More Nigerians Clamour for Brand New Constitution at Zonal Public Hearing

More Nigerians Clamour for Brand New Constitution at Zonal Public Hearing

… As Resource Control, Demand for Four New States Top Zonal Public Hearing in Rivers State Premised on the myriad of issues and a multitude of proposals for the alteration of different parts of the 1999 constitution, more Nigerians have joined the league of persons and groups clamouring for the writing of a brand new

… As Resource Control, Demand for Four New States Top Zonal Public Hearing in Rivers State

Premised on the myriad of issues and a multitude of proposals for the alteration of different parts of the 1999 constitution, more Nigerians have joined the league of persons and groups clamouring for the writing of a brand new constitution instead of an amendment of the current document.

This clamour is, however, at variance with the objective of the National Assembly which is that the review exercise is not intended to write a new constitution. Rather, it believes constitutional review could take place from time to time to amend observed lacuna or inadequacies.

These were some of the undertone of events at the South South zonal public hearing holding at the Dr. Obi Wali cultural centre, in Portharcourt, Rivers state.

But Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State did not mince word when he declared that the present constitution does not meet the minimum condition to bring about a cohesive country. “Peoples’ constitution is the only path to a successful, cohesive and peaceful country” he said, in his opening remark at the South South zonal public hearing, comprising Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers and Rivers states on Thursday.

He restated his opposition to any move to divide the country, but warned that Nigeria is headed for a dangerous precipice if something drastic is not done. He said there can be no peace without equity and justice. He was represented by the deputy governor, Dr. Mrs Ipalibo Banigo.

Not optimistic about the prospect of a positive outcome of the exercise, Governor Wike observed that this is the third time a review exercise would be carried out without successfully getting out a constitution. He was, however, hopeful that if the ninth Senate approaches the exercise with sincerity of purpose and commitment, Nigeria may be lucky to have a constitution that will address the urgent contending issues in the polity.

Some of the issues identified by him include devolution of power, establishment of state police, amending derivation fund to not less than 25 percent and reducing the cost of governance at both the federal and state government levels. He posited that the issue of lopsided appointments does not engender a sense of belonging in the country.

Welcoming participants to the 2-day zonal public hearing, Senator Omo Ovie-Agege, represented by Senator George Sekibo said the Senate embarked on the zonal hearings to ensure a bottom-top approach to constitution review. He said the ninth Senate had set a legislative Agenda at the beginning of their tenure which it would like to address. The issues on the Agenda include electoral reforms, judicial reforms and constitution review.

He explained that the National Assembly wants to leverage on this constitution review to achieve several milestones in one fell-swoop. He said the ultimate goal of the exercise is to ensure the highest good to the greatest number of our people.

In his goodwill message, the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Ikuiniyi Ibani urged the National Assembly to borrow a leaf from the Chile example, where the parliament voted to jettison the military imposed constitution and instead opted for a new constitution.

“The National Assembly should make it possible for Nigerians to write a new constitution. Any form of amendment that does not meet the need of the people to have access to their economic needs would amount to nothing. He said the amendment should take into account “impeded autonomy” of the subnational units without expatiating further.

Adding flesh to the Governor’s remarks in a position paper on behalf of the government and people of Rivers State, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Professor Zaccheus Adangor SAN, said Nigeria’s brand of federalism should be sensitive to ethno-cultural diversity. He said the 98 items on the exclusive list must be drastically reduced and most of the items placed on the concurrent list.

Some of the reforms advocated by him include the decentralization of the activities of the Judicial Council, fiscal federalism that allows each tier of government to have sufficient money to run its affairs and resource ownership.

On its part, the Akwa Ibom state commissioner for Justice, represented by Mr. Bassey Ekanem, a director in the ministry listed the position of the government and people of the state to include,women should be given 25 percent of every appointment at all levels and must be given free education; all tiers of government should be made independent; federal government should shed some load (about 25 items) from the exclusive list; states should be able to determine what it can pay its workers and should be able to determine on issues of mining and mineral resources as well as Value Added Tax (VAT).

Other submissions by Akwa Ibom state include uniform tenure of four years for Local government elected officials and states should be able to create local governments. Listing of local governments should be deleted from the constitution. The state also canvassed the decentralization of the Supreme Court while each state should have its Court of Appeal. The constitution should address the issue of defection by elected persons more cogently; once you defect, you must vacate office.

The South South zone of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) does not believe this amendment will satisfy the yearnings of the people. The ninth Senate should go the full hog by giving birth to a brand new constitution. “Nigeria cannot be wiser than God” the spokesperson said.

Many women organisations came to the venue to address the issue of gender equality. The spokesperson of the League of Women Voters of Nigeria said women want 24 amendments in 22 sections of the constitution. She noted that the word “chairman’ occurred 66 times in the constitution thereby suggesting that the positions are reserved for men. On the contrary, “woman” was used only twice.

They want 35 percent representation for both sexes in positions and canvassed the establishment of gender character commission. They also want all forms of discrimination on marital life or status to be prohibited.

Architect Obong Attah former Governor of Akwa Ibom state in a position paper sent to the Senate committee said “no amount of amendment can address the flaws in the constitution. What is needed is a brand new constitution,“ he declared.

In a 72-page position paper submitted to the committee, the Nigeria Labour Congress argued vehemently against decentralizing the national minimum wage and wants it to remain on the exclusive list and not be left to states to decide upon. The Organised labour argued that there are so many international conventions and especially the International Labour Organistaions that will deal with only one central government in a country.

Other persons who canvassed position of their interest groups include, People Living with Disabilities whose spokesperson urged the National Assembly to include their peculiarities in the constitution and argued that there should be no discrimination whatsoever on the basis of disabilities.

There were demands for at least four states submitted to the committee and requests for boundary adjustments for a couple of local government areas between the three states of Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers and Rivers state.

Notable among the demand for states to be created are Obodo state to be created by pooling some Local Government Areas in Akwa Ibom and Rivers State; Calabar state with twelve LGs from Cross River and four from Oron in Akwa Ibom; Ogoja State and Enuwa state. While the Ndoki people are clamouring for a boundary adjustment.

The Rivers state centre of the zonal public hearing was chaired by Senator Betty Apiafi representing Rivers West Senatorial District.

Ayo Aluko-Olokun

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