AS the National Assembly commenced the process of further amending the 1999 constitution, Joint committee for the review of the constitution, the Senate has disclosed that a total of 231 memoranda in addition to 56 other memoranda proposing the creation of additional states were received.
According to the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu who made this known on Thursday, the 231 memoranda listed critical areas in the constitution that require amendment.
Speaking at the opening of the two-day public hearing in Abuja, the Chairman of the Joint committee for the review of the constitution listed areas for amendment by Nigerians through the memoranda as: Devolution of powers: State creation: Constitutional recognition of six geopolitical zones.
Other areas according to him include the local government system: fiscal federalism: residency and indigene: Nigerian Police: rotation of offices. They also include immunity clause and executive, judicial reforms to strengthen justice delivery.
The desirability or otherwise of a mayoral status for the Federal Capital Territory; extraction of the Land Use Act, National Youth Service Act, and Code of Conduct from the Constitution to make their amendments easier and faster in response to emerging realities without going through the rigours of constitution review.
Also listed for amendment are provisions of the Constitution pertaining to state creation and boundary adjustment; issues of constitutional roles for the traditional rulers; and of great import too, the protection of gender and special interest groups.
Senator Ekweremadu however appealed to Nigerians to make their contributions at the various public hearing, through the media, and other opportunities that will come their way with every sense of decorum and respect for the views and sensibilities of other Nigerians, especially the political elites, to subordinate every sectional, ethnic, personal, and narrow group interest to national interest.
He said “All clannish tendencies, grandstanding, and posturing must give way for the bigger picture of the health, peace, unity, and prosperity of our nation state. Inflammatory statements and unfounded imputation of motives will only envenom the process and make consensus building difficult, if not impossible.
“We must all be willing to give and also to take. More also, even that which we may be tempted to clutch tightly as our personal, group, sectional, and institutional advantages may not necessarily guarantee our happiness and prosperity because the peace and prosperity of a part can best be guaranteed by the peace and prosperity of the whole. Equity and justice are the parents of peace and unity, just as peace and unity are the springboards of lasting prosperity.
He assured Nigerians that the members of the Committee, and indeed the National Assembly are united and resolved from the outset to handle this onerous task with open minds and with our eyes focused on democratic growth, national interest, and posterity.
The joint committee chairman reiterated that, “we will not be intimidated by any form of subtle or outright threats or blackmail. While we will endeavour to always guide the debate, providing valuable and correct information that would assist Nigerians make the right decisions of their own freewill on all the issues at stake, we will not join issues with anyone or group that may want to deliberately distract or inflame the whole process.
We will not fear to legislate for the good of our country, just as we will never legislate in fear. Nigeria is bigger than every one individual.
Senate President, David Mark who declared the public hearing open noted that in reviewing the 1999 Constitution, “the National Assembly will hold certain fundamental ideals sacrosanct, and will also resist any attempt to erode them.
His words: “Any Constitution worth its salt must guarantee periodic elections, fundamental rights, a system of checks and balances, the principle of separation of powers, a vibrant legislature, a dynamic Executive, an Independent Judiciary, and a free Press.
“We will therefore work to deepen these fundamental principles, and to strengthen the institutions which guarantee them. Legitimacy will be restored to the ground norm if all these can be accomplished on the basis of the contributions which you will make here today, as well as other contributions generated from Nigerians in the process of Constitution review”.
The Senate President emphasized that without the cooperation of stakeholders including the 36 Houses of Assembly, it would be impossible to amend the constitution.
He said “the success of the exercise therefore requires the participation, commitment and co-operation of other key stakeholders who must be carried along. These include the Houses of Assembly of the States, the Federal and State governments, and the general public”.
“Meanwhile, the zonal public hearing fixed for November 11th and 12th would ensure that the whole exercise is taken as closer to our people as possible to enable them make inputs.
“Consequently, while memoranda and presentations for and against state creation are welcome at this National Public Hearing, all memoranda and presentation proposing State creation will be taken at the Public Hearing in the zones.
“This is because issues that directly affect people from a particular area, such as state creation, are better handled at the zones”.
Most Nigerians including the Inspector General of Police, Olisa Agbakoba, Mike
Ozekhome, Director-General of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Minister of Women Affairs among others were at the session.
Olisa Agbakoba in his paper presented to the committee said the problem with Nigeria is that it has not been able to manage its structural diversity properly, noting that, “We need to see massive devolution of power from the exclusive list to the concurrent and residual lists.
“For Nigeria to get it right, we have to agree that centralizing legislative, judicial and legislative just can not work. We have so much centralization of power in one central government at Abuja, we can only get things right by massive devolution of power.
The Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, who was represented by David Abua, CSP, submitted that government is meant for the security and welfare of the people.
He however identified lack of funding for agitation for state police, but quick to add that, “It will not be in the interest of the country to have state police. I don’t think that for now, we are politically mature to have state police, it will not be in the interest of us all to go ahead with state police”
Chibudo Nwuche called for the return to a regional government and return to 7 to 8 years of single tenure, while he also clamour for parliamentary system in the area of legislative arm of government.
Among the senators who also spoke at the International Conference Center, venue of the public hearing include Ayogu Eze, Ita Enang, Nkechi Nwogu who all kicked against the regional legislature saying it is not practicable in the country.
Ita Enang said, “No chamber of the present National Assembly will be ready to forfeit its own chamber, to amend constitution in this regard, the two chambers must agree, no chamber will be ready to step down for another, we have to look at the practicability and implementability”
Mike ozekhome (SAN) kicked against the continuous sustaining of the two chambers of the National Assembly describing the bi-camera as wasteful, unproductive and unnecessary.
“Look at 109 and 360 members of both the Upper and Lower chambers of the National Assembly, what has been their efforts to move the country forward, their existence is only a waste of public funds, it is advisable to have uni-camera system of the legislative arm”