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Constitution Review: Nigeria Battling To Survive, Reps Warn …Consider States’ Creation, State Police, Restructuring, Others

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The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Femi Gbajabimila has declared that the country is in an intense battle for survival, as it contends with an avalanche of problems.
The helmsman of the Green Chamber’s view was contained in his remarks at the inauguration of the House of Representatives Special Ad-Hoc Committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
He said, “When you ask me what the state of our nation is, the honest answer is this: we are in a fight for the very survival of our country and the continuation of the Nigerian project.
“Recent global developments have exposed all our systemic weaknesses so that we can no longer pretend to ourselves that things are on an even keel and slow progress is enough to get us to where we ought to be yet are still so far away from”.
According to him, “We are commencing this constitutional review process at a time of great and ongoing upheaval in our country. New challenges emerge daily from every corner.
“Some of these challenges are of our own making, and others, we could not have foreseen or been prepared for. Whichever may be the case, the Nigerian people look up to us as a government to proffer solutions that work, to do the heavy lifting of writing a new constitution, one better suited to our current aspirations and reflect our vision of the future”.
The speaker opined that “the answer to many of our development questions lies in the pages of a new Nigerian Constitution. This 9th House of Representatives has since committed to the cause of reform. Our commitment must neither waver nor wane on the matter of thoughtful and fair overhaul of our nation’s Constitution.
“The reality of our current circumstances and the now certain knowledge that only us can save ourselves imposes on us an obligation to act with greater determination and all the urgency this moment calls for”.
He assured that the House would take the issue of electoral reforms very seriously, adding that “overcoming our overwhelming national security challenges now requires of us all that we be willing to accept new approaches and consider novel ideas”.
He warned that “neither the security institutions nor political leaders can afford to hold on too tightly to a status quo whose frustrating limitations are painfully evident, whilst reflexively rejecting innovations that may improve our fortunes if properly implemented”.
In his welcome address, Deputy Speaker and Chairman of the Special Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, Hon Ahmed Idris Wase, disclosed that the House would consider the creation of states, state police, true federalism, local government and judicial autonomy in the review of the 1999 Constitution.
He said, “Let me start by stating that the need and importance of reviewing our extant constitution cannot be overemphasized as a vast majority of Nigerians consider the 1999 Constitution, a product of military exigency, and that the reference to ‘We the people’ in the Constitution does not truly represent them. Various political actors have, therefore, been advocating for a serious review”.
According to the deputy speaker, “There have been several attempts to amend the 1999 Constitution, yet the agitations for a much more fundamental amendment has not stopped.
“This is because there are very critical aspects of our Constitution that touch on our continued existence as a strong, indivisible nation. Until these critical areas are resolved, we may continue to face clamour for a new Constitution.
“Therefore, in order to achieve the much-needed success by the 9th Assembly, there are pertinent areas that must be looked into. These are burning issues that have been left to burn for so long without giving them the much-needed attention”.
He said “The federal structure (true federalism), local government autonomy, state policing, state creation and judicial autonomy”.
He said, already over 15 constitution alteration bills have been referred to the committee touching on these broad thematic areas.
Wase observed that “Despite the fact that Nigeria prides herself as a ‘federal state’, it is sadly evident that it is far from what federalism entails.
“Some have stated that our federal system is more unitary than federalist, especially with the number of items on the exclusive legislative list where the Federal Government regulates even simple items like primary education and agriculture. Hence, there has been a clamour for more devolution of powers from the centre to the states in order to make states more viable and economically sustainable”.
On local government, he said, “As a third-tier government, all local governments are supposed to be independent. However, we have not seen such independence in a long time. Arguably, the framers of the 1999 Constitution, created a worrisome situation by giving validity to the existence of 3.162 (6), which prescribes the ‘State and local government joint account’”.
On state police, the deputy speaker said “While internal security is of paramount importance, the concentration of the power of the police at the central government has created several policing challenges at the states.
“While some have advocated for the creation of state police, others have expressed worry on the possible abuse of such power by state governors.
“However, one thing that is clear is the need for us to take a second look at our internal security superstructure in order to make it work for our people and protect their lives and properties”.
Speaking on the agitation for state creation, he stated that, “It is pertinent to note that the current 36 states of our federation were created via military decrees. Hence the true wishes and aspirations of the people were never considered in such creations.
“There is a need, therefore to examine the subject of state creation (and the associated constitutional rigours and difficulties surrounding it) in such manner as to reflect the wishes and aspirations of homogenous people in a democratic system”.
The ad-hoc committee chairman noted that, “The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) guarantees the independence of the Judiciary in the country, including state courts.
“Unfortunately, state courts (judiciary) in Nigeria and of course legislatures have over the years relied on the executive for their funding. This is clearly antithetical to the principle of separation of powers as guaranteed under the constitution”, he stated.

