The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) has faulted the Senate’s call for memoranda on review of the 1999 Constitution, alleging that it is of no value and a predictable waste of time, resources and energy of Nigeria.
The forum’s Director of Publicity and Advocacy, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, at a press conference in Abuja on Sunday asked Nigerians not to support the proposed constitution review “at this difficult time when the economy is facing unprecedented challenges.”
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Daily Trust reports that the National Assembly, since 2011, has been earmarking N1 billion for constitution review every four years.
Baba-Ahmed yesterday said the NEF advised the National Assembly to direct its energy and mandate towards convincing President Muhammadu Buhari to end the insurgency in the Northeast and killings in most parts of North-central and the Northwest and other parts of Nigeria.
He said the forum also advised the Senate to jettison “the wasteful idea of giving Nigerians the impression that it is involved in a serious review of our Constitution.”
He said virtually every National Assembly, since 1999, had spent huge amounts of Nigerian people’s money on “jamborees that give them false hope that the three arms of government respect the overwhelming desire of Nigerians for a holistic and genuine review and amendment of the 1999 Constitution.”
Baba-Ahmed said nothing fundamental or of any value had come out of “these grand schemes to exploit our collective desire to address our political and economic fundamentals. This National Assembly is also following suit, and it should not be encouraged on this path”.
According to him, Nigeria’s future rests largely on its willingness to address major constraints to equity and justice, a functional structure, consistent good governance, security for all citizens, a credible electoral process, growing understanding between and among all groups and an economy that grows and narrows inequalities between and classes and regions.
“This cannot be achieved by a process that routinizes wasteful expenditure around false hopes.
“The legislature and executive branches of government have large quantities of reviews, recommendations and reports from past attempts at amending the constitutions. These represent enough resources for a review if the legislature is serious about this vital national priority. Even this is not likely to produce a genuine effort to address the basic requirements of securing a stable, secure and prosperous Nigeria, because both arms of this administration are unlikely to accept to put through wide-ranging reviews of the Constitution.”
Baba-Ahmed said the Northern Elders Forum reminded legislators and other leaders from the North that security of the region’s communities, reduction of crushing poverty and widening distrust among communities should be their priorities.
He said the forum recommended “the alternative of leaders of thought, elders, groups and professional organizations and representatives of government to freely discuss every element of our co-existence as a country under principles of voluntarism, genuine representation mutual respect and integrity of the process. A Nigerian Peoples’ Conference on Review of the Constitution will benefit from past work in this direction in addition to contemporary challenges which the country needs to address in a context that allows free and productive engagements without pre-determined ends.
“The outcome of this Conference should be submitted to the two arms of government which should provide for a referendum in the Constitution so that Nigerians can directly decide on how they want their nation to be structured and function. The North is willing to discuss other options that will do justice to the current Constitution and the future of our great country.”
He urged northern groups to be wary of being railroaded into making submissions “which the legislature will hold up as input, further justifying waste and deceit. No northern group should encourage further waste of public funds which should be channeled into battling killers, kidnappers, poverty and poor governance. The North wants a major review of the Constitution, but it is also ready to resist attempts to create wealth for a few while it leaves parts of the country to quarrel and blame each other for the state of the nation.”
He said northerners were willing to discuss current challenges of the region and the state of the country with any group, anywhere, “provided it sees evidence of sincerity and respect for each other.”
Engage us through legislative channel — Senate replies NEF
The Senate yesterday, in its reaction, urged the Northern Elders Forum to engage it through proper legislative channel rather than news media.
Senate spokesperson, Senator Ajibola Basiru, in a response to Daily Trust enquiry, said thematic areas advertised for constitutional reforms cut across some of the concerns raised by the Forum.
He, therefore, enjoined the Forum to “encapsulate” its views in a memorandum to the Constitution Review Committee.
He said: “Even though they are entitled to their views, the question to ask is; does it mean that if former legislatures cum executive (administrations) have possibly or allegedly failed in this regard, then it can never be achieved?
“Their (Northern Elders Forum) statement even implied an agreement by them that there is need for fundamental restructuring exercise which is the purpose of the present endeavour of the 9th National Assembly.
“Their views can be encapsulated in a memorandum to the Constitution Review Committee.
“The thematic areas advertised for constitutional reforms cut across some of the concerns they raised and therefore we shall be glad to engage them through proper legislative channel rather than news media.”
Afenifere disagrees with Northern Elders Forum
The spokesman of the Yoruba socio-cultural organization, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, told one of our correspondents yesterday that while Afenifere agreed with the Northern Elders’ Forum that the previous constitution review exercises had amounted to wasted efforts, the country must not stop the exercise.
He, however, said the proposed exercise must achieve a result and must be a radical departure from the previous exercises.
He said Nigeria was faced with a constitutional crisis that had stymied its growth over the years, saying the country must return to “a proper federal constitution.”
He said: “I don’t think we should not do it as it is. There’s no difference between those doing the review exercise with no result and those who want it to be held every year. Nigeria has a present constitutional disorder and crisis and we need a federal constitution.
“So, we agree with the NEF that a wasted exercise gives no prospect, but to say that we should not do anything because the right thing has not be done is not the way forward for the country.
“What we’re saying is that we should go ahead with the process that would move the country forward and give us a new constitutional order. We should not just do an exercise just for the sake of spending money on the National Assembly.”
Also speaking, a prominent member of Pan Niger Delta Forum, Sara Igbe, said constitution review was needed to address all problems affecting the six geo-political zones.
“The northerners are not ready for constitutional review and that is why they’re avoiding any proposed move to review the constitution. The review of the constitution is not in bad faith because such review is what will address all the lingering problems that affects all geo political zone of the country. The proposed review of the constitution is not a bad idea and I don’t see the reason why the Northern Elders Forum will not support it,” he said.
However, a prominent Niger Delta leader, Wenenda Wali, who is the convener of a Port Harcourt-based pressure group, Rivers Unity House, said in principle, the Northern Elders Forum was correct “because our problem is not bad laws, but non-implementation of the existing laws.
“I agree with the NEF that constitutional amendment process now is more of ego tripping than anything done in the national interest. Unfortunately, we won’t see the position of the NEF as in national interest because of mindset about the quarter it is coming from. Let’s just test the limits of the existing laws first.”