By Tordue Salem, Abuja
*As Reps Consider States’ Creation, State police, Restructuring, Others
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep Femi Gbajabimila has declared that the country is in an intense battle for survival, as it contends with an avalanche of problems.
The Helmsman of the Green Chamber’s view was contained r, said in his remarks at the inauguration of the House of Representatives Special Adhoc Committee on the review of the 1999 constitution (as amended).
He said “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”.
According to him, “We are commencing this constitutional review process at a time of great and ongoing upheaval in our country. New challenges emerge daily from every corner.
“Some of these challenges are of our own making, and others, we could not have foreseen or been prepared for. Whichever may be the case, the Nigerian people look up to us as a government to proffer solutions that work, to do the heavy lifting of writing a new constitution, one better suited to our current aspirations and reflect our vision of the future”.
The speaker opined that “the answer to many of our development questions lies in the pages of a new Nigerian constitution. 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”.
He assured that the House would take the issue of electoral reforms very seriously, adding that “overcoming our overwhelming national security challenges now requires of us all that we be willing to accept new approaches and consider novel ideas”.
He warned that “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”.
In his welcome address, Deputy Speaker and chairman of the special committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution, Ahmed Idris Wase, disclosed that the House would consider the creation of states, state police, true federalism, local government and judicial autonomy in the review of the 1999 constitution.
He said “Let me start by stating that the need and importance of reviewing our extant constitution cannot be overemphasized as a vast majority of Nigerians consider the 1999 constitution a product of military exigency and that the reference to ‘We the people’ in the constitution does not truly represent them. Various political actors have therefore been advocating for a serious review.
According to the Deputy Speaker, “There has been several attempts to amend the 1999 Constitution, yet the agitations for a much more fundamental amendment has not stopped.
“This is because there are very critical aspects of our Constitution that touch on our continued existence as a strong, indivisible nation. Until these critical areas are resolved, we may continue to face clamour for a new Constitution.
“Therefore, in order to achieve the much-needed success by the 9th Assembly, there are pertinent areas that must be looked into. These are burning issues that have been left to burn for so long without giving them the much-needed attention”.
He said “The federal structure (true federalism), local government autonomy, state policing, state creation and judicial autonomy”.
He said, already over 15 constitution alteration bills have been referred to the committee touching on these broad thematic areas.
Wase observed that “Despite the fact that Nigeria prides herself as a ‘federal state’, it is sadly evident that it is far from what federalism entails.
“Some have stated that our federal system is more unitary than federalist especially with the number of items on the exclusive legislative list where the federal government regulates even simple items like primary education and agriculture. Hence, there has been a clamour for more devolution of powers from the centre to the states in order to make states more viable and economically sustainable”
On local government, he said “As a third-tier government, all local governments are supposed to be Independent, However, we have not seen such independence in a long time.
Arguably, the framers of the 1999 Constitution, created a worrisome situation by giving validity to the existence of 3.162 (6), which prescribes the “State and local government joint account”.
On state police, the deputy speaker said “While internal security is of paramount importance, the concentration of the power of the police at the central government has created several policing challenges at the states.
“While some have advocated for the creation of state police, others have expressed worry on the possible abuse of such power by state governors.
“However, one thing that is clear is the need for us to take a second look at our internal security superstructure in order to make it work for our people and protect their lives and properties”.
Speaking on the agitation for state creation, he stated that “It is pertinent to note that the current 36 states of our federation were created via military decrees. Hence the true wishes and aspirations of the people were never considered in such creations.
“There is a need, therefore to examine the subject of state creation (and the associated constitutional rigours and difficulties surrounding it) in such manner as to reflect the wishes and aspirations of homogenous people in a democratic system”.
The ad hoc committee chairman noted that “The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) guarantees the independence of the judiciary in the country including state courts.
“Unfortunately, state courts (judiciary) in Nigeria and of course legislatures have over the years relied on the executive for their funding. This is clearly antithetical to the principle of separation of powers as guaranteed under the constitution”, he stated.