The Ninth Senate, like every Senate before it since 1999, has set up a 56-member committee for the amendment of the 1999 Constitution. No doubt, the decision to engage in the exercise is borne out of the constant criticisms of the constitution for containing many contradictions that impede harmony and development of Nigeria. The committee, headed by Deputy Senate President Obarisi Ovie Omo-Agege, may be the Senate’s response to such complaints.
Senate President Ahmed Lawan, in setting up the committee, gave his reasons thus: “Nigerians definitely have interest in the Constitution Review that the National Assembly will embark upon. There are several issues that Nigerians feel strongly about. The Constitution Review Committee is supposed to be a platform where such issues will be brought, and where those who are interested should ensure that they make every possible effort, including presentations, for their views to be considered.
“As a National Assembly, particularly the Senate, we want to have a very stable country. We want a country that gives every citizen the opportunity to actualise his or her dream. We want to have a security that is enhanced and an economy that works for everyone. Stability of the polity is important; we need to have a country before we run for elections, or indeed undertake any activity. So, we advise that any organisation or individual that has anything that should be taken on by the committee should make submissions to the Constitution Review Committee.”
From previous exercises, it was apparent that Nigerians have not received value for the money spent on constitution reviews. In the national budget since 2011, N1 billion was always voted annually for amendment or review of the 1999 Constitution. For instance, between 2011 and 2015, the committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate withdrew and spent a whooping sum of N7.75 billion of public funds in four years to purportedly review the 1999 Constitution, according to an investigative report. It is not clear how much was released for the same purpose between 2015 and 2019 under the Senate presidency of Bukola Saraki, which vigorously and loudly engaged in constitution amendment exercise.
Though the committees carried out their assignment, a lot of gaps are still left uncovered in the constitution. For instance, there are many recurring issues like local government autonomy, devolution of power, rotation of power at federal and state levels, autonomy for state houses of assembly, electronic voting, state police, and the like, which were supported by majority of Nigerians during previous exercises, but they did not make their way into the amended constitution. It is for this reason that Nigerians have continued to find holes in the 1999 Constitution.
Constitutional amendment, from the experiences of many developed societies, is not embarked upon every year, the way it is done in Nigeria. Instead of wasting money in travelling abroad to sight model constitutions, holding numerous committee meetings, flying from one part of the country to another for public hearings, and engaging in expensive secretariat work for the review, we advocate that the National Assembly identifies specific issues that would need to be tackled, initiate private member or executive bills on them, conduct public hearings and carry out approved amendments. This is less expensive for the country.
We also call on the National Assembly to take another look at the many crucial bills gathering dust in their chambers and initiate the processes of representing them, if that would save Nigeria the cost of engaging in the leg-work for amending the sections of the constitution to which they relate. It is good that Deputy Senate President Omo-Agege has promised to study the report of the 2014 National Constitutional Conference. There were far-reaching deliberations and resolutions on how to move the country forward in that report. It will be wise to initiate relevant bills based on the conference’s recommendations and avoid this planned constitutional review jamboree.