Tasks before lawmakers in review of 1999 Constitution
Monday, 04 June 2012 00:00 From Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Abuja
IT is beginning to emerge that the crucial challenge before the National Assembly in embarking on yet another exercise to review or amend the 1999 Constitution is settling down on the provisions to amend. This became more obvious at the recent retreat held by the House of Representatives’s ad hoc committee on the amendment of the Constitution, in Port Harcourt Rivers State. At the retreat, it became obvious that more issues requiring constitutional alterations are being exposed.
Almost every issue is asking for a review, and this might be laying credence to the call that the 1999 Constitution should be discarded for a new constitution.
The issues that echoed at the retreat, include “true federalism”, security and effective policing, transparency and good governance.
The Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi, who is also the Chairman of Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) dwelt on some contentious aspects of the matter and asked the House ad hoc committee to concern itself with crucial issues. He said the reason the country was drifting towards regionalisation is because of failure of the Constitution, which has centralised power at the detriment of the federating units. He noted that unless the National Assembly enacted a constitution that was truly federal in nature, the issue of constitutional amendment would continue to reoccur.
The governor said Boko Haram was a consequence of the inability of the Nigerian leadership to offer good governance. He lamented that those involved in Boko Haram-related activities were young persons whom, according to him, the ruling class had denied light, schools, water, education, hence their resort to physical violence.
He said: “If you don’t want them to react with physical violence, then you must provide for them free education, water, roads and light. When they are busy in the school, they will not have time to be involved in Boko Haram activities.
“So, if you want to stop insecurity, the first thing to do is to provide for the people’s socio-economic realities: they must have food, water, light, hospitals, etc. If you provide these, the next thing to do is ensure that the states are properly policed.
“Members of the elite are yet to rise above board to know that Nigeria is a nation and that what is important to Nigeria is the interest of Nigeria, not the interest of individuals, who make money to the detriment of Nigeria.”
The communiqué, issued at the end of the 4-day retreat noted that:
* the socio-political objectives under the 1999 Constitution require accountability of political leadership to the citizens thereby necessitating the guarantee of economic and social rights under Chapter II to the citizens either by amendment of Chapter II or by a Bill of Rights;
· there is the need to further examine the Constitutional provisions on immunity as contained in Section 308 of the Constitution;
· the need to guarantee national security and effective policing in Nigeria will necessitate the amendment of Constitutional provisions on national security and policing to redefine the concept of national security to include protection of fundamental rights, as well as substantial reform of the Nigeria Police.
· the principle of federalism adopted by the 1999 Constitution calls for a restructuring of the federal structure to provide for full devolution of powers between the different tiers of government; and
· the system of local government administration instituted by the 1999 Constitution should be reformed to guarantee the autonomy, efficiency and viability of the local government system.
Worried that the Constitution suffers more at the hands of its operators, Amaechi urged the National Assembly to check the excesses of some federal agencies like the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), which he claimed consistently violated the constitution.
The governor wondered: “Why are there agencies that don’t obey the constitution? The constitution says all revenues accruable to the nation must go to the federation account, but because some people are above the constitution, the monies that are accruable to the country are not paid into another account and they say the appropriation laws passed by the National Assembly include a clause that says they can take their money upfront.
“Your law cannot supersede the Constitution. The courts say that your laws cannot override the Constitution, because we derive our existence from the Constitution, and that is what they call the rule of law.” The governor charged the lawmakers to ensure that the oil sector is deregulated, even if it means including it in the Constitution.
An advocate of state police, Amaechi disclosed that the NGF was presently divided on the issue, but urged the National Assembly to give it a thought, even if it means limiting their roles. The governor, appealed to the National Assembly members to help recue Nigerians from the shackles of bad leadership and obnoxious laws that have kept them down for too long.
