The Senate said yesterday it cannot give Nigeria a brand new constitution, as demanded by some socio-political and cultural organisations in the country, saying the best it could do was to amend the existing one as it was currently doing.
It will be recalled that the Southern and Middle Belt Forum had repeatedly argued that the National Assembly was wasting its time amending the present constitution, contending that what the country needs is a new constitution written by the people.
‘NASS has no powers to issue new constitution’But speaking yesterday at the opening of a two- day National Public Hearing on the further Alteration to the Provisions of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, in Abuja yesterday, Deputy President of the Senate and Chairman, Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, Senator Ovie Omo- Agege (APC, Delta Central), said though the Senate respects the opinion of some persons who want a new constitution, a section of the constitution does not give the National Assembly the powers to produce a brand new constitution.
Omo-Agege, who assured Nigerians that the committee would be guided strictly by best legislative practices, highest ethical standards, integrity, open mindedness, and patriotism, however, implored every one, irrespective of political leanings and other affiliations, to abide by the same standards in their contributions.
Omo-Agege said he is of the strong conviction that it is the desire of every Nigerian that the ongoing process produce positive transformations to our country, adding that all hands should be on deck to enable the 9th National Assembly bequeath to the country a constitution that speaks to every citizen’s yearnings and aspirations.
He said: “Now, some of our compatriots have urged that rather than amend the constitution, we should make a new constitution all together.
We respect this opinion, and we believe it is a most desirable proposition. “However, we are conducting this exercise in accordance with the extant legal order, which is the 1999 Constitution. Specifically, Section 9 of the constitution empowers the National Assembly to alter the provisions of the constitution and prescribes the manner in which it is to be done.
“Unfortunately, it does not make similar provision or provide mechanism for replacing or re-writing an entirely new constitution.
To embark on any process without prior alteration of Section 9 of the constitution to provide the mode through which an entirely new constitution could be made, will amount to gross violation of our oath of allegiance to the constitution.
‘Fresh amendment needed for new constitution’ In other words, it will take a new constitutional amendment to be able to give Nigerians a most desired new constitution. It would be unconstitutional to do otherwise.
“Cognisant of the truth that the will of the people is the foundation of any democratic and open society, the Senate places high value on public participation in the law-making process.
And I assure you, this committee is strongly committed to its obligations to facilitate public involvement in the constitution review process. “That is why we have, from the commencement of the process, invited written submissions from citizens, governmental organizations, interest groups, socio-cultural organizations and civil society organisations and subsequently held zonal public hearings.
“Today, this national public hearing is testament to that commitment, and provides another opportunity for citizens to be actively involved by contributing to decisions that will undoubtedly have impact on their lives.
“So far, the committee is immensely impressed with the public response to the constitution amendment exercise, and we are eager to repay the confidence of Nigerians by ensuring that the final product reflects the inputs citizens have made to the process.
“As I have stated repeatedly since inception of this committee, Nigerian citizens are the pillar upon which the committee’s work is anchored, and the success of the amendment process will largely depend on their beneficent support and partnership.
“In addition to the memoranda the committee has received on a broad range of issues, we have also studied and engaged a select group of competent and non-partisan consultants to further examine specific recommendations from the reports of the 2014 National Conference and the All-Progressives Congress (APC) Committee on True Federalism requiring constitution amendment for implementation.
“The committee has also revisited some of the bills in past constitution amendment exercises which did not pass the hurdles of concurrence with the House of Representatives, ratification by State Houses of Assembly and Presidential assent.
“We have painstakingly re-examined those bills and reintroduced some of the proposals we deem beneficial to our people. We are looking at them to determine at what stage of the process they fell off the list and the reasons thereof, with a view to improving on them to suit the demands of our time and ensuring that they do not suffer the same fate.
“As we work towards an inclusive amendment process underpinned by the public good, free from manipulations by self-interested or partisan actors and not dominated by destructive or short-term motives, I encourage you all to make your inputs with candour and guided very importantly by national interest. We are ready to listen closely to every view and reflect on every proposal and give due consideration to every contribution.”
