Monday 22 October 2012

A People’s Constitution

THE House of Representatives is giving Nigerians an opportunity to participate in amending the 1999 Constitution. It is a novel idea billed to hold from 10am on Monday November 5 in all 360 federal constituencies of the country.

It may be a response to calls for a sovereign national conference or an attempt to correct the lie that prefaces the 1999 Constitution which states that Nigerians gave themselves the document.

The House calls the move a fulfillment of its pledge, in 2011, to make governance more inclusive. It is an opportunity for Nigerians – of various levels of understanding – to participate in the making of the Constitution. The only amendment, in 2010, was on electoral reforms. Nigerians want more.

From the 136 memoranda the House Constitution Review Committee has received, the dominant issues appear to be –

· Indigeneship, Residency and Citizenship

· Immunity clause, accountability, judicial reform

· National Security and Police Reform

· Fiscal Federalism, Local Governance and Restructuring/Devolution of Powers

· Financial Autonomy for Local Government Councils

· Removal of the Land Use Act and the National Youth Service Corps from the Constitution

· Part time legislature

· Abolition of Joint States/Local Government Account System

· Voting Rights for Nigerians living in the Diaspora

.·. Zoning/rotation of offices of President/Governors

Nigerians should not restrict themselves to these issues. More pressing matters like how the Constitution should, beyond words, guarantee the security and welfare of the people are important.

What have governments since 1999 done with Section 14 2(b) of the 1999 Constitution which states the “security and welfare of the people should be the primary purpose of government”? Why is it possible to ignore such a powerful provision while carrying on with the rites of governance?

Is it possible to have provisions in the new Constitution to make governments accountable? What can citizens do when governments ignore provisions of the Constitution and immunity which protect them?

The sessions would be replete with people’s anger on several fronts. For some, it could be the first time they would have a chance of meeting their representatives. Others could think the Constitution would be the solution to all challenges the country faces.

All views should be heard and accommodated in the reports. The people, on their part, should utilise the platform the House of Representatives is giving them to be more than statistics in the affairs of Nigeria.

Improved inclusiveness and participation of communities across Nigeria in amending the Constitution could sensitise legislators to the diversity of views even on issues that are considered generally acceptable to the people.

Nigerians should avail themselves this unique opportunity to have a strong say on their future and their country.

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