Nigeria’s National Assembly led by Senator Ahmad Lawan recently contributed its ‘widow’s mite’ to the advancement of our growing democracy, rule of law and restructuring of the country, as projected by President Buhari, with the consideration of 68 major amendments to the country’s 1999 Constitution.
So much and by so many Nigerians across all the divides of the country had been said about restructuring the country before and after the Hon. Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi’s 2014 Confab report was submitted to then President Goodluck Jonathan.
Even though some Nigerians did not doubt the intentions of President Jonathan in his 52-point inaugural speech at the Confab 2014, as his view of assembling Nigerians of all interest groups to exhaustively debate and make genuine recommendations towards restructuring the country for the good of all, some others saw it as a waste of resources embedded with hidden motives by bypassing the National Assembly that was constitutionally empowered to make laws for the governance of the country.
President Jonathan had then said that the Conference was ‘being convened to engage in intense introspection about the political and socio-economic challenges confronting our nation and to chart the best and most acceptable way for the resolution of such challenges in the collective interest of all the constituent parts of our fatherland’.
He further noted that these challenges ‘range from form of government, structures of government, devolution of powers, revenue sharing, resource control, states and local governments creation, boundary adjustment, state police and fiscal federalism, to local government elections, indigeneship, gender equality and children’s rights’, amongst others.
Arising from the demands of some Nigerians for the adoption and implementation of the report of Confab 2014, President Buhari did not mince words in saying it all by directing such agitated Nigerians to approach the National Assembly with their demands for restructuring as the buck stops at the doorstep of NASS.
This undoubtedly was a further demonstration of President Buhari’s commitment as a democrat and his love for due process and entrenchment of separation of powers between the three arms of government comprising of the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary; rejuvenation and genuine restructuring of the country’s democratic space.
It is not in doubt that Nigerians rarely invoke the 1999 Constitution with pride. Indeed, the incessant controversies and debates over the Constitution are strong evidence of disagreement over many of its provisions within the society. For example in 2008, the then Senate President, David Mark asserted that there is “a litany of contradictions, omissions and inconsistencies” in the Constitution. I cannot agree less.
This therefore justified the strong need for a total review of the constitution to accommodate current needs and realities of the Nigerian society that will meet the aspirations of the majority under a typical democratic practice.
The March 1st 2022 adoption of the NASS report of its committees on the review of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, chaired by Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege climaxed the first due process steps of the country’s restructuring efforts, under a democratic dispensation.
Reports have shown that during the consideration and adoption of the report, the Nigerian Senate passed a total number of 46 major amendments considered very critical to the efforts of democratically restructuring the country. However, 22 amendments were rejected for various reasons advanced by the Upper Chamber.
Regrettably, very thorny and equally critical issues like State Police and States creation, among others were not considered by the Omo Agege Committee.
One hopes that those missing issues will find space during the next phase of the NASS constitution review committee’s deliberations. After all, amending a constitution is not a one-off thing. It’s a continuous exercise.
Records of the proceedings at the National Assembly listed amendments passed as Financial autonomy for local governments, Administrative autonomy for local governments, Financial Independence for State Houses of Assembly and States’ Judiciary, among others.
Others were termination of tenure of elected officials after change of political party; Free, Compulsory and Basic Education; Food security; Devolution of Power; empowering RMAFC to enforce compliance with remittance of accruals into and disbursement of revenue from the Federation account and streamlining the procedure for reviewing the revenue allocation formula; bill to replacing the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation with the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federal Government and establishing the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federal Government separate from the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation.
The rest were establishing the Office of the Attorney–General of the Federation and of the States separate from the Office of the Minister of Justice or Commissioners for Justice of the States in order to make the Offices of Attorneys–General independent and insulated from partisanship,
With the National Assembly’s Passed amendments, the issue of restructuring will now move to the States Houses of Assembly for further deliberations and passage before a final amendment on the 1999 constitution is ratified.
With this overwhelming decision of the Legislature, NASS once more has vindicated PMB on his stand against accepting and implementing wholesale the 2014 Confab report as it is certainly against democratic process to restructure the country’s polity by Executive fiat.
Also in his usual commitment to the enthronement of democratic process in the country as part of his legacies to the country, President Buhari recently assented to the much talked about Electoral Act 2022 aimed at sanitising our electoral process.
More than anything else, the action underscores government’s commitment to ensuring free and fair elections, dignity of the citizens, equal opportunity and justice to all political participants as voters or contestants.
For me, the President deserves a pat on the back for shunning all agitators asking him to implement the 2014 Confab report as doing so will amount usurpation of the Constitutional powers of the National Assembly to make laws for the governance of the country.