Knocks As 12-year-old N12.850b Constitution Review Investment Fails
Anger and public criticisms are brewing against the National Assembly over failure of a N12.850 billion investment in the business of Constitution amendments, which it re-enacted since June 2011.
The first and last time the 1999 Constitution was amended was in January 2011, a feat that the previous amendment bill could not achieve, no thanks to the infamous Third Term provision in 2006.
And from 2011 to date, a period that covers three different administrations of the National Assembly, no Constitution alteration effort has succeeded, even after N12.850 billion had been spent. This includes the N850 million recently approved in the 2023 budget, in addition to the N4 billion for every regime of the Senate for Constitution review since 2011.
Every regime of the Assembly initiates a fresh Constitution amendment project for which some N4 billion is approved, to be appropriated and released on the basis of N1 billion per year.
The bad news of the imminent failure of the current Constitution alteration exercise was broken recently by no less a person than the Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, who is also the Chairman of the Senate’s Committee on constitution review.
He blamed the failure on state governors whom, he claimed, had refused to allow the state Houses of Assembly to endorse the 44 bills sent to them.
The failure was later confirmed by Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, when they pleaded with Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna to beg his colleagues to allow Houses of Assembly endorse the proposed alterations.
But the Houses rejected allegations of frustrating the Constitution review and accused the leadership of the National Assembly of resorting to blackmail, after failing to carry them along on key issues for amendments.
Speaking through the Conference of State Assembly Speakers, the Houses said the National Assembly bluntly rejected the state police option, which they canvassed.
To successfully alter any section of the Constitution, at least 24 of the 36 Houses of Assembly must approve the bill to that effect with two-thirds majority. From Omo-Agege’s disclosure, only 11 Houses of Assembly had passed the current amendment exercise with two-thirds majority.
As it stands, the next regime of the National Assembly, which begins in June 2023, will have to start all over on the same issues for which N12.850 billion has been spent by three different regimes of the National Assembly since June 2011.
Reacting to the ugly trend, stakeholders, like Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), lawyers, and public analysts believe sufficient patriotism has not been demonstrated in a bid to get over problems militating against successful alteration of the Constitution.
Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) has insisted corruption and related problems are getting worse because of failure to remove and alter impediments in the Constitution against anti-corruption fight.
HEDA Executive Secretary, Sulaimon Arigbabu, had insisted: “Corruption is Nigeria’s issue and the root of the country’s problem. We are in dire need of the Constitutional review. A lot of the things happening are because there are lacunas in the Constitution.
“All agencies are hindered by one thing or the other in that Constitution. There are not enough provisions in the Constitution to, at least, help to reduce corruption. It’s so unfortunate that those who have been saddled with the power to help make this happen are using such power to aid corruption rather than abate it.”
Arigbabu further lamented: “Some of the people whose corrupt cases were reported in the past have found their way into high offices in the country. Some have become governors, some have been appointed in high places, and these often happen because Nigerians tend to forget.”
Also reacting, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) believes the disagreement between the National Assembly and State Assemblies on some areas of the amendments arose from failure of the National Assembly to display responsive leadership.
It tasked Nigerians to demand that the National Assembly deliver on its assignment and give Nigeria an altered constitution for which billions of taxpayers money has been sunk.
Alternatively, HURIWA said: “The members of the Constitution alteration panel should be asked to refund, to the last kobo, all the public funds released by the National Assembly for that apparently ill-fated assignment.”
HURIWA’s National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, explained: “This discord shows the lack of any sort of seamless dialogue and partnership between the National Assembly and the State Assemblies. If the leadership of the National Assembly has been very effective and efficient over the last four years, it would have been so easy for both sets of legislators to have a meeting point and hammer out their differences.
“And if the intransigence is from the state governors, who obviously control the Assemblies of those 36 states, then if the hierarchy of the National Assembly is independent of the executive arm of government at the centre, it would be a lot easier for the federal parliamentarians to convince their counterparts from the states to work with the National Assembly to stop the total enslavement of the States Houses of Assembly from the stranglehold of governors.”
HURIWA lamented that even the National Assembly has refused to be independent of the federal executive, a development it said has made it difficult for the National Assembly to convince its colleagues at the State Houses of Assembly to act independently in the interest of Nigeria
“It is like the kettle calling the pot black or how do you expect any sane Nigerian to take the Constitution amendment committee of the National Assembly seriously?”
Meanwhile, an Abuja-based lawyer, Enemaku Aba, said the Constitution review is dead on arrival because the areas proposed for amendment would never be acceptable to state governors.
He said: “I haven’t actually seen the bills you are referring to. But governors will not allow local councils autonomy or State Assemblies autonomy because those are their conduits.
“After all, there is no time for the National Assembly anymore. They have started their campaign and the only serious legislative assignment before them now is the 2023 national budget.”
Culled from Guardian