Northern Elders Forum tackles senate over proposed constitution review

The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) has described the call by the senate for proposals and memoranda seeking a review of the 1999 constitution as “a waste of time, energy and resources”.

The NEF expressed its reservation on the proposed constitution review in a statement issued on Sunday by Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, director, publicity and advocacy, NEF.

On February 12, 2020, the senate had inaugurated an ad hoc committee on the review of the 1999 constitution, chaired by Ovie Omo-Agege, deputy senate president.

Also, a statement issued last Thursday by Omo-Agege on behalf of the committee had requested the “general public, executive and judicial bodies, civil society organisations, professional bodies and other interest groups to submit memoranda or proposals for further alteration(s) of the 1999 constitution” within two weeks from August 26.

However, the NEF described the action of the lawmakers as one of “no value”.

The forum called on Nigerians not to support the proposed action by the senate as there are previous recommendations on constitution review that the lawmakers could focus on.

“The Forum is convinced that this repetitive initiative of the Senate is of no value and a predictable waste of time, resources and energy of the nation, and should not be supported by Nigerians being alarmed by waste in governance at this difficult time when the economy is facing unprecedented challenges,” the statement read.

“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. Nothing fundamental or of any value has 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.

“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 Constitution. 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. The Forum specifically reminds legislators and other leaders from the North that security of our communities, reduction of crushing poverty and widening distrust among communities should be their priorities.”

NEF advised that such proposals and memoranda can be achieved through a discussion forum that involves leaders of thought, groups, professional organisations and government representatives which can be held as a “Nigerian Peoples’ Conference on Review of the Constitution”, and this will focus on addressing past recommendations and understanding contemporary challenges as it affects the constitution.

“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,” NEF added.

The forum also cautioned groups in the north against being “railroaded into making submissions which the legislature will hold up as input”, which it said would further justify the “waste and deceit” that the proposed review by the senate represents.

It, however, explained that the forum was not against a review of the constitution, as long as there is “evidence of sincerity and respect for each other”.

NEF urged the senate to focus on improving other sectors of the country’s polity by addressing insecurity and poverty and “jettison the wasteful idea of giving Nigerians the impression that it is involved in a serious review of our Constitution”.

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