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N/Assembly may clash with The Patriots over constitutional future

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N/Assembly may clash with The Patriots over constitutional future

Three weeks ago the question on the lips of many was, can Chief Emeka Anyaoku’s Patriots reset Nigeria? As The Patriots met at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos penultimate Monday to do decide on the constitutional future for the country, they actually showed the world that they could stimulate speakers and audience to proffer solutions and workable roadmaps on how to get a new people’s constitution under an elected government and a sitting parliament.

The event, which held on 18 March, 2024 brought together elder statesmen, such as Ayo Adebanjo, Emeka Anyaoku, Kalu Idika Kalu, Tambuwal, Olusegun Mimiko and a host of others.

The declared aim of the parley was to get participants to examine “Lawful Procedures for Actualising a People’s Constitution for Nigeria”.

This national dialogue was in honour of the late Prof. Ben Nwabueze, the outstanding scholar and legal luminary that was buried in February 2024 .

Prof. Ben Nwabueze was the chairman of the Patriots and before him the group was led by the late Chief Rotimi Williams, another distinguished legal luminary. The Patriots are currently led by Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the former Secretary General of Commonwealth.
Members of the group reads like a “who is who” list in a Nigerian academic and socio-political reference book.

Think of names like General Ike Nwachukwu, Prof Bolaji Akinyemi, Elder Solomon Asemota, Prof. Itse Sagay, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Senator Bassey Ewa-Henshaw, Prof. Adenike Grange, Senator Ben Obi, Obong Victor Attah, Dr. Kalu I. Kalu, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, Mallam Yusuf Ali, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba and Prof. Pat Utomi just to mention a few.

The meeting rejected the constitutional amendment as being not profound and far-reaching enough as they wanted the current administration and parliament to revisit the Confab of 2014 convened by President Goodluck Jonathan, the 1963 Constitution, and the Constituent Assembly as basis to fashion out a new constitution.

They agreed to send their recommendations to President Tinubu and the National Assembly. They were unanimous in total rejection of the ongoing efforts at amending the constitution, an exercise that started in 2005 during the 5th Assembly. They stated that the various amendment exercises in the past had cost N20 billions with little success.
Several parliamentary efforts have gone amending the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic Nigeria, the Constitution widely condemned by many stakeholders, lawyers, professionals and academics as a bad document that is not in conformity with the ideals of democracy, after many years of military rule.

Dr. Abdullah Adamu, a political scientist, told Business Hallmark that ” the document they called 1999 Constitution is a military diktat and does not reflect the wills of the people, it is a jackboots document, and is not democratic in the real sense of the world.”
In his own look at the constitutional amendment, Prof. Adeagbo Moritiwon, a political scientist, noted that the ” Patriot’s submission during their last meeting in Lagos should be reflected on. It’s more far reaching than the jamboree called amendments, I urge the National Assembly to look into the document of these elders and save us the endless money – gulping amendments, which have come with little results.”

Many Nigerians believe that much of the efforts have resulted in more expenditure but less positive results, as several factors conspired to derail the process, including lack of agreement by the two-third majority (24 of the 36) of the state houses of assembly and sometimes, presidential withdrawal of assent.
Business Hallmark’s investigations showed that several constitutional amendment exercises had cost the nation over N20 billion, with at least, 30 alterations made to the document in 20 years.

It must be noted that the first constitutional amendment move was initiated by the 5th National Assembly. It was led by the then deputy Senate President Ibrahim Mantu.
Since 2005, every legislative cycle has come up with fresh amendments with a release of N1billion per year. This is aside some extra funds made available to the committee for unforeseen expenditure, which has been opaque.

“It’s disappointing that despite huge funds running into billions of naira expended on the exercise over the years, there are still recurrent issues of federal structure and devolution of power, independent candidacy, local government autonomy, immunity, fiscal federalism and revenue allocation, electoral reforms, creation of state police, among others, which have not been addressed to the satisfaction of many in the 24-year-old constitution.

The Patriot Lagos meeting was partly in response to the 10th Assembly’s fresh attempt at another amendment exercise, which is expected to also gulp billions of naira. Already in the Senate, a 47-member committee, chaired by Deputy Senate President Barau Jibrin, has one senator from each of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and one from each of the six geo-political zones in the country.
In the House of Representatives, Deputy Speaker Benjamin Kalu is the head of the review committee, which is already considering over 40 bills seeking alterations to the 1999 Constitution.

Inaugurating the 47-member Senate committee recently in Abuja, Senate President Godswill Akpabio, explained that the 1999 Constitution needed a review because it contained many issues that should be “put right.” The committee also assured that the current exercise would be completed in 2026.

Analysts have expressed worry that after several attempts to restructure the country, part of which is the amendment of the 1999 Constitution currently in operation, the moves either hit the rocks or yield little result after gulping billions of naira.

