Nigeria: Constitution Review - Row Escalates As Afenifere, YCE, Tiv Leaders, Others Challenge Senate

14 June 2021

Secretary General of Afenifere, Chief Sola Ebiseni, has said the Senate, through its Deputy President, Omo-Agege, has vindicated the group's position that the current step at amending the 1999 Constitution is an exercise in futility.

Others who joined issues with the Senate over the Constitution issue include Convener of YesWeFit Revolutionary Movement and former presidential aspirant, Thomas-Wilson Ikubese, Archbishop Ayo Ladigbolu, retired Methodist Archbishop of Ilesa and Ibadan, a former Minister of Transportation, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, a former Minister of Communication, Mr Adebayo Shittu, a former envoy to the Philippines, Ambassador Yemi Faroumbi.

Others are Secretary, Ekiti Council of Elders (ECE), Niyi Ajibulu, Secretary General of Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), Dr Kunle Olajide, Afenifere Organising Secretary, Akogun Kole Omololu, Senior Elders Forum of the YCE and President General of Mzough U Tiv, MUT, Worldwide and Chairman of Leaders of Benue Ethnic Groups and Socio-cultural Organizations, Chief Iorbee Ihagh.

THE Senate had said it could not give Nigeria a brand new Constitution as demanded by some socio-political and cultural organisations in the country, saying the best it could do was to amend the existing one as it was currently doing.

Deputy President of the Senate and Chairman, Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, Senator Ovie Omo- Agege (APC, Delta Central), who disclosed the Senate position, said though the Senate respects the opinion of those who want a new Constitution, a section of the document does not give the National Assembly the powers to produce a brand new Constitution.

"Now, some of our compatriots have urged that rather than amend the Constitution, we should make a new Constitution altogether", Omo-Agege stated.

"We respect this opinion, and we believe it is a most desirable proposition.

"However, we are conducting this exercise in accordance with the extant legal order, which is the 1999 Constitution. Specifically, Section 9 of the Constitution empowers the National Assembly to alter the provisions of the Constitution and prescribes the manner in which it is to be done.

"Unfortunately, it does not make similar provision or provide mechanism for replacing or re-writing an entirely new Constitution.

"To embark on any process without prior alteration of Section 9 of the Constitution to provide the mode through which an entirely new Constitution could be made will amount to gross violation of our oath of allegiance to the Constitution.

"In other words, it will take a new constitutional amendment to be able to give Nigerians a most desired new Constitution. It would be unconstitutional to do otherwise.

Omo-Agege spoke on the heels of the argument by the Southern and Middle Belt Forum (SMBLF) that the National Assembly was wasting its time amending the present Constitution, contending that what the country needs is a new Constitution written by the people.

The Forum described the current attempt to amend the 1999 Constitution by the National Assembly as fraudulent.

The leaders also warned that failure to restructure the country might lead to the Nigeria's disintegration

The SMBLF, which comprises the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF; the pan-Yoruba socio-political orgnisation, Afenifere; Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the Middle-Belt Forum, had met at the Ladi Kwali Hall of Sheraton Hotels and Towers in Abuja.

"The meeting urges the Federal Government to heed the genuine and reasonable nationwide calls for a transparent National Dialogue, and take urgent steps towards restructuring and birthing a new constitution; to bring back equitable harmony to the country", a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting said.

"We insist that it is imperative to immediately restructure the country, considering the precarious prevailing atmosphere before any further elections".

But reacting to the Omo-Agege statement, Ebiseni said, "We are only amused that Senator Omo-Agege, a lawyer, would seek to trivialise such a serious national issue on the interpretation only of Section 9 of the Constitution on its amendment".

The Afenifere Secretary General went on: "Contrary to the wrong interpretation of the Section, an alteration of the Constitution or any statute or document could be by amendment, change or outright substitution.

"Thus, in saner climes, the National Assembly could use existing documents, including the 1963 Constitution and the 2014 National Conference report, and prepare a new draft Constitution altering the present Constitution by substitution and get the concurrence of the requisite number of state Houses of Assembly.

"When India was confronted with a constitutional crisis in 1953, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru appointed the States Reorganisation Commission which recommendations were submitted to parliament and reorganised India states along linguistic groups.

"Our small western neighbour, Republic of Benin, under the elected government of President Mathew Kerekou, commissioned a National Conference in 1990 which recommendations birthed a new Constitution of the people which has since endured.

"In the Nigerian unfortunate situation the Senate Deputy President, from Delta State, is only running away from the fact in the 1999 Constitution, the National Assembly, dominated by the beneficiaries of the fraudulent Constitution, cannot make any meaningful or fundamental changes.

"The President, who is supposed to be the father of all, lacks the sagacity of a statesman.

"He would rather dance to the tune of those who gave him 95% votes; he could not see why Bayelsa with eight local governments would have the same number of senators with Kano's 44 as if the number to Bayelsa is all it deserves; he would rather teach Igbo youths the genocidal lessons their fathers and mothers were taught.

