Posted On: Fri 16 Oct 2020 By TCR NEWS | THISDAY
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has faulted claims by social critics that the serial review of the 1999 Constitution as amended is a waste of resources and has not achieved anything.
Osinbajo, in his goodwill message yesterday at the inauguration of the House of Representatives’ special ad-hoc committee on the review of 1999 Constitution, said the various amendments to the constitution have strengthened the document and made the nation’s democracy better.
In furtherance of the review, the House yesterday inaugurated a special ad-hoc committee to superintend over the exercise.
The committee listed its focus to include, among others, how to achieve federalism, state police, creation of more states and local government autonomy.
Also speaking at the inauguration, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, reiterated his statement that the next presidential election will hold on February 18, 2023, and urged members of the House to speed up the process of reviewing the constitution, as only about 855 days are left before the next general election.
Osinbajo, represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, said President Muhammadu Buhari remains the president who has signed the most constitutional alteration Acts since the advent of democracy in 1999.
He listed such amendments to include the Not Too Young to Run Bill that reduced the age a person must attain to contest elections and the law that granted financial autonomy to the judiciary and the legislature.
Osinbajo while restating that the constitution review is a work-in-progress, urged the ad hoc-committee not to discountenance any constitution alteration proposal, no matter how idealistic but to look at ways to galvanise them to improve the economy, create jobs, guarantee national safety and security and abolish corruption.
He assured the ad-hoc committee that the executive will cooperate with it by making input into its work and assenting to the final product at the end of the process.
”My presence here underscores the importance this administration attaches to the review of the constitution to be able to address our societal ills and propel the nation towards greatness,” he said.
He expressed confidence in the ability of the committee’s leadership and members to discharge their mandate excellently by liaising with relevant government agencies, civil society organisations, multilateral and supranational agencies and bodies to achieve a wholesome amendment to the Nigerian constitution.
Yakubu Restates February 18 Date for 2023 Presidential Election
Meanwhile, INEC’s Chairman, Yakubu, has said the next presidential election will hold on February 18, 2023.
In his goodwill message he urged lawmakers to speed up the process to facilitate the smooth conduct of the next general election.
Yakubu told members of the House that only about 855 days are left before the next general election.
He explained that as in 2019, general elections in the country have to be held in the second week of February of each election year, and called on the National Assembly to ensure the timely review of the constitution.
He also called for the review of the Electoral Act to give legal backing to the use of technology in the electoral process, adding that the present manual process is cumbersome and costly.
Speaking for himself, the SGF urged the committee to select items that can be easily taken, to avoid stalling the process and destabilising the system.
Also speaking at the inauguration at the National Assembly complex, the Chairman of the Committee and the Deputy Speaker of the House, Hon. Idris Wase, said the panel would consider the creation of states, state police, federalism, local government and judicial autonomy while reviewing the 1999 Constitution.
He said already, over 15 constitution alteration bills had been referred to the committee touching on these broad thematic areas.
He added that there have been attempts to amend the 1999 Constitution, yet the agitations for a much more fundamental amendment has not stopped.
According to him, despite the fact that Nigeria prides itself as a ‘federal state,’ it is far from what federalism entails.
He said until critical areas are resolved, the clamour for a new constitution may continue.
”These are burning issues that have been left to burn for so long without giving them the much-needed attention. The burning issues include the federal structure, local government autonomy, state police, state creation and judicial autonomy,” he said, adding: ”Some have stated that our federal system is more unitary than federalist, especially with the number of items on the exclusive legislative list where the federal government regulates even simple items like primary education and agriculture.”
He said this has led to clamour for more devolution of powers from the centre to the states in order to makes states more viable and economically sustainable.
On local government autonomy, he said: “As a third-tier of government, all the local governments are supposed to be independent. However, we have not seen such independence in a long time. Arguably, the framers of the 1999 Constitution, created a worrisome situation by giving validity to the existence of 3.162 (6), which prescribes the “State and local government joint account.”
On state police, the deputy speaker said: “While internal security is of paramount importance, the concentration of the power of the police at the central government has created several policing challenges at the states. While some have advocated for the creation of state police, others have expressed worry on the possible abuse of such power by state governors. However, one thing that is clear is the need for us to take a second look at our internal security superstructure in order to make it work for our people and protect their lives and properties.”
Speaking on the agitation for state creation, he stated: “It is pertinent to note that the current 36 states of our federation were created via military decrees. Hence the true wishes and aspirations of the people were never considered in such creations.
“There is a need, therefore, to examine the subject of state creation (and the associated constitutional rigours and difficulties surrounding it) in such manner as to reflect the wishes and aspirations of homogenous people in a democratic system.”
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, while inaugurating the committee, asked the members to engage as many voices as possible in the course of its work.
He said the committee should also consider the expectations of different interest groups of Nigerians.
He said the House is determined to come up with a constitution that addresses most of the current challenges facing the country.
”I encourage you during this assignment to seek out and listen to as many voices as possible. Engage with as many interest groups as possible, reject misinformation, document the stories of our people, and consider their expectations,” he said, urging them: “Let the work you do demonstrate that this House of Representatives is fully capable of reflecting the most urgent concerns of the Nigerian people and acting in their best interests.”
He said he was confident that the ad-hoc committee will act judiciously and produce for the consideration of the House a quality report that members can implement expeditiously.