3 November 2012

Nigeria: NBA's Fears for Constitution Review

From its latest comment on the review of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is not happy with the process so far. NBA president Chief Okey Wali has noted the "pitfalls" in the process adopted by the two chambers of the National Assembly and has called for a referendum at the final stage of the exercise in order to give Nigerians a say.

Indeed, the NBA president categorically stated that the ongoing process does not appear to be very orderly. He said that duplicity of efforts would likely not achieve the required end result as, according to him, there is no agenda or known methodology.

The NBA's position has shocked many. Being the only association whose members are, by training and practice, versed in the laws of the land, the respected body should have been in the forefront of the campaign for the amendments or otherwise of the constitution.

There is no gainsaying the fact that Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) vests on the National Assembly legislative powers. Also, Section 9 (1) of the constitution confers on the federal lawmakers the power to alter any of the provisions of the constitution. The 469 members in both the Senate and the House of Representatives are, by the mandates given to them by their respective constituents through their election, representatives of the people of Nigeria.

We have no difficulty, therefore, in endorsing the proposal of the House of Representatives Committee on the Review of the Constitution to hold public hearing sessions simultaneously in all the 360 federal constituencies. This will not only make the exercise participatory, but enrich the data base of the committee, as interested Nigerians who were unable to send their memoranda to the committee would be afforded an opportunity to do so.

The fear of the NBA that the process may become chaotic cannot be ignored, however. All those concerned should ensure that the House of Representatives make the most from the one-day event. NASS should desist from making constitution amendment a ritual for every session.

But the call by the NBA for a referendum at the final stage before the amendments could be adopted is at variance with the provisions of the constitution itself; the NBA ought to know this fact. The processes through which the would-be amendments will pass through before it is passed into law ensure that every segment of the society has a say.

Every well-meaning Nigerian, group or association should actively participate in the ongoing constitution amendment. Thankfully, the NBA has not been sleeping; it set up a committee on constitution review and law reform. The input of this committee would hopefully address some of the grey areas in the extant constitution.

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