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Constitution Amendment And The Journey So Far

Posted: Jun 19, 2016 at 3:17 am   /   by   /   comments (0)





Given the ongoing debate on the issue of restructuring of Nigeria, the leadership of the  National  Assembly , through the Senate Committee on Review of the 1999 Constitution has said it is working assiduously to  give  Nigerians a new, workable and acceptable constitution that will address various imbalance being experienced in the nation today as well as address controversial areas in the 1999 constitution.

NASS Must Leave An Enduring Legacy – Saraki

Declaring open the commencement of a three-days retreat on the review of the amendment of the 1999 constitution titled: “Towards Ensuring Governance, Accountability In Nigerian Federalism’ in Lagos, Senate  President ,  Dr. Bukola  Saraki said  constitution amendment has always been a challenging task, noting that it was a road every country of the world, including the United States had passed through.

He explained that the amendments being sought now were not aimed at denting the integrity of the 1999 Constitution, but rather targeted at strengthening it to serve the interest of Nigerians better.

He further expressed delight in the collaboration of the Senate, House of Representatives and the States House of Assembly, which he described as three critical stakeholders as far as amendment of the constitution is concerned.

The senate president also added that one of the legacies he wants the 8th National Assembly to leave behind is the delivery of a new and acceptable constitution to Nigeria. According to him, he is optimistic that this can be achieved as early as the first quarter of next year, and the lawmakers expect their findings will help provide answers to questions regarding true federalism in Nigeria.

“As I had noted in my inaugural address, this senate is seeking to further consolidate and entrench the essence of our constitution as the only basis for the exercise of all powers under a constitutional democracy forged under the rule of law. This review process must not in anyway dent the solemnity, integrity and infallibility that should be ascribed to the 1999 Constitution. Rather we are by this process celebrating and affirming the inviolability of our constitution and its integrity. It is in no way a ritual or a routine”.

“It would be recalled that the 7th National Assembly had done a good job of obtaining national consensus on key challenges to the operation of the constitution and the utilisation of the constitution as the coherent framework for our development as a nation through its work on the 4th Alteration Bill. This is why I urge the committee to, in this first phase, to concentrate on the 4th Alteration Bill and conclusively address it before dealing with other proposals”.


“Yes, the issues of constitutional amendment as they affect the 1999 Constitution are enormous especially those affecting the smooth running and development of our federation, cannot be fully captured within the framework of the 4th alteration bill. I will however, urge you to pay attention specifically on the 4th alteration due to the immense work and national consensus already garnered in determining it. This will help us concentrate effort on clearing these already agreed areas and other few exceptional issues that are integral. This is the surest way of delivering to our people a more acceptable constitution before the commencement of the partisan political activities early next year”.

“Upon the completion of this phase of the work, I believe we will then take on the next berg of issues that continue to agitate the minds of many Nigerians. I have purposefully avoided reflecting on these issues as I would have normally done, because upon the retreat for the next phase we will comprehensively enquire into these and proffer workable solutions upon the overarching principle of greater freedoms for our people, abhorrence of discrimination of any nature that inhibit the enjoyment of our people’s rights, the enthronement of the rule of law, accountability of all offices and authority derived from the constitution, the issue and concept of “continuity in governance” which assumes that a country needs continuity in its government to continue to meet the demands of modern day governance. Most of these issues you would find interlocked in the current 4th alteration”.

“I am also convinced that some of the hard national questions would remain contentious and unresolved beyond this exercise, but be sure of this, we have the necessary will, courage and wisdom to interrogate them all and find solutions to them. Meaning that we are ready to take another plunge at cementing the process and deepening our constitutional framework through a second phase of amendments. I will like you to kindly, for us and for all Nigerians, deliver a new constitution to this country by the time we open a chapter to the beginning of 2017.I think that if we so do, we will be leaving a legacy for ourselves” he said.

   ‘Amendment Should Be Concluded Before Elections’

In his remark, the Deputy Senate President, Mr. Ike Ekweremadu, who also chairs the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution stressed the need to always conclude constitution amendment processes far ahead of election seasons. This according to him “reduces the contamination of an otherwise patriotic exercise by personal, political or other considerations”.

He also assured Nigerians on conclusion of the current constitution review exercise by December 2016 to insulate the process from partisan politics and other narrow interests. “In keeping with the matching order of the Senate President at the inauguration of this committee, we hope to conclude the process of the constitution amendment exercise by December 2016”.

He maintained that “no constitution anywhere in the world was cast in iron, for constitutions are made for the good of the citizens, not citizens for the constitution, hence the tradition to retouch or overhaul or even change a constitution entirely to reflect new imperatives and serve the nation better”. He regretted the non-assent to the Fourth Constitution (Alteration) Bill, but assured that the amendments contained in the Fourth Alteration Bill were not lost as the document would form the formwork of the current exercise.

According to the Senator, major proposals that scaled through, haven received the approvals of the National Assembly and at least 24 State Assemblies included the removal of presidential assent  to Constitution Amendment Bills, prescription of a 30-day time limit for presidential assent to bills or return passed by the National Assembly failing which they would automatically become laws, separation of the Office of the Minister of Justice from the Office of the Attorney-General to promote justice and anti-corruption war,  financial autonomy for State Assemblies,    and streamlining of legislative lists and devolution of more Powers from the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List.

