Senator Ike Ekweremadu
The House of Representatives yesterday commenced its “Peoples Public Sessions” in furtherance of the ongoing review of the 1999 Constitution, saying its preference for the nationwide town hall meetings was the proper thing to do to ensure mass participation in the process.
But the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) raised objections to the procedure. The NBA restated its earlier position requesting the National Assembly to subject the amendments to a referendum and challenged the House to show constitutional foundation for its town hall approach, if as the House claimed, the referendum option had no place in the 1999 Constitution.
On its own part, ASUU said it was in support of the current effort to produce a people-oriented constitution but argued that the piecemeal review of the present constitution would not address the problems of Nigeria.
The union urged the House to evolve a procedure that will usher in an entirely new constitution.
Speaker of the House, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, said the public sessions expected to hold simultaneously in the 360 Federal Constituencies was a novel procedure meant to ensure a more participatory, inclusive and transparent review of the constitution.
This “broad based approach,” Tambuwal said, would be more credible and open to all citizens thereby ensuring popular participation.
“Whereas the House of Representatives is fully conscious of the fact that under Section 4 of the Constitution, the Legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are vested on the National Assembly and that by Section 9 of same, the procedure for altering the constitution is expressly prescribed, we do not lose sight of Section 14 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which encourages the promotion of popular participation by the citizenry in governance.
“It is in the light of this realisation that we have opted for a process which is certainly more cumbersome. The main objective is to inject credibility in the process and by necessary implication the final document and ensure genuine ownership by Nigerians.
“ Accordingly, even though a template has been introduced, we have made it clear that it is a general guide embodying the collation of preponderant issues in the, record over 200, memoranda submitted by members of the public. However, both the categories and quantum of issues that can be introduced into the process remain open. Put differently the template is completely open to adaptation to meet local and extenuating circumstances,” he said.
Tambuwal said with the level of preparation by the House Ad hoc Committee on Constitution Review, the on-going sensitisation and enthusiasm being exhibited by the general public, tomorrow’s public sessions would be a historic and worthwhile outing.
In a direct response to the NBA on the organisation’s position on referendum, TambuwaI acknowledged the various suggestions put forth by other individuals and groups for alternatives, but said the House was convinced of the path it has chosen.
“As an institution, we have sworn to defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This implies that whatever our zeal in responding to public and even popular opinion on issues of critical national importance we must at all times be guided by the spirit and letter of this Constitution. Having said so, permit me to state right away that referendum as a legislative process is not contemplated by the Nigerian Constitution. It (referendum) cannot therefore be an option, being unconstitutional.
“For referendum to be a lawful legislative or even administrative decision making process in any jurisdiction, it must either be expressly prescribed in the constitution of that Legal system, or must have become a constitutional convention by notoriety or a child of necessity arising from constitutional overthrow as in a post revolution situation,” Tambuwal said.
He however said referendum could become a part of the Nigerian legal system by way of constitutional amendment.
The House, Tambuwal said, will be ready to accept a bill proposing the inclusion of referendum in our constitution in the on-going process.
Deputy Speaker of the House and Chairman, House Ad hoc Committee on Constitution Review, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha said the public session became necessary because over the years, the citizens of Nigeria have felt alienated from the process of constitution making.
“For long, our people have seen the Nigerian Constitution as a document of the political elite used in Abuja and the state capitals. The connection of the Nigerian people with their ownership of the constitution have been very tenuous. Knowledge of the constitution have been vague and its content a mystery to Nigerians.
“The present effort of the House of Representatives cannot amount to writing a new constitution. The House is simply amending some sections of the constitution identified by Nigerians as matters for amendment,” Ihedioha said.