Nigeria became an internationally recognised independent nation in 1960 and has since then had series of constitutions in the past which include the colonial era constitutions (1914-1960), Independence Constitution (1960), Republican Constitution (1963), Second Republic constitution Constitution (1979- 1983), aborted Third Republic Constitution (1992-1993) and the Fourth Republic Constitution (1999 to date).
The current constitution was enacted on May 29, 1999, when the Nigerian fourth republic was inaugurated.
When the senate president, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, was elected president of the senate on June 9, 2015, he promised that he will rigorously work with his colleagues in the 8th senate for the betterment of all Nigerians. His promise reflects Thomas Jefferson’s (the third president of the United States of America from 1801 to 1809) political philosophy. The American hero had articulated “the best government to be that which governs least”, he was equally convinced that “the welfare of the whole is the proper purpose of the state”.
Saraki had always strived to ensure that every promise he made as leader of the senate were kept and one of the memorable and citizen-driven steps the senate had taken is the timely and successful completion of the constitution review process.
The constitution review is very significant in a rapidly changing Nigeria. Nigeria has reached a stage where the need for constitution review became imperative. For any amendment of the constitution to take place, the sections proposed for amendment must first be presented and adopted by two-thirds of all members of both the senate and house of representatives. Then, two-third of the 36 states house of assembly. This means the endorsement by 24 state houses of assembly before the final stage of signing it into law by executive.
The importance of the constitution amendment reflects in the various bills that have been adopted by 2/3 members of the senate and house of representatives. The bills if they finally become law will have a far-reaching impact on Nigeria and will foster enormous progress and development.
The Nigerian senate reviewed and considered 33 bills from the report of the committee on constitution review led by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu. Out of the 33 bills that were presented, 29 bills were adopted. The bills presented include: bill 1: members of the council of state, bill 2: authorisation of expenditure; bill 3: devolution of power; bill 4: financial autonomy of state legislature; bill 5: distributable account for local governments to have their own special account; bill 6: democratic existence funding and tenure of local government council; bill 7: state creation and boundary adjustment; bill 8: immunity for legislators in acts in course of duty; bill 9: political parties and electoral matters: time to conduct bye elections and power to deregister parties; bill 10: presidential assent; bill 11: the time frame for the submission of ministerial nominees with their portfolios; bill 11b: submission of ministerial nominees with their portfolios; bill 11c: thirty-five percent (35%) affirmative action for women as ministers; bill 11d: submission of commissioners nominees with their portfolios; bill 11e: submission of names of office of commissioners shall be attached with portfolios; bill11f: thirty-five (35%) affirmative action for women as state commissioners; bill 12: appointment of minister from the FCT; bill 13: change of names of some local government councils; bill 14: independent candidacy; bill 15: the Nigeria police force to become the Nigerian police; bill 16: restriction of the tenure of the president and governor; bill 17: establishment of accountant general of the federal government different from accountant general of the federation; bill 18: separation of office of the attorney general from the minster/commissioner of justice; bill 19: separation of the office of attorney general from the minster/commissioner of justice; bill 20: submissions from judiciary; bill 21: determination of pre-election matters; bill 22: consequential amendment on civil defence; bill 23: citizenship and indigeneship; bill 24: procedure for overriding presidential veto in constitution alteration; bill 25: removal of law making powers from the executive arms; bill 26: investment and securities tribunal; bill 27: reduction of age for election; bill 28: authorization of expenditure time frame for laying appropriation bill, passage, etc; bill 29: deletion of the national youth service corps decree from the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria; bill 30: deletion of public complaint acts; bill 31: deletion of the national security agencies from the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria; bill 32: deletion of land use act from the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria and bill 33: deletion of state independent national electoral commission (SIEC) from the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The senate voted to retain the Land Use Act in the constitution. The devolution of power to states bill, the state creation and boundary adjustment bill and the 35% affirmative action for women as ministers and state commissioners bill were all rejected.
The constitution review has opened a new chapter in the history of Nigeria and in a democratic government where the welfare of the whole is the proper purpose of the national assembly, the federal, state and local governments.
The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was drawn up by the military without the involvement and participation of the citizenry and so many problems have arisen in its implementation because of the fundamental flaws including agitations for secession.
Saraki promised that the 8th senate under his leadership will review the constitution and make necessary amendments. That promise has been kept! The senate made history with the constitution review exercise with the timing or content of the exercise that was carried out with a view to making a far-reaching reform of our political, economic and social development.
Saraki said that through the amendments, the budget process of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has been redefined. The issues that have held Nigeria down for many years have been addressed. The senate addressed the issue of saving money earned by the federation which has been an issue in Nigeria for many years. The fact that as a nation, Nigeria now has a constitution that makes it paramount for the country to save for the rainy days is a major step taken through this just concluded amendment process. The national assembly also by the constitution amendment showed members’ commitment to the fight against corruption by providing for separation and financial autonomy for the offices of the accountant general, auditor-general and particularly, the attorney general.
According to Saraki, more importantly, the senate has introduced constitutional provisions that would help the judiciary to achieve timely dispensation of Justice. With the passage of the 29 bills, the senate has laid a new foundation for a new Nigeria that will be more committed, create opportunities for young people and place Nigeria firmly among the nations of the world that are really prepared for the next age.
Saraki, just like Thomas Jefferson, believes that morality, compassion, generosity, are innate elements of the human constitution that there exists a right independence of force; that a right to property is founded in our natural wants, in the means with which we are endowed to satisfy these wants, and the right to what we acquire by those means without violating the similar rights of other sensible beings; that no one has a right to obstruct another; that justice is the fundamental Law of society; that the majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundation of society; that a government by representation is capable of extension over a greater surface of the country than one of any other form.
This is a major step to give Nigerians a workable constitution. Once the proposed amendment bill is signed into law, Nigeria will be reborn. It will reignite the patriotic spirit of citizens and make leaders to develop and maintain strategic focus on their leadership trajectories for Nigeria to become one of the most adorable countries in the world and by completing this task well ahead of 2019 elections, Saraki and his colleagues have written their names in the good side of the history books.
– Omishore is the special assistant on new media to the senate president.