AS dates go, 10 November 2012 may not have a place in our political history, but it was the day the House of Representatives held simultaneous peoples’ public sessions in Nigeria’s 360 federal constituencies – they all started at 10am. People offered their views on amendments to the Constitution, the only time the people have had a say in the making of the document that governs us. On 24 July, 2013, the House of Representatives voted in tandem with the people, another landmark of the amendments.
The House Ad-hoc Committee on Constitution Amendment that Emeka Ihedioha, the Deputy Speaker, led, by engaging the people deepened participatory democracy which has been a slogan since independence.
The people are only involved at elections, when their votes are required to keep people in office. State Houses of Assembly at their sessions to consider the amendments, which the National Assembly had passed, appeared to have favoured amendments that would serve legislators in the quest for more and privileges space to do their work, like the proposal for immunity from criminal and civil prosecution against members for what they say on the floor of parliament, including at committee sessions and financial autonomy for legislative houses, pension for their leadership.
However, the State Assemblies rejection of autonomy for local government administration, the ever abused third tier of government, is unexplainable. Other amendments that the State Assemblies affirmed were:
- Indigenship rights of a State to a Nigerian citizen who has resided in a particular community of a State for a continuous period of not less than 10 years. The proposed amendment runs against the more generous provisions of the Constitution for Nigerians to be shielded from discrimination and enjoy the same rights everywhere they decide to live. It would create situations where some citizens of Nigeria would be denied rights classified as “indigenship rights” and the absurdity of citizens having fewer rights than indigenes.
- Rights to free, basic education and right to free primary and maternal health care services In Chapter 2 of the Constitution were changed moved to Fundamental Human Rights to make them justiciable. This amendment would make governments more responsive to the education and health needs of the people.
- Independent candidacy in elections would create more platforms for political expression. The National Assembly would legislate on procedures, guidelines and qualifications for independent candidates.
- The three-month limit for the Federation or a State to operate without an Appropriation Act in any new financial year would generate more accountability than the current six-month provision.
In all, these amendments, and others are meaningless until governments become more about “we, the people”. Governments have run for too long without the people.