Taiye Odewale examines the will of the 9th Assembly to carry out constitution review with restructuring as one of areas of focus for the Senate’s Committee on Constitution Review as announced by the Deputy President of the Senate and chairman of the committee, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege.
Exactly eight days ago on this page, constitution review was the subject matter of discourse as regards the way and manner the 9th National Assembly will carry out the exercise in the face of pessimism being expressed by some notable Nigerians on possible outcome of it.
But twenty four hours after the analytical write up, precisely , last week Wednesday, the Senate officially inaugurated its own 56 now 58 – member committee under the Chairmanship of Senator Ovie Omo-Agege ( APC Delta Central) , who in his speech at the ceremony, highlighted specific areas of focus for the committee.
Omo-Agege in the speech said : ” In carrying out this national assignment, this Committee will no doubt, consider the alteration of the Sixth schedule to make provision for new items, the establishment of National and State Houses of Assembly, Pre-election Matters Tribunal, Governorship Pre-election Matters Tribunals and Presidential Pre-election Matters Tribunal, including time limits for the disposal of all pre-election matters before the conduct of the general elections.
“We will also consider the need for devolution of power, full Local Government fiscal autonomy, full autonomy of the judiciary in the area of administration of justice, youth inclusiveness in governance, gender parity or affirmative action.
“This is by no means an exhaustive list. The Committee will also consider inputs from stakeholders and different interest groups across the country. In addition, this committee will consider the recommendations of the 2014 Constitutional Conference and the Governor Nasir el-Rufai-led Committee on restructuring.
“The need for Constitutional amendment lies at the heart of Constitutional theory and practice.
“Constitutionalism implies that the fundamental rules for effective exercise of state power and protection of individual rights should be stable and predictable and not subject to easy change or the whims of individuals.
“These changing times have brought new challenges and today in our country, we are faced with increased insecurity, slow economic growth, rising poverty, and a poor political culture, amongst others.
“These challenges that will define the way Nigerians will live in the 21st century have continued to agitate the minds of our people. It is against this background that the need for constitutional reforms has once again become necessary in addressing the prevailing challenges”.
Being an arduous task, the Deputy President of the Senate added that because of the need to incorporate the interests, wishes and aspirations of the people from various ethno-social and ethno-religious backgrounds, the committee shall embark on far-reaching consultations with Nigerians across the six geo-political zones to aggregate their positions on current issues that require legislative action by way of constitutional reforms.
He recalled that over the years, Nigerians appear to have been polarised along different fault lines, which often made it impossible to reach the much-needed consensus in some critical areas where fundamental changes were required during constitution review processes.
“We must guide against this if we are to succeed. There is thus the need for constitutional amendment that will be consistent with the agitations and aspirations of our people. This again, is the whole essence of the general will.
“Our task would be to find a consensus through compromise in order to meet the ever-changing needs of our people.
“We must understand that the fact behind our diversity is people united by common challenges of insecurity, unemployment and a good hope for a better future, provides us with the opportunity to focus on those issues that unite us. It is only by so doing that we can guarantee success and leave for our children a better, fairer and more just Nigeria than the one we met,” he said.
In whatever way the highlighted areas of focus are to be addressed during the exercise, they all boiled down to devolution of powers in the polity from the centre to the federating units otherwise called restructuring.
But when the chips are down, will the National Assembly be able to carry out substantial review or amendment of the 1999 Constitution this time around or chicken out with cosmetic reviews as done by the previous Assemblies?
Fears in this direction are already being expressed by some Nigerians one of whom is the executive Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike who penultimate Friday, declared that nothing substantial will come out of the exercise.
However the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, gave modicum of assurance in this regard in his remarks at the inauguration ceremony by declaring that the exercise was in line with the Legislative Agenda of the 9th National Assembly.
According to him, part of the agenda was for the yearly budgetary cycle be returned to January /December, which was achieved in collaboration with the executive last year all geared towards good governance.
In furtherance of this he explained, is the required review or amendments of some provisions of the 1999 constitution for good governance in the land which shall be done with all seriousness in the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians.
His words : “We are now resolved to re-examine the constitution, consistent with our legislative agenda and in tandem with the yearnings of our people.
“You will agree with me that reviewing the constitution is an arduous task. It requires painstaking consultation, dialogues and debates.
“We expect consultations with public organisations and the civil society. These include the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as the vehicle for elections, Civil Society Groups, the academia, the Media, and indeed, the citizenry”.
Pessimism or optimism, as far as the exercise is concerned , its outcome is in the womb of time, specifically between now and 2022 when the committees at both Chambers of the National Assembly must have finished their assignments as well as secured the required concurrence from 2/3 of the 36 States Houses of Assembly on whatever amendments made.