By EricJames Ochigbo/Femi Ogunshola
The House of Representatives has inaugurated a special committee to be chaired by the Deputy Speaker, Rep. Ahmed Wase, to review the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Speaking at the ceremony on Thursday in Abuja, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, said that the 9th House of Representatives had continued to prove to be a catalyst for positive change and development in the country.
Osinbajo said that his presence at the event, underscores the importance the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration attached to the review of the Constitution.
Represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, Osinbajo said that the review would be able to address societal issues and propel the nation toward greatness.
“Looking at the leadership, membership and composition of the committee, it is my firm conviction that the committee will discharge its mandate excellently by liaising with relevant government agencies, civil society organisations and multinational agencies to achieve a wholesome amendment of the Nigerian Constitution.
“This administration places a high premium on a harmonious relationship with the legislature; let me assure you that the Executive will give complete cooperation to the committee by giving appropriate suggestions, recommendations and finally assent at the end of the process,” he said.
The speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila, said as Nigeria continued to grow, adapting to new realities and overcoming challenges, the laws that govern the nation must also change.
According to him, it is in a bid to achieve for ourselves and our children a more perfect nation that we gather every so often to review the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“When you ask me what the state of our nation is the honest answer is this: we are in a fight for the very survival of our country and the continuation of the Nigerian project.
“Recent global developments have exposed all our systemic weaknesses so that we can no longer pretend to ourselves that things are on an even keel and slow progress is enough to get us to where we ought to be yet are still so far away from.
“This 9th House of Representatives has since committed to the cause of reform; our commitment must neither waver nor wane on the matter of thoughtful and fair overhaul of our nation’s Constitution.
“Every election season exposes significant gaps in the process that if left unaddressed, threaten our democracy.
“Electoral reforms are not a party-political issue, they are a matter of loyalty to an ideal that is greater than the party to which one belongs to, or the personal ambitions we may each hold.
“Electoral reforms are a matter of our nation’s future, and the process of setting out systems and protocols for managing how we choose our leaders and representatives begins with the Constitution.
“We must keep this in mind as we begin this process,” he said.
Gbajabiamila expressed confidence in the capacity of the special committee to execute the assignment and deliver for the Nigerian people.
He encouraged the committee to seek out and listen to as many voices as possible, engage with as many interest groups as possible, reject misinformation, document the stories and expectations of the people.
The speaker urged the committee to work and do demonstrate that the House of Representatives was fully capable of reflecting the most urgent concerns of the Nigerian people and acting in their best interests.
“I am confident that you will act judiciously and produce for the consideration of the House of Representatives a quality report we can implement expeditiously,” he said.
Earlier, Wase said that the importance of reviewing the constitution could not be overemphasised as a vast majority of Nigerians considered the 1999 Constitution a product of military exigency.
According to him, the reference, ‘We the people’ in the Constitution does not truly represent them and that various political actors have been advocating a serious review.
Wase recalled several attempts to amend the 1999 Constitution saying that the agitations for a much more fundamental amendment had not stopped.
He said that until some critical issues in the Constitution were resolved, the nation might continue to face clamour for a new Constitution.
“In order to achieve the much needed success by the 9th Assembly, there are pertinent areas that must be looked into.
“These are burning issues that have been left for so long without giving them the much needed attention.
“Several Constitution Alteration Bills (more than 15 Bills) have been referred to the Committee touching on these broad thematic areas:
“The Federal Structure (True Federalism), Local Government Autonomy, State Policing, State Creation and Judicial Autonomy,” he said.
Wase said that the thematic issues are not the only lacunas in the 1999 Constitution but appeared to be the most prominent ones that touch on the very existence of the nation.
He said that as the special committee sets to work and starts conducting public hearings within zones, states and local councils, many more issues will emerge.
“We trust that all members of the committee will bring to bear the necessary patriotism and statesmanship to aggregate the various concerns of citizens and bring out a Constitution that Nigerians can trust,” he said. (NAN)