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The trust deficit factor in constitution amendment


A man carries a banner during a demonstration at Ojota in Lagos on June 12, 2021, as Nigerian activists called for nationwide protests over what they criticise as bad governance and insecurity, as well as the recent ban of US social media platform Twitter by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari. – Hundreds of protesters gathered on June 12, 2021, in Lagos, a sprawling megapolis of over 20 million people, and police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

The agitation for the new Constitution, restructuring and the atmosphere for genuine change is very high in Nigeria in recent time, while the National Assembly embarks on the 1999 Constitutional Review.

The media report quoted the Deputy Senate President, Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Review of 1999 Constitution, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, saying that their hands are tight; that they cannot guarantee a new Constitution, but the amendment of 1999 Constitution, which many people have described as a fraud. From the voices and views, it seems that the number of people asking for the New Constitution is higher compared to those supporting the amendment.

Major alteration and amendment to the 1999 Constitution can actually counterbalance the delicate balancing of Nigeria as a country at the moment if it is done rightly. But the major challenge is the lack of trust. People have obviously lost trust in the tenure ritual called the constitutional amendment in Nigeria because it has not yielded any positive result over time. It is one thing for the National Assembly Members to listen to the cry of the people, and document their views, but it is another thing entirely for the President to sign it into law. But time has come to look at the situation of Nigeria with a different lens.
I encourage Nigerians to be optimistic while pressing home our demand. We should open our eyes, be vigilant and speak when necessary. In my view, anything short of acceptable standards for all regions of Nigeria in the 2021 Constitution amendment will amount to mere exercise, and wasting of public resources, as many Nigerians have woken up their minds to take their own destiny by their own hands, in respect of any oppression and suppression. In fact, anything short of goodwill amount to a fallacy; which cannot guarantee peaceful coexistence and bring about economic growth and development for the Country.  
I must say that the ongoing Constitutional Review presents a wonderful opportunity for every Nigerian to air out their views concerning the perceived loophole or lacuna in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This is another defining moment for the reintegration of our broken unity, and to bridge the gap of tribal, religious and regional segregation by allowing people to speak their minds, even in the face of a tyrannical atmosphere and incessant killings across the country. Nigerians as people need to exercise their God-given freedom, power and privileges of choices and determinations to express their feeling and ventilate their anger, not through violence, but dialogue. Civic space must be open to making this happened in order to have a healthy conversation on our differences and common challenges.  
This Constitutional Review is crucial and it is a privilege for people to state what they want as an individual or group, either it will be been granted or not, in order to give a sense of belonging to all citizens. We all know that the majority carry the votes, and that is the beauty of true democracy. But we must avoid every oppressive and suppressive tendency of silencing people and open up the space for dialogue, so everyone can express their opinion as it concerns their existence and wellbeing.
It is imperative to let the 1999 Constitution Review Committee note that they are not just amending the paper, or book called the Constitution, the future of Nigeria, and our collective existence. As such, national interest should be placed over and above all forms of ethnic, religious, regional or political sentiment for the good of all (citizens and foreigners).
I encourage all right-thinking person, including Nigerians in the diaspora to speak up and channel their opinions to the appropriate quarters at this critical moment, to avoid had I know because the outcome will definitely affect all of us. We can use all the available channels of communications to reach out to the people in the position of authority, especially the Constitution Review Committees and the entire National Assembly members, both the Senate and House of Representatives Members. You have a duty to speak your minds regarding the 1999 Constitution and how it affects your daily living in Nigeria and outside Nigeria.
The constitutional amendment is still ongoing, I suggest the followings amendments and recommendations:
1. That the academic qualification for the position of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and that of the State Governor should be reviewed upward to reflect the reality of our time and age as regards to Section 131 Subsection (D), and Section 177 Subsection (D) of 1999 Constitution as amended. We should not continue to have the situation where a civil servant must be a degree holder with the evidence of NYSC Certificate, and be reporting to the President and a Governor who is a School Cert holder. I suggest that the minimum qualification for the position of President should be a Doctorate Degree, and that of State Governor should be a minimum of Masters Degree holder, and it’s equivalent to the Vice President and Deputy Governor positions.
2. It should be made compulsory for the President to transmit a letter to the National Assembly and hand over power to the Vice President when leaving the country, and failure to do so should be an impeachable offence, as regard Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution.
3. Local Government should be given the full autonomy to operate and scrap the State-Local Government joint account to stop the symphony of the local government funds in every State of Nigeria. The full autonomy should include the timely election of Local Government Officials according to tenure, and not according to the wishes of the State Governors, and the State Governors should not have the power to remove Local Government Chairman or Councilors. And that is the only way we can experience real development at the State and Local Government levels.
4. Assets and Liability Declarations of the President, Vice President, State Governors, Deputy Governors, Head of MDAs both Federal and States, Senate President, Speaker, and all the Distinguish Senators and Honourable Members in the House of Representatives and States Houses of Assembly should be made public, and failure to do so amount to an impeachable offence or removal from the office as regard to Sections 140, 149, 152, and similar provisions in the 1999 Constitution as amended.
In conclusion, all eyes are on the National Assembly, and it is important its leadership, Dr Ahmad Lawan, Senate President, and Hon. Olufemi Hakeem Gbajabiamila, Speaker House of Representatives, Deputy Senate President, Deputy Speaker, and all the Distinguish Senators and Honourable Members listen to the voice of the people and do the needful if Nigeria must remain an indivisible entity. You now have the last opportunity to rewrite the wrong, and write your name in gold, or probably live to regret not utilizing the opportunity you have to do the right thing, as many are regretting today, who are no longer in power at this critical moment to restore peace, unity and prosperity to Nigeria. Don’t be part of ‘had I known group’; use the opportunity you have now and serve Nigerians, not your godfathers.
Finally, as you remember your own children, family members, and your future generation, while you ponder, think, reflect, deliberate, brainstorm and make the decision, equally remember the jobless Nigerian Youth on the Street, as you amend the future of Nigeria, and not just the book called the Constitution for the national interest.

Samuel is of the Centre for Social Justice, Abuja.


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