Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: More States Will Be Created - NASS

Abuja — SENATE President, David Mark, said yesterday, that to douse tension in the country, agitation or feeling of marginalization by some minority groups in the country, zoning or rotation of top political offices should be inserted in the constitution.

This came on a day the House of Representatives made public the much expected Constitution Review Peoples Public Sessions Report, which highlighted Nigerians' clamour for state creation, though with divergent views on number of states to be created.

The report also highlighted local government autonomy, rejected state police, asked for abolition of immunity clause, unicameral legislature, among others, even as Nigerians voted that State Independent Electoral Commissions, SIECS, should be scrapped and that governors should have no powers over state police commissioners.

Senator Mark, who spoke when he received a delegation of traditional rulers, under the aegis of Anioma Congress from Delta State, led by the Asagba of Asaba, Prof. Chike Edozien, said the creation of additional states to deserving areas would be a major concern as the 1999 constitution was being reviewed, stressing that the move would help facilitate development of all nooks and crannies of the country.

He said: "Zoning or rotation of top political offices such as governor of a state should be inserted into the constitution".

He said if the country must get it right, the present constitutional amendment must take into cognizance the anxieties, fears, agitation and future of minority groups to provide what he called the needed elixir for peace, unity and security under a united Nigerian federation.

Senator Mark said: "I strongly believe that we truly need to create more states to meet the needs of agitators, bring a sense of belonging to the people, promote healthy competition among the federating states, as well as guaranteeing peace and security in the land."

He pointed out that a situation where some sections of a state were permanently confined to playing second fiddle role was not good for harmonious co-existence among the people.

He added: "For peace, security and development to thrive, justice, fairness and equity must be the yardstick for relating between and among the cohabiting groups".

Mark hinted that the Senate Constitution Review Committee would meet next week in Lagos to put finishing touches to the compilation of requests, findings and recommendations for the constitution amendment before submitting the document for consideration.

He assured that the Senate will be fair, honest and just in consideration of the report and would reflect the wishes and aspirations of Nigerians in a manner that would promote peace, unity and development of the nation.

The Asagba of Asaba, Prof. Edozien, enumerated efforts by Anioma people of Delta State to have a state of their own since 1983 without much success.

He noted that the proposed Anioma state was endowed with enough human and material resources that would make the state viable.

The monarch demanded that the zone be allowed to produce the next governor of the state in 2015, pointing out that in the spirit of fairness and equity, other zones which had got the opportunity, should cooperate with Delta North to have a shot at the governorship seat.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives, yesterday, finally made public the much expected Constitution Review Peoples Public Sessions Report, as Nigerians clamoured for state creation but had divergent views on number of states to be created.

Nigerians also voted that State Independent Electoral Commissions, SIECS, should be scrapped and governors should not have powers over State Police Commissioners.

225 federal constituencies in the country pushed for the abolition of the immunity clause in the constitution that currently protects the President and state governors from criminal prosecution while in office.

123 other federal constituencies wanted the current constitutional provision maintained.

This was the highlight of the public presentation of the result of public hearing sessions held across the 360 federal constituencies for the purpose of amending the 1999 constitution.

Details of the report as presented by the committee indicated that a clear majority of Nigerians, who voted on the review, endorsed the amendment of the constitution to allow the President, his deputy, state governors and their deputies face charges for corruption cases preferred against them while in office.

The report also indicated that 253 federal constituencies, however, rejected the amendment of the constitution to allow for state governments control the police force.

Another amendment endorsed by majority of the country's constituencies was the replacement of state of origin with state of residence, thereby resolving the indigeneship question

A clear majority of the federal constituencies also called for the scrapping of states electoral commissions while the separation of the offices of the Attorney General of the Federation and the office of Accountant General of the Federation was endorsed.

The recent call for diaspora voting was rejected while a clear majority of the constituencies endorsed the call for independent candidacy in the country's future elections. They also supported that state houses should enjoy financial autonomy.

Speaking at the public presentation, yesterday, Deputy Speaker of the House, Emeka Ihedioha, said: "From the report made available to the House, the sessions across the 360 Federal Constituencies of Nigeria were all very well attended by Nigerians and also by representatives of labour, Nigerian Bar Association and other professional organisations, Nigerian Union of Teachers, Pro-democracy and Civil Society Organisations, youths and students groups, women groups, special interests groups and indeed, the plurality of interests in the constituencies such as artisans, journalists, religious groups, town unions and associations.

"Deliberations at each of these sessions were free, robust, and participatory. Nigerians got the opportunity to say their minds and air their views.

"The issues that were captured in the template included: proposals for constitution amendment with respect to: recognition of the six zonal structure; issues with respect to States creation; the structure, funding and creation of local governments; residency, citizenship and the indigeneship question; justiciability of economic and social rights; fiscal provisions; separation of office of Accountant General of the Federation and Accountant General of the Federal Government.

"Others are: Separation of office of Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice; process of sending the revenue allocation formula to the National Assembly; independence of State legislature; amendments to the exclusive legislative list; fiscal federalism; abolition of State Electoral Commissions; immunity clause; State Police question; zoning and power sharing; term of office of Governors and President whether single term of 5, 6 or 7 years or a renewable 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; judicial reforms; further electoral reforms; etc.

