BY OUR REPORTERS
Governor Rabiu Kwankwanso of Kano State yesterday, pressed on with his criticism of the ongoing constitution review, accusing the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Emeka Ihedioha of collaborating to foist an Igbo agenda on their colleagues.
Coming to the aid of his deputy, Senate President David Mark in a retort absolved the National Assembly of having a hidden agenda saying the National Assembly would be guided by the views of the majority of Nigerians.
Speaker Aminu Tambuwal of the House of Representatives also yesterday gave the readiness of the legislature to subject future constitution reviews to popular referendum as demanded by some pressure groups including the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA.
Tambuwal spoke at a ceremony at the National Assembly to flag off the commencement of the public consultations of all 360 members of the House of Representatives with their constituents on the constitution review tomorrow.
It’s Igbo agenda Kwankwanso alleges
Speaking with reporters in Kano yesterday, Kwankwanso said that the “process is designed to achieve a predetermined goal and the principal officers of the committee are pursuing an agenda under an agenda”.
The Senate and House of Representatives Committees are respectively led by Senator Ekweremadu and Rep. Ihedioha.
Kwankwanso, himself a former deputy speaker of the House of Representatives said that the composition of the leadership of the two committees allowed legislators from the same ethnic and regional background which he said had in effect toned down the importance of the constitution review exercise.
“Issues of national importance are better handled by people that have the interest of the country at heart,” he said.
The governor noted with dismay that the leadership of the two committees had failed to reveal criteria for what they have been assigned to do or the desired contribution from critical stakeholders.
“What we are seeing now did not happen under the jackboot military era,” Kwankwanso, who had in the past accused the National Assembly and Ekweremadu in particular of having a secret agenda.
Kwankwaso opined that the decision to carry out a review of the 1999 Constitution at this point in time as “un-necessary”, stressing that the “document has never been fully implemented and should be given a chance.”
Ekweremadu could not be reached to respond on the development yesterday. In an interview with Vanguard last month, the Deputy President of the Senate had rebuffed the insinuations of the Kano governor saying then that he could not singly impose his mind upon his 108 other colleagues.
“My friend, Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso, has accused me twice in that direction. My first attitude was simply to ignore him and focus on what I am doing because I believe he was mistaken in the accusation,” Ekweremadu told Vanguard in an interview.
Continuing, Ekweremadu had said: “I think my friend Kwankwaso seems not to understand clearly how states are being created for him to send signal that any person could sit in one place and ensure that states are created. That is the way military created their own states. I am surprised that Kwankwaso does not know that things have changed. This is a civilian regime where nobody will stay in one place and then decide the states to be created.”
Governor Kwankwaso also restated his opposition to the establishment of state police based on his own personal experience, saying “we still have some reckless people in the system that would exploit such privilege to the detriment of our collective freedom”
“the manner in which my predecessor and successor witch-hunted me, exploited all instruments of his office to stain and bring my name and my political career to disrepute, you could imagine if such person had had police in his control, he would certainly harm me”, Kwankwaso stressed.
No hidden agenda—Mark
Receiving a delegation of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, in his office yesterday, Senator Mark rebuffed insinuations made against the Ekweremadu led Senate Committee on Constitution Review.
Mark told the delegation led by the NBA national president, Chief Okey Wali, SAN to allay fear that the National Assembly has a preconceived idea on the amendment of the 1999 Constitution.
Saying that there is no secret agenda, the Senate President said, “all we are interested in is to mobilize and get all Nigerians involved in the process of Constitution amendment. We have no particular agenda but that which majority of Nigerians desire.”
“I have heard people criticize my position on the desirability of State creation. No part of Nigeria or geo-political zone in the country that has not requested for State. It is not a David Mark agenda. We shall weigh the scale and respond to the genuine desire of Nigerians.
“This is democracy; everybody should be allowed to express him or herself in the process. What we shall oppose is a situation where a vocal minority would want to impose its views or position on the majority.”
Senator Mark who reiterated that all interest groups would have a say in the process, stressed that the amendment would be guided by the dictates of the Constitution, adding, “we shall not do anything outside the Constitution.”
He noted that public hearings would be held in the 109 Senatorial districts by the Senate, while the House of Representatives would visit the 360 federal constituencies to gather the views of Nigerians on the amendment.
In his remarks, Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu told the NBA that the process of Constitution amendment does not require referendum, but however assured the visitors and Nigerians that no Section would be denied input in the process.
Also speaking, Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, reinstated that the process of Constitution amendment would be all embracing so that no one or group would feel sidelined, adding that referendum as a process can only be accepted if the Constitution was amended to accommodate it.
