BY DAPO AKINREFON
WITH the 21-man constitution review committee set up by President Goodluck Ebele Azikwe Jonathan, the stage it seems is set for another debate on the country’s working document.
Already, the constitution review committee headed by a former Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Alfa Saliu Belgore has agreed on a working procedure.
Similarly, the committee has also has set a template to achieve its objective of refashioning a new constitution for the country.
On November 17, the president tasked Belgore to look at and harmonise past efforts at the review of the constitution and asked the committee to avoid controversial areas which would need further and enlarged debate.
Despite this resolve, some analysts have expressed pessimism on how far Belgore and his team can go in the review.
The team: Aside the chairman, members of the committee include Senator Udoma Udo Udoma (Vice-chairman), Chief Ebenezer Babatope, Mr. Ledum Mitee, Dr. Abubakar Saddique, Ms. Comfort Obi, Mr. Peter Esele, Prof. Oladipo Afolabi, Prof. Jerry Gana and Tessy Ikimi.
Others members who make up the team are: Mr. G.O.S. Miri, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, Ambassador 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 Halima Alfa.
Previous attempts: There have been concerted efforts in the past to review the nation’s constitution, all proved abortive. During the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, the National Assembly commenced the process of constitution review but the infamous Third Term agenda of that administration led to the throwing of both the baby and bath water away.
Issues at stake: Already, issues to be reviewed have been identified, and the question is by whom and why? The defects in the 1999 constitution have become rather too obvious to ignore. Operators of the system all too often come against road blocks created by the constitution. Pundits have posited that a total overhaul of the 1999 Constitution is the way to go, but Nigeria should do a thorough job of it and save the country the annual ritual of constitution review.
Aside the review, Nigerians are expectant that the multifarious problems besieging the nation will be addressed. One major area some Nigerians are yearning for review is the creation of new states.
Currently, there are about 42 demands for new states across the six geo-political zones of the country.
The Central Bank Governor, Alhaji Lamido Sanusi is of the view that the present political structure of Nigeria is too cumbersome and economically wasteful to guarantee rapid development of the country.
Lamenting that the states were spending 96 percent of their revenues to pay salaries of their respective civil servants, he queried, “do we need 36 states. Do we need the number of ministries that we have?”
He further posited that “if the country was desirous of development, tough decisions had to be taken. “Ultimately, we will have to be confronted with the task of taking very difficult steps in looking at the political structures that we have. Do we need 36 States? Do we need the number of ministries that we have? Is an economy in which states spend 96 percent of their revenues to pay their civil servants, an economy that is likely to be developed in the long term.?”
Issue of state police
Also, the issue of state police will have to be addressed by the review team of Belgore. There have been arguments for and against the establishment of a state police which, according to analysts, will go a long way in tackling the growing insecurity facing Nigeria.
Only recently, a member of the team had told Vanguard that the committee had settled down and was determined to give the citizenry a more acceptable constitution.
“We have settled down for serious work. We have set the pattern of how we are going to work. We are not re-inventing the wheel. Our work is interesting and easy. We will concentrate on consensus areas and encourage implementation. We are going to be practical in our approach,” the member enthused.
When asked if the panel would visit the six geo-political zones of the country and hold public sittings to get memoranda from members of the public, the source pointed out that it was “too early to tell whether we will visit the geo-political zones, hold public sittings.”
Suggestions on contentious areas
Nevertheless, another member explained that the panel would offer suggestions on contentious areas.
Accordingly, the member opined that “people have been telling us on individual basis that we have a lot of job to do. And I can tell you that many people expect breakthroughs from this mission because the survival of this country depends on the outcome of our job. And we are determined to give our best. The President has given us a mandate and we will go along the mandate given to us. But we will also make our suggestions. We envisage challenges but we will do our best.”
Expressing his views on what the committee should do, constitutional lawyer, Professor Itse Sagay (SAN) canvassed the need for practice of true federalism.
The legal luminary, however, dismissed the clamour for creation of more states describing it as madness.
He said: “In my view, the most demanding and obvious problem is that our constitution is a centralized constitution. What we should do is to introduce a strong dose of true federalism. For instance, the Federal government has monopoly of electricity which is wrong. In my view, all states should be able to generate power. Let power generation be made available and electricity should be on the Concurrent list.”
Further to this, he said “I think the clamour for state police should be an exclusively state matter, likewise labour. There is no reason why a state should not conduct its own census. I think there are a number of things that the states should be allowed to do.” In addition, Sagay noted that states should be allowed to create as many local governments as it wants.
On the clamour for state creation, he dismissed those advocating for additional states.
“On the clamour for state creation, I think creation of more states will be a state of madness. We already have 36 existing states but we do not have viable states. Most of the states do go cap in hand to beg for money from the federal government. State creation is out of the question,” he submitted.