…NEF, Afenifere, others say it is an effort in futility
… Barrister Orimolade, Hon. Abioye proffer solution
By Tunde Opalana
The groundwork for administering the entire business of governance in Nigeria aside other conventional laws, is the 1999 Constitution which was thrust upon the nation by the military regime.
The legitimacy and acceptance of this piece of law book has been constantly questioned because of the sentiment that it lacked genuine and extensive public engagement. Hence, the continuous clamouring for a people-driven constitution.
But, it is an acceptable fact that the 1999 Constitution cannot be entirely jettisoned but gradually be reformed until it meets desired aspirations of Nigerians of various ethnic, tribal and religious backgrounds and perfectly address issues of concern to the citizenry.
The power to reform or amend the Constitution is derived from Section 9 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution itself, which provides that “an amendment may be proposed with a two-thirds majority vote in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, respectively, and subsequently approved by a resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the states.”
Substantial efforts have been directed towards altering key aspects of the 1999 Constitution. The first, second and third amendments to the Constitution were debated and signed into law during the tenure of the sixth National Assembly (2007-2011). The seventh National Assembly (2011-2015) conducted a long-winding review process. Despite significant expenditure, the process ultimately failed after the amendments, which were submitted as a single bill, were vetoed by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Well guided by the banana peels in the previous attempts which was responsible for presidential veto, the eighth National Assembly (2015-2019) attacked the reformation which has become a national parliamentary assignment using different method of setting up two separate committees in both chambers; House of Representatives and the Senate.
The reason for this approach, according to Idayat Hassan, the Director of the Abuja-based Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) was that “multiple bills proposing different amendments would have more chance of being passed into law than a single bill. But not all of the amendments could be pushed through before the National Assembly’s tenure lapsed.”
But, alas, the eight National Assembly failed to achieve the set goal and the bulk of fine-tuning the Constitution was passed on to the ninth NASS.
The Ninth National Assembly
In February 2020, Senator Ahmad Lawan, in his capacity as Senate President and Chairman of the 9th National Assembly, constituted a Committee on Constitutional Review to begin the process of a fifth review to the Constitution.
The 56-member Committee was charged to review outcomes from previous public consultations and national conferences (especially the 2014 National Conference), hold further consultations and received submissions before deciding on the key issues and process for further public hearings.
A Committee saddled with similar mandate was constituted by the Speaker, House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila.
Both committees were constituted and inaugurated under the chairmanship of the deputy heads of each chamber; Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo- Agege and Deputy Speaker Idris Wase.
Central to their assignments are key issues pivotal to the nation’s unity as a political entity. These include issues of; federal restructuring, devolution of powers, local government autonomy, state police, revenue sharing, resource control, electoral reform and national security.
After the zonal public hearings held in the six geopolitical zones and the national public hearing held in Abuja, the ninth National Assembly unanimously passed 44 out of the 68 resolution to be altered and transmitted them as 44 bills to the 36 State Houses of Assembly for concurrence.
The 9th National Assembly has done it’s part in the the first leg of the Constitution Amendment exercise and passed the ball to the court of state legislatures to show their commitment to nation building by passing or rejecting the bills.
Barely five months to the expiration of the 9th NASS and legislative period of various state assemblies, it is unfortunate that the 44 bills are still with the 36 state legislative houses and this raised the fear in many quarters that this might be another effort in futility and a waste of humongous One billion naira earmarked for the exercise.
There seems to be a deadlock as a result of ego flexing between the legislative and executive arms of government.
Governors in the 36 states are being accused by the lawmakers of stalling the reformation process, holding the entire nation to ransom with certain demands peculiar to them .
This concern was first raised by the President of the Senate who towards the end of last year in an appeal , urged Governor Nasir El – Rufai of Kaduna State to help in lobbying other governors for adoption of the 44 bills forwarded to the State Houses of Assembly in March 2022.
“We will task you to lobby for us. We have sent(to the states) the outcome of our constitution review and we are yet to receive all from the states.
“So we should be able to wind up this process by getting responses from the state Houses of Assembly. Even if it is one month left, we have the capacity working together to ensure that we pass some of the legislations that are required in a very expeditious manner.
“Pleade lobby your Governor colleagues for us because I can see that you do that very well”, Lawan said.
Speaking in the same vein, the Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabianila said ” the National Assembly passed a draft of amendments to the Constitution and advanced them to the states as required.
” That process now seems to have stalled in the State Assemblies . As it is today, it is doubtful that the current constitution amendment effort will conclude before the expiration of this legislative term .
” However , the appeal made by the Senate President to Governor Nasir El – Rufai for required cooperation of Governors on the exercise , may bring the process back to life “.
The Daily Times recalled that the Governors had in September 2022 through Speakers of the State Houses of Assembly , communicated to the National Assembly that the constitution review exercise as contained in the 44 bills sent to them , will not be concurred to , without inclusion of State Policing and other three items.
