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Senate says no as campaigners demand brand new constitution

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President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan (left), and Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege

• Group insists only fresh statutes will end nation’s challenges
• Oba of Benin canvasses roles for traditional rulers
• 36 states’ speakers seek review of impeachment procedures
• Delta, Bayelsa, Edo seek devolution of power, others

Agitations for a totally new constitution to pave way for total reform of the country’s ailing and comatose systems may have hit the rock.

At a public hearing on the review of the constitution in Abuja, yesterday, the Senate declared that although a completely new constitution to replace the current one was desirable, the extant law does not support it.

An array of persons and groups, had sought a totally new constitution for Nigeria.

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Prominent among those that have clamoured for a new constitution is the founder of Afe Babalola University Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD), Afe Babalola (SAN).

Babalola, who described the 1999 Constitution as part of the problems of the country, advised President Muhammadu Buhari to consider the drafting of a new constitution that will capture the demands of many Nigerians.

The legal luminary expressed the need to empower different regions to effectively address the challenges of insecurity, unemployment and poverty in their respective zones.

He said: “There is a very simple solution to the growing insecurity in the country and that is a new constitution. We need a new constitution where the different nations that were formed together can develop at their own pace. West was doing well during the old constitution, likewise the East and even the North but the one we are using now is managed by leaders who see politics as the only lucrative business.”

Also, speakers at the Second Never Again Conference (NAC), which was held virtually in January, declared that only a new constitution, justice, equity and obedience to the rule of law could guarantee Nigeria’s unity and stability.

The speakers were Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, Ayo Adebanjo, Mbazulike Amaechi, Peter Obi, Tanko Yakassai, Pat Utomi, Hakeem Baba Ahmed, Shehu Sani, Onyeka Onwenu, Godknows Igali, Ahmed Joda, Prof. Ladi Hamalai, Charity Shekari and Ankkio Briggs.

But Chairman of the Constitution Review Committee, Ovie Omo-Agege, in his Thursday declaration, noted that Section Nine of the Constitution had already foreclosed a new constitution.

He stated: “Now, some of our compatriots have urged that rather than amending the Constitution, we should make a new one all together. We respect this opinion, and we believe it is a most desirable proposition.

“However, we are conducting this exercise in accordance with the extant legal order, which is the 1999 Constitution. Specifically, Section 9 of the Constitution empowers the National Assembly to alter the provisions of the Constitution and prescribes the manner in which it is to be done. Unfortunately, it does not make similar provision or provide mechanism for replacing or re-writing an entirely new Constitution”

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He argued that to embark on a new constitution without prior alteration of Section 9 of the Constitution to provide the mode through which an entirely new Constitution could be made, would amount to gross violation of senators’ oath of allegiance to the Constitution.

“In other words, it will take a new Constitutional amendment to be able to give Nigerians a most desired new Constitution. It would be unconstitutional to do otherwise,” he stressed.

He however disclosed that the Senate Committee on the Review of 1999 Constitution has indicated that the 2014 recommendations of the National Conference will be useful resources for the ongoing effort to review the 1999 Constitution.

He said the yearning of Nigerians was clear to the Committee, adding that, experts who are non-partisan have been assembled to study the Conference recommendations as well as the ruling All Progressives Congress’s Committee on True Federalism.

NO sooner had the Senate foreclosed the possibility of a new constitution than a non-political group, Southeast and South-South Professionals (SESSPN), insisted, yesterday, that a new constitution had become imperative to answer the yearnings of majority of Nigerians.

The group also said such a constitution must be subjected to a referendum.

The group warned the Federal Government not to undermine the current agitations for structural changes.

“It is the view of SESSPN that the FG should stop believing that the present agitation for structural changes and the deteriorating security challenges would fizzle out without a decisive response to the yearnings of Nigerians for a new constitution and for equity and justice in the affairs of Nigerians.”

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The president of SESSPN, Barrister Hannibal Uwaifo, made the position of the group known to journalists while reacting to the recent murder of a politician and former Special Assistant to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Ahmed Gulak, in Imo state.

MEANWHILE, the Conference of Speakers of 36 States in Nigeria, yesterday, canvassed for an amendment to procedures for impeachment of Speakers and advocated devolution of power to states and local governments on issues relating to mineral resources, mining, geological survey, aviation, among others.

Speaker of the Niger State House of Assembly, Abdullahi Bawa Wuse, who spoke on behalf of the conference, made the call in Abuja at the national public hearing on review of the 1999 Constitution.

He said the process of removing a speaker of a House of Assembly without fair hearing was an embarrassing situation that had always played out in Nigeria.

“The conference is proposing an amendment to Section 92(c) of the Constitution. The speakers deserve fair hearing and not for those members to come up and remove the speaker without hearing from the speaker.

“We are calling for the procedure where the speaker should be heard and the allegation properly investigated and, if found indicted, then a speaker is removed.”

THIS is as the Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, called for constitutional roles and recognition for traditional rulers in the country.

Oba Ewuare II made the call when he hosted members of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) on a study tour to Benin City, Edo State.

The monarch said he “believed that when enshrined in the country’s constitution, traditional rulers would be strengthened to build more bridges between top leaders and the governed at the grassroots.”

He maintained that he would continue to play advisory role that would enhance national strategic plans and policy formulation for the overall growth of the country.

FOR the three South-south states of Bayelsa, Delta and Edo State, the focus is devolution of power, review of revenue sharing formula and creation of state police.

Okowa was represented by the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Sheriff Oborevwori, at a two-day public hearing organised by the House of Representatives.

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The chairman, Minority Leader of the House, Ndudi Elumelu, had earlier observed that the 1999 Constitution as amended, is replete with grave defects.

Elumelu observed that the solution to such defects lies in statutory amendments to reflect prevailing aspiration and demand of the people.

He said the public hearing offered “a voice as well as an ear to the aspiration of the people. Of course, any system that ignores such loud voices from the citizens is doing so at it’s own peril.”

The Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Idris Wase chaired the public hearing for stakeholders in the three states.

Prof. Sam Ukala summarised the memorandum of the people and government of Delta State.

Bayelsa State Attorney General, Biriyai Dambo (SAN) articulated the position of the state.

“We support 100 per cent ownership of mineral and other resources by the federating units and subsequent payment of taxes to the Federal Government,” Dambo said.

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