By Christiana Ekpa
The House of Representatives on Thursday began the process of reviewing the 1999 Constitution with Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila charging the special committee saddled with the responsibility tofocus on electoral and police reforms as well as national security.
The while Inaugurating the special committee on the review of the constitution, the speaker disclosed that the constitution of any country must adapt and respond to new realities and challenges confronting it.
He added that it’s imperative for stakeholders to identify those areas where the nation’s laws have not lived up to expectation by acting expeditiously and conscientiously to fix whatever gaps may exist, and address concerns that may arise.
Gbajabiamila further stressed that the House was commencing the constitution review process at a time of great and ongoing upheaval in Nigeria that has thrown up new challenges and requires the government using the constitution review process to proffer workable solutions that reflect current aspirations.
“When you ask me what the state of our nation is, the honest answer is this; we are in a fight for the very survival of our country and the continuation of the Nigerian project.
“Recent global developments have exposed all our systemic weaknesses so that we can no longer pretend to ourselves that things are on an even keel and slow progress is enough to get us to where we ought to be yet are still so far away from.
“This 9th House of Representatives has since committed to the cause of reform. Our commitment must neither waver nor wane on the matter of thoughtful and fair overhaul of our nation’s constitution.
“The reality of our current circumstances, and the now certain knowledge that only us can save ourselves imposes on us an obligation to act with greater determination and all the urgency this moment calls for,” the speaker asserted.
According to him, the ongoing evolution of the nation’s democracy requires that Nigeria continually review and update the rules of engagement, especially as every election season exposes significant gaps in the process that if left unaddressed, threaten the survival of democracy.
Electoral reforms, the House speaker said are not a party-political issue, but rather are a matter of loyalty to an ideal that is greater than the party to which one belongs or the personal ambitions people hold, maintaining that “electoral reforms are a matter of our nation’s future, and the process of setting out systems and protocols for managing how we choose our leaders and representatives begins with the constitution.
“Over the last week, thousands of our nation’s young people have been on the streets day and night protesting the inhumane and brutal abuses of human rights by the police, particularly the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
“In addition to whatever other changes that may be caused by these protests, they have exposed the stinking underbelly of our nation’s policing system so that we now understand better why our federal police is often unable to effectively respond to the localised manifestations of insecurity across the different parts of our country.
“The simple truth is that we have a police that doesn’t have the trust of the people, and a policing system that doesn’t make for productive partnerships between the police and the communities they serve.
“Overcoming our overwhelming national security challenges now requires of us all that we be willing to accept new approaches and consider novel ideas. Neither the security institutions nor political leaders can afford to hold on too tightly to a status quo whose frustrating limitations are painfully evident, whilst reflexively rejecting innovations that may improve our fortunes if properly implemented.”
Earlier, Deputy Speaker and Chairman of the special committee, Idris Wase emphasized the importance of reviewing the extant constitution as a majority of Nigerians consider the 1999 constitution a product of military exigency that doesn’t reflect the wishes and aspirations of the people.
He said that there has been several attempts to amend the 1999 Constitution based on agitations from various sections of the countryover perceived grey areas that doesn’t meet their expectations.
Wase therefore, mentioned areas of focus for the special committee to include true Federalism, Local Government Autonomy, State Policing State Creation and Judicial Autonomy.