By Christiana Ekpa
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila, on Tuesday said the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria failed to address some critical national questions confronting the country hence the resolve by the Legislature to amend it.
Saying that a nation’s constitution is not only the foundation of its existence but is supposed to set the terms of the nationhood and define the manner that reflects her common truths and highest aspirations, the Speaker noted that “Our constitution falls short of this standard.”
He said the reason for that was “because the 1999 Constitution is the product of a hurried national compromise that we entered into two decades ago in order to ensure that the military returned to the barracks and that we returned to democratic government.”
Gbajabiamila, who spoke in Lagos while declaring open the public hearing on the review of the Nigerian Constitution, said the National Assembly could only achieve the task after getting the inputs and support of the citizens.
Participants at the 2-day public hearing included the Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Dr. Babafemi Hamzat, who represented Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu; members of the House of Representatives Special Committee on the Review of the Constitution; members of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ); Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC); representatives of political parties, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), youth organisations and market women.
The speaker said though the current exercise is not the first of its kind, it might be the most important one in the nation’s recent history as the decisions to be made would have far-reaching consequences for the future of Nigeria.
In response to the doubts expressed in some quarters about the exercise, the Speaker noted that there was no perfect constitution anywhere in the world, but that it was imperative for Nigeria to have a near-perfect constitution to enable the country to confront and resolve many of its political, economic and socio-cultural challenges.
The Speaker, therefore, urged Nigerians to participate fully in the ongoing process so that their inputs would be captured for the country to have a new direction, adding that they could not afford to miss the opportunity of addressing their challenges and sustaining their future at this critical moment.
He assured Nigerians of the sincerity of purpose of the 9th National Assembly to deliver a reviewed constitution that everyone would be proud of.
The Speaker stated, “The foundational constitution of the United States of America deemed people of colour to be ‘less than’ and denied women the right to vote. It did not include any limits on the President’s term of office and allowed for citizens to be denied the right to vote for failure to pay the ‘poll tax’. Twenty-seven reviews and amendments, over one hundred years cured these and other defects.
“No nation in the world has a perfect constitution, but we need a near-perfect constitution in Nigeria and we can achieve that through substantive amendments that significantly alter the character of our nation.
“Therefore, the task before us now is to use this process of review and amendment to devise for ourselves a constitution that resolves the issues of identity and political structure, of human rights and the administration of government, resource control, national security and so much else, that have fractured our nation and hindered our progress and prosperity.
“Our job is to produce a constitution that turns the page on our past, yet heeds its many painful lessons. It is not an easy task, but it is a necessary and urgent one.”
He added that “We will not be able to deliver on this historic assignment if we restrict ourselves to tinkering around the edges of the constitution or by imposing upon ourselves artificial redlines that restrict honest conversation.