Former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Alfa Belgore
By Tobi Soniyi and Mohammed Bello
The Presidential Committee on the Review Outstanding Issues on Recent Constitutional Conferences headed by a former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Alfa Belgore, is pushing for an amendment to the 1999 Constitution that will confer the rights on Nigerians to compel government to provide health care, housing and education.
If the amendments pass, Nigeria will join the league of welfare states like South Africa and countries in Europe where citizens can enforce socio-economic rights.
Under the present regime, these rights are contained in Chapter 11 of the constitution titled Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy and are not justifiable.
The implication is that should government fail to provide the social services, Nigerians do not have the right to invoke the courts to find the government liable.
But in the executive summary of its recommendations, which was obtained exclusively by THISDAY, the Belgore committee has recommended that these rights be merged with the fundamental human rights contained in Chapter 1V which are enforceable.
Section 16(2)(d) of the Constitution which falls under the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy states: “The state shall direct its policy towards ensuring that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, a reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and persons, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens.”
Similarly, Section 17(3)(d) provides: “The state shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are adequate medical and health facilities for all persons.”
Section 18 states that “government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate education opportunities at all levels.”
As lofty as these objectives are, the constitution in Section 6(6) provides: “The judicial powers vested in accordance with the foregoing provisions of this section shall not, except as otherwise provided by this constitution, extend to any issue or question as to whether any act or omission by any authority or person or as to whether any law or any judicial decision is in conformity with the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of States Policy set out in Chapter 11 of this Constitution.”
The Belgore committee is recommending that these rights be taken out of Chapter II and taking to Chapter IV which contain enforceable rights.
It states: “The committee adopted the recommendation of the 2005 Conference that the Fundamental Human Rights in chapters II and IV of the 1999 Constitution should be merged, where possible and should be made enforceable.
“It further decided that aspects of Chapter 11, which underscore the fundamental objectives of the constitution, should be transferred to the general provisions whilst those that aggregate rights should be transferred to Chapter IV.”
The committee also recommended that the forcible take-over of government should be outlawed. It stated, “The committee recommends that forcible take over or suspension of government shall be illegal. Every Nigerian should have an obligation to defend the constitution and resist overthrow of government.”
To forestall what happened in Kano when Pfizer, a pharmaceutical company used Nigerians to test its drugs without informing the victims of the purpose for which the drug was administered, the committee has recommended that the right to personal liberty be expanded to ensure that Nigerians are not subjected to medial or scientific experiments without their informed consent.”
In order to tackle discrimination in the society, the committee suggested that an Equal Opportunities Commission be created to replace the Federal Character Commission.
According to the committee, this will ensure that, besides geographical and ethnic balancing, the rights of women and persons with disability are respected and represented.
The committee also recommended that the monopoly of the Federal Government on railways be broken. In this regard, the committee has recommended that railways be moved from Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent List to enable both states and the Federal Government make laws on railways.
The committee advised that prisons should also be removed from the exclusive list and transferred to the concurrent list to enable states build prisons.
Other items that were recommended for transfer to the concurrent legislative list are: commercial and industrial monopolies, combines and trusts. On this, the committee stated that item 10 of the exclusive list be merged with item 19 and amended to read “commercial and industrial monopolies, combines, trusts, and designation of securities, in which trust funds may be invested” and be moved to concurrent legislative list.
Designation of securities in which trust may be invested; item 19 is merged with item 10, and amended to read, “Commercial and industrial monopolies, combines and designation of securities in which trust fund may be invested” and moved to the concurrent legislative list.