Aconstitution is the basic and most fundamental law of a nation-state. It is the numero uno, grundnorm, and fons et origo of any legal system. Thus every other law within a polity derives its powers from the constitution and such law is legal to the extent that it is consistent with the constitution. In essence, therefore, the constitution is the single most important document in a democracy, hence nations are said to be as strong as their constitution and their adherence to the provisions of same.
The People and Parliamentary Sovereignty: Many modern constitutions, including that of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the USA, usually begin with the expression “We the people”. This phrase used in Nigeria’s Constitution has been challenged since it is argued that the people never really met in the strict sense of it to write and adopt the 1999 Constitution. But it is very symbolic nevertheless since it underlines admittance by the departing military that the people are not only the ultimate crafters, expositors and guardians of the constitution, but that sovereignty indeed belongs to the people on whose behalf they acted in giving to us the 1999 Constitution.
This sovereignty is however transferred by the people to their elected representatives through free, fair, and credible electoral processes. In fact, some Constitutions are very explicit about it. Chapter 1 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, for instance, states clearly that “The Sovereignty of Ghana resides in the people of Ghana in whose name and for whose welfare the powers of government are to be exercised in the manner and within the limits laid down in this Constitution.”
We can, therefore, begin with a particular understanding that sovereignty or the government in a democratic state belongs to the people; it was created by them and owes its legitimacy to their acceptance.
By far, among the government structures that exercise this sovereignty on behalf of the people, the parliament is the most representative of this sovereignty. This view is supported by the scholar, Stephanie Kadish who holds that “The legislature is considered the most fundamental arm of democratic governance. In its purest form it serves to secure the foundations of democracy by translating the will of the people into the law of the land. At its core, the legislature is the mirror of the society’s soul.”
Though normally used in reference to the Parliament of the United Kingdom where the legislature is so reputed to be capable of virtually everything, except change a man to a woman and vice versa, parliamentary sovereignty as a generic term can be stretched to mean that the people having transferred their sovereignty to their representatives in government, especially the parliament, have themselves empanelled and empowered the parliament as a capsule of this sovereignty, to legitimately exercise sovereignty on behalf of the rest of the people.
Legislative Powers of a Parliament: This sovereignty is usually exercised on behalf of the people through several fundamental legislative powers and functions. These are lawmaking; budgetary approval/appropriation; oversight; confirmation of certain executive and judicial appointments such as ministerial, ambassadorial, Chairman/members of commissions, Chief Justice/Justices of the Supreme Courts, etc; and the removal from office of executives such as President, Vice President, and Prime Minister through the processes of impeachment/Vote of no confidence as the case may be.
Constitutional Legislation: Since the constitution is a form of law itself, Constitutional Legislation therefore becomes the height of lawmaking and the most critical of all the functions and powers of parliament because every other law derives its legality/legitimacy from the constitution.
However, because the parliament and other arms of government which jointly exercise this sovereignty are, in most instances a creation of the constitution, parliamentary powers and competence in relation to the constitution is naturally limited to effecting amendments.
Constitution Amendment: A Window To Evolving A People’s Constitution
No constitution can stand the test of eternity no matter how seemingly perfect it may appear for the time being. Provisions for constitutional amendment therefore, represent a guarantee of a people’s right to self determination and of reshaping their constitutions to meet their aspirations, their dreams, and their challenges.
How Constitutions Are Amended
In general, the process of amending constitutions is more stringent than that of conventional acts of parliament. The 1999 Constitution requires a bill for an amendment to be passed by two-thirds majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate and by two-thirds of the State Assemblies. An amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America requires a super majority approval as well in both House and Senate and a simple majority approval by three-fourths of the states acting through either their legislatures or Constitutional Conventions. The other method is for two-thirds of the state legislatures to convoke a Constitutional Convention to propose an amendment which will also be sent to the states for passage by at least three-fourths of them through their legislatures or Conventions. However, in some other countries such as Australia, Switzerland, and the Republic of Ireland, any amendment to the constitution is additionally required to be subjected to a referendum. However, while a constitutional referendum in Australia and Switzerland require a majority of voters in a majority of the states to pass, it only requires a simple majority in the Republic of Ireland.
