Policy & Execution By Emeka Ihedioha
On Saturday, November 10, 2012, 360 members of the House of Representatives relocated to their constituencies and participated in the Peoples’ Public Sessions on the review of the 1999 Constitution. These town hall meetings involved constituents, representatives of civil society organisations and stakeholders to deliberate on a 43-item template that articulated all of the issues, views and memoranda submitted by Nigerians on issues they would like to see amended in the constitution of Nigeria. The guidelines that guided the sessions also gave room for further issues not contained in the template to be discussed and reported on.
Regrettably, the presentation of the collated results of the sessions earlier scheduled to hold on January 31, 2013, was postponed to ensure that more time was given to members to verify that the results reflected the voting in their various constituencies. Let me assure all Nigerians that the results that have been presented yesterday, April 18th, 2013 have been painstakingly collated, verified and its integrity can be fully assured.
From the report made available to the House, the sessions across the 360 Federal Constituencies of Nigeria were all very well attended by ordinary Nigerians and also by representatives of Labour, the Nigerian Bar Association and other professional organisations, Nigerian Union of Teachers, pro-democracy and civil society organisations, youths and students groups, women groups, special interests groups and indeed, the plurality of interests in the constituencies such as artisans, journalists, religious groups, town unions and associations.
Deliberations at each of these sessions were free, robust, and participatory. Nigerians got the opportunity to say their minds and air their views. The issues that were captured in the template included proposals for constitution amendment with respect to: Recognition of the Six zonal structure; issues with respect to states creation; the structure, funding and creation of local governments; residency, citizenship and the indigeneship question; justiciability of economic and social rights; fiscal provisions; separation of office of accountant general of the whole federation and Accountant General of the Federal Government; separation of office of Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice; process of sending the revenue allocation formula to National Assembly; independence of state legislature; amendments to the Exclusive Legislative List; fiscal federalism; abolition of state electoral commissions; immunity clause; state police question; zoning and power sharing; term of office of governors and president whether single term of five, six or seven years or a renewable term of four years; independent candidacy; voting age; improved women representation; disability rights; Diaspora voting; single national chamber legislature; presidential or parliamentary system; role for traditional rulers; judicial reforms; further electoral reforms; etc.
At the end of deliberations, participants in the sessions voted, and their votes were recorded in the full view and participation of all. It should be noted that throughout the conduct of the sessions, including voting, each member of the House of Representatives participated like everybody else and operated under strict guidelines that allowed for a reflection of unhindered participation, contribution and voting by all.
The guidelines had indicated that members from each constituency were only to facilitate the process and allow for the steering committee in each constituency to conduct the sessions. I am pleased to report that the feedback we got from the sessions indicates that this process was largely complied with.
At the end of the sessions in the constituencies, it was required that each member present the report and results of voting from the constituencies to the secretariat of the ad hoc committee on the review of the constitution including video evidence of the proceedings. As was widely reported in the media, the Speaker, Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, and the leadership of the House led other members at a televised event to begin submission of their reports. All of the results obtained were deposited at the secretariat of the Constitution Review Committee. The committee invited the representatives of the hitherto mentioned civil society groups and stakeholders to join with the secretariat of the committee to begin collation of the results.
The results which emanated from that process can be said categorically to be the voice of the Nigerian people who have expressed their views on what changes they would like to see in any amendment being made to the national legal grundnorm – the constitution of Nigeria. The results represent the collated views and decisions of Nigerians living in the various constituencies in the remotest nooks and crannies of Nigeria. The collated results are not the view of the Speaker, Deputy Speaker or leadership of the House of Representatives. It is also not the views of the House of Representatives as an institution. It is the collective response of Nigerians to the questions posed in the templates.
This process may not be perfect, but I dare say, that it is the first time in the history of this country that Nigerians at the grassroots have been made part of the Constitution Review Process in a practical and transparent manner. We promised Nigerians that we shall be transparent and accountable. Indeed we made a commitment to do things differently in our legislative agenda, unveiled at the beginning of the 7th House of Representatives. The public presentation of the results yesterday is a fulfilment of this commitment and promise.
Now, not everyone may agree with the decisions of Nigerians on these questions. Some may even have doubts on the practicability and efficacy of the decisions. But yesterday at the presentation, our duty was a simple one: to present the response of Nigerians on the various issues, without doctoring or any form of tinkering or manipulation. We are grateful to Nigerians for wholeheartedly participating and contributing to the success of that historic event. We have responded as best as we can within the limits of the constitutional and legal framework to the demands of Nigerians for greater voice and involvement in the constitution amendment process.
Going forward, the House Committee on the Review of the Constitution, in harmony with its Senate counterpart will begin the legislative work required to amend the constitution. This will involve drafting of relevant bills, processing of the bills, harmonisation of the bills with the Senate and voting on each bill. A cursory look at S. 9 of the Nigerian Constitution will show that for each proposal to be amended, two-thirds of members of the House and Senate must agree. Thereafter, two-thirds of the 36 state Houses of Assembly in the Federation must support each proposal.
Then the National Assembly will approve the voting done by the states before the amendment can take place.
I have listed these procedures and processes to remind Nigerians that the process of amendment does not end with the people’s public sessions and the voting on the templates. Nigerians should continue to follow the process of amendment and be vigilant to ensure that their voices are reflected in the final amendments that are made. But because the collation process was done by human beings, it is not impossible that one or two mistakes may have been made. Wherever such mistakes are detected, effort would be made to promptly correct same.
As we conclude this phase of the Constitution Review Process, I want to once again extend my appreciation and place on record the great support and active collaboration of the professional associations, civil society organisations and trade unions that sent representatives to both the peoples public sessions and the collation process. To our development partners especially the British Department for International Development (DFID) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)/DGD, we thank you for your continued support.
Finally, the committee which I chair owes a debt of gratitude to the Speaker of the House of Representatives for his wonderful leadership. To my colleagues in the House of Representatives, I thank you. I cannot forget our team of dedicated consultants and the media for the partnership with us throughout this process. Indeed all Nigerians must share in the success of the effort so far.
* Ihedioha, Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, delivered this paper in Abuja