Nigerians are worried that perennial constitution amendment exercises by the National Assembly are defined and coloured by proposals that keep resurfacing despite gulping billions of naira yearly.

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At every session, the parliament officially spends N1billion shared equally between the Senate and the House of Representatives.
While some amendments were successful, several others suffered serial failures but kept appearing in new proposals.

Recall that the former President Goodluck Jonathan administration, in 2014 spent N7 billion to convene a national conference as part of efforts to produce a more acceptable constitution for Nigeria. The N7 billion was captured in the 2014 budget estimate under the heading ‘National Dialogue.’

The conference, which had participants drawn across the ethnic nationalities in the country, produced recommendations that were never implemented. The 8th National Assembly, however, embarked on another constitution amendment, which also gulped billions of naira.

More criticisms against amendments

Analysts, university dons, civil society organisations, lawyers, elder statesmen, and many Nigerians have argued that the constitution amendment is a mere waste of time and resources as billions are spent with no commensurate result.

A former presidential candidate, Chief Martins Onovo, recently said that funding the project was part of corruption.

He said, “Constitution amendment is necessary, but you don’t have to call billions. That is corruption. A constitution amendment that would cost N3billion is usually inflated to N300billion, and they would start giving themselves unlawful allowances. The big problem of Nigeria is not the absence of law but impunity.”

Also, a professor of Political Sociology at the University of Abuja, Abubakar Kari, lamented that while humongous amounts of money were spent, only a little progress has been achieved. He described the ongoing process as a jamboree.

He said, “If there is a particular thing identified in the constitution; an anomaly or a dysfunction, or whatever, for me, it does not require an elaborate committee of so many members that have to be catered for, spending N1bn or N4bn.

“If you compare the humongous amount, of resources, energy, and time spent and the actual amendment, it is not commensurate. There is a huge gap between the resources committed, energy, the propaganda, and the actual amendment. So, it is almost inexcusable. That is not to say that nothing has come out of the constitutional amendment. But what is going on now is a jamboree.”

Commenting, the executive director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CSLAC), Auwal Rafsanjani, said the amendment exercises had more or less become a ritualistic means of releasing money in the National Assembly, with little or no accountability.

An elder statesman and former presidential candidate, Chief Chekwas Okorie, in a recent interview said the factors that led to the failure of previous exercises were still serving as stumbling blocks, and described the ongoing exercise as a waste of time and resources.

“Honestly, I don’t have much confidence in their ability to get it right because of the many times they had tried and failed. Most of the time, the failure comes from their inability to get two-thirds of the state assemblies to endorse. That is the most difficult part of our constitutional amendments. So, this is usually a waste of public funds; going into all of those jamborees, going around the country that you are consulting.

“I suggest the revisiting of the recommendations of the 2014 national confab. There are about 660 recommendations there. However, some of them may have to be adjusted because the world is dynamic,” he said

A renowned constitutional lawyer, Prof Mike Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), who delivered the keynote address at the Patriot’s National Dialogue on the Constitutional Future of Nigeria on Monday, stated that the 1999 Constitution was fundamentally flawed and could not be amended.

“One million amendments multiplied by one million amendments, added to another one million amendments, cannot change the constitution because it is fundamentally flawed,” he said.

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Proponents of the constitution amendment exercise, however, noted that it was not all gloom as some have been painting it, stressing that past exercises succeeded in some areas; for instance, financial autonomy of the National Assembly, which gave it the power to draw its funds directly from the federation account.

Sections 145 and 190 were equally amended successfully. It was amended to compel the president or governor to transmit a letter to the National Assembly or State House of Assembly to enable their deputies act whenever they proceed on vacation or are unable to discharge their duties.

Amendments were also effected to section 285 (5) to (8) to set time limits for the filing, hearing and disposal of election petitions to quicken justice, and sections 76, 116, 132, and 178 to provide for a wider timeframe for the conduct of elections.

Section 285 and the Sixth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution to reduce the composition of tribunals to a chairman and two members and the quorum to just a chairman and a member were also successfully amended.
Other amendments included those on sections 66(h), 137(i) and 182(i) to delete the disqualification of persons indicted by an administrative panel from standing for election.

Sections 134, 179 and 225 of the constitution was amended to extend from seven to 21 days, the period within which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) shall conduct a runoff election between two leading presidential/gubernatorial candidates.

Sections 6, 84, 240, 243, 287, 289, 292, 294, 295, 216, 318, the Third Schedule and Seventh Schedule to the constitution were amended and a new section 254 inserted to make the National Industrial Court a court of superior record and equal in status to the Federal High Court.

Moritiwon further argued that the National Assembly should parley with the elder statesmen who are representative of the six geopolitical zones on a workable constitution.

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