Legal Nigeria

Constitution review: NASS to work with executive, state Assemblies

The House of Representatives said on Monday that it will address the pitfalls that led to the failure of past constitutional amendments in the country by working closely with the executive at the state and federal levels in its constitutional amendment process to ensure that the outcome does not suffer the faith of previous exercises.

Speaking while inaugurating the House Committee on Constitution Review, the speaker of the House, Abbas Tajudeen acknowledged the pivotal role of the executive in the constitutional amendment process, while also saying that the House was also ready to carry the state Houses of Assembly along in the amendment process.

Abbas spoke just as the deputy speaker and chairman of the constitution review committee, Benjamin Kalu disclosed that the new Nigerian constitution will be ready within the next 24 months.

The speaker also said that the constitution review process will be deeply rooted in engaging with the Nigerian people at all levels, including traditional and religious institutions, pressure groups and trade unions, ethnoreligious organisations, the diaspora community, and much more to address critical areas that require amendment in the constitution.

He said the partnership with the executive stems from recognising their pivotal role in governance, ensuring that our review process is comprehensive and considers the practical aspects of implementation, adding that in addition, the process will involve State Houses of Assembly to foster consensus and expedite adoption by States.

He said the House intends to harness the inputs of all Nigerians at the level of senatorial districts through open forums, public consultations, and digital platforms, ensuring that every voice is heard and considered, adding that the proactive approach by the House is designed to ensure thorough engagement and deliberation.

Abbas said while the constitutional amendment process is both costly and laden with contentious issues, the benefits far outweigh the challenges, adding that it is an opportunity to address the pressing issues that have emerged in our polity, to close gaps in our legal system, and to strengthen the foundations of our democracy.

The speaker said further that the inauguration of the House Committee is not just a ritual, but a reflection of the collective resolve to ensure that the foundational document of the nation’s democracy evolves to meet the aspirations of all Nigerians.

He said that the House is already working on a Constitution Alteration Procedure Bill to provide a framework and a timeline for the passage of Constitution alteration bills by the National Assembly and adoption by State Houses of Assembly.

The House Committee is made up of one member each from the 36 states and the Principal Officers of the House, Zonal Caucus Leaders, and six representatives of women to be chosen from each of the geo-political zones (there is no female lawmaker from the North West) as well as Persons with Disability who will be co-opted into the secretariat of the committee.

He noted that the mandate of the committee is to receive and consider proposals for alteration of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), create a forum for stakeholders and the public to make inputs into the review process, and collaborate with the Senate and the State Houses of Assembly as required by law.

Abbas stated: “Our country has witnessed significant milestones and challenges alike. Through each phase, our democracy has been tested and is still being challenged. Yet, even after 25 years, it stands resilient, reinforced by our collective belief in the principles of freedom, equality, and justice for all.

“The 1999 Constitution, as the supreme law of the land, has been the grundnorm of our democracy for over two decades. Yet, like any great edifice, it requires periodic assessment and renovation to ensure it meets the changing needs and aspirations of our people.

“While some citizens argue that the document should be entirely discarded, it is important to remember that democratic consolidation can only be incremental and gradual. Even more mature democracies have accepted this position in advancing democratic consolidation. For instance, the United States has ratified 27 amendments to its Constitution.

He said further that since the inception of the Fourth Republic, the Constitution has been subjected to five alterations with landmark changes that have strengthened the nation’s democratic institutions, federalism and governance generally.

Abbas said: “Under the 9th Assembly, the Fifth Alteration made some of the most far-reaching amendments. It clarified and reinforced financial autonomy for State Houses of Assembly and Judiciary, decongested the Executive List, defined guidelines for the first session and Inauguration of Members-Elect of the National and State Houses of Assembly, and deleted reference to the provisions of the Criminal Code, Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Act, Criminal Procedure Code or Evidence Act, among others.

He said the parliament expects the sixth alteration to be the most comprehensive, adding that the House Agenda is ambitious in its scope and encompasses wide-ranging issues pivotal to our national growth.