"The National Assembly ought to know that the situation in Nigeria where government officials cannot travel from Minna and Ilorin to Lokoja for zonal public hearing, for security reason, is beyond crass legalese'.

Critical conditions

On his part, Ikubese, Convener of YesWeFit Revolutionary Movement and former presidential aspirant, said he was shocked that the Senate was not disposed to a new Constitution, saying critical conditions require critical solutions.

"I urge the Senate to put letters aside and act swiftly to save what is left of this country before it's too late", he said.

"This is not the first time we've embarked on constitutional amendment through confabs. How did it all end?

"This is why we shouldn't travel the same old route that will leave us in the middle of nowhere.

"All we need is the political will power to get it done and birth a brand new nation that we can all be proud of.

"What we need now is a brand new Constitution, and not an amendment, that we know will not be implemented like previous ones.

"The Senate has a golden opportunity to write their names in gold. They shouldn't throw it away".

Unitary govt

Archbishop Ayo Ladigbolu, in his submission, said since the process of the review has started, there is hardly anything anybody can do about it.

His words: "Since the whole exercise has started, it will be difficult to discontinue. I'm sure members of the National Assembly are listening to the people by way of public hearing being held and also believe that it will provide adequate impetus for them to know what the people want.

"So, instead of writing a fresh and new Constitution, they can amend the existing one as long as they listen to the people because they are the ones they are representing.

"That's the Constitution that devolves to the states and reduces the overwhelming powers which the FG has today so that we will no longer be a unitary government but become a true democracy."

New thing

While contributing to the subject, Shittu, a former Minister of Communication, said the 1999 Constitution doesn't recognize any process of mischievous formulation.

"The Constitution provides for amendment. There is no justification for throwing away the current Constitution. There is no process, method recognized to bring about a new Constitution", Shittu, a lawyer, said.

"Those advocating for a new Constitution, what is the new thing they want to bring in which cannot be brought in through an amendment once they can convince Nigerians and the National Assembly through their proposals?

"It must go through the National Assembly, the only arm of government empowered to begin the process of amendment.

"When it involves changing the whole Constitution, it is not only the National Assembly; it must involve the state Houses of Assembly.

"It is then we can say this is the wish of the generality of all Nigerians. Anything other than that, those calling for a new Constitution are calling for the overthrow of governmental order. It's not a matter of sentiment but a matter of law and constitutional processes must be followed".

Reconsidering position

Babatope, a former Minister of Transportation, described the position of the Senate as very surprising.

"I find it very interesting because the responsibility of running a country is that of the National Assembly and so the Senate should not turn down the request of Nigerians if they want a new Constitution", Babatope said.

"I think Nigerians should begin to mount pressure on individual lawmaker and the Senate collectively without any form of violence to make them reconsider their position.

"The Senate should do everything in it power to give the people what they want.

"The Senate should realise that the people are agitating for a new Constitution because of the failure of the 1999 Constitution and it should also realise that it represents the people and, for that reason, should reconsider its stance on a new Constitution".

Law made for man

Faroumbi, a former envoy to the Philippines, Ambassador, described the Deputy Senate President position as an indication that he lacked the capacity to lead the legislature.

"What the Deputy Senate President said indicates the magnitude of mental poverty that is affecting our leadership", he said.

"For the Deputy Senate President to say that they are not in the position to give us a new Constitution unless we make an amendment to the 1999 Constitution indicates that the man lacks perspective of political situation since 1999.

"I hope he will go and find out what happened under Ken Nnamani. I hope he will go and find out how when Obasanjo became President, he asked then three political parties, the AD, APP and PDP, to set up a committee to work on a new Constitution.

"I hope he will be reminded that President Obasanjo set up Jerry Gana Committee that went round Nigeria making consultations on how to write a new Constitution and I hope he will find out that it was just because there was a clause of third term that the whole thing was rejected in the Senate.

"It is because our Constitution is wrong that we have symptoms of banditry, kidnapping and all of that.

"In a properly structured country, each area would have taken care of its own security while external security is provided by the Federal Government.

"Each area would have developed itself in such a way that our economy will be better than this, there will be more employment and there will be no tendency for people to become criminals.

"The law is made for man and not the other way round. I am particularly disappointed in the Senate position and I recall that those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable.

"If there is more violence and the crisis in the country gets worse, the Senate must be held responsible because they failed to act".

Referendum

Olajide, Secretary General of YCE, condemned the position of the Senate against a new Constitution or a return to the 1963 Constitution.

He said the Senate stand is a reflection of the 1999 Constitution which, according to him, places democracy upside down.

"Democracy is supposed to put the people at the center of all activities but what do we have in Nigeria? People are at the fringe, they don't even reckon with the people. The moment our people are elected into executive position or into the legislature, they turned against the people", the Yoruba leader said.

"It is an aberration to expect this Senate to give us a new Constitution.

"What we expect the Senate to do is to start a process by initiating two bills or one as the case may be, one to provide for referendum in our Constitution and the other is the enactment of Constituent Assembly Constitution that will arrange for Constituent Assembly election where Nigerians, through elected representatives, will decide the type of Constitution they want, the type of political system they want to practice and all over things.

