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Constitutional Review: Matters Unresolved



Former American President, John F. Kennedy once said “A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” This, on the surface, seems to have guided proponents of the on-going review of Nigeria’s 1999 constitution.

The decision of the House of Representatives to take the review to the 360 Federal Constituencies in the country has thus been viewed in various fora as the only means through which a truly representative constitution can be achieved.

To engender public confidence in the current review exercise and probably win the hearts of the advocates of national conference, President Goodluck Jonathan has continued to promise the sincerity of his administration in bequeathing a popular constitution to Nigerians.

The President’s stance is an apparent sequel to the general public disappointments that trailed similar exercises in the past. He had unequivocally stated recently at the 80th anniversary lecture in honour of former Vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme that he has “no personal opinion on how Nigeria will be restructured, but will abide by what Nigerians want”.

However, what Nigerians want and what they are genuinely willing to accept as regards the content of the proposed reviewed constitution are dependent on several factors.  Such factors are most times guided more by personal or group interest on given issues than interest based solely on nationhood.

The concomitant effect is the ripples of opinions across the country after penultimate weekend’s Peoples’ Public Sessions on the review of the 1999 constitution in the 360 Federal Constituencies in Nigeria.

In the build up to the ongoing review, the Justice Alfa Belgore committee had recommended the removal of Sections 308 of the constitution that provides for immunity against civil or criminal proceedings against the office of the President or Governors.

It stirred widespread controversy, with the major beneficiaries under the provision, especially Governors, kicking against the move. But the opposition party, All Nigeria Peoples Party [ANPP] challenged the governors, arguing that the provision has been subject to gross abuse by public officials.

National Publicity Secretary of the ANPP, Emma Eneukwu, unequivocally declared, “Removal of immunity clause means that you are giving the people power to take some legal actions against whoever contravened the law.  When you say that some people are immune from certain things they do, it means that the law is no longer sacred.”

For former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief  Emeka Anyaoku, the present system of federalism as practiced by Nigeria is a major obstacle to national development.

“My view of the country’s chances of realising its rightfully desired development and objectives would be greatly enhanced if the country adopts major restructuring of its present governance architecture”, he said.

Anyaoku premised his opinion on the belief that the country’s persistent huge recurrent expenditure which stands at 74 per cent of the budget, is to the detriment of capital expenditure.

Some notable groups and well-placed individuals have also aired their views on either the review, or its process.  Such groups include the mainstream pan-Yoruba organisation, Afenifere, as well as legal luminaries like Professor Itse Sagay, Professor Akin Oyebode and renowned philanthropist, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN) and constitutional lawyer, Professor Ben Nwabueze (SAN), all of them have strong reservations on the ongoing process.

They expressed the belief that there is no alternative to the convening of a national Conference, where representatives of the about 400 ethnic groups in the country can agree on the terms of their co-existence as a federation.

For instance, Chief Babalola said, “I believe that Nigerians should have the ultimate say as to whether a Sovereign National Conference is necessary or not. It is only by the means of a referendum that a proper determination can be made as to whether proponents of the idea are in the majority.”

A former military governor of the defunct North Western State, Usman Faruk, on his part, urged legislators from the northern part of the country to challenge the issue of offshore and onshore dichotomy.

Faruk stated this in Gombe during the joint public hearing organised by legislators from the six Federal Constituencies in the state on the review of the 1999 constitution..

Faruk, as the chairman of the Gombe State Central Working Committee set up by the state government on the review of the constitution noted that the issue of offshore and onshore dichotomy was not mentioned in the 43-questionnaire template.

He underscored the need to talk about the issue, challenging the legislators to table the issue during their session as the people’s representatives.

“In the entire world, no country is doing that; if we agree, it will be more dangerous for us and the coming generation, more than the security threat we are facing now.”

“For the betterment of our country and future generation, something needs to be done or we become slaves in our dear country,’’ he said.

One region that had been at the fore-front of the constitution review since its inception is the Niger Delta. In the view of the region, as presented by Oronto Douglas in one of such numerous calls to review the 1999 constitution, the Niger Delta observed that the 1999 constitution as amended “is insensitive, fraudulent and antagonistic to the aspirations of the Niger Delta people for self-determination and sustainable development.