He said: “Among these are devolution of powers, including state policing; enhancement of fiscal federalism through local government autonomy; further decongesting the Exclusive Legislative List; recognising and assigning constitutional roles for traditional institutions; and promoting inclusivity, particularly greater gender equity and women representation into appointive and elective positions.

“Other critical areas for your consideration include implementing comprehensive electoral reforms to address the gaps identified in the aftermath of the 2023 general elections; strengthening the enforceability of legislative instruments; and institutional strengthening for greater accountability, among others.

“These areas are crucial for reinforcing our democracy and ensuring that the governance structure meets the needs and aspirations of all Nigerians. Several Bills have already been introduced in both the Senate and the House, touching on some of these very important issues.”

Abbas added that Nigerians must not shy away from the complexities and the debates that will arise during the process, but embrace them as vital components of a vibrant democracy, saying, “The discussions and disagreements are not signs of weakness, but rather indications of our strength and diversity. They remind us that we are a nation of many voices, each with something valuable to contribute to our collective future.

In his remarks, the deputy speaker, Benjamin Kalu said the plan to get the new Constitution available early is to give the President time to study the alterations before signing them into law away from the busy schedule of election year.

He said: “Our constitution, the foundation of our democracy, stands as a testament to our collective aspirations for a just, equitable, and prosperous society. Yet, as we confront the realities of the 21st century, it is incumbent upon us to recognize the imperative for constitutional reform, to ensure that our laws reflect our people’s evolving needs and aspirations”.

Kalu said the House has so far received bill proposals for the establishment of state police; state access to mines; increased participation of women in politics; clear specification of the taxes/levies to be collected by each tier of government and the provision for the office of the Mayor of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja.

He said several bill proposals that were passed, but did not make the President’s assent during the Fifth Constitution alterations have been brought back to the current amendment, including powers of the National Assembly and State Assemblies to summon the President and State governors, and requirements of the government to direct policies towards ensuring the rights to food and food security.

According to him, this highlights the dynamic nature of the constitution review process and its importance to the democratic strengthening of the country, adding that the House was willing to accommodate more proposals to enhance the Constitution and strengthen the nation’s democracy.

He said the House was also waiting for executive-sponsored bill proposals that reflect issues on the renewed hope agenda of the president while acknowledging amendments to the constitution carried out by previous assemblies.

Kalu said the committee is ready to embrace the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, leveraging the power of technology, social media, and inclusive engagement, we will ensure that every voice is heard, every perspective is considered, and every citizen is empowered to participate in the shaping of our nation’s future.

He said further: “As we embark on this journey, let us draw inspiration from the words of great leaders who have come before us. Let us remember the wisdom of Tafawa Balewa, who spoke of the necessity of unity and collaboration in our efforts to build a brighter future.

“Together, let us reaffirm our commitment to democracy, justice, and progress. Together, let us rise to the challenge and build a brighter future for Nigeria, a future that is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people”.

Senate President, Senator Godswill Akpabio assured that the Senate and House Committees will work seamlessly to ensure a comprehensive review of the constitution, adding that the process was not just a law review, but an amendment with the potential to reshape the nation’s democracy.

Represented by his Deputy, Senator Barau Jibrin, Senator Akpabio said that the process will be guided by the highest principles of transparency, diligence and inclusiveness while embracing the spirit of collaboration.

Chairman of the Conference of Speakers of State Houses of Assembly, Adebo Ogundoyin said the lawmakers must first understand the diversity of the nation, to be in a better position to address the challenges, adding that Leaders must make moves to address the tough times in the nation today.

Ogundoyin said the debate and calls for the review of the constitution will continue until the nation gets it right while calling for devolution of power to the federating states and allowing them to take control of certain items currently in the hands of the federal government.

He assured that the state Houses of Assembly will collaborate with the National Assembly in the amendment process, adding that the state Assemblies will ratify the document sent to them as a result of the engagement.

Source: The Nation