In Denmark, an extant parliament cannot conclude a constitution amendment. Once the parliament passes an amendment, a general election is held to elect a new parliament to ratify the amendment before it is subsequently subjected to a referendum where at least 40% of eligible voters must vote in favour of the amendment for it to pass.
In Canada, there are five various process of constitutional amendment, depending on the issue at stake, with most requiring ratification by provincial parliaments after passage by the federal legislature.
It is also noteworthy that some constitutions, such as the constitution of Japan, are so stringent that no successful amendment has been made to them.
What Cannot Be Amended:
The good thing about the 1999 constitution is that there is absolutely nothing that cannot be amended. So, contrary to the picture being painted by promoters of a Sovereign National Conference, Sections 8 and 9 of the 1999 Constitution literally leaves the Nigerian people with unrestricted latitude to reshape their union and destinies.
However, this is not the same with many constitutions around the world. They explicitly declare those things that are considered so fundamental and sacrosanct to the state that it cannot by any means be amended.
Why amend the constitution?
The most prominent reasons for the need for constitution review include:
Non-inclusion: By far, one of the major reasons for agitation for a review of the 1999 is the manner it was made. It has been variously described, perhaps rightly so, as military imposed.
Indeed, constitution-making supervised by autocratic regimes have the common denominator of deficits in inclusivity, participation, autonomy and other such basic tenets regarded as hallmarks of a people’s constitution. They are therefore easily subject to review as democracy gets underway to make room for wider input and acceptance by the citizens.
Dynamism of Society: Justice Albie Sachs of South Africa describes a constitution as “an autobiography of a nation”. It is a process by which a nation births and writes itself, capturing it’s past and present, while also projecting into the future. According Special Report published by the United States Institute for Peace in 2003, of close to 200 national constitutions in existence today, more than half have been written or re-written in the last quarter century. This implies, among others, that the constitution is a dynamic document, responding to fresh realities and correcting past mistakes.
Deficits, Inelegant Drafting/Gray Areas: The 1999 constitution has been faulted on the grounds of both ambiguity and failure to carter for some critical matters of state. For instance, until the successful amendment of the 1999 Constitution, a candidate for appointment as Chairman or Member of the Independent National Electoral Commission, in Section 156 of the Constitution, must possess the same qualifications as a candidate aspiring to the House of Representatives as stipulated by Sections 65 and 66. Incidentally, one of such qualifications was membership of a political party.
Our Political History: Obviously, the 1999 Constitution does not take Nigeria’s political history into cognisance. For instance, whereas Nigeria was conceived as a federal state, the present Constitution like the ones before it, since 1979, weaves the nation into a unitary state in many respects. Fiscal federalism, proper devolution of powers, decentralised policing, and other hallmarks of a federal state are all lacking in the constitution.
Electoral Issues: Quite a lot of electoral matters were embedded in the Constitution. Unfortunately, attempt by the 6th National Assembly to weed these electoral provisions from the Constitution to the Electoral Act was rejected by the State Assemblies. Thus, little progress could be made in electoral reforms processes without amending the constitution.
Institution Building: Democracies in a developing country like ours often suffer from a spill-over of weak institutions. Such institutions were either not there throughout the democracy drought or had been weakened and grossly compromised to the extent that they endanger democracy. For instance, until the last constitution amendment exercise, the National Assembly was financially dependent on the executive. INEC too was both administratively and financially dependent. The State Assemblies are still dependent on the executive arms at that level. The Joint State Local Government Account has also grossly compromised the independence and efficacy of the third-tier of government.
