1999 Constitution: To Change or to Amend?

Recently, agitations for restructuring, fiscal federalism, state police, amongst others, have been very loud, especially in the Southern region of the country, with 17 governors and socio-political groups including Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Afenifere clamouring for drastic changes in line with the desires of their people.

Some extreme groups are also agitating for Yoruba Nation and the Biafra Republic over perceived injustice and dissatisfaction with the present structure of government.

Speaking on this development, the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), feels the 1999 Constitution should be scrapped, while the 1963 Republican Constitution is amended and adopted as the country’s new constitution.

The 80-year-old Senior Advocate of Nigeria reasons that the 1963 Republican Constitution can handle all that are being agitated for in the country at the moment. His words:

“My own personal preference is that we should scrap this Constitution and adopt the 1963 Republican Constitution. That Constitution contained everything that is being agitated for now. If we had that, if we adopted it, with amendments here and there, to make it accommodate states that we have now rather than region, I think all these agitations will die down and everybody will be happy.”

Speaking on whether President Muhammadu Buhari has the wherewithal to make that happen, Sagay said, “I really don’t know but his party headed by him commissioned the El-Nasir Committee to work on the issue of federalism and they have come out with an excellent document, and all we need to do is to implement them. And if they are to be implemented as I said, it will be probably implemented in a totally new constitution instead of trying to amend the existing one.

“I am personally disappointed that that excellent document is being allowed to gather dust and I think the leaders of the party should now bring it out and go to the President and say, we should now make a move to implement what we ourselves commissioned and have approved because that is what the whole country wants now.”

Also, Nigerian Indigenous Nationalities Alliance for Self-Determination (NINAS) has warned the Federal government that its refusal to extensively change the 1999 Constitution will lead to violent disintegration of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The group led by Prof. Banji Akintoye while addressing the World Press Conference asked all the political parties in the country to close shop until the 1999 Constitution was finally replaced.

NINAS in a communique invited all the political office holders in Southern Nigeria and Middle Belt in order to hold a 60-Day Period of Consultations on how to work together.

The group berated the Federal government for failing to embrace the window of dialogue that opened on December 16 and closed on March 16.

The Communique, signed by Prof. Akintoye reads, “This 60-Day Period of Consultations offer the Federal Government of Nigeria a fresh window of opportunity, beyond the 90 Days Period of Notice that expired 16 March 2021, to bring itself to the table of Dialogue set up by the Constituent Components of Nigeria, by way of the 16 December 2020, NINAS Proclamation.

“Being all agreed that no progress is possible for the People of Nigeria under the 1999 Unitary Constitution, we cannot be Proclaiming Restructuring, Resource Control, Rule of Law, Security, EndSARS, Corruption, or even Good Governance and still be warming up to go to another round of General Elections in 2023 that will renew the life of the 1999 Constitution which guarantees a unitary government, resource hijacking, impunity, insecurity, killings, corruption, and bad governance.”

Conversely, in 2017, the Senate and the House of Representatives had concluded voting on the amendment to aspects of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution.

Altogether, the two chambers of the National Assembly considered 33 sections of the document slated for amendment in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Fourth Alteration) Bill, 2017.

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Among the major amendments passed were the abrogation of state/local government joint accounts and the existence of democratically constituted local government areas, as well as expansion of the membership of the Council of State to include former Senate Presidents and Speakers of the House of Representatives.

Others are the inclusion of portfolios of ministerial nominees before sending them to the National Assembly for confirmation; sending ministerial and commissioner nominees within 30 days of the inauguration of the president, as well as that of state governors; including empowering the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) to deregister political parties over failure to secure an elective seat.

The legislature voted in favour of local government autonomy; immunity for lawmakers in respect of words spoken or written at the plenary session; the president to deliver a State of the Nation address to the joint session of the National Assembly; as well as independent candidacy for elections.

Regrettably, to the pains of many that put in much efforts to this effect, nothing happened till the tenure of that administration and the 8th Senate ended.

Presently, members of the 9th National Assembly are holding town hall meetings in their various constituencies and the outcome so far is intriguing. For instance, some constituents are actually asking for the creation of more states, while others are asking for adequate women representation in governance among others.

As the consultations are rounded up, there are fears that it might end the same way that the last senate ended. It is vital for all political stakeholders to ensure that progress is made this time around. Given that we are in a democracy, it is important that superior argument with the interest of the people should be given eminent consideration. GB

Categories: Features, Politics