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Civil societies seek constitution that promotes democracy

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Lawan. Photo: TWITTER/DRAHMADLWAN/TOPEBROWN

Civil society groups at a recent citizens and stakeholders engagement on review of constitution held in Lagos, stressed the need for a constitution that promotes the cause of democracy, inclusive governance, gender and disability rights, socio-economic rights, media freedom and freedom of expression.

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Organised by YIAGA Africa and facilitated by the International Press Centre (IPC), the Institute of Media and Society (IMS) and the Center for Citizens with Disability (CCD), that are partners to the European Union Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN) project, the civil societies unanimously noted that it is a welcome development that the 9th National Assembly is undertaking the process to amend critical areas of the 1999 constitution to serve the interest of Nigerians.

Executive Director, International Press Center (IPC) Lanre Arogundade, who signed a communiqué released on behalf of the groups, observed that review of the constitution affords Nigerians the opportunity to have a say on the framing of statements in a document that should bind Nigerians together as a nation.  According to him, “in line with our respective mandates, we are seeking amendments to the 1999 Constitution through the opportunity offered in the areas of ensuring constitutional guarantee of the rights of persons living with disability, the rights of women to equitable representation in the political process and governance, and the rights of citizens to be able to legally enforce their socio-economic rights.

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“We are also seeking constitutional amendments that would expand the frontiers of press freedom and freedom of expression and the promotion of true and functional federalism by way of guaranteeing the independence of important arms of government, especially the judiciary and the local governments. Crucially, we also seek constitutional guarantees of the independence of the election management body – the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), so it could be empowered to deliver on credible, free and fair elections.”

Speaking further, Arogundade said the absence of constitutional guarantees along the lines enunciated above have constituted major setbacks for the consolidation of democracy since the return of civil rule in 1999. “Twenty years on, we are of the fervent opinion that the time has come to get it right.” He said.

Having consulted with a diversity of state and non-state actors and stakeholders, he said “we are happy to note that our proposals substantially tally with the key priorities already identified by the Senate Committee on the Constitution reviews as captured in the 13 critical areas of the 1999 Constitution for which the 9th Assembly is proposing amendments”.

Specifically, he added: “our proposals therefore touch on the following priority areas, among others: People With Disability and Status recognition/ Social integration; Women and Political Positioning; Restructuring of the Nigerian Federation; Media and Freedom of Expression; Socio-economic rights and Immunity.

On issues relating to people with disability and status recognition/social integration, the group observed that Section 15 of the Constitution criminalises discrimination on different grounds, it is however silent on the grounds of disability. According to him, “we propose an amendment that reads as follows: Accordingly, national integration shall be actively encouraged, whilst discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, sex, religion, status, disability, ethnic or linguistic association or ties shall be prohibited”.

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In addition, the group noted that Sections 48 and 49 on the composition of the Senate and House of Representatives do not make specific provisions for PWD, adding that, “we propose an amendments as follows:  (S48) The Senate shall consist of three Senators from each State; one from the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; and one person with disabilities from each of the six geo-political zones. (S49) subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the House of Representatives shall consist of three hundred and sixty members representing constituencies of nearly equal population as far as possible, and three persons with disabilities from each of the six geo-political zones, provided that no constituency shall fall within more than one state.

Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila. Photo/FACEBOOK/SPEAKERGBAJA

According to the group, “These amendments will enhance the right of PWD and make it possible for PWDs to be officially represented at the Senate and the House of Representatives. In relation to the Senate, at least one PWD per geopolitical zone will be elected and for the House of Representatives, at least 3 PWDs will be elected from each of the six geopolitical zones.”

Thirdly, the group observed that Section 91 on the composition of the House of Assembly do not make specific provisions for PWD adding that subject to the provisions of this Constitution, a House of Assembly of a State shall consist of three or four times the number of seats which that state has in the House of Representatives divided in a way to reflect, as far as possible nearly equal population and one person with disability from each of the Senatorial Zones: Provided that a House of Assembly of a state shall consist of not less than twenty-four and not more than forty members. This, the group said, would ensure that persons with disabilities are members of states House of Assembly, while it would mean that at least one PWD is elected from each Senatorial district across all the states of the Federation into each state House of Assembly. This recommendation should be adopted at the local council elections.

Fourthly, they observed that Section 223 of the Constitution and rules of political parties do not make specific provisions for PWD adding that there is need to ensure that PWDs are not left behind in the leadership of political parties.

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Reacting to issues relating to women and political positioning, they noted that the Constitution as it is, does not have provisions that enhance the participation of women in governance, especially in relation to elective offices. They, however, insisted that Section 14(3) should be amended to reflect gender equality imperative as follows: “The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, gender equality, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few States or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.”

