The move by the National Assembly (NASS) to amend the 1999 Constitution began Recently with a two-day public hearing in 10 centres across the six geo-political zones in the country. The reports of the zonal public hearings will be collated and the recommendations will be presented to the National Assembly for further deliberations that will culminate in giving Nigerians a workable constitution.
The Chairman of the National Assembly Committee on Constitution Amendment, Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege, has given assurance of the commitment of the panel to the exercise. He also explained that the review is in line with the legislative agenda of the 9th National Assembly, and an acknowledgment that the 1999 Constitution has many flaws. He is of the view that the exercise will give Nigerians a good constitution.
This is not the first time the federal lawmakers will embark on this type of exercise. Almost all previous NASS did the same thing without much to show for such rituals that cost Nigerians billions of naira and legislative hours.
Our experience in the past 22 years of steady democracy has exposed the flaws in the 1999 Constitution to the extent that many Nigerians regard it as a unitary constitution, which is not suitable in a federal system of government. Due to the inherent flaws in the 1999 Constitution, there have been previous attempts to amend it. Unfortunately, some past efforts to review the constitution did not succeed as the National Assembly wound up without completing the process for reasons not known to Nigerians.
While many Nigerians welcome the exercise, others see it as a waste of tax payers’ money and unnecessary jamboree. Yet, others insist that what the country needs now is a new constitution and not an amendment of the military-fashioned constitution, which was hurriedly put in place before the military handed over power to civilian administration in May 29, 1999.
They hinge their argument that the claim by the framers of the 1999 Constitution that, “we the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria having firmly and solemnly resolved to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign Nation…” is patently false, hence they call for a new constitution.
We have been unequivocal on the need to either amend critical sections of the 1999 Constitution or come up with a new one that will address our current challenges. However, it is worthy to mention that the defunct 1963 Republican Constitution comes closer to addressing some of our present challenges. This may explain why some notable Nigerians are calling for a return to the Republican Constitution. Adopting the 1963 Constitution with slight modifications may help solve some of the identified problems facing the nation.
Arising from the various zonal hearings, it is obvious that most Nigerians are in agreement on the need for power devolution, state police, state creation, review of revenue-sharing formula, power rotation, gender equality, among others. With 68 items on the exclusive legislative list and 30 on the concurrent list in the 1999 Constitution, there is so much power at the centre. This lopsidedness in Nigerian structure has inevitably led to the current leadership failure and monumental wastes at all levels of government.
For instance, under the current revenue-sharing formula, the Federal Government takes 52.68 per cent, while the states get 26.72 per cent, and the 774 local governments get only 20.60 per cent. In other words, the 36 states and 774 local governments get a total of 47.32 per cent. A review of the present revenue-sharing formula in favour of the states has become urgent.
Therefore, we urge the lawmakers to patriotically address the major issues arising from the public hearings in the review of the constitution or in any other constitutional arrangement for the country. They should set aside their party, ethnic and religious differences so that they can give Nigerians a good constitution.
We strongly believe that if the issues are addressed and factored in the constitution, it will guarantee peaceful co-existence among all Nigerians. While the process should not be rushed, it should not be unduly delayed as well. However, it will be good if the process can be concluded before the 2023 general election.