“For the bulk of Nigeria, it also failed the requirement of plural democracy, true federalism and fiscal federalism. For instance, out of over 100 articles, 68 are devoted to exclusive federal list and only 30 to the concurrent, with no provision for a residual list, which could be legislated upon exclusively by the States and Local Governments. The 30 articles of the concurrent list according to the document could always be countermanded by federal superiority should there be conflict.

“The document is not only unitary, but military and lacks any form of merit even if amended.”

“The conference rejected the review of the constitution based on panels or questionable assemblies and that only a Sovereign National Conference is acceptable to the Niger Delta peoples, and

“That the document is insensitive in content and in style to gender issues”.

From the spirit to the body of the constitution, the Niger Deltans noted that “reviewer after reviewer, conference after conference and movement after movement have succeeded in identifying key issues that may have contributed in making the 1999 constitution the most antagonistic, repugnant and unjust document working against our present and future aspirations as a people”.

This is why, from all indications, the only aspect of agreement that cuts across all barriers and consideration is the need for a review of the constitution. The extent of review as it affects who and where, what group, etc had always been the cause of serious debates that had unnecessarily prolonged the review.

Nigeria is clearly a federal environment with three major ethnic groups, each with over an estimated 30 million people, populations that are singly more than half of some countries of the world, and 250 other smaller ethnic groups. All bunched together. Yet, the country, though not the most complex in the world, is almost run from a central source. This is widely believed to be the nation’s undoing.

In theory and practice, the 1999 Constitution conceives Nigerian federalism as almost unitary. The military mentality that Nigeria can only be kept together by force is what may have made those who guided the nation at critical moments to break away from federal principles what were already preponderant at independence.

The Federal List, which is exclusive to the Federal Government legislation, contains up to 64 items. While the Concurrent List where states could legislate along with the Federal Government contains only 12 items. Even at that, the federal government can also override the state legislation on any of the 12 items and declare state legislation inconsistent, with its own superseding. What this means is that since nothing is actually left for the states, the 1999 constitution is more of unitary than federal.

The governments of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, India and Mexico, among others, are also organized along federalist principles but none of them is unitary as Nigeria.

What the National Assembly should, therefore, do is to start in delivering or restoring enough federal features to the Nigerian practice by making room for the dilution of the centre so as to allow the states to play a greater role in determining their future happiness and development.

Beyond this, the operators of the system, those who execute it should also carry out their functions in accordance with no other consideration than the constitution, which must truly be supreme.

In the words of the governor of Sokoto State, Alhaji Aliyu Wamakko, “Our constitution is not the problem. I don’t feel that our problem is the constitution. Our problem is our attitude; our weakness is lack of political will to implement the provisions in the constitution.”

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Anambra:Bill To Abolish Open Grazing Passes Second Reading



A bill seeking to regulate animal grazing and establish cattle ranches in designated areas of Anambra has scaled second reading in the House of Assembly.
The Majority Leader of the house, Dr Nnamdi Okafor (APGA-Awka South I), said the bill would promote peace and ensure safety of lives and property in the state.
The bill is entitled, ‘Open Grazing of Cattle and other Livestock Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Bill 2021’.
He said that when the bill becomes law, it would help to curb the incessant herders/farmers clashes and generate business opportunities in the state.
“The bill will be part of the efforts to address the incessant clashes between livestock owners, herders and farmers in the state, which has often led to loss of lives and properties over the years.
“The bill will also prevent the destruction of farms and farmers’ crops brought about by open rearing and grazing of cattle,” Okafor said.
Also, Dr Timothy Ifedioranma (APC-Njikoka l) said the bill would promote the production of healthy breeds of livestock and boost job and investment opportunities in livestock farming.
Mr Chuka Ezewune (APGA-Idemili South) said the bill would also promote modern techniques of animal husbandry and international best practices in the dairy and beef industry.
“The old form of cattle rearing is very destructive to the nation and it is time we embraced change,” Ezewune said.
Contributing, Dr Pete Ibida (APGA-Njikoka II) said his constituents had long clamoured for the law.
“Open grazing has constituted security and safety hazards. It messes up our roads and my constituents have been displaced from their farms.
“I believe the bill will also help to manage the environmental impact of open grazing and protect the environment from degradation and pollution,” Ibida added.
Mr Obinna Emeneka (APGA-Anambra East) said that open grazing contributed to disease transmission and described animals as carriers of parasites transmitted to humans.
Emeneka said the bill required accelerated passage to promote agriculture, security and stability in the state.
The Speaker, Mr Uche Okafor, described the bill as everybody’s business, adding that it bothered on food security, economic development and security of of lives and property.
The bill was later committed to the Committee on Agriculture, headed by Mr John Nwokoye, for further deliberation and the committee was expected to report back on September 30.

