Constitution Review: Anarchy Looms

Constitution Review: Anarchy Looms
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  • North, South, Middle Belt set for showdown in Abuja, as lawmakers divided over modalities

Abdul Lateef Bamgbose

Tension across the states in Nigeria after the ongoing Constitution Review conducted across the six geographical zones may berth in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, for the national hearing this week.

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AljazirahNigeria checks revealed that submissions from the various interest groups at the Zonal hearings further added to the fear that Nigeria is set for implosion if the exercise failed to address the clamouring for restructuring of Nigeria.

The Deputy President of the Senate and chairman, Senate Committee on Constitution Review, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege  in Abuja at a press conference heralding the zonal public hearing on alteration of the Constitution, said that the exercise  billed for May 26 and 27, 2021 across the country will address all the challenges confronting the Nation. The Deputy President of the Senate also disclosed that the national public hearing is scheduled to hold on June 3 and 4 in Abuja. This, he added, was to give opportunity to government agencies and other stakeholders who could not attend the zonal public hearing.

The Delta Central lawmaker said the public hearing would avail Nigerians the opportunity to make submissions on any issue of interest, adding that the National Assembly on its part, would prioritize such issues to enhance the welfare and security of citizens.

While disclosing that the committee received over 250 memoranda from Nigerians along the 13 thematic areas, Senator Omo-Agege enjoined those yet to submit memoranda to use the opportunity of the zonal public hearing to do so.

He assured that Nigerians will be happy with the final outcome of the exercise, adding that “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 this platform to build the country of our dream”.

He listed the 13 thematic areas to include: gender equality for women and girls; federal structure and power devolution; local government and its autonomy; public revenue, fiscal federation and revenue allocation; Nigerian Police and Nigerian security architecture as well as comprehensive judicial reforms.

Others are electoral reforms; socio-economic and cultural rights as contained in Chapter 2 of the Constitution; strengthening the independence of oversight institutions and agencies created by the constitution or pursuant to an act of the National Assembly; residency and indigene provisions; immunity; National Assembly and state creation.

Signs that the ongoing constitutional review exercise will aggravate the tension in Nigeria started emerging shortly after the meeting of the Southern Governors in Asaba. The Southern Governors were unanimous in their call for the restructuring of the federating units among other resolutions adopted at the meeting in Asaba.

But Lawan, speaking to reporters after the Eid prayers at Aso Villa cautioned the governors against “regionalism.” He said elected leaders ought not to champion such calls but rather concentrate on working hard to first restructure their states before asking the Federal Government to do so. “I believe that, as leaders, especially those of us who are elected into office, we should not be at the forefront of calling for this kind of thing ‘restructuring’”, Lawan said.

“Because, even if you are a governor, you are supposed to be working hard in your state to ensure that these restructuring you are calling for at the federal level, you have done it in your state as well”. The Senate President’s reactions had elicited reactions from some quarters with some lawmakers accusing the Senate President Ahmed Lawan of playing the script of the Northern feudalists.

A member of the House of Representatives, Sergius Ogun, hinted that there is a groundswell of opposition against Senate President Ahmad Lawan which may lead to his impeachment over comments he made on the demand for restructuring of the polity. Ogun attributed the development to what he termed loose remarks by the Senate President on the position held by Southern governors on the matter of the country’s restructuring and open grazing of cattle by herders.

The lawmaker claimed that Lawan’s comments had betrayed his plans to scuttle the on-going constitution amendment project which has the key element of restructuring the Nigerian state. “The Senate president said the seventeen southern governors that said they should restructure the country should go and restructure their state first so that the elected people should not be talking like that, it is a disgrace.

“Now the president has said he does not have power to oust the constitution that the people that can do that will be the National Assembly and we are in that process. The Deputy Senate President already brought out that roster for public hearing around the country, and for those of us in the House of Representatives we also have an agenda like that.

