Reviewing the 1999 Constitution

President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, on February 6, announced the setting up of a 56-man committee tagged Steering and Constitution Review Committee to review the 1999 Constitution. The committee comprises the principal officers of the Senate, a senator from each state of the federation and two senators selected by the Upper Chamber as representatives of each of the six geopolitical zones of the country.

The Senate President, while informing the committee members about the modus operandi of the review, told them that they would be doing the bidding of the Nigerian people in performing the exercise. He said: “As for the activities of the committee, you will engage not only members of the National Assembly and other statutory bodies like INEC and civil society groups, but also Nigerians who are interested in the way and manner we do our duties here. Nigerians definitely have interest in the constitution review that the National Assembly will embark upon. There are several issues that Nigerians feel strongly about. The Constitution Review Committee is supposed to be a platform where such issues will be addressed, and where those who are interested should ensure that they make every possible effort, including presentations, for their views to be considered.

That the Senate set up a committee to review the extant constitution is indeed gladsome. The move is evidently in recognition of the importance and urgency of constitutional change. There is no doubting the fact that the existing constitution, the basis of Nigeria’s existence, is severely defective. Since the 1999 Constitution became a document to modulate Nigerians’ relationship with one another, there have been series of complaints about its inability to meet the needs and yearnings of the people. Gaping lacunas have been identified in the document, and the ultimate goal of the new committee should be to give Nigerians a document which would address the contemporary challenges of the Nigerian society.

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Over the last few years, perceived ethnic domination at the federal level has met with loud resistance by opposing nationalities. There are subsisting claims that the government has been foisting an ethnic agenda on the rest of the country. These calls have been articulated in various forms, including the agitation for restructuring, return to regionalism, proper practice of federalism and jettisoning of the 1999 Constitution perceived to be unitarist and pseudo-federal. The point has been made, time and again, that the most apposite model that can cater for a Nigeria with multiple ethnicities, nationalities, cultures, and religions, among other differences, is a federal constitution. Nigeria ideally ought to have a federal constitution under which states are not mere appendages of the centre.

Some of the issues that should engage the attention of the Steering and Constitution Review Committee are the devolution of powers, state police, power (electricity) generation and fiscal federalism/resource control. Since the military struck in 1966, Nigeria has been a poor imitation of the tenets of federalism. It is federal in name but acutely unitarist in practice. The centralised security system that the country practices is a case in point. The Nigerian Police Force suffers seriously from this ill, hence the worsening insecurity in the land. Besides, many states in the country want to generate their own power but are hamstrung by the existing constitution. The National Assembly must therefore approach this assignment with all the seriousness that it deserves. It must not be another junket of frivolities. It must reflect the wishes and aspirations of Nigerians. For instance, the existing revenue sharing formula, a major pillar of injustice and trigger of ethnic animosities, must be dispensed with. The current fiscal practice does not engender productivity. It is unsustainable. It promotes indolence and mediocrity, and stokes the fire of mutual hatred among the various ethnicities in the country. It does not encourage healthy competition, growth and development. In this regard, we urge the committee to adopt the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference.

The National Assembly is pivotal in the quest to bring the country back from the precipice. It may just redeem itself by conscientiously performing this assignment.

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