1999 Constitution: most criticised in Nigeria- Omo-Agege

…..As Senate passes Bills in July

By Ignatius Okorocha

The Deputy President of the Senate and Chairman, Senate Committee on Constitution Review, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, has described the 1999 Constitution as the most criticised document in the nation’s political history.

This is even as he has assured that Senate would pass the Alteration Bills before it proceeds on annual recess by July this year.

The Deputy President of the Senate gave this assurance on Monday in Abuja, during a Press Conference with the Senate correspondents, on the ongoing Constitutional amendment process.

He dismissed the fears of Nigerians, that the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, was not against restructuring and would not do anything to thwart the wishes of the people on the subject of restructuring.

The lawmaker also noted that the 1999 Constitution, which is currently undergoing alteration, was the most enduring Constitution in the country since the Independence Constitution of 1960, having lasted 22 years, and still counting.

According to him, the criticisms came majorly from Civil Society groups, Socio-Cultural groups, regional organisations, professional bodies, ethnic nationalities, other pressure groups, as well as individuals.

He further stated that the criticisms on the Constitution were varied and widespread including issues of adequate representativeness of the people of Nigeria by the Constitution, issues of federalism, devolution of powers, socio-economic rights, liberty for persons and gender equality among others.

The politician commended Nigerians for their resilience, saying that in spite of these protests and agitations against the document, the Constitution had lingered.

Omo-Agege observed that governance was anything but democratic when political leaders failed to be responsive to the sensibilities and aspirations of those who put them in office, noting that the citizens were actually the ones in power.

He explained that when his Committee commenced work, there were about 32-header 1999 Constitutional Alteration Bills, which were considered and streamlined to a 13-point frame of reference, to which the Committee requested memoranda from all the strata of the citizenry.

The DSP noted that, following from the analysis of the memoranda submitted, the issues increased to sixteen including: Gender Equity/Increased participation of Women and Vulnerable groups in governance; the Federal Structure in governance and Power Devolution, Local Government Administration/Local Government autonomy;

Public Revenue, Fiscal Federalism and Revenue Allocation; Constitutional Provision for the Establishment of State Police, Judicial Reform – Adjudication of election and pre-election matters and other justice delivery concerns.

Others are: Electoral Reforms that will make INEC deliver transparent, credible, free and fair elections, Political parties, Independent candidature and election management

Socio-economic rights as contained in Chapter II of the Constitution; Residency and indigeneship

Immunity – Removal of immunity in prima facie criminal cases, Time-line for Assent of Bills and Passage of Appropriation Bill, States and local government creation.

Also included are: Strengthening the independence of institutions like the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, Auditor- General of the Federation and Office of the Attorney General of the Federation; F.C.T. Administration, The Legislature and Legislative Bureaucracy, and Constitutional Role for Traditional Rulers.

Omo-Agege stressed that the ongoing constitution amendment process was attempt by the National Assembly to respond to these demands within the context of the powers conferred on it by the Constitution in a manner that will further strengthen our democracy.

He therefore, called on Nigerians to effectively engage the process and present their demands or recommendations for consideration by the National Assembly.

On the fears being expressed by some Nigerians that the President of the Senate was against restructuring and might use his position to negatively influence the outcome of the constitution review, the Committee Chairman said that Lawan was not against restructuring, saying that after all, he has only one vote to cast during voting on the issues being amended.

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