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How constitution amendments gulped billions of naira in 20 years

Several efforts have been made to amend the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic Nigeria, which some lawyers and analysts have described as a bad…

Several efforts have been made to amend the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic Nigeria, which some lawyers and analysts have described as a bad document that is not in conformity with the ideals of democracy, after many years of military rule.

More efforts resulted in more expenditure but less positive results, as several factors conspired to derail the process, including lack of agreement by two-third majority (24 of the 36) of the state houses of assembly and sometimes, presidential withdrawal of assent.

Daily Trust on Sunday reports that several constitution amendment exercises had guzzled over N20billion, with at least 30 alterations made to the document in 20 years.

Recall that the first constitution amendment exercise was initiated by the 5th National Assembly. It was led by the then deputy Senate President Ibrahim Mantu.

Since then, every legislative cycle initiated fresh amendments with a release of N1billion per year. This is apart from some extra funds released to the committee for unforseen expenditure, which has been shrouded in secrecy.

Daily Trust on Sunday reports that despite the billions of naira spent on the exercise over the years, there are still recurrent issues of federal structure and devolution of power, independent candidacy, local government autonomy, immunity, fiscal federalism and revenue allocation, electoral reforms, creation of state police, among others, which have not been addressed to the satisfaction of many in the 24-year-old constitution.

The 10th Assembly has initiated another amendment process, which is expected to also gulp billions of naira. In the Senate, a 47-member committee, chaired by Deputy Senate President Barau Jibrin, has one senator from each of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and one from each of the six geo-political zones in the country.

In the House of Representatives, Deputy Speaker Benjamin Kalu is chairing the review committee, which is already considering over 40 bills seeking alterations to the 1999 Constitution.

Inaugurating the 47-member Senate committee recently in Abuja, Senate President Godswill Akpabio explained that the 1999 Constitution needed a review because it contained many issues that should be “put right.”  The committee also assured that the current exercise would be completed in 2026.

Analysts have expressed worry that after several attempts to restructure the country, part of which is the amendment of the 1999 Constitution currently in operation, the moves either hit the rocks or yield little result after gulping billions of naira.

Daily Trust on Sunday reports that perennial constitution amendment exercises by the National Assembly are characterised by proposals that keep resurfacing despite gulping billions of naira yearly.

At every session, the parliament officially spends N1billion shared equally between the Senate and the House of Representatives.

While some amendments were successful, several others suffered serial failures but kept appearing in new proposals.

Recall that the former President Goodluck Jonathan administration, in 2014 spent N7billion to convene a national conference as part of efforts to produce a more acceptable constitution for Nigeria. The N7billion was captured in the 2014 budget estimate under the heading ‘National Dialogue.’

The conference, which had participants drawn across the ethnic nationalities in the country, produced recommendations that were never implemented. The 8th National Assembly, however, embarked on another constitution amendment, which also gulped billions of naira.

More criticisms trail perennial amendments

Analysts, university dons, civil society organisations, lawyers, elder statesmen and many Nigerians have argued that constitution amendment is a mere waste of time and resources as billions are spent with no commensurate result.

A former presidential candidate, Chief Martins Onovo, told Daily Trust on Sunday that funding the project was part of corruption.

He said, “Constitution amendment is necessary, but you don’t have to call billions. That is corruption. A constitution amendment that would cost N3billion is usually inflated to N300billion, and they would start giving themselves unlawful allowances. The big problem of Nigeria is not the absence of law but impunity.”

Similarly, a professor of Political Science, Tunde Adeniran, told Daily Trust on Sunday in a telephone interview that while spending billions of naira on constitution amendment, handlers should consider the implications on the future of the country.

Adeniran, a former minister of education and ex-ambassador of Nigeria to Germany said, “Of course, I am not comfortable. It is the same way we have been doing things. Yes, when they are doing a new constitution amendment, there is no way it would not cost an amount, but it is not something you call that humongous amount. It is very upsetting.

“We have to be mindful of the implications for the future and now. It is worrisome. I was expecting some people within; we have some very good patriots who are not too capitalistic, to raise questions and issues.”