Abuja’s status triggers strong reactions
At yesterday’s public hearing at the Africa Hall, International Conference Centre, Abuja, the very serious issue of land ownership and stateless status of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, reared its head strongly as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA, Musa Mohammed Bello, and original inhabitants of Abuja disagreed on fundamental issues with regard to the future of Abuja.When it was the turn of the FCTA minister to speak, he was more concerned about having new provisions in the constitution that will clearly demarcate the Federal Capital City for effective administration and prevent constant frictions in its functions and powers with that of the larger Abuja Municipal Councils, especially in the area of tax collection.But the original inhabitants of Abuja in their presentation, called for more access to political power at the centre, with a provision that will guarantee them a ministerial slot.
Abuja indigenes demand own stateLed by their chairman, Dalhatu Ezekiel Musa, the original settlers of Abuja noted that anything short of having their own state would amount to gross injustice against them, adding that while some sections of the country are currently agitating to exit Nigeria, they are pleading to be included.
NLC wants removal of immunity clauses
In its presentation to the committee, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, which made a strong case for removal of immunity clause for elected public office holders on criminal cases, said the minimum wage should be retained on exclusive list.
The NLC, which threw its weight behind calls for full local government autonomy, independence of the judiciary, and financial autonomy for state legislature, said it was in support of electronic and diaspora voting, as well as pension on the exclusive legislative list.
CAN lists demands
On its part, the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, called for proper definition of an indigene and residency, creation of new states like Sourthern Kaduna/ Kataf/ Gurara, Adada State from present Enugu State, Cross River North State, Okun State, Okigwe State, Oke- Ogun, among others, for administrative impartment and governmental dividends, independence of the Judiciary.
According to CAN, the secularity of Nigeria must be maintained and there must be the removal of any religious provisions or if need be, insert also constitutional provisions for Ecclesiastical Courts.It added that there should be devolution and decentralisation of power and governance system through formal introduction of geo-political zones and regions with clearly assigned roles.
No of appeals to S-Court rising — CJN
In his goodwill message, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammed, noted that the number of cases on appeal to the Supreme Court had kept rising, stressing that there was the need for outdated laws to be amended in order to reflect the present day reality.
He said: “The National Assembly has successfully reviewed/amended the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) (the Constitution) vide the First, Second, Third and Fourth Alteration Acts. I am happy that the National Assembly is embarking on another round of review of the constitution.“All public and private institutions and well-meaning Nigerians should contribute to this important national assignment.
I understand that the public hearing already took place at various zones across the country.
“The exercise is, therefore, being rounded up with this national public hearing in the nation’s capital. To us in the judiciary, charged with the constitutional duty of interpreting the constitution and giving effect to its provisions and other laws of the land.
‘’We see this exercise as a golden opportunity. The Judiciary, as a mechanism for resolution of dispute, is an essential and indispensable institution in any human society.
The indispensability of courts manifests even in regimes that are not democratic (such as military regimes).
“In Nigeria, the Court system has made immense contribution in stabilizing not only democratic governance but also political, economic, social and all important human endeavors.
“In the course of discharging its duties, the Judiciary is faced with daunting challenges. The position of the Judiciary as one of the institutions that serve as pillars on which democracy and good governance rest, underscores the need for all stake holders in the sphere of governance to ensure that we have a robust system of administration of justice.
“The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Sections 232 and 233 of the Constitution is very wide. Our population also keeps on growing.
Moreover, Nigerians guard and protect their rights jealously. The implication of all these is that the number of cases in our courts, which go on appeal to the Supreme Court keeps on rising.
“This situation makes the workload on the Justices too much and accounts for cases pending for fairly long time. There is an instance where a case lasted for over 30 years from the trial court to the Supreme Court. It is only a litigant that God has given long life that can survive such a protracted litigation.’’