Executive Immunity: The immunity conferred on the President and Vice President as well as Governors and Deputy Governors by the 1999 Constitution has remained one of the most contentious issues. Though it was conceived and entrenched in good faith, the realities of so many alleged abuses by incumbents have resulted in hues and cries for the expunging of the immunity clause from the constitution.
Structural Imbalances: Structural imbalances constitute a major flank of agitation for constitution amendment. This comes in the forms of agitation for more states and local government areas (LGAs). Such agitations can easily be linked to the nature of the Nigerian federalism. For instance, it would not have mattered to the agitators for more states or local governments if both were not the major basis for sharing national revenue and opportunities. But at the moment, the number of local governments and states a geopolitical zone commands substantially affects the allocation it receives from the Federation Account since both draw funds directly from that Account based on Section 80 of the Constitution. North West has 7 States and 187 LGAs, the North East has 6 States and 111 LGAs, the North Central has 6 States and 118 LGAs, South West has 6 States and 137 LGAs, while South South has 6 States and 120 LGAs and the South East 5 States and 95 LGAs. FCT’s 6 Area Councils bring the number to 774 Local Councils.
Again, if we look at the 2006 census figures, Kano State has a population of 9,401,288. Lagos State has 9,113,605. This means that Lagos State’s population is 287,683 short of the population of Kano. Lagosians find it inexplicable, therefore, that while they have just 20 LGAs, Kano State has 44 LGAs; that is 22 LGAs or over 100% more than that of Lagos.
Guarantee of Human, Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights: Human rights are accepted as fundamental component of democracy. In addition, economic, social, and cultural rights that cover matters such as adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions as well as unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled, etc which affect the overwhelming majority of the populations have continued to gather momentum.
The above are just a few as there are gender, physically challenged, and other minority interest issues.
Challenges to Evolving a People’s Constitution
Some factors that negatively affect constitution-making include: Inexperience and lack of template of procedure; Crisis of Expectations and temptation to do so much at a time; Apathy and lack of democratic culture; Ethnicity; Lack of political will and Lack of independence/autonomy.
Evolving A People’s Constitution: The Progress So Far
Despite these challenges, however, Nigeria has made appreciable progress in the effort to evolve a people’s constitution since 1999. The jinx of evolving a people’s constitution through constitution amendment was broken in the 6th National Assembly. The major breakthroughs include:
Handover to Vice President/Deputy Governor settled: This particular matter became a major political challenge in 2010 during the unfortunate illness and eventual demise of late President Musa Yar’Adua. To avoid such occurrence in future, the National Assembly amended Sections 145 and 190 of the Constitution to make it compulsory for the President and a Governor, respectively, to transmit a letter to the National Assembly or State Assembly, accordingly, to enable their deputies to act whenever they are proceeding on vacation or unable to discharge their functions. And where this is not done, the Vice President or Deputy Governor automatically begins to act after 21 days of the absence of the President or Governor.
Remaining Term of Office When a President/Governor Wins Re-run:
The Supreme Court of Nigeria in a landmark ruling on the matter brought before it by Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State maintained that a Governor or President’s term begins to run from the date he/she was sworn in. But many Governors whose elections were annulled but who nevertheless won the reruns such as in Ekiti, Cross River, Adamawa, and Kogi States also thought this applied to them and carried on as such. Sections 135 and 180 of the Constitution were therefore amended to set the intendment of the Constitution straight to the effect that “in the determination of the four year term, where a rerun election has taken place and the person earlier sworn in wins the rerun election, the time spent in the office before the date the election was annulled, shall be taken into account.”
Status of the National Industrial Court Settled: The status of the National Industrial Court, NIC, as a Court of Superior Record was settled through the amendment of Sections 6, 84, 240, 243, 287, 289, 292, 294, 295, 216, 318 and the Third Schedule and Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. Section 254 was also inserted. Thus, the NIC is now of the same status with the High Courts as Courts of superior record.
