June 27, 2021

CONSTITUTION: Senators back Senate leadership, say anything outside amendment illegal

Senate, Senators, Constitution review amendment

Red chambers of the Nigerian Senate

By Henry Umoru, Assistant Political Editor

Some senators have taken a swipe at those calling for a new Constitution as against the ongoing review of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended), saying the step could lead to anarchy in the country.

The senators, who spoke separately with Sunday Vanguard, stressed that throwing the 1999 Constitution away at this point would create serious problems the country will be unable to curtail.

While  speaking in Abuja at the opening of a two- day National Public Hearing on the Alteration to the Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, Deputy President of the Senate and Chairman, Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, Senator Ovie Omo- Agege, APC, Delta Central, had said that the Senate cannot give Nigeria a brand new Constitution, saying the best it can do is the present amendments that the National Assembly is doing to the existing 1999 Constitution.

Omo- Agege noted that the Senate respects the opinion of those who want a new Constitution, but a section of the 1999 Constitution does not give the National Assembly the powers to produce a brand new Constitution.

The Deputy Senate President spoke on the heels of the argument by  Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) that the amendment to the 1999 Constitution being carried out by the National Assembly amounted to waste of time, contending that the country needs a brand new Constitution written by the people.

The senators, who backed their leadership on the issue, said a new Constitution cannot be given to Nigeria, insisting that they will continue with the amendment.

Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Ajibola Basiru, APC, Osun Central, said that jettisoning the 1999 Constitution will lead to anarchy in the country.

Basiru said, “There must be an existing Constitution or pre-existing legal system upon which a new Constitution will be founded.

“This pre-existing legal system out of which all legal authorities flowed is called the ground norm legal theory.

“For you to add to a new legal order, it is either of two things: it flows from the existing ground norm or a revolution.

“So if you say you want to make a Constitution out of the existing ground norm, it can only come up within the context of revolution.

“But amendment of the existing Constitution, which is the ground norm, is already provided for in Section 9 of the Constitution and it does not say amendment can’t be holistic, amendment can be by way of substitution of the existing Constitution.

“So, one expects that anybody that has suggestion, no matter how fundamental it is, to come up with it so that the procedure enumerated in Section 9 of the Constitution can be followed.

“To say that we should discard the Constitution and come up with a new Constitution is a journey to anarchy unless you have successfully been able to carry out a revolution to subvert the existing legal legitimacy.

“No matter what reservation we have about the 1999 Constitution, it is still the ground norm in Nigeria.”

A former Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, APC, Borno South, said, “My position on this issue has not changed, that this Constitution is not indispensable and it is not perfect, and it is not amendment proof.

“The Constitution can be amended from the first letter to the end. 

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“But it must be done through existing process, constitutionally defined. 

“The only recognized process of amending the Constitution or doing another Constitution is through the representatives of the people, that is, the National Assembly.

“Fortunately, the Constitution review process is going on, so the most legal thing to do is now to look at or any interested party can make a memo to the committee proposing the amendment of every sector including writing it all over again.

“The most important thing is for it to go through the legal process and this is now the time.

“There is no contradiction or argument that the Constitution is part of the problem of the country. Many people have voiced out that the Constitution put together by the military is not working the way people want and the people have the right to express their opinion.

“So what do you do? You don’t just go round making noise, issuing insults, threats and asking the executive which has no powers to amend the Constitution. You use the available process and that is through the National Assembly.

“And anything in that Constitution can be amended or new one can be written but you don’t do that without a legal process, and the only existing legality as it is now binding on every Nigerian is the 1999 Constitution. “Now you can rewrite it all over as long as Nigerians accept it through due process and then it will go to the states as required by the existing Constitution.

“Once that is accepted, you can do away with the former and then bring in the new Constitution.

“The President necessarily has to assent to it, then we have a new Constitution.

“So whether you call it Southern, Middle Belt, IPoB or whatever, they are not constitutionally recognized.

“But then they have the right to form association and air their views and follow their interests but through due process.

In his contribution, Senator Mohammed Sani Musa, APC, Niger East, said, “I am one person that will absolutely welcome the return to the1963 Constitution. The North is one despite our diversity, and all those seeking to secede should go, we have all that it takes to be great.

“The security challenges are temporary and we will overcome it soon. And all those so-called sectional, tribal and religious jingoists that think they have the monopoly of threat should remember how costly war is.

“Where were they when, for 24 years, the same Constitution was guiding our democracy?”

Senator Abdulfatai Buhari, APC, Oyo North, said, “If this present Constitution is well implemented, there will not even be the need for this amendment.

“So if you do a new Constitution now, as time goes on, other people will still be looking for amendment.

“All over the world, it is very rare that you will see a country that will not amend its Constitution because, as time goes on, issues will come up, other things will develop and you have to take into consideration the dynamics of the situation and the interest of the people and of the moment.

“We need an amendment now because if we throw away this and we are starting a new Constitution, there will be a lacuna, how do we fill it?

On his part, former Governor of Benue State, Senator Gabriel Suswam, PDP, Benue North East, said, “What we need is change of attitude of Nigerians and not a new Constitution.

“If you look at the Constitutions from the 1922 Hugh Clifford Constitution to Richard Constitution, Lyttleton Constitution, Macpherson Constitution, Republican Constitution and the current one, nothing fundamentally has changed. 

“It is our attitude as Nigerians, attitude of the operators of the Constitution that is the issue. If you change the Constitution, will you change the entire population of Nigerians?

“I don’t think that total change of the Constitution will solve the problem. We must emphasise on the implementation and interpretation of the Constitution. Our attitude must change and not the Constitution will endure.

Deputy Senate Minority Leader, Senator Emmanue Bwacha, PDP, Taraba, simply said, “Let them give the parliament a chance.”

A former governor of Kebbi State, Senator Adamu Aliero, APC, Kebbi South, said, “A new Constitution is only possible when the people follow what is in the 1999 Constitution and we have modus operandi for a new Constitution. 

“If you want to jettison the 1999 Constitution, you have to follow the procedure as stated in that Constitution because that is the legal framework. 

“It is clearly stated that you need 2/3 majority of the National Assembly to support any amendment of the Constitution and also need 2/3 of the state Houses of Assembly to amend any part of the Constitution.

“You also have to get the consent of Mr. President before you can amend any part of the Constitution. Anything outside this is Illegal, unconstitutional, null and void and will not be accepted by anybody.

“ Those who are calling for a new Constitution, I think they are wrong because it means we have to throw away the 1999 Constitution; what they are advocating for is anarchy and nobody will support that”.

A former Minister of Interior, Senator Abba Moro, PDP, Benue South, said, “In the absence of their so-called new Constitution, what do we have? Anarchy!

“We have existing Constitution and political history all over the world, that where a Constitution exists and you find some issues, you find some limitations, you amend the Constitution to accommodate those issues’ you don’t throw away the baby with the bath water because the water is dirty.

“You don’t do that; we cannot throw away the 1999 Constitution. 

“I believe the 1999 Constitution (As Amended) has its limitations, but we can amend it to accommodate the limitations and we go on.

“We can amend this Constitution to a certain level that we can have a Constitution that will reflect we the people of Nigeria that is what we should be looking for. 

“I don’t believe that because certain things are not in the Constitution, therefore the Constitution should be abandoned because abandoning a Constitution midway in the existence of this country means we are inviting anarchy and we may be unable to curtail the consequences.”

Vanguard News Nigeria