National Assembly complex, Abuja
By Muhammad Bello and Dele Ogbodo
The National Assembly will soon get the report of the Justice Alfa Belgore Committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution to help it in the ongoing review of the constitution, President Goodluck Jonathan said Thursday.
Jonathan, at the first presidential retreat for civil society organisations and professional groups, in Abuja, also restated his belief in working with other stakeholders to give Nigeria a people-oriented constitution.
Also at the retreat with the theme, “Towards a People’s Constitution”, Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, who doubles as the chairman of House Committee on Constitution Review, indicated that if all goes well, the revised constitution would be ready for use by the 2015 general election.
The retreat, organised as one of the activities outlined to mark Nigeria’s 52nd independence anniversary, was aimed at getting the contributions of civil society groups to the constitution review process.
The Belgore committee was set up as part of the presidency’s contribution to the review of the constitution “to reaffirm or re-assess issues on which there is evidence of national consensus from past constitutional conferences; and to highlight those areas that will require further consultations so that a wider forum can look at them and reach an agreement”.
The Belgore committee submitted its report to Jonathan on July 10, following which another committee, headed by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, was set up to examine its recommendations and produce a white paper for the president.
The president said it was in furtherance of his commitment to leave a people-oriented constitution that in November last year he set up the Belgore committee and urged the civil society groups to make their contributions to the process of giving Nigerians a better constitution.
He said: “You have been invited to this retreat because you are close to the people and understand their fears and desires. There is a compelling need for us to work together in this historic enterprise of constitution making. We cannot complete the constitutional review process until we hear all the voices of the people of Nigeria.
“You have been invited to this retreat because you are very strong advocates of the public good. You advance the enduring values of this administration and our society.
“You have been invited to this retreat because I believe that you share with me a passion for a Nigeria that is built on justice, equal opportunity, responsibility and a deep sense of community. I truly believe that together we can achieve this vision for today and for tomorrow.”
He explained that the retreat was organised as part of this year’s independence anniversary because of his conviction that as Nigeria marches towards its centenary, its people must take steps to enhance its nationhood.
“We have brought you together to share our passion for the transformation of the institutions of the Nigerian state. We have not brought you to the retreat to negotiate any political settlement. We do not want to extract from you any commitment on any of the proposals for review of the constitution.
“You are here because we acknowledge that civil society has a tremendous knowledge of the constitutional review borne out of my years of consistent effort to craft a people's constitution for Nigeria.
“Our collective aspiration towards a people's constitution must be realised in our time. In a democracy, sovereignty lies with the people and it is the people that can create the constitution that governs their daily existence,” he said.
Deputy President of the Senate and Chairman, Senate Committee on Constitution Review, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, in his paper at the occasion, called on Nigerians to give patriotism and leadership top priorities in the on-going debate at evolving a people’s constitution.
He said any attempt to reduce any matter for amendment to regional or ethnic issue would not be in the interest of the country.
According to him, for the ongoing efforts at producing a people-oriented constitution to be successful, the people must be ready to abide by the spirit and letters of the constitution.
He warned that there is no perfect constitution anywhere in the world, calling for a general commitment by the people to live by the principles and letters of the constitution.
In his contribution, Ihedioha said June 2013 had been set as the terminal date that the National Assembly would conclude the process of amending the 1999 Constitution.
He explained that the goal of fast tracking the amendments was aimed at getting the document ready for use before the 2015 general election.
“The reason is that partisan and electioneering politics should not get in the way of the amendment process. It should be concluded on time before elections begin,” he said.
He appealed to the executive to complement the efforts of the legislature in speeding up the job by quickly forwarding the draft executive bills on the constitution review to the National Assembly in time.
He identified eight critical and dominant issues that needed urgent attention, adding that the legislature would need to hold fresh zonal and central public hearings to arrive at a consensus.
The issues include the security architecture of Nigeria and the status of the Nigeria Police Force; devolution of powers; structure of federalism and issues of fiscal federalism.
Others are indigeneship and residency, justice sector reform; whether to maintain a bicameral or unicameral legislative system; and principle of state’s policy.
Earlier, the chairman of the occasion and retired Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Alfa Belgore, had decried the constant amendments to the constitution, describing it as the most battered.
He also faulted the modelling of the 1999 Constitution after that of the United States of America without considering that both countries have different histories.