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“We are in the process of amending the constitution and the chairman of the national assembly is rebuking, Chartism the governors for saying that they should restructure that country. So if you ask me any right thinking person will believe that look this process is dead on the arrival they do not believe in it, if not why will he talk like that. For him to be talking to the governors that represent the section of the country shows he is not fit to be the senate president and I strongly believe that the senators from the South will do something about it this week. The senators from the South already endorse the position of the governors, we also in the house have already done that.

“We do not need people that can express their bias in that manner, he is supposed to be a leader. I think this number three figure they call them has a lot to deceive them.

Recall that the 17 southern governors had, at a meeting in Asaba Delta State, called for urgent dialogue to resolve lingering national problems. They also called for restructuring and review of revenue formulas, among others. Lawan’s comment generated public outcry with some calling for his impeachment.

But Senator Buhari said the Senate President, like every other Nigerian, was free to express his opinion on national issues.

“The Senate President is entitled to his opinion anytime”, Buhari said. “I am entitled to my opinion. What is my business with his comment and what is his own business with my comment? How can I be angry with another person’s comment? He did not say he was talking on behalf of the Senate. He said if you are talking of restructuring, let us start from you. Go and meet your local government chairmen, listen to the judiciary, House of Assembly. If I stand here in the Senate I am immune even against the Senate President or the president of the country. You dare not as a member of the House of Assembly talk against your governor”.

The lawmaker, however, said he believes in restructuring the country but kicks against secession. He said, “I must be honest with you, personally I don’t believe in secession; I believe in restructuring and I believe we should be able to talk”.

Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum Position

Over the weekend, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, SMBLF, insisted that what the country needs urgently is a new constitution and not an amendment to the current one. The Forum described the current attempt to amend the 1999 Constitution by the National Assembly as fraudulent. The leaders also warned that failure to restructure the country might lead to Nigeria’s disintegration.

The SMBLF, which comprises the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF; the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the Middle-Belt Forum met at the Ladi Kwali Hall of Sheraton Hotels and Towers in Abuja.

Notable leaders present were Chief Edwin Clark, (Leader), Chief Ayo Adebanjo (Afenifere leader), Professor George Obiozor (Ohanaeze Ndigbo leader) and Dr. Bitrus Pogu (Middle Belt Forum leader). Others were Senator Emmanuel Essien, Ambassador Godknows Igali, Air Commodore Dan Suleiman, retd, Senator Bassey Ewa-Henshaw, Professor ABC Nwosu, Chief Cornelius Adebayo, Ambassador Dubem Onyia, Chief Guy Ikokwu and Senator Kofo Bucknor-Akerele, among others.

In his opening remarks, Chief Clark stressed the urgent need to restructure the country, saying without restructuring, the country cannot go anywhere. He also insisted that only a completely new constitution framed by the people will save Nigeria.

His words: “We are Nigerians before we are either Yoruba or Igbo. The purpose of this meeting is very clear. Where are we going? There is a need for us to state clearly our position. Mr. President is not an emperor, he is not a king, he is not a monarch, and he is a politician. This country belongs to all of us. The North alone cannot rule this country; the South alone cannot rule this country.

“We are running a Constitution where the Nigerian President is the most powerful in the world. What the National Assembly is doing is fraudulent. They spend N1 billion every time; nothing will come out of it. We want a brand new Constitution based on the 1963 Constitution. I have no confidence in the Constitution; we have no confidence in the Constitution. What are you amending? Nigeria should be restructured to a federal system of government. One of our major objectives is that we must restructure Nigeria. If we do not restructure, Nigeria will die. So, the answer is not secession, it is not break up, it is not separatism. Who understands it more than me?

“Restructuring should be the order of the day. We must restructure. We must not close our eyes to what is happening in this country. We don’t want to be manipulated. We are ready to have the next president. We want to restructure; we want zoning to continue. It is conventional. Even though zoning is not part of our Constitution, it is conventional. Let them zone it to the South. “The South should be ready to have the next president. Without that, there is no Nigeria.

