*Urges Nigerians to participate in public hearing
*Says Report will be ready In July
*Hearing to hold simultaneously across country
Chairman of the Senate Committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege has reiterated the importance of the exercise, urging all Nigerians to contribute their inputs to ensure the emergence of a better and more improved legal document that will enhance the welfare and unity of the country.
The Deputy President of the Senate, who indicated this in a press conference held in Abuja on Monday 24 May, acknowledged that the 1999 constitution is the most widely-criticized constitution in the history of Nigeria, adding that the criticisms have been widespread cutting across civil society groups, socio-cultural groups, regional, professional bodies and ethnic nationalities, among others.
He commended Nigerians for their resilience in accommodating, for so long, some of the obvious lapses in the Constitution, adding that it was time for Nigerians to avail themselves of the opportunity offered by the ongoing review of the constitution to contribute their inputs towards a better national document that will cater for the welfare of Nigerians.
He said: “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 organizations, 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 representation 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 Excellency Dr. Ahmad Lawan, constituting a Constitutional Amendment Committee on the 12th of February 2020.”
Omo-Agege informed that at the commencement of the exercises, realizing that there were 32 header constitution alteration bills, the Committee streamlined it to 13 namely, Gender Equality for Women, Federal Structure and Power devolution, Local Government/Local Government Autonomy, Public Revenue, Fiscal Federalism and Revenue, Nigeria Police and the Nigerian Security Architecture, Comprehensive Judicial Reforms, Electoral Reforms to Strengthen INEC to deliver transparently credible, free and fair elections, Socio-Economic and Cultural Rights as contained in Chapter 2 of the Constitution.
Others include strengthening the Independence of Oversight Institutions and Agencies created by the Constitution, Residency and Indigene Provisions, Immunity of Persons, the National Assembly and State Creation.
The Deputy President of the Senate further stated that a total of 250 memoranda were received, adding that after an analysis of the memos, the committee saw the need to readjust the issues to 16, namely, Gender Equity/Increased participation of Women and Vulnerable groups in governance, the Federal Structure in governance and Power Devolution, Local Government Administration/Local Government autonomy, Public Revenue, Fiscal Federalism and Revenue Allocation, Constitutional Provision for the Establishment of State Police, Judicial Reform -Adjudication of election and pre-election matters and other justice delivery concerns, Electoral Reforms that will make INEC deliver transparent, credible, free and fair elections, Political parties, Independent candidature and election management, Socio-economic rights as contained in Chapter II of the Constitution, Residency and indigeneship, Immunity – Removal of immunity in prima facie criminal cases,
Other issues include, Time-line for Assent of Bills and Passage of Appropriation Bill, States and local government creation, Strengthening of 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. F.C.T. Administration, the Legislature and Legislative Bureaucracy and Constitutional Role for Traditional Rulers.
Omo-Agege further disclosed that the Committee has scheduled a nationwide public hearing on the review to afford Nigerians a window of opportunity to make their inputs on the 16 issues highlighted above, adding that participants at the hearing also have the opportunity to raise more issues for consideration by the Committee.
“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 is embarking on public hearings at the 6 geo-political zones and at the national level. To bring the process closer to the people the hearing will take place in 2 centers in each of the 6-geo-politacal zones”, he said.
According to him, the public hearing which is scheduled for May 26 and 27, will hold at designated centres across the six geo-political zones as follows:
North Central zone: Jos centre is chaired by Senator Abdullahi Adamu and comprised of Plateau, Benue and Nasarawa; Minna centre to be chaired by Senator Abdullahi Sabi Aliyu, comprising of Kogi, Kwara, Niger state and FCT;
North East zone: Gombe centre is to be chaired by Senator Mohammed Danjuma Goje and it is comprising of Gombe, Taraba and Adamawa, while Bauchi centre is chaired by Senator Abubakar Kyari and comprised of Bauchi, Borno and Yobe state
North West zone: Kaduna Centre is to be chaired by Senator Kabiru Gaya and comprised of Kaduna, Kano, Katsina and Jigawa state while, Sokoto centre is to be chaired by Senator Muhammed Aliero and comprised of Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara state
South East zone: Enugu Centre is to be chaired by Senator Ike Ekweremadu and comprised of Anambra, Ebonyi and Enugu state while, Owerri centre is chaired by Senator Orji Uzor Kalu and comprised of Abia and Imo state.
South South zone: Asaba centre is to be chaired by Senator James Manager and comprised of Bayelsa, Delta and Edo state while, Port-Harcourt centre is to be chaired by Senator Betty Apiafi and comprised of Akwa Ibom, Cross River and Rivers state.
South West zone: Akure centre is to be chaired by Senator Ajayi Boroffice and comprised of Ekiti, Ondo and Osun state while, Lagos centre is chaired by Senator Oluremi Tinubu and comprised of Lagos, Ogun and Oyo state.
The Committee chairman also explained that the public hearing is scheduled to hold simultaneously in all the designated centres across the country, on Wednesday May 26 and Thursday May 27, adding that the two days window is to offer Nigerians opportunity to make their presentations. He also explained that on Thursday June 3 and Friday June 4, a National Public hearing is scheduled to hold in Abuja to afford government agencies and other stakeholders who were unable to attend the zonal hearings to make their presentations.
“The zonal hearings will hold simultaneously in all the centres on Wednesday 26th and Thursday 27th May 2021. The 2 days is to give Nigerians ample opportunity to make their presentations.
“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”, he said.
While acknowledging the clamour by Nigerians for amendment of the 1999 constitution over the years, Omo-Agege underscored the importance of the constitutional review as a response to the myriads of demands from Nigerians within the provisions of the law.
“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 an 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 on this platform to build the country of our dream”, he said.