Constitution Review: Balancing the Tempo Between Upper and Lower Chambers

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The move by the Senate to pursue a review of the 1999 Constitution to a logical close is gathering momentum, while the House of Representatives is still pussy-footing on the matter, report Deji Elumoye, Adedayo Akinwale and Udora Orizu

At the commencement of the Ninth National Assembly on June 11, 2019, the leadership of the two chambers assured Nigerians of their commitment towards carrying out necessary amendments to the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Nine months into the legislative work of the Assembly, the Senate in February 2020, under the leadership of Dr. Ahmad Lawan, constituted a 58-man Constitution Review Committee headed by the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege.

Although there was a lull after the inauguration of the Senate committee, its activities, however, peaked in August 2020, when the committee held its maiden meeting during which a plan of action that would result in the passage of a new constitution by June 2021 was approved.

As part of its mandate, the Senate committee, three weeks ago, called for memoranda from individuals and groups on the areas of the constitution they think should be amended. To guide the public, the committee clarified that the memoranda being expected should focus on any of the following 13 thematic areas.

They are gender equality for women and girls, federal structure and power devolution, local government and its autonomy, public revenue, fiscal federation and revenue allocation, Nigerian Police and Nigerian security architecture as well as comprehensive judicial reforms.

Others are electoral reforms, socio-economic and cultural rights as contained in Chapter 2 of the Constitution, strengthening the Independence of oversight institutions and agencies created by the constitution or pursuant to an act of the National Assembly, residency and indigene provisions, immunity, National Assembly and state creation.

Last Thursday, however, the committee bowed to pressure and extended the submission of memoranda by the public till Friday, September 25. The committee said the latest extension was in response to appeals by stakeholders from various parts of the federation, who were seeking extension to enable them submit their memo.

This much was emphasised by the Office of the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, who is also the committee’s chairman indicating that submission of memoranda has been extended by two weeks till Friday, September 25, 2020.

Giving further explanations, the Office in a release, stated that the extension of deadline would accommodate those who requested for more time to bring their memoranda forward. The request for extension of deadline was approved as part of measures to further strengthen the constitution review process and widen opportunities for more groups and individuals to be involved.

According to the release, all proposals or memoranda, as earlier stated, are to be submitted to the Secretariat of the Committee in Room 0.28, Senate New Wing at the National Assembly Complex, Abuja.

The committee had earlier advised, “the general public, Executive and Judicial bodies, Civil Society Organisations, professional bodies and other interest groups are expected to submit memoranda or proposals for further alteration(s) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) towards promoting good governance and welfare of all persons in our country on the principles of freedom.”

While the Senate committee on constitution review has hit the ground running with different programmes, the House is yet to kick-start the exercise in the Green Chamber.

When the Ninth House of Representatives was inaugurated about a year and half ago, the Speaker, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila assured the people that under his leadership, the Green Chamber will be a House of reforms. He said the reforms would be dished out piecemeal and at intervals so as not to shock the system.

The Speaker told his colleagues that it would not be business as usual, because the House would be shaking the table just a little, adding that the House would be introducing various reforms that would position the House. He said the House must be reformed before the country can reform.

Gbajabiamila wasted no time in launching the Legislative Agenda for the ninth House of Representatives, which he said was a declaration of the intent of the lawmakers to serve Nigeria with dedication, while focusing its considerable energies on those issues that mostly affect the lives of our citizens.

As contained in the Legislative Agenda, which is the operating manual of the House, the Green Chamber said it has identified several key policy areas, where legislative interventions are essential to achieving the objectives it seeks.

The House stated categorically that it would, “Initiate comprehensive legislative action to address unsettled issues related to the constitution and electoral reform including the alterations to the Constitution.”

But despite making constitution reforms as one of its key areas of intervention, the House has been foot-dragging to constitute the committee that would be Chaired by the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Idris Wase to kick-start this all-important assignment. In spite of the fact that the Senate inaugurated its committee six months ago, the House remains unperturbed as it maintained its snail pace, as far as constitution amendment is concerned.

Since the return of democratic rule in 1999, several attempts had been made by the previous Assemblies to amend some provisions of the 1999 Constitution, which were allegedly foisted on the country by the military.

A majority of the proposals that was supported by most Nigerians during previous amendments carried out by previous Assemblies included devolution of powers, local government autonomy, state police and state creation were not included in the constitution.

Thus, the recent move by the Ninth National Assembly to amend the constitution again has raised the hopes of Nigerians as both the Senate and the House of Representatives as part of their legislative agenda agreed to set up a constitution review committee to give Nigerians a Constitution they can call theirs.

At the plenary on March 6, 2020, the Speaker listed Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Katsina, Kogi, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Osun, Plateau and Taraba as the states that were delaying the formation of a Committee on Constitution Review.

He decried the fact that several state caucuses had yet to nominate members to the committee, but gave them till March 10th to forward the names of their nominees, failure of which he would be forced to nominate members himself. Ever since, nothing has been heard, neither did the House make any progress on it.

On different occasions, Press Secretary to the Deputy Speaker, Mr. Mohammed Puma, told THISDAY that the House would constitute its own Constitution Review Committee very soon and commence work.

‘’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,” he said.

But, Leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) caucus in the House, Hon. Kingsley Chinda, told THISDAY that the House would put a committee in place on resumption this week, adding that nominations had been made by state.

His words: “The House cannot refuse to set up constitution review committee. It will be done on resumption, because nominations have been made by the states.”

As things stand, the House will need to move fast to keep with the current pace of the Senate in ensuring that the 1999 constitution is reviewed again in line with the desire of the general public.

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