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“So, the purpose of this meeting is: we want restructuring of Nigeria if Nigeria must continue. We want zoning to continue, it is conventional. When the Constitution did not provide a succession when Yar’Adua was ill, a convention was adopted. Even though zoning is not part of our national Constitution or party Constitution, it has been an accepted convention that will keep this country together. So if you do not zone this country, we are going nowhere. I invite you to the intention of this group to intensify the restructuring of this country to see that the presidency goes to the south.”

In a communiqué read at the end of the meeting, the group called on President Muhammadu Buhari to listen to the genuine and reasonable nationwide calls for a transparent National Dialogue. The communiqué, signed by Clark, Adebanjo, Obiozor, Bitrus and Essien, read: “An expanded meeting of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, SMBLF, held on Sunday, May 30, 2021, at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Abuja.

“The meeting, chaired by elder statesman, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, had in attendance leaders of various socio-cultural organizations as follows: Afenifere, for the South-West; Ohanaeze Ndigbo for the South-East; Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, for the South-South and the Middle Belt Forum, MBF, for the Middle Belt.

“The meeting exhaustively discussed various issues about the state of affairs in the country, particularly, bordering on security, national dialogue, restructuring, and the preparations for the 2023 general elections. The meeting urges the Federal Government to heed the genuine and reasonable nationwide calls for a transparent National Dialogue, and take urgent steps towards restructuring and birthing a new constitution; to bring back equitable harmony to the country. “We insist that it is imperative to immediately restructure the country, considering the precarious prevailing atmosphere before any further elections.

“The meeting reminds all leading political parties, especially the All Progressives Congress, APC, and the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, and other political parties, that the basis of any viable democracy, especially in a diverse and complex country such as Nigeria, rests in fair and even sharing of power.

 “It also notes that the Northern part of the country would have fully enjoyed the Presidency for the full statutory period of eight years by 2023, hence, should yield to the South. Therefore, the meeting unequivocally and in full resolve, calls on the APC and PDP and other political parties to zone the Presidency, in 2023 to the South; at the next election.

“We enjoin political stakeholders from the South not to be lured into the unpatriotic step of seeking such other positions as National Chairmen and Vice President of the main political parties, but join forces to demand and ensure that the Presidency moves to the South in 2023. We call on the Federal Government to declare a national emergency on security and urgently come up with proactive strategies to restore peace and security to all parts of the country;

“The meeting emphasized that if the security situation is not dealt with and banditry stopped or reduced to the barest minimum, it would not be feasible to have proper elections in 2023. We condemn the cavalier attitude of the Federal Government towards the resolutions of the Governors of Southern States at their Meeting, held in Asaba, Delta State on 11th May 2021; as it pertains to ban on open grazing and restructuring. We insist that cattle rearing is a general, private business enterprise, as such; the Federal Government should avoid committing state resources to promote any particular business, beyond providing the enabling environment, in the performance of its regulatory roles.

 The Coalition of Northern Groups

The coalition has reiterated its rejection of the just concluded public hearing on the constitution review organised by the Senate, saying it came at the wrong time and with the wrong motive. CNG, in a statement signed by its Spokesperson, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, said it is just another exercise in futility with the sole motive of diverting the huge public funds allocated for it as with all previous attempts.

“We at the CNG are quite aware of the futility of addressing the fundamentals of our national existence through a medium created by a set of representatives that have acquired the reputation of being the worst in the history of our nation in terms of any capacity to generate confidence in achieving credible national goals. Already piles of reports from previous such wasteful exercises since 1999 that claim different recommendations and conclusions on many sensitive issues now lie gathering dust in Federal Government offices and legislative chambers.

CNG said the exercise was deliberately timed to divert attention from the more existential threat to national unity with the resurgence of the decades-old Igbo secession agenda that is today taking a ferocious dimension. We find it quite unreasonable for leaders to contemplate any form of constitution review that will involve an unwilling Igbo population that is violently agitating for secession by attacking people of other regions, killing security personnel at will and destroying the nation’s public and security assets.