Independence of INEC: One of the landmark achievements of constitution amendment in the 6th National Assembly was the securing of both administrative and financial independence for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC in line with international best practices and popular demand by the Nigerian people. This was achieved by amending Sections 81, 84, and 160 of the Constitution. While these amendments grants enables INEC to draw its funds directly as First Line Charge, Section 160 as amended provides that “in the case of the Independent National Electoral Commission, its powers to make its own rules or otherwise regulate its own procedure shall not be subject to the approval of the President.”
Qualification for INEC Membership: As earlier observed, the Constitution had erroneously demanded that a candidate for nomination for membership of INEC should hold the same qualifications as one seeking election into the House of Representatives. This naturally includes membership of a political party. This could not have been the intention of the drafters of the constitution. Therefore, we amended Section 156 of the Constitution to insulate INEC members from partisan politics.
Fixed Time for Disposal of Election Petitions: Our electoral processes have been hitherto faced the challenge of too many rigmarole and undue delays in election petitions. Since justice delayed is justice denied, Section 285 Subsections 5-8 were amended to provide for a timeline for filing, hearing, and delivery of judgment/returns on petitions. Petitions must be filed within 21 days, judgement delivered within 180 days from the date of filing of the petition, while every appeal arising from tribunal or Court of Appeal in an election matter must be delivered 60 days from the date of the delivery of judgement by the tribunal or Court of Appeal. The Essence of Sub-Section 8 is to remove any impediments to complying with the provisions of this section. You would agree with me that while this also came with its minor challenges, it has nevertheless fast-tracked justice in election petitions in accordance with the desire of the Nigerian people. This is the first time a timeframe for election litigations is to be prescribed by our Constitution. All election petitions arising from the 2011 election have been dispensed with.
Wider Timeline for the Conduct of Elections:
The 1999 Constitution initially constrained the timeline within which elections were to be conducted. It provided for elections to be held not earlier than sixty days before and not later than 30 days to the date on which the tenure of office expires for the federal legislature, the state legislature, Presidency, and governorship positions. But given the challenges that emanated from that tight timeframe, Sections 76, 116, 132, and 178 were amended to provide for a wider timeframe of not earlier than one hundred and fifty days and not later than ninety days. With this, INEC has now been handed ample time to plan and deliver credible elections.
Reduction in The Number of Judges on Election Petition Tribunals: Before now, both the National and State Houses of Assembly Election Tribunal and the Governorship Election Tribunal consisted of a Chairman and four Members. So, Section 285 and Sixth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution were amended to reduce the composition of both Tribunals to a Chairman and two Members and the quorum to Chairman and a member. This was done with a view to quickening the dispensation of justice at the tribunals. It means there are more judges available for appointment into the tribunals, while fewer judges are needed for a tribunal to sit.
Financial Autonomy for The National Assembly: A milestone was also scored by securing the financial independence of the National Assembly from the Executive arm. Given the vital role of the National Assembly which I highlighted earlier, it was indeed a misnomer to have an arm of government which is the direct representative of the people and which is supposed to oversight the executive and help check excesses in line with the principle of checks and balance to be dependent on the same executive arm for funding.
Unfortunately, efforts to secure same for the State legislatures did not garner the requisite two-thirds of the State Houses of Assembly to pass as amended.
Disqualification of Candidates: Sections 66(h), 137(i), and 182(i) of the Constitution disqualifying persons indicted of embezzlement or fraud by an Administrative Panel from seeking election into public offices were deleted from the Constitution. This followed hues and cries that these were liable to misuse and in fact instruments of political witch-hunt in the hands of incumbents. It would also be recalled that events surrounding these provisions gravely endangered the 2007 general election.
It could be seen from the foregoing that the focus of the last constitution efforts in the 6th National Assembly was electoral reforms. In addition to the above, the Electoral Act was extensively amended in line with other amendments to the Constitution to provide for a better electoral system, including ensuring internal democracy in the parties. For instance, a candidate can only be substituted in an event of death or personal withdrawal from the race. We also put a stop to state funding of political parties through subventions to check the proliferation of many parties which simply exist to benefit from such subventions.