Also, a professor of Political Sociology at the University of Abuja, Abubakar Kari, lamented that while humongous amounts of money were spent, only a little progress has been achieved. He described the ongoing process as a jamboree.

He said, “If there is a particular thing identified in the constitution; an anomaly or a dysfunction, or whatever, for me, it actually does not require an elaborate committee of so many members that have to be catered for, spending N1bn or N4bn.

“If you compare the humongous amount, resources, energy and time spent and the actual amendment, it is not commensurate. There is a huge gap between the resources committed, energy, the propaganda and the actual amendment. So, it is almost inexcusable. That is not to say that nothing has come out of constitutional amendment. But what is going on now is a jamboree.”

Commenting, the executive director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CSLAC), Auwal Rafsanjani, said the amendment exercises had more or less become a ritualistic means of releasing money in the National Assembly, with little or no accountability.

An elder statesman and former presidential candidate, Chief Chekwas Okorie, in a recent interview with Daily Trust, said the factors that led to the failure of previous exercises were still serving as stumbling blocks, and described the ongoing exercise as a waste of time and resources.

“Honestly, I don’t have much confidence in their ability to get it right because of the many times they had tried and failed. Most of the time, the failure comes from their inability to get the two-thirds of the state assemblies to endorse. That is the most difficult part of our constitution amendments. So, this is usually a waste of public fund; going into all of those jamborees, going round the country that you are consulting.

“I suggest the revisiting of the recommendations of the 2014 national confab. There are about 660 recommendations there. However, some of them may have to be adjusted because the world is dynamic,” he said

A renowned constitutional lawyer, Prof Mike Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), who delivered the keynote address at a National Dialogue on the Constitutional Future of Nigeria on Monday, stated that the 1999 Constitution was fundamentally flawed and could not be amended.

“One million amendments multiplied by one million amendments, added to another one million amendments, cannot change the constitution because it is fundamentally flawed,” he said.

At the same event, a former secretary-general of the Commonwealth of Nations, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, emphasized that the current constitution lacked the legitimacy expected in a pluralistic country like Nigeria. He called for the adoption of the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference or the convening of a nonpartisan constituent assembly to develop a truly federal constitution.

“The incontrovertible fact I would like to state is that our present 1999 Constitution, as amended, not only lacks the legitimacy that flows from a democratically made constitution but also has proved to be unsuitable for tackling many of the serious challenges confronting our country,” he said.

Past successes

Proponents of the constitution amendment exercise, however, noted that it was not all gloom as some have been painting it, stressing that past exercises succeeded in some areas; for instance, financial autonomy of the National Assembly, which gave it the power to draw its funds directly from the federation account.

Sections 145 and 190 were equally amended successfully. It was amended to compel the president or governor to transmit a letter to the National Assembly or State House of Assembly to enable their deputies act whenever they proceed on vacation or are unable to discharge their duties.

Amendments were also effected to section 285 (5) to (8) to set time limits for the filing, hearing and disposal of election petitions to quicken justice, and sections 76, 116, 132, and 178 to provide for a wider timeframe for the conduct of elections.

Section 285 and the Sixth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution to reduce the composition of tribunals to a chairman and two members and the quorum to just a chairman and a member were also successfully amended.

Other amendments included those on sections 66(h), 137(i) and 182(i) to delete the disqualification of persons indicted by an administrative panel from standing for election.

The stipulation of timeframe for filing, adjudication and disposal of pre-election lawsuits in order to quicken justice was also amended, and the reduction of age qualification for political offices (Not Too Young to Run Bill).

Sections 134, 179 and 225 of the constitution was amended to extend from seven to 21 days, the period within which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) shall conduct a runoff election between two leading presidential/gubernatorial candidates.

Sections 6, 84, 240, 243, 287, 289, 292, 294, 295, 216, 318, the Third Schedule and Seventh Schedule to the constitution were amended and a new section 254 inserted to make the National Industrial Court a court of superior record and equal in status to the Federal High Court.



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