Reps promise Nigerians workable constitution, as Speaker inaugurates Constitution Review Special Committee
The leadership of the House of Representatives on Thursday assured Nigerians that the House is determined to come up with a constitution that would address most of the current challenges facing the country as a Nation, lamenting that things were not rosy for the country as a federation, while Nigerians pretend that things are all right.
Both the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila and his Deputy, Rep. Idris Wase gave the assurance during the inauguration of a Special Committee on Constitution Review of the House.
The Speaker charged the Committee being chaired by the Deputy Speaker to engage as many voices as possible in the course of its work adding that the Committee should also consider the expectations of different interest groups among Nigerians.
According to him, “Mr Chairman, Honourable Members of this Committee, I do not envy the enormous amount of work you have in front of you. However, I know you have an abundant capacity to execute this important assignment and deliver on our joint commitments to the Nigerian people.
“I encourage you during this assignment to seek out and listen to as many voices as possible. Engage with as many interest groups as possible, reject misinformation, document the stories of our people, consider their expectations
“Let the work you do demonstrate that this House of Representatives is fully capable of reflecting the most urgent concerns of the Nigerian people and acting in their best interests. I am confident that you will act judiciously and produce for the consideration of the House of Representatives, a quality report we can implement expeditiously,” he said.
The Speaker said the House is commencing the “constitutional review process at a time of great and ongoing upheaval in our country.
According to him, “New challenges emerge daily from every corner. Some of these challenges are of our own making, and others, we could not have foreseen or been prepared for.
“Whichever may be the case, the Nigerian people look up to us as a government to proffer solutions that work, to do the heavy lifting of writing a new constitution, one better suited to our current aspirations and reflecting our vision of the future.”
He said when the House updated its Legislative Agenda two months ago, one thing that was made abundantly clear during the preparation of the document was that “the answer to many of our development questions lies in the pages of a new Nigerian constitution.”
“When you ask me what the state of our nation is, the honest answer is this: we are in a fight for the very survival of our country and the continuation of the Nigerian project. Recent global developments have exposed all our systemic weaknesses so that we can no longer pretend to ourselves that things are on an even keel and slow progress is enough to get us to where we ought to be yet are still so far away from.
“This 9th House of Representatives has since committed to the cause of reform. Our commitment must neither waver nor wane on the matter of thoughtful and fair overhaul of our nation’s constitution.
“The reality of our current circumstances and the now certain knowledge that only we can save ourselves imposes on us an obligation to act with greater determination and all the urgency this moment calls for,” he stated
While noting that “the ongoing evolution of our nation’s democracy requires of us that we continually review and update the rules of our engagement,” Gbajabiamila said, “Every election season exposes significant gaps in the process that if left unaddressed, threaten our democracy.”
For this, the Speaker noted, the House would, through the constitution review process, ensure electoral reforms that would address the challenges in the electoral system.
According to him, “Electoral reforms are not a party-political issue, they are a matter of loyalty to an ideal that is greater than the party to which one belongs to, or the personal ambitions we may each hold
“Electoral reforms are a matter of our nation’s future, and the process of setting out systems and protocols for managing how we choose our leaders and representatives begins with the Constitution. We must keep this in mind as we begin this process.”
Speaking on the #EndSARS protests going on for over a week in parts of the country, the Speaker said: “In addition to whatever other changes that may be caused by these protests, they have exposed the stinking underbelly of our nation’s policing system.”
With that, he said, “We now understand better why our federal police are often unable to effectively respond to the localised manifestations of insecurity across the different parts of our country.
“The simple truth is that we have a police that doesn’t have the trust of the people, and a policing system that doesn’t make for productive partnerships between the police and the communities they serve. However, for those of us who are out there, we must be careful not to lose the plot.
“The Inspector-General of Police has heard you and he has spoken. The House has spoken, even before now, and continues to speak. The President has been unequivocal and spoke clearly. It is now time to sit back and see what happens.
“I believe the Hand of God is on this Nation. The point has been made, and the Government in all its layers has responded. Let us sit back and see if the Government does what it has committed to do. Which I have all assurances, and as your Speaker I pass these assurances on to you.
“Honourable colleagues, overcoming our overwhelming national security challenges now requires of us all that we be willing to accept new approaches and consider novel ideas. Neither the security institutions nor political leaders can afford to hold on too tightly to a status quo whose frustrating limitations are painfully evident, whilst reflexively rejecting innovations that may improve our fortunes if properly implemented.”
On his part, the Deputy Speaker who is also the Chairman of the Special Adhoc committee said “despite the fact that Nigeria pride herself as a federal state, it is sadly evident that is far from what Federalism entails.
“Some have stated that our Federal system is more Unitary than Federalist especially with the number of items on the Exclusive Legislative List where the Federal Government regulates even simple items like Primary Education and Agriculture. Hence, there has been a clamour for more devolution of powers from the Centre to the States in order to make States more viable and economically sustainable.”
Rep. Wase said even though the current state structure in the country has attracted lots of commentaries, “It is pertinent to note that the current 36 states of our Federation were created via Military Decrees. Hence the true wishes and aspirations of the people were never considered in such creations.
“There is a need, therefore to examine the subject of State Creation (and the associated Constitutional rigours and difficulties surrounding it) in such manner as to reflect the wishes and aspirations of homogenous people in a democratic system”.
He said further that the issue of federating units, local government autonomy, judicial autonomy and the issue of state police will also form part of the deliberations by the ad-hoc committee, saying “ordinarily, Local Government is supposed to be the third tier of government. As a third-tier government, all local governments are supposed to be Independent, However, we have not seen such independence in a long time.
“Arguably, the framers of the 1999 Constitution, created a worrisome situation by giving validity to the existence of 3.162 (6) which prescribes the “State and Local Government lath Account”.
“Many advocates have stated that we may not be able to see true development at the grassroots level comprising the mass at of our population until we review the Constitution to give clear and unambiguous autonomy to local governments.
“Of recent the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) tried to intervene in the monitoring of the use of Local Government Funds by State Governments by issuing a Policy Directive meant to enthrone transparency and accountability in the use of Local Government Funds.
“There have been several debates on whether the NFIU has the legal and institutional mandate to carry out such supervision and monitoring. However, we believe a Constitutional amendment that will harmonise various concerns and positions on this issue will go a long way in restoring confidence in our Federal System.”
He stressed that the issue of state police is one critical thematic area of the Constitution that has drawn much debate. While internal security is of paramount importance, the concentration of the Power of the Police at the Central Government has created several policing challenges at the states.
According to him, “While some have advocated for the creation of state Police, others have expressed worry on the possible abuse of such power by State Governors. However, one thing that is clear is the need for us to take a second look at our Internal Security superstructure in order to make it work for our people and protect their lives and properties”.
Speaking on judicial autonomy, Wase said “the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) guarantees the independence of the Judiciary in the Country including State Courts. Unfortunately, State Courts (Judiciary) in Nigeria and of course legislatures have over the years relied on the Executive for their funding. This I clearly antithetical to the principle of separation of powers as guaranteed under the Constitution.
“It was, therefore, a huge relief when President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the Executive Order No. 10 of 2020 for the implementation of Financial Autonomy of State Legislature and State Judiciary and for Other Related Matters pursuant to Section 5 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). This is indeed a commendable effort by the President, thus there is a need for a review of this aspect in order to give it the necessary Constitutional backing”.
He disclosed that over 15 bills bothering on the alteration of the constitution has already been referred to the Committee by the House and sought the cooperation of Nigerians to achieve the desired amendment in record