The 4TH REPUBLIC: Constitution Review: That Nigerians Would Not Be Taken For A Ride Again

This underlying mala fide has been the main reason restructuring Nigeria, desirable and imperative as it is, has become a taboo for some people.

Two very distinguished Nigerians, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the Most Revd Matthew Hassan Kukah, Bishop of the Sokoto Diocese of the Catholic church, have of recent been talking to us, their Nigerian compatriots, just as the Catholic Bishops conference of Nigeria, (CBCN) has been at it, calling the Buhari government’s attention to its shortcomings as well as always encouraging the government unto good deeds.

As recently captured by the inimitable essayist, Emeritus Professor Olatunji Dare, Bishop Kukah’s elegy was “comprehensive in its sweep, magisterial in its scope and delicately balanced between hard thinking and strong feeling”. President Obasanjo’s speech, described elsewhere as his purgatory, being a denounciation of his long held belief in the inviolability of Nigeria as presently structured, is the one that really concerns us here.

Like President Umar Yar Adua denouncing the election that swept him into office in 2007, Obasanjo in his latest outing -not a letter this time around – acknowledged that the 1999 constitution on which he was sworn in that year, and subsequently for his 2nd term, is not working nor will it ever work. More tellingly, he opined that “nothing short of a new order (constitution), based on a restructured polity, can take Nigeria out of its present predicament”.

But have our National Assembly members, among them many former state governors, come to this realisation?

Of course, not.

Do they require robotic science to know that what Nigeria needs today is far beyond the perfunctory review of an old, jaded and totally inappropriate constitution, which was conceived by the professor who wrote its final draft for the goggled general, as nothing more than a tool to cast hegemonic intentions in stone. This underlying mala fide has been the main reason restructuring Nigeria, desirable and imperative as it is, has become a taboo for some people.

In case the National Assembly cannot comprehend this, let it be said, loud and clear, that what Nigeria needs now is for President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently set up a Constitution Drafting Committee of experts, whose report would be approved by Nigerians at a national referendum.

Unfortunately, from what we have come to know very well, even if the legislators are aware of this minimum desideratum for peace to reign in Nigeria, precedents already set by the National Assembly are too attractive, and tempting for them not to embark on another constitution review which is guaranteed to be another futile exercise.

Given the need to be on our guide and open our eyes very well, as they commence this round of review, I wish to bring to the attention of all Nigerians the unflattering report of the investigation conducted by the PREMIUM TIMES, and published 11, December 2015, on an earlier constitution review exercise.

In addition to warning us against the National Assembly’s predilection to turn every constitution review to a cash cow, the report should also alert the now rejuvenated EFCC, which recently demonstrated courage in commencing investigation into the N35B defense money believed to have been looted over a decade ago, to bring the legislators allegedly implicated in those shady deals under its purview . For those implicated that should serve to enable them clear their names for posterity, lest they go down in infamy.

But more crucially, and of greater benefit to Nigeria, the President would be giving, not only his name, but his place in history, a major lift if, rather than permit another sterile constitution review exercise, he would urgently convoke a Constitution Drafting Committee to fashion out for the country, a proper constitution which will not lie against itself, claiming to have been made “by we the people”.

It is therefore being suggested, as already opined by former President Obasanjo and many other eminent Nigerians, that it will be a sheer waste of time, and resources, to merely look on whilst the National Assembly continues with this chimera of a constitution review.

For full disclosure, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawal had, on February 6, 2020, set up a 56- member committee for this purpose with all the principal officers as members in addition to one senator from each state, and two others, selected to represent each geo-political zone.

Welcome then to the Prime Times report.

How lawmakers pocketed N8b in failed Constitution amendment

In an investigation lasting months, this newspaper found that between 2011 and 2015, the 53-member House of Representatives Ad-hoc Constitution Review Committee and its 49-member counterpart in the Senate in the 7th National Assembly withdrew N3,250,000,000.00 and N4,500,000,000.00 respectively to purportedly execute the fourth alteration of the Constitution.

It is not immediately clear how the lawmakers spent the outrageous funds but insiders say a huge chunk of it was pocketed by members of the committees in what one source described as ‘unprecedented naira bazaar’, by a committee of the National Assembly’.

Officials of the committees continued to make withdrawal even long after the exercise was concluded. It remains unclear what those withdrawals were spent on.

The Committees, which operated independently, withdrew the monies in tranches from their accounts domiciled in an Abuja branch of the Guarantee Trust Bank.

Curiously, some of the withdrawals were made long after they submitted their final reports to both chambers for consideration and a few weeks before the general elections and the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly.

The Committee withdrew N83.33m on March 2, 2015 and the same amount on March 23, five days before the Presidential and National Assembly elections and on April 13, barely two days after this year’s governorship election.” – PREMIUM TIMES, December 11, 2015.

The House Committee’s major activities during the process included a retreat in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, between May 27 and 29, 2012; Peoples Public Sessions held simultaneously in all the 360 federal constituencies on November 10, 2012; and public presentation of collated results on April 18, 2013.

It held 25 meetings altogether while the assignment lasted. There was also a retreat for the Technical Experts on Constitution and Legal matters who produced the work-plan as well as some civil society organisations drawn from the six geo-political zones. Members of the House subsequently voted on the various sections proposed for amendment on January 30, 2014.

The Senate Committee, on the other hand, held a retreat in Asaba, Delta State; organised zonal and national (Abuja) public hearings; conducted opinion polls; undertook study tour to the United States, Canada and India; held consultations with seasoned experts and constitutional lawyers; and organised town hall meetings in the senatorial zones. It presented its final report to the Senate on June 5, 2013.

The Committee whose membership included the principal officers of the upper chamber who served as “members of the steering committee,” finally organised a retreat in Lagos to consider a draft bill. That was after the senators voted on the amended sections on three occasions – July 2013, April 2014 and June 2014.

But those who should know say all these engagements could not have cost the nation more than N1billion altogether. They said some of the public sessions held in states were funded by state governments.

Authorities wouldn’t comment on withdrawals

The then Senate President, David Mark, could not be reached for comment. He did not answer or return multiple calls. Neither did he respond to a text message sent to him.

So also was Mr. Ekweremadu, who spearheaded most of the spending.

When contacted, Imam Imam, the media aide to the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, asked this newspaper to direct all inquiries on the last constitution amendment to the Clerk of the House of Representatives, Sani Omolori.

Mr. Ihedioha, who chaired the House Ad-hoc Committee, also requested us to do the same.

“My dear, feel free to reach out to the Clerk of the House of Reps to furnish you with all details you will need,” the former deputy speaker said in a text message to one of our reporters.

Mr. Omolori could however not be reached as did not answer or return calls. He did not also respond to a text message sent to him. Several attempts by this newspapers to also speak with the Clerk to the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasuwa, failed.

The Director of Information of the National Assembly, Ishaku Dibal, told PREMIUM TIMES he was not in a position to speak on the matter. Also, the former spokesperson of the House, Zakari Mohammed, who served in the ad-hoc committee, did not answer calls by this newspaper.

But a former senator who served in the Senate ad-hoc committee, Anthony Adeniyi, said he was not certain about how much committee members spent on the constitutional amendment.

“I can’t confirm the figure you are quoting. I don’t think we spent that much,” he told PREMIUM TIMES in a telephone interview Thursday.

But another senator close to the constitution review committee, who requested not to be named for fear he might be attacked by his colleagues, said, “I can confirm that they withdrew more than that. Committee members were just sharing money”. That, Nigerians, was how N8 Billion got burnt.

Nigerians must be vigilant, this time around.