Constitution amendment: stakeholders get mandate on citizen sensitisation

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Constitution amendment: stakeholders get mandate on citizen sensitisation
Oyeleye Abiodun

Constitution amendment is a term that has become a common within the Nigerian society. Indeed, many just use the word without understanding the process and are quick to call for amendment of the constitution as the way to make things right with the country based on the belief that the present constitution is one made by the military and is not suitable for the democratic dispensation existing in the country.

And in response to the continuous clamour for amendment of the constitution to fix the perceived lacuna, the National Assembly embarked on a further amendment to the Constitution to satisfy the yearnings of the people, strengthen good governance and deepen the nation’s democracy and Constitution Amendment Committee led by the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, had done its work and at present, both Houses have passed some of the recommendations proposed and 21 bills seeking the amendment to different sections of the Constitutions have been passed and awaiting transmission to the State Houses of Assembly for their approval.
This is due to the fact that for each item to be successfully amended, it will require a simple majority in at least 24 out of the 36 state Houses of Assembly and the election is about to take place. But to ensure that the state Houses of Assembly vote in line with the wish of the people, the voice of the citizenry must be heard.

But the people whose voice needs to be heard are however showing little interest in the process and experts have expressed worry that the process might be an exercise in futility that will favour only a select few. They argued that the process will be self-service that will only favour the political elites and their interest over the interest of the people.

The issues that will be voted on for amendment includes distributable pool account, local government funding and administration, financial autonomy of state legislatures, membership of council of states, judiciary bill to further strengthen the judiciary for quick dispensation of justice, independent candidacy, Nigerian Police Force name change, consequential amendment on civil defense, immunity for legislators in course of duty, conduct of bye-elections and power to de-register political parties as well as investment and securities tribunal among other issues.

However, people have stated that except the voice of the people becomes part of the amendment, it will be a mere jamboree and steps should be taken to ensure people understand the importance of participating. It is based against this background that the United Kingdom Department for International Development Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn (DFID -PERL), held a consultative forum with media and civil society groups in Ibadan to rub minds with them and chart a court for sensitizing the citizenry.

The forum was aimed at ensuring media and civil society guarantee enlightenment of citizens’ on the ongoing constitutional amendment process by mapping out strategies for citizen sensitization and deepen the already existing relations between the media and civil society to work together on the ongoing constitutional amendment
The reason for apathy was identified and solutions to the problems were highlighted while every participant designed a clear part to volunteer towards the course. Speaking on the issue, Gbenga Ganzallo, the coordinator of Research and Programmes at Women Arise Initiative for Change stated that Nigerians generally don’t see constitutional amendment as any of their business because the many years of undemocratic governance, corruption and non inclusion has impoverished them that they only care about their immediate needs, things that will put food on their table, roof over their heads and job in their hands, adding that the lack of political will on the part of leaders to drive a people-led constitutional amendment also form part of the apathy.

Nigerians act as if it is not their business partly because of ignorance and most importantly because of the lack of trust in the entire process. They do not see how this will put food on their tables or roofs over their heads. Unfortunately, this lack of interest will affect every sphere of their lives and may end up jeopardising their prosperity. If the people are not interested in matters that determine their future, it then means that they have to accept anything the few representatives put together and abide by it,” he stated.

For Abiodun Oladipo, A staff analyst with Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN), most citizens seem unable to connect governments’ actions/inaction to their wellbeing, hence, their total lack of interest in the country’s socio-political issues and most citizens electoral decisions are not based on objective assessment of political officeholders’ efforts at improving his wellbeing during the tenure and not on subjective factors of ethnicity and religion.

“Some are politically conscious but many years of unfulfilled promises by politicians have dampened their hope and killed their interest in socio-political issues. And since constitutional amendment is a socio-political issue, people’s apathy to the process can be explained within the framework of their attitude towards the entire governance process,’ he stated.

This line of thought was supported by Oyeleye Abiodun, the Executive Director of New Initiative for Social development. He stated that the major reason for apathy for constitutional review is that the majority of citizens in Nigeria have lost interest in governance system, in the rule of law and this is a major thing that has affected people participating in constitutional review. “If you look at it, the rule of law, is it really working for them? Is the constitution of Nigeria working for them? The system of governance is another point, poverty everywhere and what people are looking for is people that will solve their problems, put food on their table. With this development where poverty is the major issue in Nigeria that the people want the government to look into and you are now bringing another constitutional review, people will tell you they have not eaten,” he added.

But in spite of the seeming challenges, experts continue to advocate that people look beyond their immediate needs and participate in a system that not only determines their future but that of their children.

“Nigerians must engage and interface with their elected representatives at the federal and state levels on the constitutional amendments and add their voice to the issues that bothers on their well been. We must intensify efforts to educate, inform and sensitise our people on the need to participate in the process and to ventilate their demands/recommendations in an all encompassing manner. Nigerians should begin to discuss and engage political office aspirants more on the issue of constitutional amendment rather than on weird manifestoes and vague political promises. They must be massive awareness at all levels, most especially at the grassroots on all issues of constitutional amendments as it regards the people’s well-being,” Ganzallo advised.

For Abiodun Oladipo, “People need to be educated about governance and government institutions and their inalienable rights to hold the governance system accountable. And the media and civil society organizations (CSOs) have a big role to play in educating the people about their rights and the need to participate in governance process.”
Abiodun Oyeleye stated lack of participation by people is dangerous since a constitutional review by few people will be binding on majority, few people will have their way and the rest will not have their say.

“My advice is that people should ensure that they participate in the ongoing constitutional review because it is an opportunity for them to make their voice heard. The government should use new methods; social media to engage the youths to know their view, to let their voice be heard in the new constitutional amendment process and civil societies should mobilize the people to engage in the process by ensuring that peoples view are collated and submitted to the constituency office of all honourable members within their state so that they can know what the people want them to vote for and against,” he stated.

And as stakeholders continue aggressive sensitization of people, it is hoped that people will learn the importance of getting their voice heard to have an inclusive development.

“The constitution is a guide for how the country will operate its programmes and affairs so if the people do not participate, there will be lack of inclusive development,” Oyeleye concluded.

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