NEW CONSTITUTION: Reps disagree

By Levinus Nwabughiogu, ABUJA

Members of the House of Representatives are divided on whether what Nigeria needs is amendments to the 1999 Constitution currently being carried out by the National Assembly or a new Constitution as demanded by a segment of the society, to address fundamental issues in the country.

They were, however, united in their observation that Section 9 of the 1999 Constitution did not provide for a referendum that will lead to the making of a new Constitution.

Specifically, some Southern and Middle Belt leaders, under the aegis of Southern and Middle Belt Forum, had, consistently, called for a halt to the ongoing Constitution review to pave the way for a brand new Constitution,

Below are the submissions of the lawmakers who spoke to Sunday Vanguard.

We will repeal Section 9 of 1999 Constitution— Hon. Kingsley Chinda(Obio/Akpor Federal Constituency of Rivers State)

“I sincerely believe that we need a new Constitution and not to continue to patch (by altering) the inappropriate and skewed 1999 Constitution.

For this reason I am least excited over the Constitution amendment that is ongoing as I don’t believe in the exercise.

“The zonal tours that we are presently on (Senate and Reps) is a mere formality, I won’t call it jamboree. I doubt if the benefit that will come from the tours will be worth the cost of the exercise.

“I have already proposed a new Constitution by repealing Section 9 of the 1999 Constitution.

“This work commenced in the 8th Assembly by some colleague and I but we didn’t conclude it and many of those colleagues didn’t come back to the Assembly.

“The snag I have with pushing same forward is that S.9 of the Constitution appears not to be wide enough to accommodate a repeal of the entire Constitution and reenactment of a new one.

READ ALSO: STATE OF THE NATION: Constitution review, complete waste of time — Makinde

“I have, therefore, proposed an alteration to Section 9. Though the Bill as it appears to be conventional with my Bills is yet to be listed. I shall forward a 2nd copy.

“The 9th NASS would have concentrated on the low hanging fruits that are completely under our purview. 

“Let us conclude the amendment to the Electoral Act and pass the PIB. These are two Bills that will positively impact on the country.

“These Bills that started on a high note are almost cold for no just cause.

“Again, I opine that the failed Federal Government is encouraging the Constitution review as a distraction to Nigerians who are groaning under the weight of a failed economy with dollar exchanging for N600 and insecurity at a proportion never experienced in Nigeria.

“The Constitution review is to distract Nigerians and keep them away from discussing security, economy and the failed Nigerian state.

“The issues of economy and security will take a back seat for the next two months. They would then look for another distraction before we go past the Constitution review.

“I agree that we need a new Constitution that should be Nigerian, pragmatic, equitable, fair and visionary.

“In the new Constitution that we proposed, some of the highlights are: Unicameral legislature; Fiscal Federalism; Political Federalism; Unbundled Security Architecture up to Community Level and subject to ability to fund same, with clear functions and jurisdiction for each tier; Unbundled Exclusive List to allow state management of resources; Total fiscal autonomy of arms of government and tiers of government; Easier recall system for non-performing public officers and Indigeneship”.

Let’s amend Constitution to accommodate referendum first— Hon Solomon Maren(Mangu/Bokkos Federal Constituency of Plateau State)

“May I say they are right to clamour for that because of the inability of past Assemblies to effect meaningful changes to the Constitution despite the huge cost associated with the process and the societal ills resulting from the failure of such alterations.

“There is no provision in the present Constitution that gives us power to switch from this Constitution to another. However, we can achieve the 1963 Constitution by amending the present Constitution.

“The major issue with the present Constitution is the overloaded Exclusive List. Once we unbundle the Exclusive List, our problem would have been solved.

“We will as well need to include the right to referendum on any matter to give Nigerians the right to take decision on any matter of interest.

“Voting on the issues either in the National Assembly or state Houses of Assembly should be monitored by all Nigerians to know who voted in support of what?

“Nigerians are being killed daily, corruption is on steady rise and poverty is on the increase; so, definitely any Nigerian who is truly patriotic will want any form of change if it guarantees peace and prosperity for the nation.”

