Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu
In a bid to produce a truly people’s constitution for the country, the National Assembly is moving to boost popular participation in the ongoing constitution amendment process through robust public hearings.
Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu confirmed this weekend, as he disclosed that the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution would hold its public hearing from the second week of next month at the national level before moving to the zones.
With the key thematic areas now established following the submission of memoranda by members of the public and the retreats of the two chambers of the bi-cameral legislature, Ekweremadu said the lawmakers had begun to engage the issues at an accelerated pace.
“All things being equal, the national public hearing will hold on 11th, 12th and 13th of October, while the zonal hearing comes up on 25th, 26th and 27th,” the deputy senate president told THISDAY.
“In fact, we are taking the issue of participation very seriously. Our lawmakers will go to their constituencies to mobilise and educate their people. We will hold phone-in radio programmes in most and possibly all the states where members will sit in the studio to engage the public in our indigenous languages.”
Ekweremadu said the public hearings, which would hold in Abuja and in the six geopolitical zones are meant to extract more inputs from the citizens.
He reiterated that the constitution review exercise would be concluded by July next year, “so it doesn’t get choked with the politics of 2015.”
He said the Senate constitution review committee had so far received 220 memoranda, some of which were inherited from the sixth Senate, spread across 16 major themes, with state police, fiscal federalism, and devolution of powers as the most recurring.
Among other key topics, according to him, are local government autonomy, status of the six geopolitical zones in the constitution, rotation of executive offices and removal of the Land Use Act, Code of Conduct and the National Youth Service Corps from the constitution.
Others include the issue of indigene and residency, immunity clause, constitutional role for traditional rulers, and whether or not the Federal Capital Administration should enjoy a mayoral status. Ekweremadu said the committee had received 56 demands for state creation, stressing that the decision on the subject would be based on the principles of equity and viability.
He expressed the desire for more collaboration between the Senate and House of Representatives constitution review committees to save time and cost.
The deputy senate president also spoke on the recent call by the Action Congress of Nigeria National Leader, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, for the scrapping of the Senate.
“It seems he does not understand what informed our having a second chamber of parliament in Nigeria,” Ekweremadu said of Tinubu’s proposal.
“The same reason also informed the presence of the second and upper chamber, the Senate, in the American system. When you have a nation of wide diversities like Nigeria, it is usually necessary to create a chamber of equal representation, unlike what you have in the lower chamber. This is why every state in Nigeria is entitled to three Senators irrespective of its landmass, population or other indices. The same reason also informed the bicameral legislature in Germany, India and Canada.”
Ekweremadu chairs the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, while the House committee is presided over by Deputy Speaker Emeka Ihedioha.
The Senate committee held its retreat in Asaba, Delta State in July while the House committee held its own in Port Harcourt, Rivers State in May.
The retreats were meant to garner expert perspectives on the constitution review exercise and set modalities for the constitution review.