By NKIRUKA NNOROM & KUNLE KALEJAYE
More reactions have continued to trail the amendment of the constitution, even as members of Civil Society groups yesterday described the current review of the 1999 constitution as superficial and flawed.
This view was shared by Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Publicity Secretary, Action Congress of Nigeria, Mr Monday Ubani, Chairman, Nigeria Bar Association, Mr. Sam Itodo, President, Youth Alliance on Constitution Review, YARCO, Mrs Cynthia Ekwueme of Women & Child Rights Agenda, Mr. Qasim Akinreti of Media Network, Mr. Seyi Adeleke from Nigeria Union of Journalist, Abuja, Mr Tope Shaba of Civil Society Coalition and Ms Bisi Olagbegi of Gender & Constitution Review Network.
This assertion was made at Vanguard Conference Hall on constitution review, sponsored by United Nations Development Programme, UNDP in Lagos.
Speaking at the event, Mr Ubani said any constitution review that took no cognisance of the views of Nigerians would not have lasting impact.
He, therefore, called for a sovereign national conference, saying that it was fundamental that the constitution emanated from the people.
“What is going on now is what we call patch-patch. What we expect is constitutional conference where we will really sit down as a nation, and if we write them, it will be the terms and conditions that we will live together as a country.
“For now, Nigeria is not a nation, we are not yet together and the first questions that we really want to ask ourselves is the issue of if we really want to live together before we even talk about constitution amendment or review so that we don’t write down a constitution for a people that will never live together or never in any way have a common goal and pursuit to ensure that Nigeria becomes a developed nations.
“The issue is: Do we want to live together as one country, one nation that has one aspiration, one goal? And if that question is answered, then we can now go ahead and give ourselves a constitution and begin to specify the terms and conditions of various issues.
He noted that most of the problems the nation has were, systemic as it had constitution that was penned down by the military. “But I tell you that it is very fundamental that the people give themselves a constitution, a law that they will respect,” he added.
Lai Mohammed, pointed out that the constitution was lopsided at the centre. Stating further that there was need for civil society groups to form alliance with political parties to fashion a constitution that would be reflective of the people’s will.
He said a sovereign national conference was important to understand Nigerians differences and aspirations to determine if they actually wanted to continue to co-exist as a nation.
Ubani noted that every state should be allowed to decide its position on state police, adding that the Federal Government must not foist its will on the state. His words: “What stops a state like Lagos from having state police to monitor its environment to ensure that lives are protected? Bornu can come up and say that they don’t want state police; they want to rely on the federal police. In a Federal system of government, every state must be allowed to make his own decision; everything must not be from Abuja.
“If a state says it want state police, fine. That is the true federal system. Unlike when someone sits in Abuja and pass on an idea, whether the idea is good or not, they want to enforce it in all the states. We allow the state to come and take care of some issues in order to run an efficient government, an efficient system that would allow everyone to be happy.”
President, Youth Alliance on Constitution Review, Sam Itodo said that the constitution should be able to define who a youth was, while decrying a situation where a 60- year- old would be parading himself as youth leader. He noted that there was need to establish full franchise that would allow every adult youth to vote and be voted for.
He said that the constitution, in its present state, disenfranchised youths from being voted into political offices. To this end, Itodo also stated that age criteria should either be removed or reduced to allow for more youth participation.
He said: “We all agree that we practice a constitutional democracy and participation is at its peak; it is critical in terms public policy formulation. We strongly believe that there are four principles that any constitution review must subscribe to must. First is Participation, legitimacy, diversity, and transparency.
“There is paradigm shift for young people; we have come to recognise that we have to take back our country. This was not the democracy that our forefathers fought for. So we need to take back our country. There are other youth groups that are working towards a better constitution review.
The review is a means to provide government an opportunity to address the socio-economic need and even the political needs of young people with particular reference to chapter two of the constitutions that deals with fundamental objectives and directives principle of state policy.
“Nigeria youth will go to court to fight for our right to education, shelter, and job because this same provision is contained in the Kenya constitution which is viewed as one of the most progressive constitution. It provides and guarantees this right and if Nigeria prides itself as the giant of Africa and the beacon of hope for Africa, then she has to reflect that in every ramification which include even in constitution making.
“The greatest mistake that we made was that our expectations where so high in this review process and now the characters that we have in the committees both at the national and the house of representatives are beginning to dance to a certain tune and even the governors forum against the wishes of the people by saying that we want local government to serve as an administrative unit of the state government against the wishes of the people, against the demand of what young people made both at the public hearing and the people session.
“I wonder why we are surprised, may be our expectation where so high. We viewed this process more as reformist approach than a revolution approach and I aligned myself to NBA chairman that said that we are doing a patch patch system.”
Ms Bisi Olagbegi of Gender and Constitution Review Network, who lamented that Nigeria had a history women exclusion from politics, work place and even at home. She noted that there was need for the language of the constitution to be broadened to give room for more women participation in politics. “We don’t care what name it is called, but we a situation where all of us can sit down and agree on certain issues before we consider constitution review. We cannot continue to be treated as third class citizens in our own country,” she said.