The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) has opposed the proposed review of the Nigerian constitution by the Senate describing it as a waste of time and resources.
By QueenEsther Iroanusi
The forum faulted the huge monetary allocation for the constitution review process since 1999 saying it makes little or no meaningful impact on the lives of Nigerians, Daily Trust Newspaper reports.
The forum’s Director of Publicity, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, made this known at a press conference in Abuja on Sunday where he urged the National Assembly to convince President Muhammadu Buhari to end the insurgency in the North-east and killings in other parts of the country rather than review the constitution.
He also advised Nigerians against supporting the proposed constitution review “at this difficult time when the economy is facing unprecedented challenges.”
The Senate has since commenced the constitution review process.
The 57-member ad-hoc committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution, headed by the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, has since sent out an invitation to the public to submit a memorandum to assist the “further alteration of the provisions of the constitution (as amended).”
About N1 billion has been allocated to the committee for this task, an aide to Mr Omo-Agege told PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr Baba-Ahmed, however, faulted the entire process describing it as a predictable waste of time, resources and energy of the country and advised the Senate to scrap “the wasteful idea of giving Nigerians the impression that it is involved in a serious review of our Constitution.”
Nothing fundamental or of any value has come out of these grand schemes to exploit our collective desire to address our political and economic fundamentals. This National Assembly is also following suit and it should not be encouraged on this path, he said.
“Nigeria’s future rests largely on its willingness to address major constraints to equity and justice, a functional structure, consistent good governance, security for all citizens, a credible electoral process, growing understanding between and among all groups and an economy that grows and narrows inequalities between and classes and regions.
“The legislature and executive branches of government have large quantities of reviews, recommendations and reports from past attempts at amending the constitutions. These represent enough resources for a review if the legislature is serious about this vital national priority.
“Even this is not likely to produce a genuine effort to address the basic requirements of securing a stable, secure and prosperous Nigeria, because both arms of this administration are unlikely to accept to put through wide-ranging reviews of the constitution.”
The forum further reminded legislators and other leaders from the North that security, reduction of crushing poverty and widening distrust among communities should be their priorities.
“The Northern Elders Forum recommends the alternative of leaders of thought, elders, groups and professional organisations and representatives of government to freely discuss every element of our co-existence as a country under principles of voluntarism, genuine representation mutual respect and integrity of the process.
“A Nigerian Peoples’ Conference on Review of the Constitution will benefit from past work in this direction in addition to contemporary challenges, which the country needs to address in a context that allows free and productive engagements without pre-determined ends.
“The outcome of this conference should be submitted to the two arms of government, which should provide for a referendum in the constitution so that Nigerians can directly decide on how they want their nation to be structured and function.”
The North, he said, is willing to discuss other options that will do justice to the current constitution and the future of Nigeria. He urged northern groups to be wary of being railroaded into making submissions which the legislature will hold up as input, further justifying waste and deceit.
“No northern group should encourage further waste of public funds which should be channelled into battling killers, kidnappers, poverty and poor governance. The North wants a major review of the constitution, but it is also ready to resist attempts to create wealth for a few while it leaves parts of the country to quarrel and blame each other for the state of the nation.
“Northerners are willing to discuss current challenges of the region and the state of the country with any group, anywhere, provided it sees evidence of sincerity and respect for each other,” he said.
In its reaction, the Senate urged the Northern Elders Forum to engage it through proper legislative channels – in a memorandum to the Constitution Review Committee.
The Senate spokesperson, Ajibola Basiru, who acknowledged the concerns raised by the forum, wondered if past lawmakers and executives have failed in this regard, then it can never be achieved?
“Their statement even implied an agreement by them that there is need for fundamental restructuring exercise which is the purpose of the present endeavour of the 9th National Assembly. Their views can be encapsulated in a memorandum to the Constitution Review Committee.”
Having commenced the constitution review process, the committee is expected to deliberate and review all bills that seek to alter the constitution.
The chairman of the committee has said the panel’s report will be ready by the first quarter of 2021.