Current Efforts At Evolving A People’s Constitution
Evolving a people’s constitution is never an event, but work-in-progress. The Senate Committee on Constitution Review extensively analysed the submissions by Nigerians in the 6th National Assembly to be able to come up with thematic areas of focus based on demands and emerging national realities. In order to ensure full involvement of Nigerians, update our records and have a sound grasp on other issues Nigerians seek to be addressed, we advertised widely in the media to solicit memoranda on sixteen thematic areas and any other issues Nigerians considered imperative for constitutional review. The table below represents the number of memoranda submitted and issues they raised as at July 16, 2012.
Strategies For Evolving A People’s Constitution
Two options present themselves for consideration. The first is setting up a Constituent Assembly consisting of elected members. The second is the legislature either acting en banc or through a committee set up by it.
Arguments in favour of Constituent Assembly maintain that because constitution-making transcends “politics-as-usual”, there is a perceived need or desire to create bodies that can devote their attention solely to developing and adopting new constitutional proposals. To this school of thought, a Constituent Assembly is not the ordinary law-making body and does not have the same vested interest in the document which is to be drawn up and as such would not be a judge in its own cause.
The other view is that parliamentary constitution-making process stands to do a better job of ensuring the legitimacy of the constitutional product. My natural inclination is to align with this view. The nation cannot contemplate to amend the constitution outside the procedure set out by the constitution itself. The same constitution in Chapter 4 also vests the legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, including constitution amendment, in the National Assembly with the affirmation of the State Assemblies. Section 1 (1) of the Constitution also provides that “This Constitution is Supreme and its provisions shall have binding effect on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. So, the rule of law is very important here. You cannot build something on nothing and expect it to stand.
The bottom line, though, is that democratic constitution is no longer just one that establishes democratic governance. Conversely, the reputation and effectiveness of modern constitution depend upon democracy in its process as well as its outcome. Indeed, while constitution-making is a strategic and pre-eminently political act, it is above all, a people’s process. Because sovereignty belongs to the people, and because democracy is a government of the people, the citizens have an inalienable moral claim to not just being a part, but indeed the real drivers of constitution-making in line with the norms of democracy.
The important thing is for parliament to ensure a shared authorship of the Constitution among the populace as that is the only guarantee that they would understand, respect, support, and live within the constraints of the document.
Here are some of the ways this could be achieved:
Inclusivity: As earlier mentioned, the major deficit of constitution-making under military or other forms of dictatorship is the politics of exclusion. The bottom line here is to give people a sense of belonging in the constitution-making process, ensuring that no one is isolated.
Participation: Democracy is not just about attaining power through elections, structuring institutions and processes, and providing mechanisms for checking excesses and abuse. More importantly, it is also about the people participating in designing an appropriate constitution that would govern their affairs and the conduct of their elected officials. It is no longer considered the exclusive preserve of the political elites.
We must all make deliberate efforts to encourage dialogue, public debates, and extensive public education on the process and ensure that indigenous languages are employed to carry the message home to all Nigerians. Every inch of the way should be adequately publicised, while memoranda and oral contributions through public hearing and other forms of public or constituent engagement should be encouraged by parliament.
Instructively, this Presidential Retreat for Civil Society and Professional Associations is part of efforts to engender participation of critical stakeholders in the constitution amendment process. The Senate Committee on Constitution Review which I am privileged to be chairing ensure participation through public hearing at the national and six geopolitical zonal levels. We will mobilize lawmakers to return to the nooks and crannies of their constituency to engage their people through town hall meetings, village meetings and consultations with opinion leaders and traditional institutions and groups.
Also, more than previously, we are taking our media campaign down to the grassroots. We are making more use of the radio, especially local radio stations to engage the rural communities through audience participation programmes in indigenous languages.