"It is like going back to the basics where we started from, 1960/63. It is very wrong for the Senate to pronounce authoritatively that they cannot give us a new Constitution.

"I don't expect them to give us a new Constitution because they themselves are products of a flawed, fraudulent Constitution.

"For example, I'm happy Governor Akeredolu mentioned it that we do not need a bi-cameral legislature at the center as the people reside in local governments and states, that is where the bulk of the power must reside, not in Abuja.

"Therefore power should reside where the people reside, states and local governments and we should not have more than 15 items in the Exclusive List and the rest residual for states and local governments.

"They are products of a flawed Constitution that gave them the status of masters instead of servants of the people.

"We need a new Constitution and we must have a new Constitution.

"How many are they? They are less than 1, 000. So, how can they make pronouncement for about 220 million Nigerians? They are our servants, their tenure is transient. They are expected to reflect what Nigerians want, not to tell us what they want.

"The 1999 Constitution has made politics a commercial business, so about 85-90% of them are not interested in politics; they are interested in their pocket, to make profit.

"As far as they are concerned, they have invested in commercial enterprise and so they want to make their money, whereas politics is vocation, service.

"This is why Nigerians must be assembled to jettison this presidential system of government, bring government nearer to the people, parliamentary system, make the President or Prime Minister a member of the National Assembly, make governors members of state Houses of Assembly and them make them contest election only in their constituencies where they are known rather than this monetized political system.

"What is the assurance that the President will even sign their current jamboree?

"So their admittance to say they cannot give us a new Constitution should make them honest and modest enough to say that the Constitution that brought them to office is not good, so they should honestly give us a referendum, a Constituent Assembly.

"Let us select representatives and 3-4 months they will give us a new Constitution which will go to the people in a referendum, not an illegitimate National Assembly".

Fraudulent

Ajibulu, Secretary, Ekiti Council of Elders (ECE), on his part, said the pronouncement of the Senate was fraudulent, pointing out that building on the 1999 Constitution cannot work. "No amount of amendments would make it reflect the yearnings of Nigerians or reflect the Nigerians current realities", he said.

"All these amendments they are taking about cannot work because, from the beginning, it's fraudulent.

"Our position all along has been a referendum and writing a true Constitution that will reflect the yearnings of Nigerians.

"There is no way the current Constitution can be amended to reflect the yearnings of Nigerians.

"We cannot fix this country based on the Constitution we are running now.

"All these efforts to amend or re-amend are efforts in futility. It will not get us anywhere; we have to go back to the basics.

"Majority of Nigerians agrees that we should have a Constitution that will reflect the yearnings of Nigerians and put us on course as a country".

Political will

Omololu, Afenifere Organising Secretary, said if the National Assembly can muster the political will, they can give Nigeria something close to a new Constitution.

2014 Conference Report

Senior Elders Forum of the YCE, speaking through its former National Chairman, Dansaaki Samuel Adeleye Agbede, said, "The current Constitution is riddled with extraneous items which are not in tune with the happenings of the modern day Nigeria.

"By the time the 1999 Constitution is amended, more than 75 per cent of it would have been altered and when that is done, you can no longer regard it as a Constitution.

"So the spirit and intent of the so-called Constitution would have been lost. So, I agree with those who say they should just disregard it and choose a better alternative.

"The issue of going for a new one is going to be a long process and because of the tortuous route it is going to take, it cannot meet up with the issues of the moment.

"The issues at hand are so enormous that starting a new Constitution is going to be a waste of everybody's time.

"We don't know what will happen between when they begin and when they will end it.

"We all know that having a Constitution which will be done by the people and for the people is not going to take a short route.

"We are facing a serious security problem and I believe that FG should show some maturity and open mindedness by taking steps to cure the ills of the moment".

"If there's anything to be done to solve the problems, it is going back to the report of the 2014 National Conference. They only need to fine-tune it to satisfy the yearnings of the people".

People's Constitution

Ihagh, President General of Mzough U Tiv, MUT, Worldwide and Chairman of Leaders of Benue Ethnic Groups and Socio-cultural Organizations, urged the National Assembly to bring back the 1963 Constitution if it is unable to give Nigerians a new Constitution.

He noted that the 1999 Constitution, which was put together by the military, "is antithetical to the wishes and aspirations of the Nigerian people.

"So, I must say that the 1999 Constitution is not a Constitution at all. It a product of the military which certainly does not reflect the hopes, wishes and aspirations of the Nigerian people", the tribal leader said.

"Hence I believe that if members of the National Assembly say they cannot give us a new Constitution to replace the flawed 1999 Constitution, the best option for us as a nation is to go back to the 1963 Constitution and probably have it amended.

"The 1963 Constitution is a better document than what we have in the 1999 document. Even when we went to Abuja for the constitutional amendment parley, that was our position.

"Since they cannot give us a new Constitution let us have the peoples' Constitution of 1963 and have it amended and certainly not the 1999 Constitution."

Vanguard News Nigeria

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