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Don’t Appoint Weak Lawyers As Judges, Wike Tasks NJC …Swears In Justice Obuzor As CCA Acting President …Unveils Courthouse To Promote ADR

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Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike has recommended to the National Judicial Council (NJC) not to appoint lawyers as judges who lack the capacity to be bold and courageous in the discharge of their judicial functions.
Also, Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike has inaugurated the state’s Multi-door Courthouse that would offer alternative resolution to litigations bothering on trade deals and social relationships.
According to Wike, such lily-livered judges have moulded the Judiciary into an institution that is unable to live up to its responsibility of dispensing justice according to law.
Wike gave the recommendation at the swearing in of Justice Ihenacho Wilfred Obuzor as the acting president of the Rivers State Customary Court of Appeal at the Government House, Port Harcourt, yesterday.
The governor maintained that a judge who was bothered about who would be offended by his ruling or avoid to be accused should not have been appointed in the first place because justice cannot be advanced in such manner.
“It is unfortunate that the Judiciary is not living up to expectation. I should not be one of those who should be criticising it. But I am saying what is the reality.
“Any judge that does not have the mind and courage is not supposed to be a judge. So, NJC should consider, look at people, look at the judges, and ask: can they be courageous to do what is right?
“It should not be just that this person is intelligent. A judge should be firm and give judgment the way the law says it should be.”
The governor assured that the Rivers State Government would not allow any courageous and bold judge in the state who was discharging his or her duties within the confines of the law to be blackmailed.
He said it was important for judges to dispense justice according to their conscience and the law, and be comfortable that they upheld the law.
According to him, one of the reasons the state was providing judges of Rivers extraction houses was to safeguard them from corruption.
“People must do things according to law. But if you go outside the law and you’re punished, count me out. But if you’re within the law and anybody thinks that because he has people to punish you, Rivers State Government will not agree to it.”
Wike also stated that all capital entitlements captured in the 2021 budget of the state that were due to the Judiciary have been released to it.
The governor advised against divisions among judicial officers because it would weaken the strength of the Judiciary.
He urged the new president of the Rivers State Customary Court of Appeal to leverage on the successes of his predecessor and work to make the court stronger in dispensing justice.
Wike expressed shock and sorrow on the death of the former President of Rivers State Customary Court of Appeal, late Justice Christiana Gabriel-Nwankwo.
The governor described Justice Gabriel-Nwankwo as one of the state’s distinguished jurists who used their knowledge and skills to advance justice delivery.
Similarly, Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike has inaugurated the state’s Multi-door Courthouse that would offer alternative resolution to litigations bothering on trade deals and social relationships.
The inauguration event held at the Rivers State High Court Complex in Port Harcourt, yesterday.
Wike said establishment of the multi-door courthouse is a further demonstration of his administration’s commitment to put in place a comprehensive judicial system that would serve the dispute resolution needs of businesses and investments in the state, as well as parties from other states that may be willing to submit to its jurisdiction.
The governor maintained that the multi-door courthouse system would further expand the doors and frontiers of effective justice delivery to the people with players in the business and investment community as the greatest beneficiaries.
“Rivers State cannot but join the expanding jurisdictions across the world where the multi-door courthouse system is becoming part of the dominant alternative to litigation and arbitration in the resolution of commercial disputes, including, even relationship conflicts.”