We are also engendering feedback mechanisms to extract more inputs from Nigerians through web presence and opinion poll through both SMS (text message) and vote on our website to gauge the pulse of the people on various issues as well as give them a sense of participation in the constitution amendment project.
Diversity: Effort must be made by the parliament as well as any other arm of government that wants to make inputs in the constitution-making process to ensure that the diversities of the country in terms of ethnicity, religion, gender, language, professional grouping, etc are well represented. In the Senate for instance, we consider that the Parliament is a microcosm of Nigeria and we empanel our Committee on Constitution Review to be very representative of the Nigerian society. The 47-man Senate Committee comprises 1 member from each State, 1 member representing each of the 6 geopolitical zones, 4 members representing special interests such as women, and then the Chairman. In that way, every segment of the society can pinpoint a member of the Committee representing his/her interest and through whom he/she or a group can therefore advance their interests.
Autonomy: We must also ensure that the parliament or Committee of it driving the process is not only independent of government, party and other external control, but is seen to be so. This gives the people the confidence that their views and inputs will be respected and assessed on their merits. Therefore, one of the major breakthroughs in the last constitution amendment was the securing of financial autonomy for the National Assembly. That way, all budgetary allocations to the National Assembly, including funds for the constitution amendment project are accessed as first line charge. So, nobody is going to starve the Committee of the requisite funds or try to arm-twist the Parliament in the mould of he who pays the piper dictating the tune.
Transparency/Openness: Constitution amendment is not a masquerade cult. It thrives on the principle of openness. In contrast to the process that normally occurred in closed conference rooms under the military, a transparent process enables the public, the media and civil society to participate by keeping them informed about how the process is being conducted, the adoption process, and their role in the process. There is also need for feedback about the results of public consultations. Transparency also involves providing for media access at appropriate times. This is one of the main purposes the media hub of the Senate Committee will serve.
The Senate ensures that there is live broadcast of major constitution amendment events such as public hearings, public debates/conferences/retreats, constitutional debates and voting on the proposals on the floor of the parliament, etc. We not only ensure that those who submit memoranda are duly acknowledged, we as well analyse and make public the proposals of all memoranda received, showing how we arrived at subjects listed for review. That way, the public would be assured that we are not imposing our caprices on them, but that we are rather working according to their dictates, and openly so.
Accountability: Transparency and accountability go hand-in-hand. Accountability requires that periodic report on the constitution-making process is rendered to the entire parliament and the people. This helps the people to easily track developments as well as make informed inputs into the process without relying on the rumour mills.
Legitimacy: As earlier captured in this presentation, one of the challenges of constitutions in developing nations is that of a legal document which legitimacy is controversial. However, when the listed principles are observed, legitimacy is naturally conferred on the document.
The thrust of the parliament, therefore, should be to fully engage the people every inch of the process so they will own the final product, both its perfections and imperfections. Whatever constitution the people will live under and obey must enjoy popular recognition and acceptance as their own document by capturing their views, expectations, and aspirations.
By way of conclusion, I wish to note as follows:
National Interest is Paramount: To achieve the desired result from the ongoing efforts to evolve a people’s constitution, all stakeholders must exude statesmanship and the highest level of patriotism. Reducing any matter up for review to regional and ethnic rhetoric rather than assessing it on its merit is not in the interest of the country.
For instance, I was baffled to read the insinuation that effort at fiscal federalism was an agenda to impoverish some parts of the country. That is a wrong and an unfortunate imputation of motive. Besides the fact that fiscal federalism was proposed by memoranda submitted by Nigerians, it is also an inalienable feature of federalism. More also, the decline of the nation’s economy and development recorded at the time of the nation’s agro-based economy can be directly traced to the replacement of fiscal federalism which engendered hard work and healthy competition with “feeding bottle” federalism which has continued to churn out indolence and poverty. Importantly, the table below shows that every part of this country is too richly endowed to be poor.
