BY CHARLES KUMOLU
*Our report reflects the will of Nigerians – Ihedioha
FOR a process that generated little or no enthusiasm from inception across the county, the current public interest in the amendment of the 1999 Constitution appears to be defeating the initial doubts that trailed the exercise.
This development is not unconnected with the display of uncommon determination by the National Assembly Assembly to give the nation a Peoples’ Constitution.
The House of Representatives is not leaving anything to chance in its efforts towards providing a more acceptable Constitution.
In this regard, the House embarked on activities like working retreat and presentation of the collated results of the people’s public sessions among others.
The Constitution review process in the House is under the guidance of the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, who is the adhoc committee chairman.
The committee held a retreat last year in Port Harcourt to lay a foundation for its work. The retreat attracted presentations and submissions by intellectuals, civil society groups, political interest groups, professional associations and labour just to mention a few.
The event produced a communique which outlined key areas of focus and framework of action for the Constitution review process. And the committee subsequently called for and received over 200 memoranda from diverse interest groups and members of the general public.
Investigations revealed that from the memos received, the committee formulated a 43-item template of issues/questions which covered the crux of the amendments Nigerians yearn for in the Constitution.
On the strength of this, the grassroots were involved in Peoples Public Sessions held across the 360 federal constituencies in the country on Nov. 10, 2012.
The sessions, which have been hailed as the most inclusive approach to Constitution making in the history of Nigeria, attracted stakeholders like the Nigeria Labour Congress ,NLC , Trade Union Congress,TUC, Nigerian Bar Association,NBA, Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, Academic Staff Union of Universities,ASUU, Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, National Council of Women Societies, NCWS, National Association of Nigeria Students, NANS, among others.
The critical stage of collation of the results involved representatives of all stakeholders at the secretariat of the committee, just as the process was monitored by the media.
The results showed the voting pattern on all the issues itemized in the template for voting by Nigerians during the sessions in their constituencies.
Nevertheless, the questions that were voted on at the session were: Should Section 8 of the Constitution be amended to remove the ambiguities in the process for creation of more states?Should the 6 geo-political zones be recognised in the Constitution for administrative purposes only? Should the 6 geo-political zones be included in the Constitution as another tier of government?
Others included: Should indigeneship of an area be defined to include persons who have resided in an area for a continuous long period, and therefore entitled to accruing rights, duties and privileges? Should the aspects of the Constitution related to the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy in Chapter II which deal with political, economic, social, educational and cultural objectives be made justifiable or enforceable like the Fundamental Human Rights in Chapter IV.
‘We have reflected the views of Nigerians’
Checks revealed that the initiative and the progress recorded on the Constitution review in the House was not unconnected with the leadership qualities of the Deputy Speaker, whose working relationship with Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal appears to be the type of tonic the house needs.
Confirming this at the forum, Ihedioha said the views on various issues outlined in the review of the Constitution had been fully reflected in the report of the Peoples’ Public Sessions.
The Deputy Speaker said the results presented represented “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.”
Accordingly, he said that deliberations at the nationwide sessions were free, robust, and participatory, adding that Nigerians spoke their minds without hindrance.
“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,” he added.
In addition, he said, ‘’we promised Nigerians that we shall be transparent and accountable. Indeed we made a commitment to do things differently in our Legislative Agenda, unveiled at the beginning of the 7th House of Representatives. This public presentation is a fulfillment of this commitment and promise.
‘We have responded as best as we can within the limits of the constitutional and legal framework to the demands of Nigerians for greater voice and involvement in the Constitution amendment process.”
Ihedioha called on all Nigerians to be vigilant and follow through the rest of the exercise to ensure that their views and positions remain respected.
The Deputy Speaker stated that the process will involve presentation and consideration of bills, harmonization with the Senate Committee on the Constitution Review and interface with the state legislatures for concurrence on the issues.
Further checks showed that the public presentation was in keeping with the promise made by Ihedioha that the House will make the process of the Public Sessions, and the entire exercise transparent, inclusive and accountable to the people.
Commending the House, Presidential Adviser on National Assembly Matters, Sen. Joy Emordi, said the entire process and the outcome was historic and unique, adding that the results duly addressed calls for a sovereign national conference.
Similarly, Mr. Innocent Chukwuma, Head of the West African Office of the Ford Foundation, commended the House , saying the collation of the peoples’ views on the Constitution is a step in the right direction.