By Uche Anichukwu
Two major opinions have been peddled by the media and the Conference of Nigeria Political arties, CNPP ever since the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu spoke at a press conference on the Senateâ€™s action plan for the amendment of the 1999 Constitution.
The areas of grouse include two statements credited to Ekweremadu to the effect that the Uwais Panel Report was not sacrosanct or binding on the National Assembly. Ekweremadu had said: â€œâ€¦there is nothing sacrosanct in that report. We are going to ensure that all shades of opinions whether within or outside Uwais report are considered.
We are looking at the constitution to see possible areas of amendmentâ€¦.Those are suggestions for the possible areas of amendment of the constitutionâ€¦.We never had a situation where a group of people will be right in all subjectsâ€¦.those that will add value to what we are doingâ€¦are being taken care of and we are going to look at them critically to know how they will reflect in our work.â€ He was also reported to have said the 1 billion (i.e N500 per Chamber) allocated for the constitution amendment project was not going to be enough to see the National Assembly through the process.
The CNPP, comprising opposition parties in the country have therefore issued two statements on the matter. First, contrary to the Deputy Senate Presidentâ€™s position, the CNPP is of the view that the Uwais Report remained â€œsacrosanct in form, origin, spirit and letters; as per any genuine move to construct an Electoral Reform aimed at bequeathing a legacy of sanctity of the ballot box to Nigeria .â€
Two, they called for the probe of the spending so far made by the National Assembly Committees on Constitution Amendment as to them, the N1 billion was more than enough to amend the constitution. The CNPP said â€œN1 billion is not a chicken feed and that given the fact that members of the JCCR from the Senate and House, for no just cause are running on parallel lines, wasting time and money and thus building bridges that will lead to no where, we call for their probe.â€
To start with, I am not in total disagreement or agreement with the CNPP positions. I disagree with them that the Uwais Report on Electoral Reforms is sacrosanct. From the little grammar check I did to reassure myself I still understood the meaning of â€œsacrosanctâ€, it still turned out that other words for sacrosanct include â€œsacredâ€, â€œreveredâ€, â€œholyâ€™ and â€œuntouchableâ€.
Unfortunately, but for the Bible and Koran, none of the above could sincerely be used to describe even the 1999 Constitution, the highest law of the land, let alone a Report yet to graduate into a law, without prejudice though, to the thoroughness, ingenuity, and patriotism of the authors.
Without any ill-disposition to the right of the CNPP to hold and share views, I sincerely think it is an insult on the relevance and capacity of the National Assembly to expect that 109 Senators and 360 Members of the House of Representatives with various backgrounds would all swallow hook, line, and sinker the recommendations of the Uwais Report or anybody for that matter.
It is either some people deliberately want to play to the gallery or even want to be unreasonable and misleading altogether. Democracy is not about homogeneity of ideas and interests. Instead, is about heterogeneity of ideas, opinions, interests, etc, and their aggregation/harmonisation through the democratic instruments of dialogue/debate and even concession.
Though the inherent basic ideological and principled divides that characterize parties in other climes are absent in our polity, yet heterogeneity could be found in the splintering by our parties from 3 in 1999 to over 50 as at today. Are we then saying that the Political Parties Registration and Regulatory Commission is compulsory because it was recommended by the Uwais Panel when we know our problem is not about registration of political parties?
I donâ€™t think am in a position to write on expenditures on the amendment project, but at least I understand how capital intensive processes of lawmaking could be. The cost implications of the constitutional amendment would also be better understood if we take into cognisance the fact that this is not like any other conventional legislation.
For example, this is a programme that would traverse the six geopolitical zones at least and must necessarily carry a lot of media costs which is even very whooping. A newspaper advert costs at least N300,000- N350,000. An hour live coverage by the either of NTA and AIT would take at least N1.5 million. It is not even as if the whole N500 million have been released.
Though the CNPP position could be better understood from the backdrop of the abuses that have thrived over the years in matters of financial transactions in government circles, I sincerely feel that at this juncture the nation could do better with less distraction, sensationalism, tactlessness, and ill-timing.
We must prioritize our needs: whether it is a probe or electoral reform/Constitution amendment we want. It would have been nice to have both now, but he who pursues two rabbits simultaneously goes home with none. I however agree with the CNPP on the issue of the two Chambers running on parallel lines.
It is needless. It impugns the sensibilities of Nigerians given the prevailing economic realities. I recall reading in a national daily where the Deputy Senate President also shared the same opinion and for which reason the Senateâ€™s amendment program was delayed to see if the House would come on board.
It doesnâ€™t take a Chike Obi (mathematics guru) to know that both Chambers working together-holding one retreat, one public hearing, engaging one set of consultants, etc would be far cheaper and faster than the present duplications. Unfortunately, the CNPP and the media is not hitting the right spot- the House of Representatives.