…states merits, demerits of 1963, 1999 statute books

…advocates adoption of salient points from both documents

…says House considering over 30 alterations on items like electoral matters, LG autonomy, judiciary, devolution of powers, states creation, others

By Levinus Nwabughiogu-Abuja

Spokesman of the House of Representatives, Hon. Benjamin Kalu has said that the calls in some quarters of the country to revert to the 1963 constitution were unnecessary.

He said that there was no need to dust up a 60-year-old document for use in today’s Nigeria, stressing that the constitution did meet up with the realities of the present times as it only dealt with issues in the post-colonial era.

The lawmaker who represents Bende Federal Constituency of Abia State was reacting to Vanguard’s exclusive enquires of whether the House was considering the calls by some groups within the Southern and Middle Belt regions, the answers of which he however made available to Journalists in Abuja on Sunday.

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Taking a middle course, however, Kalu advocated for the adoption of the salient points from both constitutions to achieve a better result of the ongoing constitution review exercise.

He said that the 9th House of Representatives has been saddled with the responsibility of altering about 30 sections of the 1999 constitution on various items.

The items, he said, included Electoral matters; Local government autonomy;
Judiciary; Fundamental rights and gender equity; Immunity Clause; Indigeneship and residence; Devolution of power; Strengthening the independence of institutions; Traditional institutions; States and local government creation; and Legislature and legislative bureaucracy.

He said: ” About the 1963 constitution
The 1963 Constitution is widely credited as representing the basic understanding and agreement upon which Nigeria’s various ethnicities and regions came together to form the federation called Nigeria shortly after independence.

“Unfortunately, several years of military rule and oversight (as seen in the process that midwifed the 1999 constitution), gave birth to a constitution which skewed the basic understanding of the regions and ethnicities that birthed the Nigerian nation in the first place.

“The 1963 Constitution had certain merits at the time: an elected president replaced the British Monarch who was Nigeria’s head under the Independence Constitution.

“The constitution was an autochthonous one credited for being a product of extensive consultation and public input.

“The Supreme Court became the final court of appeal instead of the British Privy Council.

“The rights of Nigerian citizens were fully guaranteed and entrenched.
Despite these merits of the 1963 constitution, Nigerians must acknowledge that law is made for man and not man for the law. The 1963 constitution was ideal for a Nigeria that had just attained its independence and was still asserting its sovereignty and freedom from British colonial influence.

“Our country, and indeed, the world has evolved from the prevailing circumstances of 58 years ago and as such, we must focus on improving the current constitution rather than adopting a 6-decade old constitution.

“We must also acknowledge the fact that the 1963 constitution was an imperfect document that had certain demerits, including the following;

“The President was elected by the National Assembly who constituted the minority instead of the majority of the electorate.

“It permitted ‘carpet crossing in which elected politicians shifted party allegiance for personal rewards. There was parliamentary supremacy in the constitution. The Prime Minister was accountable to the parliament and not to the people.

“Rather than replacing the 1999 constitution with an archaic one, I am strong of the opinion that a comparative analysis of the merits and demerits of both constitutions must be had in order to adopt that which worked from 1963 and expunge that which does not work in the current constitution.

An analysis of the 1963 and 1999 Constitution

“Nigeria’s first republican constitution was enacted in 1963. It was the first time the country had a republican administration and put an end to the monarchy that had previously existed.

“The constitution of 1999, on the other hand, is the fourth republican constitution. It marked the beginning of the country’s current republic, which began in 1999.

“The 1963 constitution was the result of a constitutional conference that included people from all parts of the country, whereas the 1999 constitution was rapidly put together by a few person midwife by General Abdulsalam Abubakar’s military authority.

“1963 constitution adopted the parliamentary system of government with the offices of the prime minister and president; while the 1999 constitution adopts presidential system and creates only the office of the president.

“The 1963 constitution recognized two federating units – the federal government and regional governments (4 regions).

“1999 constitution on the other hand provides for three federating units – the federal government, state governments (36), and local governments (774).

“1963 constitution provided for 44 members of the Senate and 312 members of the House of Representatives, whereas 1999 constitution provided for 109 members of the Senate and 360 members of the House of Representatives.

“1963 constitution recognized Lagos as the seat of the federal government and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), but Abuja is now the FCT and the seat of the federal government.

“The 1963 constitution provided for bicameralism at both the federal and regional levels, whereas the 1999 constitution only provided for bicameralism at the federal/national level; and unicameralism at state and local government levels.

“The 1963 constitution established a quota system to ensure equitable distribution of resources, positions, and appointments, whereas the 1999 constitution established the federal character principle.

“The 1963 constitution prescribed a single perpetually renewable 5-year tenure for the president whereas 1999 constitution provides for a 4-year tenure and can only be renewed once.

“In the 1963 constitution, the president was indirectly elected in the parliament. Whereas, in the 1999 constitution, the president is directly elected in the general election held every four years.

“While the calls for a total constitutional overhaul are valid and understandable, we must acknowledge that the situation in Nigeria demands a quick review of the constitution as opposed to a total overhaul, for want of time.

“A review of the constitution has become necessary in the face of growing insecurity and threats exposing the fragility of the Nigerian state.

“Fortunately, the 9th House of Representatives has severally affirmed its commitment to reviewing the 1999 Constitution in line with the yearnings of Nigerians.

“In exercise of the powers conferred on the Legislature by Sections 4, 8 and 9 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Amended) and Order 18, Rule 9 of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives (9th Edition).

“The House of Representatives Special Committee on Constitution Review is currently considering over thirty (30) constitutional alteration Bills which fall under the following broad thematic areas: Electoral matters; Local government autonomy;
Judiciary; Fundamental rights and gender equity; Immunity Clause; Indigeneship and residence; Devolution of power; Strengthening the independence of institutions; Traditional institutions; States and local government creation; and Legislature and legislative bureaucracy.

“Nigerians are urged to embrace the constitutional review process and seize the opportunity of the public hearings to make their contributions to the review.”

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