Eminent Nigerians chart path to constitutional amendment
PROCESSES leading to the fashioning of a nationally- acceptable modern Constitution were again examined by eminent Nigerians.
They spoke on different occasions, stressing the need for a thorough job to avoid future uproar and controversies from trailing the new or amended document.
Ihedioha spoke yesterday at the opening of an international conference on “Law Reform and the Law Making Process” organised by the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS) in collaboration with National Judicial Institute (NJI), Law Reform Commission and International Law Institute, Washington DC.
Also on the occasion, the perceived reluctance to assent to numerous bills passed by the National Assembly by President Goodluck Jonathan attracted fresh criticisms from lawmakers.
Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu called for a more cordial working relationship among the three arms of government to, among other benefits, accelerate law reform processes and ensure good governance.
Ihedioha pointed out that the 1999 Constitution specifically empowers the National Assembly to amend the Constitution as a critical part of law reform, stressing that the House of Representatives has already initiated several bills on law reforms, including constitutional amendment.
“These bills and other initiatives at constitutional amendments are receiving urgent attention” of the ad-hoc Committee on Constitution Review, he stated.
The Deputy Speaker also said the Legislative Agenda of the House of Representatives had been tailored to meet citizens’ expectation that lawmakers will make laws to change society for the better, “strengthen the nation’s political and economic foundations, change outdated institutions and structures, afford greater protection to their rights and liberties and generally to provide an enabling environment for them to improve their lives and living conditions.”
He said because the dynamic nature of societal challenges infers that law cannot be static but “must be modified and shaped over time to reflect the social values that society feels are important, this normally necessitates the repeal, amendment or reform of such outdated or defective laws.”
Ihedioha added: “The reliance on law as the key vessel for social transformation brings into sharper focus the law-making role of the Legislature in a democracy. There is no democracy without the Legislature. The Legislature is uniquely positioned to translate the country’s policy preferences and choices into bills which, when passed and assented to by the President, become laws.”
Ekweremadu noted that several bills, some of which would have addressed the nation’s multiple challenges were left unassented to by the Executive, even when they have no direct financial implications.
Citing instances with the State of the Nation Address Bill, which was passed by the National Assembly and which seeks to promote transparency and accountability by ensuring that the President addresses the nation on contemporary national issues yearly at the National Assembly, he urged the President to take the credit of being the first Nigerian President to put the instrument into use by signing the Bill into law.
“This is the popular practice in both developed and emerging democracies around the world. I wish therefore to call on Mr. President to take the credit of being the first Nigerian President to put this instrument into use by signing the State of the National Address Bill into law to enrich and deepen our democratic structure.”
He added that muscle-flexing, time-wasting and still-birth laws would be minimised if the three arms of government make necessary input before and during the drafting and processing of laws while public hearings should be perceived as a critical lawmaking process rather than a mere fulfilment of legislative ritual.
Declaring the conference open, President of the Senate, Senator David Mark, noted that for laws to accomplish transformation of a nation, they must reflect and address contemporary realities and challenges.
According to him, lawmakers on the other hand, should also constantly repeal and amend existing laws to address new and emerging developments in the society.
Mark added that in a constitutional democracy, legislators perform three vital functions, including representation of their constituents, lawmaking as well as carrying out oversight functions on the activities of government. In all these, he said they are guided by both public opinion and the law.
“We listen to our constituents, protect their interests and project their welfare. In fact, our public hearings constitute an integral part of the lawmaking process. It is therefore imperative to ensure participation of the citizenry. These three functions, properly performed, make the Legislature a vital organ of the democratic process.”
Speaker, House of Representatives, Honourable Aminu Tambuwal, said that no amount of controversy would deter the House from pursuing truth and dysfunction in the system. He added that investigative hearings conducted by legislators in both Houses are indications of their resolve to promote change in a negative system.
On his part, constitutional lawyer, Prof. R.A.C.E. Achara, yesterday asked the review committee to concentrate efforts in finding ways to sustain the existing states of the federation.
He stressed that tinkering with the constitutional provision for state creation to create more states presently would not help the country.
Faulting the current 36-state structure, he stated that it has so far succeeded in making the Federal Government commit more resources towards their sustenance, and added to the burden of governance in the country.
Speaking in Enugu, Achara, who was the State Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), added that the composition of the present state structure of the country indicated that they were created by the military to achieve political interests and not based on the developmental needs of the country.
He said: “Presently, we have 36 states and virtually none of these states excerpt perhaps three is self-sustaining. The others depend entirely on the common pot at the Federation Account. If you look at the Internally-Generated Revenue, you can see that only about three states can sustain themselves and yet here we are thinking about how to create more bureaucracies. If we create more states, we are creating more bureaucracies and the money that should have been used for capital projects will now be used to pay a few persons who are civil servants in those new bureaucracies or states we created. This just cannot work.
He continued: “The manner of creation of states in this country by the military is inherently faulty. It was done to assuage pressure from certain people who were pushing for it. The military government suffered lack of legitimacy and in order to garner support, created states to assuage the whims and caprices of certain few. They didn’t look at the economic potentials and even when they were creating these states, they knew that these states could not sustain themselves. When eastern region was one region, you had one bureaucracy running the place, now eastern region has been balkanised into eleven states and you now have more bureaucracies and instead of one commissioner, you now have several commissioners and you pay their salaries, support staff, cars, then each of those places have legislatures, instead of one House of Assembly that will have perhaps few members, you will now have so many. These are resources that you will have used to build roads but you use it to pay salaries, it just doesn’t work. Look at America, it is almost half a continent but it has only 50 states”.
Achara, while also faulting the idea of reviewing the 1999 Constitution in batches in view of the logistics, further asked the National Assembly committee to find ways of reducing the volume of the country’s constitution and make it more effective.
He stated that there are several issues that ordinarily should not be part of the constitution but contained in the present constitution, adding that these had made the constitution of the country unworkable.
He added: “The constitution is filled with too many laws both the fundamental laws which are supposed to be in the constitution and other lower level laws (statutory laws) which should be left in the hands of our Executive. Nigerian constitution is too bulky; the American constitution where we are taking our queue is just a few articles; but our constitution unfortunately is like a big volume of text-book and they all deal with matters that should be left to legislative bodies to attend to; because these are matters that change from time to time depending on the situation of the country at that point in time.
“If we change things in this constitution today because our situation requires us to change it, in 10 years’ time, our situation might change and that means we need to change it back again, this is not how to operate a constitution. Those laws that can change from time, we should leave them to the legislatures but those ones that we are afraid to allow the legislatures to be in control of, and these are the ones we entrench in our constitution. If we do it that way, we will find out that this problem of each time the politicians have problem over something, they will ask for constitutional review will be reduced.”