An optimistic Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal while explaining the intentions behind the amendment said that the National Assembly, in collaboration with the state Houses of Assembly would conclude the exercise by April 2013. Aware of the misconceptions the review of some section were raising, Tambuwal noted for example that the proposed granting of first line charge status to the Houses of Assembly was not aimed at weakening the powers of state governors, rather “it was aimed at capturing the wishes and aspirations of Nigerians in the constitution.”
The Immunity Clause showed why it has remained a recurring issue as far as the amendment of the Constitution is concerned. Following the nationwide concern that those protected by the clause hide behind it to commit crimes, the National Assembly was asked to expunge the immunity clause from the Constitution to make state governors and their deputies, the president and the vice president open to prosecution for criminal offences.
The President of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA , Mr. Joseph Daudu, said, “the pertinent question is whether in the light of proven cases of corruption among some beneficiaries of the immunity clause, it is still of assistance to leave the clause in the constitution unaltered or amended.
“In other words, in the face of brazen corruption and the fleecing of state treasury being perpetrated by some beneficiaries of immunity, there is a clarion call for its abrogation. There is no doubt that some beneficiaries of immunity have engaged in provable criminal acts of chronic rapacity and abuse of power leading to the loss of billions of taxpayers’ money. “
Contrarily, the House Minority Leader, Femi Gbajabamila, pointed out that removal of the clause could spell doom for good governance. The immunity clause he pointed out “ is not absolute because you can be investigated while in office, going by the Supreme Court judgment in Gani Fawehinmi’s case. We should not throw away the good sides of the clause, we should retain the immunity clause.”
Chima Centus Nweze, a Justice of the Court of Appeal in Yola Division, impressed on the lawmakers to alter the constitution “to entrench good governance.” He said that “in the philosophy of development, the idea of good governance would be dependent on a series of questions. They include, to what extent is a government perceived and accepted as legitimate? To what extent is a government committed to improving the public welfare and is responsive to the needs of its citizens? Is the government competent to assure law and order and deliver public services? Is the government able to create an enabling environment for productive activities and is equitable in its conduct?”
On the new calls for state police especially with the growing in some states in the North, a former Inspector-General of Police, Sunday Ehindero, said that the calls for introduction of State Police as an invitation to secession in the country.
According to him, the step would equally lead to the proliferation of ethnic and regional militias. While he expressed fears that the introduction of State police could be abused by state governors, he suggested constant retraining of policemen to update them with modern trends in crime control and security management.
A lecturer at the Bayero University, Kano, Muhammed Auwal Umar harped rather on reforms in the police and listed key challenges to effective policing, which include “poor conditions of service including poor salaries, retirement, equipment and accommodation; limited evidence of strategic approach to policing.”
Meanwhile, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) wants the National Assembly to amend the constitution to enable the introduction of the contentious issue of electronic voting system. The electoral commission’s chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, said that Section 52 of the Constitution, which prohibited electronic voting required immediate amendment. According to him, “while we appreciate the apprehension of Nigerians that electronic machines could be misused, best practices in many parts of the World is that for efficient conduct of elections and timely declaration of results, electronic means offer a solution. Consequently, the commission would like to see an amendment of the law that allows it to determine what form of voting to adopt.”
Also in response to the calls for Nigerians in the Diaspora to be registered to vote at elections, Jega asked the National Assembly to delete section 77(2) and 117(2) of the Constitution, which made residence a requirement for qualification to register to vote.
The commission also urged the lawmakers to make provisions for sanctions against political parties that violated internal democracy and sought a provision in the constitution that would make it easy to deal with electoral offences. Jega believed that strengthening the electoral process requires that the impunity of election offences be curbed. He said that the commission preferred that an Election Offences Tribunal be established for investigating and prosecuting electoral offences.
The retreat might have opened a Pandora’s Box as far as the review of the Constitution is concerned, with input flying in and likely to continue to pour in from every interest seeking the review of particular sections of the Constitution. From hindsight, the House will bring in every input while it amends only what it considers politically expedient.
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