mandate that opens up the space to increase women’s representation, we’ll constantly struggle with a male-dominated National Assembly,” she said.

Mbamalu said lawmakers need to take the new constitutional review seriously for equity and democracy to succeed.

“One of the indicators to assess our development and the presence of democracy is about how inclusive your government is. I want to believe that the 10th Assembly will act differently — will put its name in history,” she said.