Others were setting of timeline for the conclusion of pre-election matters and creation of Office of the Accountant-General of the Federal Government different from the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation to promote accountability, transpa-rency, and good govern-ance. He blamed the presidential veto of the Bill and the “dragging” of the National Assembly to the Supreme Court by the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation to prevent the federal legislature from overriding the presidential veto for the failure of the Fourth Alteration to become part of the nation’s constitution.


“So, it can be clearly seen that the inability of the Fourth Alteration to become part of our constitution was not in any way the fault of the National Assembly”, he said. He, however, said the National Assembly had also learnt its lessons. His words: “Unfortunate as the events were, we also have some lessons and experience to draw from them; first is the need to always conclude constitution amendment processes far ahead of election season to reduce the contamination of an otherwise patriotic exercise by personal, political, and other narrow considerations”.

Ekweremadu explained that the special attention to be given to the ill-fated Fourth Alteration Bill would was “certainly without prejudice to other issues, such as diaspora voting and decentralized policing, which Nigerians, through their memoranda to the Committee, feel strongly about”.

“I want to reassure Nigerians that this exercise will be driven by the principles of inclusiveness, popular participation, and transparency; we owe no other allegiance or have any other agenda, except that which we owe to the Federal Republic of Nigeria to make our country work better for us and for posterity; and we welcome suggestions that will help move our country forward” he added.

He also reminded members of the Senate Committee on the Review of the Constitution that the retreat had two broad objectives, namely, “to engage in a diagnosis of our current constitution, pointing out errors, weaknesses, and also to chart a path toward national rejuvenation by offering proposals and suggestions that will make our constitution better”. He urged them to embark on the task with the level of dedication; commitment and patriotism that made previous review efforts possible. He stressed: “No doubt, we represent different constituencies, but the  challenges facing our people are virtually the same. Nigerians expect us to work to their advantage. Opposing ideas and divergent viewpoints are indeed inevitable, but they are essential and can enrich the quality of our debates and final recommendations if we approach the process with open minds, good faith and national interest as our lodestar” he said.

In his remarks, Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, who was represented by the state’s Attorney- General and Commissioner for Justice, Kazeem Adeniji lauded the effort of the national assembly and other stakeholders at reviewing the Constitution.

The governor, who doubles as the Chief Host of the retreat said that the process would deepen democracy, adding that, Constitution was the guiding principle for good governance.

Ambode expressed hope that the retreat would further enshrine the culture of transparency and accountability in realising “the true federalism of our dream”.

“The Fourth Alteration to the 1999 Constitution by the 7th National Assembly is commendable and the effort to review it again shows that the legislature is living up to expectation,” he said.

Ambode, who  tasked members of the committee to ensure that the principles of transparency and accountability prevails in the discharge of their responsibilities expressed hope that the retreat would further enshrine the culture of transparency and accountability in realising “the true federalism of our dream”.

 Why Amendment Is  Vital – Ashafa

Senator representing Lagos East senatorial district, Gbenga Bareehu Ashafa in his opinion said it is necessary for the Senate to take up the task of amending the constitution now going by the various security, economic and socio-political issues confronting the country.

Ashafa also advocated that the office of the Attorney- General of the Federation (AGF) should be separated from that of the office of the Minister of Justice. He further argued that in order to guarantee the independent of the AGF , “it should be an elected office that is not partisan. Competent individuals can come out and contest for that election and allow Nigerians decide. That way the AGF will not be appointed by the president and as such will not be at his whims and caprice” .

Speaking further on the imperatives of the amendment, he said “At every point in time when we know that we are heading towards turbulent times, what we should look back on is the constitution that is keeping that country alive. So, my own opinion is that it is always good to have a regular debate, particularly when a new government comes in. Have a rethink, look at your laws and see how you can assist that present government to perform more” .

“Oftentimes, when you interview the average Nigerian on the road, they will tell you that this is not the change that they voted for. I disagree. I disagree with that on the basis of the fact that we have so many corruption with the magnitude which we are witnessing now, and to that extent, we have to go back to our constitution and see how we can rejig it to a situation where we will be able to assist the executive to deliver the promises and services which ordinarily they could have delivered without any hindrance”.


“Look at the issue of security. Are we really buying into state police? Is it necessary? Can we adopt it now? We just witnessed the emergence of a group called the Niger Delta Avengers and we have seen the damage that they have done to this country and to their own people. We see the damage they have done to the practical non-movement and non-development of the energy sector. That will translate to regular power supply in every home. How can we achieve that when 23 out of 35 installations that is supposed to produce gas have been bombed?”

“So, what do we do in this situation? We come back to this platform which is the constitution that binds Nigeria and see how we can move forward. I just cited one example; there are several others. That is why I embrace this particular retreat. I am sure that at the end of the day when communiqué is going to be issued, the recommendations will be in the interest of all Nigerians”.