The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) and the National Assembly are at variance over plan by the lawmakers to commence the fifth alteration to the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
It reports that a total sum of N1billion has been voted for the constitution amendment exercise by both the Senate and House of Representatives.
But NEF upbraided the National Assembly for the ritual of constitution review, saying it is a waste of resources and energy without benefits for Nigerians.
The forum’s director of publicity and advocacy, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, told journalists yesterday in Abuja that no discerning Nigerian should encourage further waste of public funds, which should be channelled into battling insecurity, poverty and poor governance.
He said, “Since 1999, past National Assembly spent huge amounts of Nigerian people’s money on jamborees that give them false hope that the three arms of government respect the overwhelming desire of Nigerians for a holistic and genuine review and amendment of the 1999 Constitution.
“The Forum is convinced that this repetitive initiative of the Senate is of no value and a predictable waste of time, resources and energy of the nation, and should not be supported by Nigerians being alarmed by waste in governance at this difficult time when the economy is facing unprecedented challenges.
“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.
“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 classes and regions,” Baba-Ahmed said.
The northern pressure group, therefore, called on the National Assembly to direct its energy and mandate towards convincing President Muhammadu Buhari to bring an end to the insurgency in the North-East and killings in most parts of North-Central and North-West in particular and other parts of the country in general.
The Forum also recommended that the nation’s Leaders of Thought, elders, groups and professional organisations and representatives of government, be allowed 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.
It said, “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.
“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 predetermined ends”.
But both chambers of the National Assembly faulted NEF’s position and issues raised, insisting that constitution amendment is a continuous process, which involved various stakeholders in the country.
The Senate particularly said that the fact that previous constitution review exercises allegedly failed to meet expectations did not mean the work to make the nation’s law book better should stop.
It noted that issues raised by NEF are part of what the current constitution review exercise seek to address, calling on the group to forward its concerns through a memorandum to the appropriate committee of the National Assembly on the matter.
Senate’s spokesman, Senator Ajibola Basiru (APC, Central) exclusively said it last night that “even though they (NEF) are entitled to their views, the question to ask is; does it mean that if former legislatures cum executive (administrations) have possibly or allegedly 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 endeavor of the 9th National Assembly.”
“Their views can be encapsulated in a memorandum to the Constitution Review Committee. The thematic areas advertised for constitutional reforms cut across some of the concerned they raised and therfore we shall be glad to engage them through proper legislative channel rather than news media,” Senator Basiru added.
Also, a key member of the Constitution Review Committee in the House of Representatives said that the constitution is always amended if there are lapses.
“Once there are lapses in the constitution, it should be amended. Nigerians and different stakeholders have discovered lapses in the constitution, from security, elections, and other important issues that needs to be addressed. And it is the responsibility of the National Assembly to amend the constitution,” the lawmaker said.
On the calls that the money for the constitution amendment exercise be channelled to other areas like combating insecurity and poverty, the lawmaker said such was not the responsibility of the lawmakers.
“It’s not the responsibility of National Assembly to fight banditry. The lawmakers make laws for the good governance of the country and that is exactly what we are doing. Constitution review is done with input of all stakeholders,” he added.
On its part, the House of Representatives said that the Constitution Review should not be seen as a waste of resources by any section of the country or group, adding that it was aimed at correcting some anomalies in the 1999 Constitution for the benefit of all Nigerians.
Spokesperson for the House of Representatives, Hon Benjamin Kalu, who spoke with LEADERSHIP in a phone interview yesterday, said it was wrong for anybody to think that the exercise is a waste of resources, because the responsibility of reviewing the constitution is solely that of the National Assembly.
“So, for anybody to see it as a waste of resources, it is not right. That is part of the mandate for the legislative arm of government. It should not be seen as a waste. The question is that is the Constitution perfect? The answer is no, because no Constitution in the world is perfect.
“The second question is, are the people asking for review? The answer is yes. Who is supposed to do the review? It is the combination of the people coordinated by the National Assembly. So if the people want the Constitution to be reviewed, it is the duty of the National Assembly to give to the people what they want, because that is why they are elected to represent their interests.
“It is within the scope of our office to do the review, and we are not acting in contrivance the mandate of the Constitution. As long as we are within the mandate of the Constitution, questioning the viability or otherwise of our functions by anybody is what they can present during public hearing,” he said.
Kalu added that the people have the right to express themselves with regards to what they feel concerning what the lawmakers are doing, but that a public hearing forum is always created for such situation to take place.
“So, in the course of reviewing the constitution, if there is any observation or objection, the people have the right to bring it forward at the public hearing. The review of the constitution should not be seen a waste of resources, because it is for the benefits of all Nigerians,” he noted.