Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: A Grievous Sleight of Hand

editorial

The discovery of 'strange clauses' in the collated report of the House of Representatives' public hearing into the proposed amendments to the Nigerian Constitution was the immediate cause for the Speaker to halt its presentation recently.

The House Ad-hoc Committee on Constitution Amendments, headed by the deputy speaker, Mr Emeka Ihedioha, was about to table its report when some of its members raised objections, citing the inclusion of certain clauses they claimed had earlier been rejected by majorities of their constituents, and had not been part of the original document. In effect, the clauses were smuggled in; by whom it is not clear. And this needs to be clear up quickly, because such conduct cast doubt on the credibility of the entire exercise. In stopping further debate, the Speaker, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal, sought to limit the damage. He should go farther to expose the culprits behind the doctoring of the report.

Attempts at inserting partisan interests in a document meant to address national issues are not only unpatriotic, they are criminal. From the beginning of the constitution amendment debate, it was clear that three main interest groups were gearing up to influence the outcome: state governors, who want the immunity clause retained; and are also opposed to local government autonomy; state houses of assembly, which want to institute a first-line charge on state revenue, like the National Assembly; and the Presidency, which wants legalization of the Excess Crude Account and other means of evading accountability for spending from the nation's common wealth.

The exercise costs over one billion naira-and took several months- to conduct. Hearings and consultation sessions were supposed to be held in all the federal constituencies based on a template. The result was supposed to be collated and form the basis for generally agreed amendments to the constitution. This report ought therefore to contain statistical analyses of the information garnered by use of such template, and that all the amendments can be seen to have support throughout the nation.

But, as it has now been established, the Ihedioha Committee report had been doctored to include items that did not have support at the hearings from those areas. The doctored report claimed that 70% of the 360 federal constituencies favoured the creation of only one new state, and that is in Mr Ihedioha's geopolitical zone. Given the preponderance of sentiments over that issue, it would be stretching it to infer that what was inserted, behind the back of other committee members, represented the mood of the people. Another contentious insertion provided for the retention of immunity from prosecution for state governors, which was not the case in the original document.

Perhaps the most astonishing inclusion in the doctored report was its blatant call for the abolition of local councils as a third tier of government, when the popular consensus has in fact always been to give local governments autonomy and free them from the current stranglehold of state governors.

Controversy has always trailed attempts to amend the constitution and the House leadership must ensure that the popular will of the people prevails in the latest report. Local councils should be given the power they deserve to directly institute and execute projects to benefit the people at the grassroots.

One major issue, the question of tenure elongation, which has been vigorously promoted by the Presidency and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as a ploy to introduce a single, 6-year tenure for the incumbent to remain in office after 2015, was roundly-and decisively- rejected by Nigerians.

It would be a folly for key players in the exercise to trample on the will of the people; it is this principle that should guide the leadership of the House of Representatives-and that of the Senate-when the matter eventually is tabled for debate.

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