Other three items the Conference of Speakers of State Houses of Assembly requested for are ÷ establishment of State Judicial Council; streamlining of the procedure for removing Presiding Officers of State Houses of Assembly; and, Institutionalising Legislative Bureaucracy in the Constitution.
With the situation on hand and respite seems not to be coming from the states, shades of opinions have concluded that this is another effort in futility and waste of time and resources.
The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) in opposing the review process faulted the huge monetary allocation for the constitution review process since 1999 saying it makes little or no meaningful impact on the lives of Nigerians.
The NEF recalled, had earlier urged the National Assembly to convince President Muhammadu Buhari the constitution review process “at this difficult time when the economy is facing unprecedented challenges.”
The Forum said “nothing fundamental or of any value has come out of these grand schemes to exploit our collective desire to address our political and economic fundamentals. This National Assembly is also following suit and it should not be encouraged on this path, he said.
“Nigeria’s future rests largely on its willingness to address major constraints to equity and justice, a functional structure, consistent good governance, security for all citizens, a credible electoral process, growing understanding between and among all groups and an economy that grows and narrows inequalities between and classes and regions.
“The legislature and executive branches of government have large quantities of reviews, recommendations and reports from past attempts at amending the constitutions. These represent enough resources for a review if the legislature is serious about this vital national priority.”
The Yoruba Socio-Political Group, Afenifere described the process as an exercise in futility that cannot achieve any meaningful result.
Secretary-General of the group, Chief Sola Ebiseni said “Afenifere believes in and advocates fundamental restructuring of Nigeria for the reinvention of a federal constitution as the agreed principles of governing Nigeria and its diverse ethnic nationalities by our founding fathers, which will ultimately replace the imposed 1999 unitary constitution.
“Amending the constitution is an exercise in futility and a waste of time and public fund. Amendment will not cure the anomalies. You cannot put something on anything and expect it to stand.
“Every session of the two arms of the National Assembly, since 2007, has embarked on the same jamboree of constitutional amendment spending public funds on public hearings, without any result.
“The National Assembly is part of the issue to be determined in the process of restructuring and cannot legitimately be the judge in such exercise.”
A seasoned journalist and lawyer, Barrister Akin Orimolade said amendment of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has become a periodic ritual because it essentially has to do with interest.
“Of course, the interest of the elite and the interest of those who strongly believe they have the majority population always play a role in determining whether any attempt to amend the constitution would be successful.
“State governors who are members of the political class would always prevail on National Assembly members from their states to defend their interest. Even if they fail to toe the same line with the governor, they would need to get both chambers of the National Assembly to consent to all the amendments. In addition, two third of state Houses of Assembly must consent to all the amendments,” he said.
A lawmaker, former member of Kwara State Assembly and 2023 APC House of Representatives candidate in Kwara State, Hon. Olabisi Abioye blamed the difficulty in constitution amendments on
the diverse interests of the political hegemony, adding that there in no political will or power on the part of the leaders.
Delving into the past as a legislator, Abioye said “for instance, in 2014, when autonomy of State House of Assembly and Local Government Administration was sought and widely demanded by Nigerians. At that time the Constitution Review Committee was able to put it as a prime issue for determination, but because it requires a constitutional 2/3 of the State House of Assemblies in Nigeria to make it a law after the recommendation, the PDP government of President Goodluck Jonathan could only secured 23 state while Kwara State House of Assembly, a PDP State then, under the leadership of Sen. Bukola Saraki voted against the amendment and kill it. Just because of the selfish interest of Sen. Bukola Saraki who was controlling every segments of Government in Kwara State.”
Both Orimolade and Abioye doubted the ability of the 9th National Assembly to succeed.
Orimolade said “the 9th National Assembly cannot succeed because of the prevailing political situation in the country. Some members of the state Houses of Assembly have lost their seats and are therefore ready to vote according to the interest of the elites. Besides,the elections are here and and people are busy with campaigns and not constitutional amendment . After the elections, people would be busy with post election issues and this may drag till when the 9th National Assembly would end their tenure.”
While Abioye said “I have my doubt, because there is no zeal in the constitution amendment of this present National Assembly and considering the political situation and activities at hand. I really have my doubt.”
On how can Nigeria get right the process of amending the 1999 Constitution, Barrister Orimolade said “Constitution amendment can be successful if National Assembly members start in the first years of their four- year term. Sections to be amended must be identified early and a well coordinated advocacy to mobilize the people on putting pressure on both National and state Assembly members.
On his own part, Hon.Abioye said “may be if the new President is much interested and genuinely committed to the constitution amendment and he starts the enlightenment campaign for it, as soon as he assumes office. And he, the President is politically active and prepared to actually lobby the National Assembly and the State Assemblies, and if possible, try to blackmail them before the nation’s masses. Maybe, we will get successful constitution amendment.”