"At the end of deliberations, participants in the sessions voted, and their votes were recorded in the full view and participation of all. It should be noted that throughout the conduct of the sessions, including voting, each member of the House of Representatives participated like everybody else and operated under strict guidelines that allowed for a reflection of unhindered participation, contribution and voting by all.

"Our guidelines had indicated that members from each constituency were only to facilitate the process and allow for the Steering Committee in each constituency to conduct the sessions.

"I am pleased to report that the feedback we got from the sessions indicate that this process was largely complied with.

"At the end of the sessions in the constituencies, we have required that each member present the report and results of voting from the constituencies to the secretariat of the committee including video evidence of the proceedings.

"As was widely reported in the media, the Speaker and the Leadership of the House led other members at a televised event to begin submission of their reports". All of the results obtained were deposited at the secretariat of the Constitution Review Committee.

"The Committee invited the representatives of the hitherto mentioned civil society groups and stakeholders to join with the secretariat of the Committee to begin collation of the results.

"It is these results that the House of Representatives is presenting to Nigerians today. The results are the voice of the Nigerian people, who have expressed their views on what changes they would like to see in any amendment being made to the national legal grundnorm - the Constitution of Nigeria".

"It is important to note however, that the Results being unveiled today represent the collated views and decisions of Nigerians living in the various constituencies in the remotest nooks and crannies of Nigeria.

"The collated results are not the view of the Speaker, Deputy Speaker or leadership of the House of Representatives. It is also not the views of the House of Representatives as an institution.

"It is the collective response of Nigerians to the questions posed in the templates. This process may not be perfect, but I dare say, that it is the first time in the history of this country that Nigerians at the grassroots have been made part of the Constitution Review Process in a practical and transparent manner."

In his speech, speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, said: "As you would recall, on November 9, 2012, I had the privilege of formally flagging off the "Peoples Public Session" which took place in the 360 Federal Constituencies pursuant to the process of constitutional amendment.

"I noted then that the programme was novel and with every novel idea comes teething challenges. My confidence was however rested on the zeal and determination of our honourable Colleagues and the House Ad-hoc Committee on Constitutional Amendment.

Today I am glad to receive the report of that endeavour from the Ad-Hoc Committee. Let me therefore express my sincere appreciation to all the honourable members of the House of Representatives for the successful conduct of the exercise and to the Ad-Hoc Committee for diligently perusing, collating and producing the report before us.

"As a participant observer I am not in any doubt that the exercise was challenging but ultimately fulfilling.

"Critical lessons were learnt in the process which, no doubt, will positively influence the perception and performance of this hallowed Chambers henceforth.

"One of such challenges was the realization that the average Nigerian, irrespective of his level of formal education, is politically more sophisticated than we presume. The seamless manner in which stakeholders engaged the entirety of the template was a pointer to the fact that today's

leadership will ignore the silent majority at its peril.

The other pleasant revelation was the palpable hunger for participation in governance by Nigerian from all walk of life and social strata.

Discussion on several subject was heavily spiced with criticisms of existing policies and lamentation over the culture of monopoly of governance by the elite. There was massive turn out at most, if not all, of the sessions and enthusiastic participation from the beginning to the end of the session with participants demanding more time.

" It was also clearly evident that on several issues we, as representatives of the people, must employ the opinion of the vocal majority with circumspection. Some items on the template, which from the preponderant opinion of the media, suggest general acceptance as desirable were completely rejected by the ordinary Nigerians and that with plausible arguments and justification.

" Having said so, let me formally commend all Nigerians who participated in that exercise and also those who were unable for logistics reasons, for their zeal and enthusiasm without which our objectives would have failed.

"By their action they have clearly fortified their right to be consulted more regularly and intimately on all critical matters of national interest and I promise on behalf of my colleagues that we shall continue to respect this right.

"To all Nigerians, let me seize this opportunity to assure, on behalf of the House of Representatives that all views and opinions offered at these public Sessions as well as those forwarded through written memoranda, which constitute the substance of this report, will be carefully and fairly considered in fashioning the proposed amendments to the Constitution.

" Our resolve to meet the yearnings of Nigerians for a more acceptable ad functional constitution remains firm and I assure once again that you can count on us.

Also speaking at the presentation, Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Sam Jaja, said "this is truly the first Nigerian constitution that was taken to the public domain. The 1999, 1989 constitutions were supervised by the military but this time around Nigerians had a voice in this one. "

Organisations present at the event include: Civil Society Organisations, representatives of youth organisations, National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, political parties women based organisations.

In a related development yesterday, Eziuche Ubani Chairman of the sub-committee on Publicity, said "as it is now, we do not have any stipulated deadline as to when this report will be ready.

"All the multiple memoranda would be exhaustively deliberated upon and all shades of opinions will be adequately represented. "

Also speaking during the weekly House briefing, spokesman of the House, Zakari Mohammed, said "on the constitution review, Nigerians should prevail on the state houses of assemblies to endorse the people's aspirations as were reflected during the peoples public sessions conducted by the House."

He stressed that "the task of amending the constitution is not the sole responsibility of NASS. We can assure the peoples wish cannot be tampered with by the House."

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