Wike explained that the commitment of his administration to sustain the ongoing infrastructural transformation of the state has continued to attract more trade deals and investments into the state, while some existing companies are expanding their operations.
According to Wike, expansion in business operations has naturally and inevitably, caused an increase in commercial and investment disputes that would require speedy, cost effective and mutually mediated and accepted resolutions in the state.
“This is more so, when businesses cannot continue to burden their book balances with huge litigation costs in the midst of declining revenues and profit margins occasioned by the downturns in our national economy.
“Furthermore, apart from being faster in relation to litigation, one of the profound advantages of mediation is that it preserves commercial relationships after the conflict, which is what every businessman or woman needs.”
Wike said there is, therefore, the need to sensitize the business community about multi-door-courthouse and what they stand to gain from its services.
Speaking further, Wike reiterated his administration’s fundamental commitment of transforming the judicial system and make Rivers State a pre-eminent judicial hub in the southern region of Nigeria.
The governor also explained that two weeks after the State Executive Council (SEC) approved the construction of a new magistrate court complex for the state as part of plans to decongest the State High Court premises, the contractor for the project has been mobilised and construction work begun.
“When completed, this complex will accommodate all the magistrate courts presently domiciled in the State High Court complex and free-up spaces to accommodate more high courtrooms and expand access to judicial services for our citizens.”
The governor asserted that his administration has deliberately prioritised the welfare and comfort of judicial officers and magistrates in the state.
He said a law has been assented to make it a policy to provide status houses for every judicial officer of Rivers State origin, irrespective of the jurisdiction under which you are serving, whether Rivers State, Federal Judiciary, or the Judiciary of any other state of the federation.
In his speech, the Chief Judge of Rivers State, Justice Simeon Amadi said the multi-door courthouse system would regulate, encourage and strengthen the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanism in Rivers State.
Justice Amadi emphasised the core objectives of the Rivers State Multi-door Courthouse, as provided in Section 2 of the law to include the following: “Enhance access to justice by providing alternative mechanism to supplement litigation in the resolution of disputes, minimise frustrations and delay in the justice delivery system by providing a standard legal framework for fair and efficient settlement of disputes through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).
“Serve as the focal point for the promotion of alternative dispute resolution in Rivers State, and promote the growth and effective functioning of justice system through alternative dispute resolution methods.”
Rivers State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Zacchaeus Adangor said it was a dawn of new era for Rivers State as it joins the league of over 15 other states of the federation to commence the operation of a multi-door courthouse.
According to him, it is a court connected mechanism that would promote alternative peaceful resolution of dispute.
“There is no gain saying the fact that access to justice is a constitutional rights and that the core elements of that right include speedy, efficient, cost effective administration of justice.”
The leader, Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Rivers State and former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Onueze Okocha, SAN, said the core reason for the establishment of the multi-door courthouse system is for the speedy delivery of justice and access to justice.
The highlight of the event is the conferment of Wike as a fellow of the International Dispute Resolution Institute by Prof. C. J. Amasike.

