From Stanley Uzoaru, George Onyejiuwa Owerri
The public hearing on the review of the 1999 Constitution which kicked off yesterday in Imo State was dominated by the popular agitations of the people on State policing and creation of another States in South east as seen in their submission of memorandum.
Chief of Staff to Abia State government, ACB Agbazuari while submitting his memorandum noted that State police will strengthen the peaceful coexistence in the southeast and check security challenges.
He urged members of the senate committee review to look into their submission in view of granting their request.
Similarly,Chief Theo Okire who represented Aba Mass Movement submitted that an additional States should be created in the South east particularly he pointed out in Abia, to have Aba State.
According to him, if additional States are created in the South east, it would bring an even political atmosphere and less marginalisation in the zone.
Other memoranda submitted are calls on gender equity,revenue allocation system ,youth empowerment in politics,maintaining standards in professions in the country and accordance of constitutional roles to traditional institutions.
Earlier in his opening remarks at the occasion,deputy senate president and chairman of the senate committee on 1999 constitution review, senator Ovie Omo – Agege who was represented by the Chief whip of the senate and South east chairman of the constitution review, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, recalled that at the beginning of the 9th senate,the legislators had set a legislative agenda for themselves on which they are to be assessed.
Some of the agendas like judicial and electoral reforms,Local Government Autonomy and devolution of powers he highlighted that if scaled through constitutional processes of alteration,the country’s democracy will be on the right pedestal which he added will make Nigeria take its pride of place among the constitutional democracies in the world.
While commending members of the committee on their assignment , he affirmed that even if the country is not where it has aspired to be the process presently taken is an important feat.
“This is an important feat and we commend ourselves as a country,even if we are not where we aspire to be . As a living document ,the constitution,and a large extent our constitutional democracy need to be reviewed from time to time,just as in our day to day lives ,we take stock of the past and plan for the future.” Kalu said.
However explaining further on the need for the exercise, Kalu said “Since return to constitutional democracy in 1999,many have argued that the 1999 constitution is not a people’s constitution. In other words ,it has been argued that it was written and forced down on us by the military without any input from ” We,the people”.
“There are developmental challenges in our country. Many argue that these challenges are due to several factors, which include history,culture ,natural endowments and politics. We have a compelling duty to carefully address every challenges to this nation and there is no better way to do it than through this constitution amendment exercise.” Kalu explained.
Meanwhile, in his own speech, governor Hope Uzodimma asserted that the South east popular agitations and Nigeria as a whole could be addressed by the constitutional amendment.
According to the governor “This exercise today is yet another opportunity for those of us from Imo and Abia states to make our inputs on the amendments we seek in the country’s constitution. It offers another opportunity for us to continue to work out an acceptable constitution that would address the concerns of the majority of Nigerians in general and Ndigbo in particular.
“For us the people of the South East, there could not have been a more auspicious occasion than now for us to ventilate those issues that have been bothering us for some time especially in the recent past. While I am aware that Ohanaeze Ndigbo under the able leadership of Prof George Obiozor has articulated the position of the people of the South East for this committee, every other persons or groups are also free to do the same.
“What are the constitutional issues that agitate our minds: Rotational Presidency, State police, Indigenship in a state after 10 years of residency, Devolution of more powers to the states, Resource control, ,and many more. All these issues can be resolved through constitutional amendments. This is the unique opportunity this public hearing offers to our people.
“For us as leaders in the South East, we have been canvassing a more equitable way of meeting the desires of our people. We may not have been confrontational about it, but certainly, we have not been complacent.
“While some people glory in politicising both the economic and security situation in the South East, our duty has been to douse tension for we truly understand the pains of our people. For those who through ignorance or pettiness have castigated us unjustly, we forgive you. That precisely is the burden of leadership on our part.”
Uzodimma who also seized the opportunity to warn his detractors said “Let me, however, use this auspicious opportunity to tell these alarmists and pretenders to love of Ndigbo, that they are not more Igbo than I am and they do not love Igbos more than I do.
” The difference is that while they want immediate and sentimental public applause, I want enduring prescriptions that can comprehensively address the Igbo challenge in Nigeria.
“For us as true leaders, genuinely committed to the Igbo question, the question agitating our minds is. What exactly do Igbo seek from Nigeria. Without sounding simplistic, what we seek is justice and equity. When we talk of restructuring or devolution of power, we are talking actually of having an environment created for us to unleash our potential and talent without let or hindrance.
“We are also talking of being treated equally like every other part of Nigeria. More importantly, we are talking of being part of the decision-making process in Nigeria. It means we are not talking of domination or secession.
“In my mind, Ndigbo are better off being part of the larger Nigeria with vast opportunities opened to us than being confined in a separate space with limited opportunity. In every part of Nigeria outside the South East, we form the second largest population.
“As an itinerant group, we move around to expand our economic frontiers. As citizens of Nigeria, we are afforded that lease of Life. Our people are suffering harassment in South Africa and Ghana and other countries. Is that what we want to bequeath to our younger generation if in a hastily contrived indignation, we abandon our heritage in Nigeria?
“So my dearest brothers and sisters, we need Nigeria just as Nigeria needs us. Whatever be our grievances against the system, we have a golden opportunity to seek redress under the upcoming constitutional review. What we seek is justice and equity for our people to thrive. And for that, we owe nobody any apology. But we cannot achieve it through violence or threat of secession. It is through an avenue like this that we put forward our request and follows it through.
“I, therefore, appeal to our youths to listen to the voice of reason. What an old man sees sitting, a child cannot see even if he climbs an iroko tree. Let us toe the path of peace. All shall be well. If we remain firmly committed to the unity of Nigeria we shall get all we seek.” Uzodimma advised.
Notable among those present at the occasion are senator Enyinaya Abaribe,senator Theodore Orji, senator Frank Ibezim and princess Marian Onnuoha.