“Reasonably, those who call themselves custodians of our laws ought to concentrate first on a process for the separation of the irritating Igbo secessionists from the rest of the country before contemplating a future constitution”, CNG said.

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The Coalition said it is no longer in doubt that the “violent rascality by the IPOB, ESN and other assortments of armed Igbo gangs is funded, fully supported and emboldened by every component of the Igbo society at home and in the Diaspora. The CNG considers it an insult to our collective sensibilities and ordinary rules of decency to expect other parts of the country, particularly the North, to continue to coexist as one country with the Igbo as federating partners.

“The coordinated incessant attacks on police formations in Imo, Ebonyi, Aba, Ibadan, Enugu, Anambra and most recently the police headquarters in Kwara and Sunday’s cold-blooded assassination of Ahmed Gulak, a prominent northern leader, are part of a wider plan by the Igbo to replicate the ugly events of 1966 and the more reason why we can’t be reasonably expected to live with them as a nation any longer.

“It is equally insensitive for Senate to come up with such dubious exercise at a time the whole of the northern region is literally abandoned at the mercy of a rampaging insurgency and sundry security issues designed to continuously weaken the region politically and pauperize it economically”, Suleiman said.

Veteran lawyer, Afe Babalola, corroborated the CNG’s position as a waste of time and energy, the planned review of the 1999 Constitution by the National Assembly.

He said instead, the National Assembly should move for a national conference where issues bedevilling the nation could be identified, discussed and resolved through a roundtable talk. According to him, there is no way the National Assembly can amend the 1999 Constitution to cure the inherent defects, if the fraud in the system is not first got rid of.

His submission is coming a day after the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, told members of the Senate Committee of the Review of the Constitution that a national dialogue was the way forward. Mr. Akeredolu , who was not necessarily opposed to the exercise, said the clamour of the majority of the people for a national dialogue should be given a chance.

The National Assembly had started its zonal public hearings where inputs are gleaned from the various constituencies to form the basis for legislative action on the document. Mr Babalola said the Constitution in practice is defective and needed to be reworked, having been bequeathed to the people by the military.

“Against the background of the massive demand by Nigerians, home and abroad, for a true federal constitution made by the people and for the people, the National Assembly is calling for Public Hearing in the country’s six Geo-political Zones for people’s inputs on any issue of interest to enable the National Assembly to amend the 1999 constitution”, he said.

“It is common knowledge that the 1999 Constitution was made by the Military which in its wisdom claimed that it was made by the people. Secondly, it is impossible, by way of amendment, to take away the military system of government under the 1999 Constitution or the power and control of public funds by the President. Or can we, by way of amendment, change the judicial powers of the President under the 1999 Constitution?

“The root cause of our problems, which has brought Nigeria to the brink of extinction, is the 1999 Constitution foisted on it by the Military when it was exiting the reign of governance in 1999. The fact remains that you cannot amend a Coconut tree which has no branches to become an Iroko tree which has branches. It is a well-known fact that everything about the 1999 constitution is wound round the Presidential system of government.

“Why then is the National Assembly afraid of calling a National Constitutional Conference to fashion out a new true federal constitution and come up with a Parliamentary system of government like we had in 1963. Alternatively, since amendment in law includes substitution for an existing document, why is it that the National Assembly cannot call for a Public Hearing on the substitution of the 1999 Constitution for the 1963 Constitution which was made with the consent of the people?

“The proposed amendment to the 1999 Constitution, whichever way you look at it, is a futile exercise. We all know that previous sessions of the National Assembly had made laws to convene the National Conference. I, therefore, advise that the current National Assembly should call for a National Conference to discuss and make a new true federal constitution which will provide for a Parliamentary system of government”.

The lawyer had earlier volunteered to host and bankroll a national dialogue that would aggregate the views of well meaning Nigerians on how to resolve the myriad of problems facing the country.

Aljazirahnews


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