BY DANIEL IDONOR
ABUJA -PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan yesterday laid to rest the widespread clamour for another round of constitutional conference to fashion out a new constitution for Nigeria, as he has jettisoned the idea and inaugurated a committee to review of the report of the 2006 Constitutional Conference.
Specifically, the committee, headed by former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Alfa Belgore, is to review and prepare a legislative bill from the report that will be sent to the National Assembly for debate and possible consideration as an amendment to the proposed constitutional review exercise.
Inaugurating the committee yesterday, President Jonathan said it will “develop draft bills on previously agreed issues that would go a long way to strengthen the bonds of our union. These settled issues include strong recommendations from past Constitutional and Political Reform Conferences; on National Security, Human Rights and Social Security, People’s Charter and Social Obligations; Environment and Natural Resources, Models and Structure of Government, Public Service, Power Sharing, Local Government Reforms and the Economy. Other areas of firm agreement include proposals for Judiciary and Legal Reforms, constitutional amendments pertaining to the Public Service, Anti-Corruption, State Joint Local Government Account, Traditional Institutions and Cultural Reforms; and Civil Society, Labour, Trade Unions and National Media Reforms, amongst many others”.
He said further that “the draft bills will be considered by the executive branch of government and then sent to the National Assembly. The ultimate purpose is to identify with and reinforce the on-going efforts of Committees of Senate and House of Representatives as they grapple with outstanding constitutional issues. On our part, the Executive branch will also revisit some of the recommendations for policy changes, course corrections and consider new initiatives, so long as they improve the capacity of government to serve the people better”.
According to him, “we believe that those areas where there are consensus, except because of the emerging realities, you need to tinker about it, you package them as bills for us and send to the national assembly but those broad headlines that there are still controversies, we will recommend expansion of your team because those ones will require probably some ethnic nationalities, some opinion leaders, some cultural groups to represent their interests and we will have to debate those sections differently”.
Jonathan agreed that “there are a lot of controversies about the approach. The first thinking is that let us bring Nigerians together again just like Obasanjo did, but we consider that the exercise wasted a lot of money from the federal government and state and individuals, if we go all out to repeat it, it will communicate the wrong signals to the public, they will feel this is another jamboree, where government want to play music to distract attention instead facing Boko Haram or economic issues, we want to generate debate to distract the attention”.
He explained the need to “select some committed Nigerians to look at those areas that we have already agreed on, package them and put it to the national assembly. Then to identify those broad areas that agreement has not been reached, then we can expand the team to look and debate those areas separately so that people will see the seriousness because already we would have forwarded some bills to the national assembly so when we expand the team to discuss, they will know that it is not a discussion that will be locked up in the drawers of Mr. President or other stakeholders of the government.
He disclosed that “I have consulted very widely on the need to address recurrent and emergent socio-political issues and I want us to do so in a manner that will not distract the nation from the immediate challenges of improving the quality of life of all citizens. I am determined that our nation devotes more resources, time and energy to the pressing issues of development, so that we progressively reduce the drama of politics, the cycles of group agitation and needless contentions”.
He pointed that he was “always mindful of the fact that our unity is forged from the sacrifices of the generations before us. That unity is sustained by the strong commitment of countless leaders and peace-loving citizens across this nation. It is this same commitment to secure peaceful ends through peaceful means that unites all our national debates, dialogues and conferences since 1922. That commitment to dialogue culminated in the Clifford Constitution (1922); Richards Constitution (1944); Macpherson Constitution (1951); Lyttleton Constitution (1954); 1960 Independence Constitution; 1977/78 Constituent Assembly and the 1979 Constitution”.
Besides, he said “similar credits go to the Political Bureau (1986) and the 1988/89 Constituent Assembly; as well as the 1994/95 Constitutional Conference that substantially shaped the 1999 Constitution. The most recent effort was the National Political Reform Conference of 2005, which provided the basis for some of the proposed and on-going amendments of the Constitution.
As we strive for a better nation in a more perfect union, the sensible path to our future is to consolidate the gains that we have already made. That is why we must occasionally review, and continuously strengthen the instruments, institutions and processes that determine the quality and content of our national life”.
Other members of the panel are Sen. Udoma Udo Udoma – Vice Chairman, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, Mr. Ledum Mitee, Dr. Abubakar Saddique, Ms. Comfort Obi, Mr. Peter Esele and Prof. Oladipo Afolabi.
Also included are Prof. Jerry Gana, Barr. Tessy Ikimi, Mr. G.O.S. Miri, Amb. Babagana Kingibe, Amb. Jibrin Chinade, Alhaji Abubakar Mustapha, Prof. Anya O. Anya, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Alhaja Salimot Badru, Hajia Najatu Mohammed, Mr. Ferdinand Agu, Alhaji Wakil Mohammed and Barrister Halima Alfa
Responding, the Chairman of the Committee, Belgore thanked the president for asking “us to undertake this gigantic assignment”, saying that “Nigeria is a very beautiful country , one of the finest places on earth”.
He said “the Constitution of 1999 was done in a hurry, it would have been a very beautiful document. And I am very happy that we are not treating the document part by part. It is better to do a comprehensive review of the constitution. The executive, the legislature and the judiciary were well conceived but the way each one is scripted has created some confusion and this confusion I assure you Mr President we shall try as much as possible to resolve it”.