Finally, Senate Begins Constitution Review


* Draft revised constitution ready March, 2021
* House to inaugurate committee soon

By Deji Elumoye and Udora Orizu in Abuja

Six months after its inauguration, the Senate Constitution Review Committee held its inaugural meeting on Thursday with a pledge that the draft of the revised 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will be ready before the end of the first quarter of 2021.

This is just as the House of Representatives also assured Nigerians that it will soon constitute its constitution review committee.

The 58-member Senate committee headed by the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, was inaugurated on February 12, 2020, by the Senate President Ahmed Lawan.

Speaking at the first meeting of the Ad hoc Committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution at the Senate committee room 022, Omo-Agege said the committee would work “towards presenting our report to the Senate plenary at the end of the first quarter of 2021”.

According to him, the assignment is one that must be carried out jointly with the House of Representatives, apart from other stakeholders in the various Houses of Assembly and members of the public, adding that he’s in touch with his counterpart in the House to work out the modalities for a harmonious working relationship.

He said the secretariat has identified many areas that need review in the 1999 Constitution from the engagements in the past.

Omo-Agege said the key areas include “the need to make the constitution more gender friendly and affirm equal rights to women and girls, the need to strengthen the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Federal Character Commission and other oversight agencies, the need to address the challenges of residency and indigeneship”.

Others, he said, are, “the need to address the federal structure of the country to be in tandem with our history and modern realities, the need to revisit socio-economic and cultural rights as entrenched in Chapter 2 of the constitution as fundamental principles of state policy, electoral reforms veto make our electoral system credible, free and fair, fiscal federalism and revenue allocation and comprehensive judicial reforms”.

He said while the lawmakers await the full resumption of activities at the committee level, compilation of all the constitution alteration bills referred to them and gazetted are being collated for the process in due course.

He said: ”As you all know, we are on recess but the fact that we are here today to deliberate on the assignment of the constitutional review underscores the importance that we attach to this responsibility. The steering committee of the ad hoc committee comprising all principal officers of the Senate held two meetings on the 26th of February, 2020 and on the 3rd of June, 2020, respectively, to work out the modalities for carrying out this very important national assignment.

”Among the major fallouts or outcome of the meetings were that the El-Rufai report on restructuring and the 2014 Constitutional Conference report were recommended to be part of the committee’s working documents which has been obtained by the secretariat of the committee for duplication and circulation to members.

”In pursuant of this, our secretariat has obtained all the bills for the alteration of the constitution referred so far to our counterparts in the House of Representatives and we have transmitted ours to them for further legislative activities. Over the years, the National Assembly had identified a piecemeal approach to the alteration of the 1999 Constitution. This Constitution review process presents another opportunity for Nigerians to look at these issues again.

”We are aware that the process of making or altering the constitution is as important as the content. This review process will therefore be guided by the principle of inclusivity and participation. The secretariat has put in place a mechanism that the majority of Nigerians are abreast with this constitution review exercise to that extent, it has conducted a mapping of stakeholders that have been engaging in the constitution review exercise since 1999. We have collated previous reports such as the 2014 Constitutional Conference Report and the El-Rufai’s report on restructuring which are being analyzed.

”We have designed several outreach programmes including the utilization of social media to receive and collate the views and opinions of Nigerians. At the end, our technical team will analyse the contributions and turn them into operations for the relevant sections of the constitution. In addition, Distinguished Senators and members of the House of Representatives have initiated Constitution Alteration Bills. All of them will be subjected to the relevant legislative process. It is in line with this that the committee is working on virtual conferencing to facilitate its work in view of the COVID-19 pandemic so as to ensure that our meetings within and outside the National Assembly premises are not unduly interrupted and frustrated from holding. Presented before you is a work plan that has been proposed for your input.”

The House of Representatives, on its part, is yet to constitute its committee on constitution review.

The House, however, gave an assurance that the committee, which will be chaired by the House Deputy Speaker, Hon. Idris Wase, will soon commence review of the constitution.

Speaking to THISDAY, the Press Secretary to the Deputy Speaker, Mohammed Umar-Puma, said: ”I’m assuring you, any moment from now, we will do the inauguration and start action. The House and the Senate are always doing the same thing, so anytime soon we will start. There’s no problem, we are just taking our time, we will definitely commence soon.”