We need to have referendum/plebiscite in place—Hon. Serguis Ogun(Esan North-East Federal Constituency of Edo State)

“Section 9 of the 1999 Constitution as amended allows for alteration of the Constitution, doesn’t empower NASS to rewrite the Constitution.

“What can be achieved by this alteration is plebiscite or referendum; by so doing, the people (Nigerians) can, in the future, vote for a new Constitution and the modalities for its emergence.

“The pathway to achieving this is the piecemeal alteration which is ongoing.

“If Nigerians vote to adopt the 1963 Constitution, it gives it credibility and will be widely accepted by all. They should lobby for the ongoing alteration to contain plebiscite/referendum.”

We can go back to 1963 Constitution to help zones develop independently – Hon. Bede Eke, representing Abor Mbaise/Ngor Okpala Federal Constituency of Imo State

“I concur with the fact that we should go back to the 1963 Constitution which gave then geo-political zones the leverage to develop independently.

“That was the reason we have Cocoa House in the South-West and the coal era in the South-East.

“Sir Michael Okpara as then-governor of the South-East was able to distribute dividends of democracy round his region, built the Metropolitan Hotel, Calabar and Presidential Hotels in Enugu and Port Harcourt.

“All the regions’ economies were concentrated on where they have comparative advantage.

“But because, we do not have a government at the federal level that is ready to listen to the representatives of the people, it becomes difficult to achieve.

“My take is that instead of losing everything, we can go piece meal and ensure that we, at least, have true federalism where state police can be guaranteed because of our security challenges, fiscal federalism and having a large and significant part of the Executive List move to the Concurrent List.

“If possible, going back to the 1963 Constitution will usher in a new Nigeria”.

My problem is the operators of the Constitution —Hon, Mohammed Garba Datti(Sabongari Federal Constituency of Kaduna State)

“This issue of Constitution review, the elites are looking for a way. How can you go back to the 1963 Constitution? 

“If you are from Abia, can you revert to the former Eastern Region so that there will be no Abia again? Everybody is just confused. When you say restructuring, everybody has a way of looking at it.

“People of the South-South are calling for fiscal federalism so that everybody will control his own resources.

“The people of the South-East, the Igbo, some will say, need more states to be at par with other zones.

“Zone is a creation of Alex Ekwueme in 1996. Nigeria only has states but when he went to Constitutional Conference, he came with the idea of six geopolitical zones.

“It has not been adopted anywhere. Did anybody from the military participate in the making of the 1999 Constitution?

“Was it not Justice Nikky Toby of the Supreme Court that oversaw the making of the 1999 Constitution? There was no single military man in the Conference.

“The 1999 Constitution is almost the same with the 1979 constitution. There were only few changes and who were those that drafted the 1979 Constitution? The drafting Committee, was it not led by Chief Rotimi Williams, the 49 wise men in an exercise in which the late chief Awolowo withdrew? Is it not the same Constitution?

“Look, my problem is the operators of the Constitution and not the constitution itself. No Constitution in the world is perfect. It is only our attitude.

“Everybody tends to pay allegiance to his own ethnic group, church or mosque or religion.

‘Very few people are nationalists who believe that Nigeria should be one and we should all work for the progress of the country. We are not the only country that is diverse in the world. Many countries have their own diversity but they are able to manage it, accommodate each other.

“And the mentality of turn-by-turn is another problem because everybody wants to promote his own ethnic group and his people. Unless we change, nothing will change.

“Who are those clamoring for referendum? Look, these arguments are elitist. The masses don’t know anything.

“Everybody is just talking, looking for a means of survival.

“What type of perfect Constitution are you envisaging now?

“Even within the Yoruba nation, yes, people are calling for Oduduwa Republic but the people of Lagos believe Lagos is a special place, that they are not going to belong to any Oduduwa Republic because 60 percent of Nigeria’s economy is domiciled in Lagos.

“All of us are all guilty unless we stop thinking the way we are thinking. Like I said earlier, my problem is the operators of the Constitution and not the Constitution itself.”

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