The House of Representatives will, this week, hold what it has called “Peoples’ Public Sessions” on the review of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. The exercise is to take place in all the 360 federal constituencies of the country. The idea behind this novel initiative is to make the review of the constitution as participatory as possible as opportunity will be created for rural dwellers to make their input. Essentially, the public sessions will feature a panel of experts and stakeholders who will be drawn from the local government administrations, labour unions, the Bar, the academia, civil society and youth organizations, women groups and the media.
With this assemblage, it is expected that the sessions will be largely inclusive and encompassing. The approach will also increase the capacity of the House of Representatives to receive inputs and suggestions on constitution amendment from individuals and groups. Above all, it will enable the National Assembly to make a distinction between the issues it has outlined for review and the ones that the people will present for amendment.
About 21 target areas are to be taken care of. Some of these include State creation, inclusion of the six geo-political zones in the constitution, State police and autonomy of State Houses of Assembly, among others. The on-going effort at a review of the constitution is, no doubt, an ambitious one. If the steadfastness of the concerned committees of the National Assembly is to be relied upon, Nigerians can be rest assured that they would soon have a constitution that will address some of their basic worries.
It must be noted that the defects in the present constitution are largely responsible for the many agitations that we have from different segments of this country. While some want a sovereign national conference as a means of addressing their yearnings and aspirations, others believe that a referendum will go a long way in dealing with some unsettled issues. Unfortunately, the constitution review carried out by the National Assembly in 2010, the first ever by the Nigerian legislature, did not go far enough. The amendment dwelt on insignificant issues such as independent candidature, cross-carpeting, minimum qualification for president and governors, among other inconsequential issues.
The result was that the constitution remained as if nothing was removed from or added to it. However, the challenge this time around is for the National Assembly to dwell on issues that can bring about the desired change or changes. To achieve this, we do not think that it is necessary for the lawmakers to take on too many issues for amendment. Such an approach may frustrate its noble intentions. The legislature will be making a better use of the opportunity that has presented itself if it takes on a few items and deal with them decisively. It should, for instance, concentrate on state creation, state police or the six-zonal structure of the country.
It can take one or two or all of these and ensure that action is taken on them for the benefit of Nigerians. If it is able to actualize any of them, Nigeria will certainly not be the same again. In the end, the people of Nigeria can say with a measure of confidence that the constitution has been amended to address one or two salient issues. This is our expectation. We note with satisfaction the decision of the House of Representatives to involve the people.
The move is commendable. If Nigerians of all shades of opinion who inhabit our rural communities take part in the public sessions, the National Assembly will have the benefit of working with suggestions and ideas that will reflect the wishes and aspirations of the people. However, what matters is the use the House will put the materials it will distill from our towns and villages to. We expect that the peoples’ public sessions should not be conducted for the sake of it.
The inputs from them should be synthesized and made to reflect in aspects of the constitution. If that is done, it will make sense for the opening lines of our constitution to claim that “we the people of Nigeria” met, sat and designed a constitution for ourselves. In other words, such a constitution can truly pass for a people’s constitution. We do not expect anything less.