Importance of Constitution Review and Consolidation of Democracy – Ovie Omo-Agege

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The Chairman of the National Assembly  Committee on constitution review, Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege, alleviates the importance of constitution amendment, the sustainance of the Federal Democracy

We have entered a very important phase in our effort at alteration of the 1999 Constitution in line with the legislative agenda of the 9th National Assembly . No doubt, we are all alive to the peculiarities of our Constitution. The first is that this is the most enduring Constitution in our country since the Independence Constitution of 1960, having lasted 22 years, and still counting. And if you consider all the Constitutions since the first in 1914 under Lord Frederick Lugard, it is only second to the Hugh Clifford Constitution of 1922-1946.

The second is that there is perhaps no other Constitution that has received as many and diverse criticisms as the 1999 Constitution. These have come from Civil Society Groups, Socio-Cultural groups, regional organisations, professional bodies, ethnic nationalities, other pressure groups, as well as individuals. These criticisms, like I said, are varied and widespread. They include issues of adequate representatives of the people of Nigeria by the Constitution, issues of federalism, devolution of powers, socio-economic rights, liberty for persons and  gender equality among others.

We must commend the resilience of Nigerians that in spite of these protests and agitations, the Constitution has lingered. Yet, we must not rest on our oars. Governance is anything but democratic when we fail to be responsive to the sensibilities and aspirations of those who put us in office, as they are actually the ones in power. To this extent, the National Assembly took up the gauntlet, with the President of the Senate , His Excellence Dr. Lawan, constituting a Constitutional Amendment Committee on the 12th of February 2020.

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When the Committee, humbly headed by me, began work, there were about 32-header 1999 Constitutional Alteration Bills. These were considered and streamlined to a 13-point frame of reference, to which we requested memoranda from all , including members of the Press. The issues include:

  1. Gender Equality for Women
  2. The Federal Structure and Power devolution

iii. Local Government / Local Government Autonomy

  1. Public Revenue, Fiscal Federalism and Revenue
  2. The Nigeria Police and the Nigerian Security Architecture
  3. Comprehensive Judicial Reforms

vii. Electoral Reforms to Strengthen INEC to deliver transparently credible, free and fair elections

viii. Socio-Economic and Cultural Rights as contained in Chapter 2 of the Constitution

  1. Strengthening the Independence of Oversight Institutions and Agencies created by the Constitution
  2. Residency and Indigene Provisions
  3. Immunity of Persons

xii. The National Assembly

xiii. State Creation
By the time the window for receiving these memorandum closed, the Committee had received over 250 memorandum. The memorandum have been analyzed and the Committee have held several consultations and meetings to deliberate on the process and submissions in preparation for the Public hearings at the national and zonal levels. Following from the analysis of the memorandum submitted, the issues have increased to sixteen as listed below:

  1. Gender Equity/Increased participation of Women and Vulnerable groups in governance
  2. The Federal Structure in governance and Power Devolution
  3. Local Government Administration/Local Government autonomy
  4. Public Revenue, Fiscal Federalism and Revenue Allocation
  5. Constitutional Provision for the Establishment of State Police
  6. Judicial Reform – Adjudication of election and per-election matters and other justice delivery concerns.
  7. Electoral Reforms that will make INEC deliver transparent, credible, free and fair elections, Political parties, Independent candidature and election management
  8. Socio-economic rights as contained in Chapter II of the Constitution.
  9. Residency and indigenous
  10. Immunity – Removal of immunity in prima facie criminal cases
  11. Time-line for Assent of Bills and Passage of Appropriation Bill
  12. States and local government creation
  13. Strengthening the independence of institutions like the office of the Accountant General of the Federation, Auditor General of the Federation and Office of the Attorney General of the Federation.
  14. F.C.T. Administration
  15. The Legislature and Legislative Bureaucracy
  16. Constitutional Role for Traditional Rulers

To further create opportunity for citizens to make inputs into the amendment process on any of the issues listed

above or wish to present, introduce or promote new issues that will promote good governance and unity of the country, the Committee has embarked on public hearings at the six geo-political zones and at the national level. To bring the process closer to the people the hearing will take place in two centers in each of the 6-geo-politacal zones as follows:

  1. North Central: Jos centre is chaired by Senator Abdullahi Adamu and comprises Plateau, Benue and Nasarawa while, Minna centre is chaired by Senator Abdullahi Sabi Aliyu and comprises Kogi, Kwara, Niger state and FCT
  2. North East: Gombe centre is chaired by Senator Mohammed Danjuma Goje and comprises Gombe, Taraba and Adamawa, while Bauchi centre is chaired by Senator Abubakar Kyari and made up of Bauchi, Borno and Yobe states

III. North West: Kaduna Centre is chaired by Senator Kabiru Gaya and comprises Kaduna, Kano, Katsina and Jigawa states while Sokoto centre is chaired by Senator Muhammed Aliero and made up of Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara states

  1. South East: Enugu Centre is chaired by Senator Ike Ekweremadu and comprised of Anambra, Ebonyi and Enugu state while, Owerri centre is chaired by Senator Orji Uzor Kalu and comprises Abia and Imo state
  2. South South: Asaba centre is chaired by Senator James Manager and comprised of Bayelsa, Delta and Edo state while, Port-Harcourt centre is chaired by Senator Betty Apiafi. The centre comprises Akwa Ibom, Cross River and Rivers states.
  3. South West: Akure centre is chaired by Senator Ajayi Boroffice and comprises Ekiti, Ondo and Osun states while Lagos centre is chaired by Senator Oluremi Tinubu and made up of Lagos, Ogun and Oyo states

After the zonal hearings, there will also be a National Public hearing in Abuja on Thursday 3rd and Friday 4th of June 2021 to give opportunity to those especially, Government agencies and other stakeholders who could not attend the zonal hearings.

Nigerians have clamoured for amendment of the 1999 Constitution to address fundamental governance challenges. Others have called on the National Assembly to initiate bills that will devolve more powers to the States and address the security challenges in the country. This constitution amendment process is attempt by the National Assembly to respond to these demands within the context of the powers conferred on it by the Constitution in a manner that will further strengthen our democracy. We are using this opportunity to call on Nigerians to effectively engage the process and present their demands or recommendations for consideration by the National Assembly. Democracy is a process of consultation and constructive engagement, so let us all leverage  this platform to build the country of our dream.

Address by HE Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, Deputy President of the Senate/Chairman of the Committee on Constitution Review, at a press conference in Abuja on May 24

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