The Senate recently inaugurated a committee headed by the Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo- Agege, to review the 1999 Nigerian Constitution. The areas the review exercise will focus include state creation, federal structure and devolution of power, fiscal federalism, police, security architecture, electoral reforms, indigeneship/residency, immunity and others. During the inauguration, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, charged the 56- member committee to “give Nigerians a constitution that will enhance stability, unity and enabling environment that will afford every Nigerian the opportunity to actualise his or her dreams without let or hindrance.” He advised Nigerians seeking alterations of any of the provisions of the 1999 Constitution to submit memoranda to the committee.
So far, about 68 submissions have been received from groups and individuals and the date has, however, been extended to September 18, 2020, to allow more people to do so.
This is not the first time the Senate will embark in this kind of exercise. However, all efforts to give Nigerians the desired constitution, either by the military or civilians, have not been successful. Nigerians therefore expect the current exercise to be thorough and comprehensive to meet their needs and aspirations. Therefore, the citizenry expect that the forthcoming review of the 1999 Constitution, as amemded, will address the numerous challenges facing the country.
One of the arguments against the extant constitution is that Nigerians were not privy to its making and existence. To the critics of the constitution, it was a product of the last military regime before the emergence of the present political dispensation in 1999, without the input of the Nigerian people. Attempts to correct its flaws through constitution conferences by former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan were not successful because of accusations of pre-determined ends or hidden agenda. Some of the alterations carried out so far by the lawmakers, which gulped billions of naira, unfortunately, were not tailored to end the myriads of problems confronting the nation. Since no constitution is perfect, the new review is an opportunity to correct the noticeable flaws in it.
To get a people-oriented constitution demands commitment and tenacity of purpose by all and sundry. The exercise requires rigour, wisdom and sacrifice. Recent judicial decisions have shown that there is urgent need to instill confidence in the electoral system and this is why the Justice Mohammed Uwais Committee Report on Electoral Reforms of 2007, which was never fully implemented, should be revisited by the committee. We also urge the committee to be patriotic and diligent in carrying out the exercise. Apart from reviewing the focal areas listed for them, they should endeavour to reduce the items in the exclusive legislative list put at 168.
Beyond the first, second and third alterations to the 1999 Constitution enacted during the sixth Assembly (2007-2011), significant amendments have not been made since then. The seventh Assembly (2011 -2015) undertook a constitution review process, but it ran into a logjam despite the huge amount of money spent in the exercise. The new constitution review committee should also take note why previous exercises did not succeed. The committee should consider the approach by the 8th National Assembly which opted for piecemeal approach to alteration in order to avoid the bloc rejection of amendment proposals by the executive.
Besides, the committee should be conscious of the hopes and aspirations of Nigerians in carrying out the onerous assignment. We also enjoin the committee to revisit the recommendations of the 2014 Constitutional Conference and others which are considered far-reaching enough in its deliberations. Some of the critics of the current review are of the view that some of the problems afflicting the nation have been discussed and solutions proffered in some of their recommendations. Let them incorporate some of those recommendations in their review.
We believe that the success of the exercise will pave way for a united and stable Nigeria. The capacity of the committee to deliver on this assignment is not in doubt. It is hoped that the growing agitations for state creation, fiscal federalism, devolution of powers and others will be resolved through the exercise.