By Tom Okpe
Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and Chairman, Constitution Review Committee, Rep Benjamin Okezie Kalu has stated that the Committee is considering 40 Bill’s, at various stages that will relate to alteration of the National Constitution.
He said though, the Committee is aware of the present insecurity and economic challenges in the country, which could tamper with confidence of citizens, it will respond with the Bill’s, so far proposed.
Speaking at the pre – inaugural meeting of the Committee at the National Assembly in Abuja on Wednesday, Kalu said the Committee will work in close consultation and concert with its counterpart in the Senate Committee on the Review of the Constitution.
He said: “It’s 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.
“We are aware of our present challenging circumstances as a nation, the twin challenge of insecurity and economic difficulties could tamper with the confidence of our citizens.
“It is therefore our Constitution responsibility to respond to the 40 bills so far proposed and also attend to the duty of Government, to ensure the security and welfare of the citizen as provided by the Constitution.”
The Deputy Speaker further stressed: “I am pleased to welcome you to the Pre-Inaugural Meeting of the House of Representatives Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“This Committee has been constituted by the Speaker and the House Leadership to guide and manage achievements of reforms and
amendments to our Constitution during this period of the 10th National Assembly.
“It would be the sixth time that the National Assembly has embarked on amendments to the Nigerian Constitution.
“It is also, the view of the House Speaker, Rep Tajudeen Abbas, that we set a realistic timeline that does not conflict with electoral activities, which would advertently or
inadvertently affect the alteration process, specifically, December, 2025, the time we are looking at, to conclude activities of this committee.
“It’s not out of place to guess that there are some level of fatigue in the Amendment process by some vocal sections of the populace.
“Since 2010, the National Assembly has successfully amended and made
landmark changes to our Constitution since it was first handed over to Nigeria in 1999 by the military regime of General Abdulsalam Abubakar, (Rtd).
“Since then, some of the significant amendments successfully, made by
previous efforts include judicial reforms, electoral reforms, age reduction, allowing younger persons to be appointed into the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) as Chairman or Resident Electoral Commissioners and also allowing a lower age for contest into certain elective positions, moving certain responsibilities of Government from the Exclusive Legislative List into the Concurrent Legislative List, to allow for increased federalism among other things.
“We are having this meeting today, preparatory to its inauguration which date has been proposed for February 26, 2024.
“Ahead of the inauguration, actions that needs to be undertaken include expediting commencement of
preparations, constituting the secretariat for Constitution Review, appointing Consultants and drafting a Work Plan for the Committee.
“The Committee is aware of the concerns of Nigerians on the need to finalise and conclude discussions around Nigeria’s Constitution.
“I will like to state however, that the nature of Nigeria’s Constitution and the history around it, was made and handed over to a new civilian Government in 1999, makes it imperative for us to continually, revisit the several provisions of the Constitution and work towards accomplishing consensus on outstanding constitutional debates.”
Kalu reminded the Committee that in the last Constitution Review efforts, there were some key amendment proposals that did not pass, either because, the Committee then, didn’t understand their provisions or, have enough time to agree on them.
“An example was the proposal to create additional seats for women in Federal and State Legislative Houses.
“Let us use this opportunity to understand this proposal, hoping that those who are the promoters of this particular amendment will start their advocacy timely, and be more thorough and comprehensive, reaching the stakeholders to control the mindsets of their representatives.”
He urged the Committee to prepare to work hard and timeously, to deliver on the citizens’ expectations of concrete amendments in the shortest possible time.
“The composition of the Committee is representative of the constituent parts of this country and I encourage members to prepare to bring forth bills that represent the interests and concerns of their Constituencies, as well as national interest.
“We have created partnership with Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, (PLAC) who has committed to supporting the work of this Committee as they have done in previous Constitution Review efforts.
“We are open to other support and engagements as well as other quarters who are interested in the development of our Constitutional democracy as a nation.”
Kalu also, further reminded members of the Committee, parameters of it’s jurisdiction to include; “Commencing alteration of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, (1999) and other Acts that are to be altered, in accordance with section 8 and section 9 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Receiving and considering any proposal, Bills for the alteration of the 1999 constitution, (as amended) which may be made or referred to by the Acts, ensuring the alterations to the constitution are passed by the National Assembly and assented to, by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Creating a forum for relevant stakeholders and members of the public to make their inputs to the constitution review process, to enact laws that will improve wellbeing and aspirations of the Nigerian people.
“To build a robust and collaborative relationship with the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the 36 States Houses of Assembly, whose resolutions are part of the legislative journey to the Bills; liaise with relevant Government Agencies, Civil Society Organisations, Multilateral and Supranational Agencies, to achieve a wholesome amendment to the Nigeria’s constitution,” he added.