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Senator Ihenyen: What the people said they wanted from constitutional amendment

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Senator Ihenyen: What the people said they wanted from constitutional amendment

by Senator Ihenyen

Since the nation-wide protests against subsidy removal in January 2012, most Nigerians have increasingly become more conscious, concerned and involved in how they are being governed. This may not be unconnected to initiatives such as Occupy Nigeria, Save Nigeria Group, the awareness programmes, campaigns and activities of youth organisations, and of course, the power of social media

If the National Assembly has the courage to carry out its constitutional duties without fearing the Executive or favouring the “well-armed” lobbyists in the corridors of power, Nigerians may well be on their way to a revolutionary national transformation. What is this transformation all about?

The eventual outcomes of the House of Representatives’ People Public Sessions on the review of the 1999 constitution conducted on November 10, 2012 makes for interesting reading for so many reasons. But then again, will the National Assembly respect the wishes of the electorates?

Nigerian were not interested in the proposed clause to be inserted in the Constitution meant to recognise rotational presidency between the south and the north. That was defeated. Also, President Jonathan’s proposal to amend section 135 and 180 (2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to create a single tenure of seven (7) and five (5) years for the office of president and governor respectively did not see the light of the day. Of course if you ask me, with the manner of reception of the proposal by majority of Nigerians when it was first introduced by the Presidency barely one year in office, this single-term proposal had been dead on arrival.

From the highlights of the report containing the compiled results on national security, devolution of power, fiscal federalism, indigeneship/residency, justice sector reform, the legislature and the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, Nigerians largely demonstrated their readiness to transform the nation.

Obviously agitated by the alarming rate of corruption in government, lack of transparency and abuse of office, Nigerians want section 308 of the 1999 Constitution to be amended to make the immunity provision for the President, Vice President, Governor and Deputy Governor protect only civil proceedings while in office. No doubt, Nigerians have not just been licking their wounds but learning from our rather shallow democratic experiences since 1999.

Significantly, from the collated votes, it appears there is a serious trust deficit at the state levels on issues of state police and state electoral bodies. On the controversial issue of state police, a great majority of Nigerians rejected the establishment of a state police. Rather, proposals to have one Federal police body wherein state Governors will be given the power as the Chief Security Officer of his state to enable him have control over the office of the Commissioner of Police in their respective states.

I can still remember how Gov. Chris Ngige of Anambra State was rendered helpless when he lost control of the state to forces in control of the Commissioner of Police.

Also, concerning the conduct of state elections, Nigerians want Section 197(1) (b) to be amended to abolish the State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC) in order that all elections are conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), including constitutional recognition of independent candidacy in elections.

Nigerians also voted for amendments to Section 162(6) to abolish “State Joint Local Government Account” to ensure that allocations due to the local government councils would be paid to them directly, while also demanding for a defined tenure for local government chairmen/councillors in the constitution. This may not be unconnected with the recent developments in the country whereby state governors arbitrarily set up local government caretaker committees in place of elected local government chairmen.

Perhaps, the remarks made by Sanusi, the CBN Governor and some other public analysts are beginning to have influence on public opinion. Nigerians want the country to abolish the existing bicameral legislature and allow for only one chamber in the National Assembly. Also, Nigerians seek to replace the present expensive presidential system of government with a parliamentary system.

On the sensitive issue of resource control, collated votes favour the implementation of the kind of fiscal federalism that allows states to control up to 50 per cent of their resources and pay the balance to the Federation. Concerning the structure of the Nigerian Federation, Nigerians rejected proposals for the recognition of the six geopolitical zones in the country for administrative purposes only in the constitution.

There is a gradual revolution going on out there. A revolution that cuts across all boundaries, solely driven by the mission to save Nigeria from collapse. A new Nigeria rebuilt by Nigerians standing solidly on the pillars of responsive and accountable leadership and rich human capital. A great nation with a working system propelled by true federalism, real economic growth and development, infrastructural development and positive national re-orientation. A renewed social re-engineering powered by the rule of law, protection of fundamental human rights, including a gradual justiciability of economic, social and cultural rights through the instrumentality of proactive and responsive legislation at all levels.

President Jonathan should be the strongest advocate of these transformational constitutional reforms; or does the President not “give a damn” what Nigerians want? The greatest challenge now is how to ensure that the wishes of Nigerians would be reflected in an amended constitution. Occupy the National Assembly! It is high time we took charge of our future. It is in our hands.

PS: Congratulations to the Super Eagles and Nigerians for their sweet victory over the Elephants of Cote d’ Ivoire yesterday! Our great country can still soar!

Senator Ihenyen is a lawyer and an author. When he is not in court, he is researching the law. When he is not researching, he is writing. When he is not writing, he is working on the next big idea or managing a youth NGO. When he's not doing any of these? He's busy contributing on politics, policies and current affairs on The Scoop because it's the smart thing to do. Disclaimer: Senator is Senator's given name even though Facebook doesn't believe and so shortened the name to 'Sen' on that site. Unlike those who bear the name as a title, Senator has never accepted the millions of Naira which they receive as allowance - not like he's ever been offered though.

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