by Dare Lawal
As usual, the national assembly has left it till very late on the issue of further amendments to the 1999 constitution. It’s just four months to the general elections, and seven months to the end of their tenure, and the national assembly only yesterday, transmitted the conference report on the review of the 1999 constitution to state Houses of Assembly for concurrence.
The speaker of the Akwa Ibom assembly, who doubles as the chairman of the conference of speakers of state houses of assembly, Rt Hon Sam Ikon, received the report on behalf of the 36 assemblies. The state assemblies are now expected to vote “YES” or “NO” on each clause of the amendment.
For any approval to sail through, at least two-thirds of all states (24 states) must vote YES on such a clause in line with Section 9 (2) of the 1999 constitution.
Leaders of the national assembly led by senate president, David Mark, were present at the event.
Mark asked the state assemblies to “do what is right and bring governance closer to the people.” His deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, who is the chairman of the senate committee on constitutional amendment advised the assemblies to vote on the issues before December.
According to him, the amendments reflected the will of Nigerians.
“By involving citizens in the constitution review process, the legislature has indeed made a huge stride in rekindling the sense of optimism and inclusivity”, he said.
He said “It is our conviction that this people-centred amendment will make Nigerians feel vested in their government, encourage and challenge them to remain active and engaged in the political process, raising questions, demanding answers and criticising leaders who fail to perform. There is no doubt that broad citizens’ participation, which was the mainstay of the review process, will add value to the democratic process and improve the quality of governance.”
“The amendments set out institutional and legal reforms, which together with sufficient political will, may help to provide for constitutional and other legal guarantees for the practice of true federalism; provide for accountability and transparency in governance; and, create an independent judicial system that would ensure the proper administration of justice in Nigeria.”
“Strengthen the legislature’s authority to enable it to serve as an effective pillar of checks and balance to the executive;Strengthen independent constitutional bodies;Strengthen citizenship as a source of national identity; Create and strengthen a culture of good governance;
“Recognise national diversity as a source of richness and wealth; and Address the issues of corruption, ethnicity, waste of resources, revenue leakages and unbridled government spending.
“Review our legislative list for improved federalism- We hope that there will be a corresponding review of the revenue distribution formula to reflect the redistribution of our legislative list. “
The deputy speaker of the House of Reps, who headed the house committee on constitutional amendment also echoed the words of his senate counterpart. He said that the amendment was not made to victimise anyone.
Responding, the Akwa Ibom speaker said that the report would receive accelerated and positive action.
He said that unlike in the past when the assemblies voted against granting state assemblies financial autonomy, they will ensure that this time, they take up the chance and grant themselves financial autonomy.
“We appreciate the efforts of both chambers of the National Assembly in the process of amending the constitution. They have been championing the cause by introducing completely a new dimension involving the people at the grassroots. Organising public hearing was to decentralise the process for people were able to contribute their input freely.
“The transmission of the harmonised version of the bill to state assemblies signifies the beginning of their roles in the process. Constitutionally, the roles requiring state legislatures are to ratify the resolutions of the National Assembly.
“We can only assure Nigerians that we shall play our roles to produce the constitution that will reflect the needs of the people devoid of fears and influences. We are determined to show our will to support changes that we have found in the course of our democracy. Reference has been made to the issue of financial autonomy to states. Let me plead that we forget the past,” Ikon said.