CSOs tasked to engage National Assembly on constitution amendment

Director of Information, National Assembly Abuja, Rawlings Agada, has said the sum of N37 billion, approved for the renovation of the National assembly complex may not be enough for the work.

Former President, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and Constitutional lawyer, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, has urged Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to amend some critical aspects of the 1999 Constitution like the exclusive list to reduce the scale of functions, powers and resources of the federal government.

Speaking at a virtual session, Agbakoba advised a dual approach that was tactical in the short term to achieve amendment and strategic in the longer term, “to effect absolute change of constitution when the organising momentum of civil society is forceful enough to compel it.”

He added: “Civil society should at this time critically engage the National Assembly to amend some critical aspects like the Exclusive List to reduce the scale of functions, powers and resources of the federal government.”

Panelists at the virtual session agreed that the Nigerian 1999 Constitution was faulty and not a true reflection of the genuine will of the citizens #FixPoliticsDialogue have stated.

A statement issued to THISDAY by the Spokesperson, #FixPolitics, Ozioma Ubabukoh hinted that the panelists unanimously agreed that the subsisting document was flawed, therefore needs to be reformed, “but were different in their view on whether the constitution be changed or amended.”

According to the statement, “The National Assembly and Houses of Assembly hold the paraphernalia on which the constitution can be amended or changed, while the civil society groups are expected to be organised around strategic and tactical engagement with the system of governance.

#FixPolitics has initiated the platform to engender conversation for a total change or amendment of the 1999 Constitution in a way that would guarantee and bring about improvement in the quality of life of the Nigerian citizens.”

On his part, Dr. Usman Bugaje, remarked that the responsibility to reform or replace the constitution rests on the shoulders of the lawmakers.

He noted: “For the moment, I think we have to continue to engage, push for change if we can get change, push for that critical amendment that will give us that incremental inch that will take us to where we want to be.”

On her part, Briggs advocated for a total change of the constitution, stating that the 1999 edition was built on a faulty foundation, and posited that Nigeria had gone through different constitutional reforms since 1914.

“If, perhaps, we had gone ahead and started the implementation of Goodluck Jonathan’s 2014 National Conference, what would have eventually come out of the attendance to implement the report of that gathering would have been a new constitution,” Briggs said.

She further disclosed that the right to achieve a constitutional reform belonged to the electorate and not to the members of the legislature.

Hip-hop rap artiste, Folarin Falana, a.k.a. Falz explained that the urgent focus should be to tackle the habitual lack of respect for the rule of law and poor record of public accountability by Nigeria’s political class.

He suggested that citizens should first collectively prioritise and organise against the worrisome lack of compliance with provisions of existing laws and the culture of impunity by public officials.

Atsenuwa and Usman explained that it was impossible to get a new constitution from the existing framework and that citizens should therefore realistically engage the process.

Obiageli Ezekwesili and Prof. Remi Sonaiya, the Chairperson and Co-Chair of #FixPolitics, maintained that the group had already engaged the existing system through a submission to the National Assembly asking that the 1999 Constitution be discarded and replace with a new one.

Ezekwesili noted: “For us in #FixPolitics, we have asked the National Assembly to immediately launch a new constitutional process by first convening a national conversation that is people-led and people-centered so that Nigerians can draft a new constitution and ratify through a referendum of citizens.”

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