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Obaseki Names Cabinet 10 Months Later



The Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, on Friday released a list of nominees for post of commissioners in the State Executive Council.
This decision is coming close to a year after Obaseki and his deputy, Philip Shaibu, were inaugurated for a second term into office on November 12, 2020, following their victory in the September 19 governorship election under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The governor had re-appointed Osarodion Ogie as the Secretary to the State Government after his inauguration with no other appointment since then.
This led to criticism from the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) in Edo State that accused Obaseki of presiding over the affairs of the state like a sole administrator.
“There are some policies and actions of a state that legally and constitutionally should not be undertaken without the approval of the State Executive Council. As we speak, some of those actions are being taken solely by Godwin Obaseki as a sole administrator. He has not displayed the tendencies of a democratically elected governor,” Chris Azebanmwan, the Edo APC spokesman said.
Nonetheless, the Governor has finally released the list of his nominees. They are: Barr. Osamudiamen Wole-lyamu (Oredo); Mr. Chris Nehikhare (Orhionmwon); Mr. Richard Edebiri (Uhunmwode); Barr. Andrew Emwanta Adaze (Egor); Mr. Tony Aganmwonyi (Ikpoba Okha); Mr. Ethan Uzamere (Ovia South West); Ms. Efosa Uyigue (Ovia North East).
Others are, Barr. Donald Okogbe (Akoko Edo); Barr. Anthony Innih (Etsako East); Mrs. Omo Otse Omorogbe (Etsako West); Hon. Damian Lawani (Etsako Central); Mr. Jimfred Obaidiku (Owan West).
Also in the list are, Barr. J. O. Braimah (Owan East); Hon. Felix Akhabue (Esan West); Fred Emefiele (Igueben); Mrs. Anehita Ojezua-Emeya (Esan Central); Dr. Olu Ayewoh (Esan North East) and Mrs. Magdalene Ohenhen (Esan South East).

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Speaker Lauds Wike On Infrastructure



The Speaker, Rivers State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Ikuinyi-Owaji Ibani has commended the Governor of Rivers State, Chief Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, for the rapid development of Rivers State.
He made this statement when he played host to members of the Council For the Regulation of Estate Surveyors and Valuers of Nigeria recently.
Rt. Hon. Ibani assured the Council that the State Assembly would continue to do that which was beneficial to their constituents. He noted that as a public servant, his door was open to all.
He said: “As a public servant, my door is open to all, and at all times. We work in the interest of the State and for the interest of our people….”
Earlier, the Chairman of the Council For The Regulation of Estate Surveyors and Valuers of Nigeria, Gersh Henshaw, commended the efforts of the Speaker as the Head of Rivers State Legislature.
He stated that Rt. Hon. Ibani had continued to maintain a cordial relationship with the Executive arm of Government and the result of such collaboration was the developmental strides in Rivers State.
The Chairman stated that the essence of the visit was to seek partnership with the Rivers State House of Assembly on any new legislation concerning Estate Surveyors and Valuers in Rivers State.
He expressed appreciation to the National President of the Council, Sir Emmanuel Wike for his immense contributions to the success and progress of the profession.
The delegation which was on a courtesy visit to the Rt. Hon. Speaker, was led by its National President, Sir Wike.

By: Kevin Nengia

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