Nigeria: Whose Constitutional Review?

The current effort is again a waste of time and resources

Not much was expected from the exercise. Predictably, at the end, what came out from the National Assembly as ‘constitutional review’ was largely an elaborate charade. Like previous editions of the exercise, many issues and bills that are crucial to advancing the cause of good governance and national cohesion were ignored. Despite the visit to their chambers by the First Lady, Aisha Buhari, and wife of the Vice President, Dolapo Osinbajo, the lawmakers still rejected legislations that would allow married women to choose their indigeneship by marriage or state of origin for appointive or elective purposes, among other gender bills.

To be sure, there are important issues that demand legislative interventions and a few of them were considered. The Senate passed a total of 49 bills, including moving prisons, railways, and power generation from the exclusive to the concurrent list. The lawmakers gave a nod in support of independent candidacy in presidential, governorship, National Assembly, State Houses of Assembly, and Local Government Council elections.They approved the separation of the office of Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) from that of the Justice Minister. Besides, they approved financial autonomy for state legislatures, judiciary, and local governments, and voted for the retention of Value Added Tax (VAT) on concurrent list. VAT issue has been in contention between the federal and state governments over who should be collecting it and how it should be shared.

However, the approval of autonomy for the local councils is rather contentious. It is also noteworthy that the lawmakers had enough common sense to jettison the idea of awarding lifelong pensions to their presiding officers.

Overall, critical issues were ignored. Questions that have agitated Nigerians in recent years include: Should we tinker with the current arrangement? How do we deal with the question of local government fiscal autonomy? And how do we restructure the country to make it work for the people? But they are issues that hardly bother our federal lawmakers. Uneven development is a major cause for different modes of agitations across the country, some of which threaten the existence of Nigeria as a single entity.

But perhaps more painfully, the cry for state police, which has been a constant across many states in the country, did not make the list. The pervasive insecurity across the country has made it essential for the active participation of local government, civic and business leaders, residents, churches, mosques, in policing their communities and bear responsibility for safeguarding their welfare. But the National Assembly thought otherwise and has missed yet another opportunity to play up issues of security in the country.

Since democratic government was restored in 1999 anchored on a constitution put together by the military and top civil servants that swore in Olusegun Obasanjo as President, every elected National Assembly has had as one of its core committees Constitution Review. This is one of the so-called juicy committees whose membership is a privilege. Members of the committee usually tour all the geopolitical zones in the country, and frequently go on a ‘retreat’ which can last for days in a posh hotel invariably out of Abuja with all expenses paid and generous allowances. Ironically, their conferences and meetings have no impact. And this one is not different from past efforts: it is an organised waste of time and resources.

All said, while it is the prerogative of the National Assembly to amend provisions of the 1999 Constitution, we strongly believe that such exercise must be carried out with a good sense of history, the highest level of patriotism and in accordance with the wishes of the people.

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