The NBA President in his remarks suggested a referendum as a process for the amendment of the 1999 Constitution, adding that it is only when all Nigerians participate in the process that the Constitution can be truly called the Constitution of the people of Nigeria.
Wali, however, announced the constitution of two special committees of the NBA on Legislative and Constitution Matters and Law Reforms headed by Paul Erokoro, SAN and Charles Edosanwan, SAN to interface with the National Assembly on behalf of the NBA.
Speaking at a ceremony in Abuja to herald tomorrow’s nationwide consultations by members of the House of Representatives on the review of the constitution, Speaker Tambuwal on his part said the House could subject future amendments of the constitution to a referendum.
The public hearing by the House members in all 360 federal constituencies is taking place simultaneously tomorrow.
While calling on all Nigerians to go out en-mass to participate in the exercise, for the purpose of articulating “a Constitution that meets our yearnings,” Tambuwal explained that the Peoples’ Public Sessions programme is aimed at ensuring a more participatory, inclusive and transparent review of the Constitution.
“It is expected that this broad based approach to the process of amending the Constitution will be more credible and open to all citizens and that popular participation shall be greatly enhanced. It is designed to embrace all segments and sectors of the polity.”
“Whereas the House of Representatives is fully conscious of the fact that under Section 4 of the Constitution, the Legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are vested in the National Assembly and that by Section 9 of same, the procedure for altering the Constitution is expressly prescribed, we do not lose sight of Section 14 which encourages the promotion of popular participation by the citizenry in governance.”
He further stated that although a template for the process has been introduced, it is only a general guide embodying the collation of the preponderant issues in the over 200, memoranda submitted by members of the public adding that both the categories and quantum of issues that can be introduced into the process remain open.
In his own remarks at the occasion, Deputy Speaker of the House and Chairman House Committee on Constitution Review Rep. Ihedioha stated that the Peoples public sessions would be handled by Independent Steering Committees with members of the federal house in various constituencies as facilitators.
Speaking at the occasion, the Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on National Assembly Matters Sen. Joy Emordi commended the initiative of the House towards amending the constitution.
She urged the House to consider the lopsidedness in the number of states which make up the six geopolitical zones in the country for review. She also advocated that the status of married women should be clearly addressed in the constitution review exercise to prevent the recurrence of the recent incident which prevented a female nominee of the Court of Appeal from Abia state from being sworn in.
Speaking at the occasion, President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar commended the House for its effort to engage Nigerians at the grassroots in tomorrow’s exercise adding that the move would render the call for a Sovereign National Conference irrelevant. The labour leader also called on the lawmakers to consider the issue of minimum wage as one of those to be addressed in the amendment exercise.
In his own remarks at the occasion, the President of the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian universities (ASUU) Dr. Nasir Isa Fagge stated that the nation needs an alternative constitution to surmount the myriad of problems it is presently facing adding that mere amendment is inadequate. He cited the military origin of the amended 1999 Constitution as its major flaw.
In his comments, President of Nigeria Union of journalists Mohammed Garba called for more autonomy for public media organisations in the country.
Speaking at the event, a representative of the civil societies forum Mr. Emma Ezeazu complained about the manner in which some members of the House were handling preparations for the exercise adding that some of them had already pre-selected officials that are supposed to have been appointed by the Independent Steering Committees.
Meanwhile, Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State, also yesterday, called on Bayelsans to come out in their numbers for the consultations by the members of the House of Representatives from the state tomorrow.
“As the only homogenous Ijaw state, there are issues we the Ijaw people are concerned about to have a place in the Nigerian Federation as part of efforts to bring about an equitable, stable, a lasting democratic and prosperous Nigeria,” Dickson told all six members of the House of Representatives from the state during a courtesy call to familarise him on their quest.
Dickson, himself, a member of the House of Representatives until his inauguration last February also called for close collaboration between his government and the members of the National Assembly.
“We need all hands on deck. The dichotomy between Abuja-based politicians (so called) and politicians that are locally based is over. I want to call for closer partnership and interactions with members of the National Assembly from Bayelsa State and those of us who are trying to hold the home-base. We need to provide that synergy and let people know that we cannot afford any division”.
Earlier, Leader of the team, Rep. Warman Ogoriba, representing Yenagoa/Kolokuma Federal Constituency explained they were in the state to hold wide consultations with their constituents with the aim of getting their inputs on the various contentious issues that in the country’s 1999 constitution.
Rep. Ogoriba also seized the opportunity to congratulate Governor Dickson on his recent victory at the Supreme Court and pledged their continued support to the present administration.
Other members on the team were Nadu Karibo, representing Ogbia Federal Constituency, Henry Ofongo (Southern Ijaw), Foingha Jephtah(Brass/Nembe) and Dr. Stella Dorgu(Sagbama/Ekeremor)