Separate Administrative/Policy Issues from Constitutional Matters: We make the mistake of wanting the Constitution to address virtually all our problems. But not all matters can be addressed by the Constitution. We should be able to muster the political will and discipline to confront issues that can be addressed by administrative/policy means and consensus building. These include derivation and many issues that border on education, the legislature, and judiciary. We should also give a thought to removing so much details from our Constitution to make it slim and lend some matters to ordinary regular review as the need arises.
Constitution and democracy help those who help themselves: There is nothing like a perfect constitution. Like heavens, constitution and democracy help those who help themselves. Even the best constitution in the world cannot yield the best of democracy dividend or drive the lofty dreams of a nation unless there is a general commitment by the leaders and citizens to live by the principles and letters of that constitution.
The former President of Germany, Weiszaecker put it quite succinctly. He once stated that “Not even the most perfect constitution can ensure the development of democracy in any state if this development is not supported by citizens... (d)emocracy lives from bases which not even the best possible democratic constitution can guarantee the active engagement of the citizens. Democracy can serve us only if we learn to serve democracy”
Let us bear in mind that there is no single document you can refer to as the British Constitution, yet they operate a highly successful democracy because the constitution and the laws are written in the hearts of the people.
The Constitution of the United States of America, written by just a few of their leaders at the time, was adopted on 17th September, 1787. Yet it has only been amended 27 times in its almost 225-year history. The United States Constitution Centre describes it as the shortest and oldest written constitution of any major sovereign state. The original handwritten document is just four pages. That notwithstanding, the US Constitution has survived all the trials and triumphs of that nation’s history, including civil war to steer the USA to number one global force, and a politically, economically, and socially virile and viable nation and above all a reference point in democratic governance.
So, we must learn to uphold our constitution. If we chose which court rulings to obey or not to obey, that is not the fault of the constitution. If local governments are run by brazenly undemocratic caretaker committees, that is not the fault of Section 7 of the constitution. While the fiscal woes of most of the LGAs across the country could be attributed to the loophole created by Section 162 (6) of the Constitution, it cannot rightly be inferred that it is the spirit or intendment of the constitution to incapacitate the Local Councils in the discharge of the responsibilities which the same constitution has prescribed for them.
Constitution Review is a Collective Responsibility: Even if for emphasis, let me reiterate that evolving a people’s constitution is a collective responsibility. I wish to invite all Nigerians, the Civil Society, Labour, Professional Bodies, traditional rulers, the age grades, town unions, market associations, religious groups, Nigerians in the diaspora, and indeed every Nigerian and friends of Nigeria to fully buy into the ongoing efforts at giving Nigeria a more satisfactory constitution. Let us do it, not only for our good, but even more importantly, the good of posterity.
Just as I did during the recent retreat of the Senate Committee on Constitution Review in Asaba, I wish to, once again, reassure Nigerians that members of the National Assembly recognise the great responsibility the constitution places on them in our quest to evolve a people’s Constitution. We are also mindful of the weight of expectations on us given successes recorded in the 6th National Assembly coupled with our present challenges as a nation.
Let me therefore reassure you that we have no position on any issues except those taken by the Nigerian people through their inputs, whether through their memoranda, contributions at public hearings, and their elected representatives at both the National and State Assemblies. We bear no allegiance to any, except that which we owe to the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We have no interest to protect, except that of the generality of the Nigerian people and posterity. We will be driven by the force of superior argument and public will. What we owe our people is leadership, legislative due process, transparency, inclusivity, and popular participation. We want to ensure that the generality of Nigerians own and drive the process to be able to take full responsibility of the eventual outcome. We will drive the constitution review with a view to entrenching national unity, good governance, and prosperity of Nigeria.
Once again, I thank the Presidency for the opportunity to share a few thoughts on the subject matter and do appreciate you all most sincerely for your attention.
Being an abridged version of a paper delivered by the Deputy President of the Senate and Chairman, Senate Committee on Constitution Review, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, at the Presidential Retreat by Civil Society Organisations and Professional Groups at the Aso Villa, recently.