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NASS Begins Debate On 2022 N16.39trn Budget

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The Senate, yesterday, commenced debate on the general principles of the 2022 budget.
President of the Senate, Dr Ahmad Lawan, who presided over the session, said that the debate will be concluded, today.
President Muhammadu Buhari, had, last Thursday, submitted the 2022 Appropriation Bill to a joint sitting of the National Assembly.
It is titled, ‘A bill for an Act to authorise the issuance from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, the total sum of N16,391,023, 917,692, etc.”
Similarly, the House of Representatives has said it would commence debate on the 2022 budget proposal presented to a joint session of the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari last Thursday.
The Speaker of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, who made the disclosure at plenary, yesterday, said the debate would take place, today and tomorrow.
He said the copies of the budget will be distributed to the members, and directed interested lawmakers to submit their names to the House Clerk, Ben Akubueze.
Gbajabiamila also said that the time table for the budget defence with Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the Federal Government would be released, today.
He added that the House would adjourn plenary after the debate sessions to start the budget defence.
“We are going to distribute copies of President Muhammadu Buhari letter and budget to lawmakers. Members who are interested in debate on the budget as presented, the merits and demerits and the general principles of the budget as presented by Mr. President.
“Please, send your names to the clerk. We will be having the debate, two days. Wednesday and Thursday after which we will suspend plenary for work to start on the budget, the budget defense.
“The timetable will be released to the committees by tomorrow. So, if you are interested send your names to the clerk today. Add the dates you’re interested in contributing. Whether Wednesday or Thursday, write it next to your name”, Gbajabiamila said.

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Wike Signs Housing Bill For Retired Judicial Officers Into Law

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Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike has said the provision of personal homes for judicial officers of Rivers’ extraction would serve as good motivation to resist enticements of all forms capable of compromising the rectitude of their judicial functions.
He stated this, yesterday, at the Government House, Port Harcourt, after signing into law two bills passed by the Rivers State House of Assembly, and presented to him by the Majority Leader of the House, Hon. Martins Amaewhule.
The two bills are Rivers State Judicial Institute Law No. 8 of 2021, and the Rivers State Housing Scheme for Judicial Officers Law, No. 10 of 2021.
Wike pointed out that the law would contribute to promoting judicial independence and reduce all forms of corruption among judicial officers.
“The second bill which I’ve assented to, has to do with the housing scheme. This is where I think, when we talk about autonomy, this is the main autonomy the Judiciary should be talking about.
“And in carrying out judicial functions, one thing that gives people hope is shelter. Part of the reasons why people are corrupt is that they don’t have the opportunity to own a house where they can put their heads at the end of the day, at retirement.
“So, for us as a government, we believe that one of the things that we do to stop corruption is to allow them to have their own house.
“I don’t want to see any Rivers judicial officer working in the Federal High Court, Industrial Court, Appeal Court or Supreme Court, indicted for corruption. I don’t want to see that happen to Rivers indigenes.
“Government must from the day of appointment, and on retirement, ensure they have their homes. If they say, they don’t want, then, government can pay them the due financial equivalent in lieu. But it is our own responsibility to do so.”
Wike explained that all judicial officers of Rivers origin serving in the state and federal judicial system were entitled to benefit from the accommodation that should be provided.
According to Wike, the initiative is novel and different from what Lagos State had done that only catered for their judges serving within the state and not extended to the federal judicial system.
“It’s one profession that the moment you’re retired, there’s nothing you can do about the practice of law. If a medical doctor retires from civil service, the medical doctor can go into private practice and own his or her own hospital.
“But as retired judge, you’re not allowed by law to practice again after service. So, it is not only for judicial officers who are working in Rivers State but judicial officers who are from Rivers State and also working at the federal courts.
“Wherever you are doing your work, you have no reason to complain because you have a home at the end of the day. So, why will anybody come to entice you for anything? And since it is not provided in the federal scheme of work, we have to care for our own people whether working here or outside.”
Speaking about the Rivers State Judicial Institute Law No. 8 of 2021, Wike explained that the efforts were geared to support the National Judicial Council (NJC) through the National Judicial Institute (NJI) saddled with the responsibility of training judicial officers and other Judiciary staff.
According to him, the Rivers State Government would, by the law, see to it that, at least, twice in a year, judges, magistrates and other Judiciary staff access trainings that would acquaint them with the tools of their jobs.

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