Mbamalu

Section 42, they explained, should be altered as follows: Inserting a new subsection ‘(4)”: Alteration of (42) to read that: “Nothing in this section shall prevent the National Assembly or House of Assembly of a state from enacting laws that are necessary for taking actions or implementing policies and programmes aimed at redressing social, political, economic, educational, or other imbalance in society or providing for any matter acceptable and justified in a democratic society.”

The groups also stressed the need to make gender character via equality a constitutional imperative, adding that this would ensure that the constitutional provision for gender equality does not negate the constitutional principle of equality for all on the basis of non-discrimination.

Commenting on restructuring of Nigeria, the group noted that the current structure and conduct of the Federal Government is unitary in nature and do not adequately cater for the diversities and common good of the people of Nigeria. They also said a number of provisions in the current constitution negate the principles of true federalism while some of the provisions need to be amended to promote the principles of true federalism.

They argued that relevant sections of the constitution should be amended to provide for the following: Independent candidacy; local government independence; full independence for INEC, the whittling down of the items on the Executive Legislative list to accommodate the possibility of State and Local Government policing to address alarming insecurity in the country; residency to qualify citizens for indigeneship with automatic indigeneship granted for children born in a state as against the state of origin of their parents; better management of FCT administration to ensure access to political participation for marginalised groups.

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Speaking on the media freedom, the group noted that the mandate given to the media to monitor governance, uphold the accountability of the government to the people in Section 22 of the Constitution requires enforcement. “We propose that the provision in Section 22 (under Chapter 2) be moved to Chapter 4 which will enable journalists and the media to enforce rights. The mandate given to the media in section 22 is not justiciable because it is currently housed in Chapter 2 of the Constitution, which deals with socio-economic rights. As things stand, journalists and media cannot approach the courts to enforce rights emanating from the provision especially when they are violated.

They also insisted that Section 39 (2) of the 1999 Constitution which vests the authority to grant broadcasting licenses in the President should be amended to abolish presidential involvement in the process. The amendment should also vest the power to authorize licences in the regulatory body, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), adding that there is a necessity to remove the process of broadcast licencing from political encumbrances.

Lanre Arogundade

Speaking further, they suggested that the regulatory body in charge of broadcasting NBC, should be made one of the Federal Executive Bodies recognised in Section 153 and listed in the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, adding that this would enhance the independence of the regulatory body; the confirmation of the appointment and removal of the Board members and Director General of the regulatory agency should involve the participation of the National Assembly. They said this would make the process more transparent.

The group noted that Section 1 (b) of the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution which empowers local government to collect radio and television licence fees should be repealed, and re-worded to give the power to the regulatory body in charge of broadcasting, that is, NBC.

Continuing, the group added that, “government budgetary appropriation to the regulatory body should be from the first line charge, direct from the consolidated fund, and not subsumed under the funding of any agency. The collection or management of resources that belong to the broadcasting sector should not be assigned to local government. It should be assigned to the broadcast industry. There is the need to guarantee the financial independence of the broadcast regulatory body.”

Concerning socio-economic rights, the group noted that the whole gamut of socio-economic rights guaranteed in Chapter 2 of the constitution are non-justiciable and therefore cannot be enforced in the court. The current chapter 2 should be moved to chapter 4 of the constitution (fundamental rights), so that the envisaged rights can be made justiciable.

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The lack of institutional and legal mechanism is a major reason why governments and elected leaders treat them with contempt. Also, although the constitution mandates the government to make the welfare and the security of the people the fundamental principle and directive policy of the state, they cannot be legally compelled to do so where they fail in this obligation. The trend needs to be reversed so that the desired attention could be paid to the welfare and the security of citizens.

Conclusively, the group noted that the immunity clause in the constitution should be removed to make it possible for the sitting President, the Vice President, the Governors, the Deputy Governors and all other elected leaders to be investigated and prosecuted where prima facie case of criminal act or conduct is established.

Other participating and endorsing organisations are: Nigeria Society of Engineers, (NSE), LEDAP, Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA Resources), Journalists for Democratic Rights (JODER), National Youth Assembly of Nigeria, (NYAN), Lagos Grassroots People and Gender Development Center and Centre for 21 Century Issues (C21st).

Others are, Voters Awareness Initiative Community Agenda for Peace, (CAP), Instrument for Peace (I4P), Lagos State Civil Society Partnership, (LASCOP), ARL Foundation, Association for Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities of Nigeria, (AIDDN), Ikorodu Division Youth Initiative, African Youth Development Commission, Environmental Lagos Project and Impact House Centre for Development Communication.

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