By Nosa Akenzua, Asaba
Delta Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, on Wednesday said Nigeria needed a new Constitution, not amendment to accommodate emerging issues of good governance and greater interest of Nigerians.
Okowa stated this when he received on courtesy visit, the Senate Sub-Committee on review of the 1999 Constitution led by Senator James Manager at Government House, Asaba.
He said that a new Constitution for the country had become imperative in view of observed lacunas in the 1999 Constitution and called for the insertion of a clause to allow for the re-writing of the Constitution while it would continue to be in operation until a new one was ready.
“There is no doubt that there is still a lot to work on in our Constitution to have a near perfect document, and I know that the National Assembly has continued over time, to cause some of the amendments to be.
“I thank God that those sent here are familiar with the zone; so, when the people truly speak they would understand.
“But, I also wished that some persons from other zones actually had the opportunity to come down here to hear the voices of our people directly because sometimes we do not understand the extent of the pains that people of the Niger Delta truly suffer in our nation.
“We believe in one Federation; we believe in the unity of Nigeria, but we will continue to ask for very strong equity in our Federation as a people and I know that the people will really voice out their opinion at the public hearing.
“We know that some amendments were made recently but on a general note, we are also aware that the Constitution itself appears to have just been hurriedly put up just before the 1999 elections and handed over.
“I wished it was possible to start the whole process again and to re-write the Constitution and also believe that there may be a need for us to look very closely on ways and means of re-writing the Constitution as a new document even when the current Constitution exists,’’ Okowa said.
He recalled that the process of reviewing the 1999 Constitution started in the 7th Assembly, but that it was not possible to push it forward because of certain disagreements at that time.
Reiterating the necessity of a new constitution for the country, he said “if we look deeply as lawmakers we would be able to create a window for that purpose because every year or in every assembly, we continue to engage ourselves in one amendment or the other.
“I think that it is possible to insert a clause that will enable us to truly rewrite the constitution while the current constitution may be operational until the new one is brought into force.
“In that case, we would not be struggling year-in-year-out trying to amend one clause or the other because there are challenges when it comes to that.’’
The governor urged the National Assembly to look into power devolution to the states, review of revenue allocation formula, oil derivation and state police in the amendment to enable Chairman of Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to lay revenue allocation formula proposals directly before the lawmakers.
“As a state, we believe that the way the federal structure is in terms of governance, the powers at the federal level or what you call the powers of the Presidency are too weighted against the rest of the structures in the state or what you call the sub-national governments.
“We believe that the exclusive list ought not to be as it is, because there are many things in that place that could truly be in the concurrent list.
“This is because the sub-national governments are much closer to the people and understand truly the pains and needs of their people and they are more likely to affect development changes that will be impactful on their people,” he stated.
He regretted that no review had been made to the revenue allocation formula for the past 24 years whereas it was supposed to be reviewed every five years.
Okowa said that oil-producing states had continued to struggle for the 13 percent derivation fund, and remarked that oil was a wasting asset while the environment where it was being extracted had continued to be polluted and degraded.
“The 13 per cent is actually too low and we believe it should be reviewed to 50 per cent as it used to be in the past or allow the states to own the assets and pay tax to the centre as applicable in other climes.
“We are also fully aware that our country is going through tough times with the current insecurity pervading our nation.
“We believe in the Nigerian Police but to fully secure the land there is a need for states to have their own police and all the governors of this nation are in support of that.
“The Nigerian police have been stretched beyond limit and to complement the Federal Police Force there is need for the states to have their own police,” he added.
He assured the Committee of the support of the state when recommendations were made from the National Assembly.
“We are glad that you have come to listen to the people and we hope that when you also speak within the larger Committee that those voices which do not understand the pains of our people will not suppress the voices of our people.
“It is in the interest of the country that we provide more funds for the development of oil-producing states and for them to take care of the degradation of their environment,” the governor stated.
Earlier, Senator Manager had said that the Committee which comprised Senators from Edo, Bayelsa and Delta were in the state to conduct a two-day public hearing on the amendment of the 1999 Constitution.
He said that aside from the Spiritual Books, the Constitution was the most important book for any country.
Manager restated that Southern Senators had endorsed all the resolutions made by the Southern Governors in the “Asaba Declaration’’ of May 11.
“The amendment of the Constitution is not what can be done by the National Assembly alone, but it involves states’ Houses of Assembly and other stakeholders.
“The document is never a perfect one; therefore, amendments are inevitable from time to time and in tune with current realities.
“The public hearing will afford the Committee the opportunity to hear from the people and collate their views for onward processing by the Senate,” he stated.