NIGERIA: Constitution Review: Senate Mulls Restructuring, Power Devolution, Fiscal Autonomy


--The Senate has expressed the desire to embark on comprehensive constitutional reforms to make provisions for restructuring of the federation, devolution of powers, full fiscal autonomy for local governments as well as full autonomy for the judiciary in the area of administration of justice.

It is also interested in altering the constitution to enhance youth inclusiveness in governance and gender parity, among other issues.

The upper chamber of the National Assembly said it will also consider incorporating into the 1999 Constitution, the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference and the report of the Governor Nasir el-Rufai-led Committee on restructuring.

Both reports have remained subjects of controversy since they were made, partly due to the divergence of opinions about them and the issues they were meant to resolve.

The move came to the fore yesterday during the inauguration of the 58-member Constitution Review Committee of the 9th Senate.

The committee is saddled with the responsibility of amending the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to address emerging issues confronting the country.

President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, who inaugurated the committee, said the resolve by the 9th Senate to re-examine the constitution was consistent with its legislative agenda and in tandem with the yearnings of Nigerians.

Lawan observed that reviewing the constitution was an arduous task that requires painstaking consultation, dialogues and debates.

The committee, he said, would be expected to interface with members of the public, relevant organisations such as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), civil society groups, the academia and the media.

“This assignment needs a great deal of time, resources and expert ideas. This is so because constitutional reviews are not every day exercises. On the few occasions that it becomes necessary, we have the responsibility to ensure that inputs and outputs are not just exhaustive, but should also be wide ranging and effective.

“When this process is fool proof, we can then be rest assured that it will take a longer time before new realities possibly trigger demands for amendments. The Senate is mindful of the central role of the constitution, as the ground norm of our democracy.

“The continued success of our democracy is reasonably dependent on a well-thought constitution. Though no constitution can be faultless, mostly because social dynamics are unpredictable, but a good review can increase its functionality, and then decrease social agitations,” Lawan said.

Deputy President of the Senate and Chairman of the Constitution Review Committee, Ovie Omo-Agege, said that the constitution was meant to ensure that the fundamental rules for effective exercise of state power and protection of individual rights were kept stable and predictable and not subject to easy change or the whims of individuals.

However, he said the need to improve democratic governance and adjust to the ever changing political, economic and social realities have made the review of the constitution imperative at this time.

In carrying out the assignment, he said, the committee will consider the alteration of the Sixth Schedule to make provision for new items, the establishment of National and State Houses of Assembly, Pre-election Matters Tribunal, Governorship Pre-election Matters Tribunals and Presidential Pre-election Matters Tribunal, including time limits for the disposal of all pre-election matters before the conduct of the general election.

“We will also consider the need for devolution of powers, full local government fiscal autonomy, full autonomy of the judiciary in the area of administration of justice, youth inclusiveness in governance, gender parity or affirmative action. This is by no means an exhaustive list. The committee will also consider inputs from stakeholders and different interest groups across the country.

“In addition, this committee will consider the recommendations of the 2014 Constitutional Conference and the Governor Nasir el-Rufai-led Committee on Restructuring. We would also liaise with our counterparts in the House of Representatives, the State Houses of Assembly and collaborate and build consensus with all stakeholders to ensure synergy. Development Partners will also play pivotal roles through counsel, workshops, conferences and interactions. The partnership roles of the executive and judiciary and their invaluable contributions cannot be overlooked as it will enhance efficient and successful outcomes,” he said.

Omo-Agege disclosed that because of the need to incorporate the interests, wishes and aspirations of the people from various ethno-social and ethno-religious backgrounds, the committee shall embark on far-reaching consultations with Nigerians across the six geo-political zones to aggregate their positions on current issues that require legislative action by way of constitutional reforms.

He recalled that over the years, Nigerians appear to have been polarised along different fault lines, which often made it impossible to reach the much-needed consensus in some critical areas where fundamental changes were required during constitution review processes.

“We must guide against this if we are to succeed. There is thus the need for constitutional amendment that will be consistent with the agitations and aspirations of our people. This again, is the whole essence of the general will.

“Our task would be to find a consensus through compromise in order to meet the ever-changing needs of our people. We must understand that the fact behind our diversity are people united by common challenges of insecurity, unemployment and a good hope for a better future, provides us with the opportunity to focus on those issues that unite us. It is only by so doing that we can guarantee success and leave for our children a better, fairer and more just Nigeria than the one we met,” he said.

In a bid to ensure a good representation of all parts of the country to project all shades of opinion, the committee has in its membership all principal officers of the red chamber, one representative from every state of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as well as another set of two senators from each of the six geopolitical zones of the country.