Vanguard (Lagos)

8 November 2012

Nigeria: The Making of a Peoples Constitution

Photo: Vanguard
House of Representatives

The House of Representatives Committee on Constitution Review is commencing an innovative discourse with Nigerians in 360 centres spread across the federal constituencies in the country tomorrow. It is a bold attempt at addressing the disconnect between "We the People" and the 1999 Constitution decreed by Nigeria's last military dictatorship.

Many members of the House of Representatives are in trouble tomorrow. A number of them who have refused to engage their members on their representation are obviously in a fix as all 360 members are required to meet with their constituents tomorrow in the most spread out town hall meetings to have happened in the country.

Tomorrow's meetings necessarily would not be a problem for the majority of members who have engaged their constituents. However, for those who have boycotted their constituencies and stayed put in Abuja, tomorrow would be a day to fidget.

The town hall meetings taking place in all 360 federal constituencies of the country is an innovative effort by the Aminu Tambuwal house to redefine the process of lawmaking. Specifically, at tomorrow's town hall meetings, each member of the House is expected to preside over a meeting in his or her federal constituency during which the inputs of the stakeholders would be garnered into the ongoing constitution review process of the House of Representatives.

The House Committee on Constitution Review, presided over by the Deputy Speaker, Rep Emeka Ihedioha is expected to be guided by the submissions received at tomorrow's meetings in the compilation of its final report.

The effort is a bold attempt at rebuffing fresh opposition against the "foreword" of the 1999 Constitution handed over by the last military regime in the country.

The foreword to the 1999 constitution saying "We the people" has recently been an issue with many in the legal community who claim that the phrase was fraudulently inserted as there was no convocation of Nigerians prior to the adoption and implementation of the constitution.

"A man whose signature was forged cannot say 'I will adopt it and amend it.' Therefore when you say: 'We, the people of Nigeria give ourselves a constitution,' when it is not true," Chief Solomon Asemota, SAN, one of the country's senior lawyers said.

His support of the consultations, however, is not a full endorsement of tomorrow's planned nationwide talk shops.

"We need to consult the people and the correct thing is to have a Constituent Assembly to prepare a draft. The National Assembly has the right to prepare a law to enable the President constitute a Constituent Assembly to draft a constitution which they will pass into a law after a referendum.

"The truth of the matter is that the amount of consultation which they say that they want to do in one day makes it a charade, because you cannot have almost everybody to all come together just for one day," Asemota submitted.

The House is, however, focused on its plans irrespective of the recent opposition from the legal community. The House members see the plans as part of the legislative agenda as promised by Speaker Tambuwal at the beginning of the seventh House.

Styled as the Peoples' Public Sessions, the town hall meetings to be presided over by the members representing each of the 360 federal constituencies is expected to incorporate strategic stakeholders from the federal constituencies.

Among those already invited are the Members of the State House of Assembly in the particular federal constituency; the local government chairmen; the Nigerian Labour Congress; Trade Union Congress; Nigerian Bar Association; Academic Staff Union of Universities; Nigerian Union of Teachers; and Civil Society Organizations.

Others institutional stakeholders invited include the National Association of Nigerian Students; Nigerian Youth Council; National Council of Women Societies/Representatives of Women Organizations and the Media (Nigerian Union of Journalists).

Besides the above listed institutional stakeholders invited to the public sessions, interested members of the public with suggestions to the committee are also expected to attend the sessions.

However, it is understood that a template of issues under consideration for amendment would also be deliberated in the public sessions.

Among the issues proposed by the committee are: "Recognition of the six zonal structure; issues with respect to States creation; structure, funding and creation of local governments; residency, citizenship and the indigeneship question; justiciability of economic and social rights; fiscal provisions; independence of State legislature; amendments to the exclusive legislative list to devolve more powers to States; fiscal federalism; abolition of state electoral commissions; Immunity removal; State police; zoning and power sharing; term of office of Governors and President whether single term of 5, 6 or 7 years or a renewal term of 4 years; independent candidacy; voting age; improved women representation; disability rights; diaspora voting; single National chamber legislature; presidential or parliamentary system; role for traditional rulers; further electoral reforms; etc."

It is expected that the public sessions will sufficiently equip the members of the House of Representatives to articulate the various issues affecting their constituencies for onward presentation to the House Committee on Constitution Review.

Yesterday, Speaker Tambuwal formally flagged off the public sessions at a ceremony in the National Assembly complex. At the ceremony, himself also a senior lawyer, boldly addressed the concerns of the lawyers with his assertion that the House would in due course make provision referendum in future constitution reviews.

As the House members prepare to meet with their constituents tomorrow, it is expected that perhaps, the persistent clamour for a Sovereign National Conference and all other divisive sectional schemes that have long troubled the polity could well be addressed.

They will be helped by the 43 point questionaire to be administered to all those present in tomorrow's meetings. For once Nigerians could well address the same issues and speak with one voice.

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