It was a moment of reality at the House of Representatives, when the Honourable Speaker of the house, Femi Gbajabiamila, emphatically harped on the perenial issues with the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He confessed that the constitution has frustrated the expectations of Nigerians hence, need a drastic overhaul.
The High Ranking leader of the Green Chamber stated that “a nation’s constitution is not only the foundation of its existence but is supposed to set the terms of the nationhood and define the manner that reflects her common truths and highest aspirations, the Speaker noted that “Our constitution falls short of this standard.”
He continued by making his opinion known on the document, via a press statement granted by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Lanre Lasisi. He identified the reasons for the failure of the constitution with some factors. According to him “Because the 1999 Constitution is the product of a hurried national compromise that we entered into two decades ago in order to ensure that the military returned to the barracks and that we returned to democratic government.”
Gbajabiamila who spoke in Lagos while declaring open the public hearing for the review of the said constitution, reiterated the need for the support of the people. The National Assembly according to him, will not be successful with the plan to get the constitution reviewed except if it enjoys the support of the people. That the idea of reviewing the constitution had been recommended so many times is a confirmation of the need for the people, not even when the latest action might be the most important one in the nation’s history. Any decision made at this level is capable of having far reaching effects in years to come.
He moved on by stating that there is no perfect constitution in the world but that Nigeria must strive to reach a Near to perfect one in other for her to be able to tackle the myriads of challenges before it. He further enjoined the citizens to participate in the process as their opinions shall count. He called it a rare opportunity to stem the tide of the controversies in the constitution and that had been affecting the collective destiny of the people.
The Speaker stated, “The foundational constitution of the United States of America deemed people of colour to be ‘less than’ and denied women the right to vote. It did not include any limits on the President’s term of office and allowed for citizens to be denied the right to vote for failure to pay the ‘poll tax’. Twenty-seven reviews and amendments, over one hundred years cured these and other defects.
No nation in the world has a perfect constitution, but we need a near-perfect constitution in Nigeria and we can achieve that through substantive amendments that significantly alter the character of our nation.
“Therefore, the task before us now is to use this process of review and amendment to devise for ourselves a constitution that resolves the issues of identity and political structure, of human rights and the administration of government, resource control, national security and so much else, that have fractured our nation and hindered our progress and prosperity.
“Our job is to produce a constitution that turns the page on our past, yet heeds its many painful lessons. It is not an easy task, but it is a necessary and urgent one.”
He added that “We will not be able to deliver on this historic assignment if we restrict ourselves to tinkering around the edges of the constitution or by imposing upon ourselves artificial redlines that restrict honest conversation.
“All of us in the House of Representatives will work conscientiously and in good faith so that it may be said of us in this process that we made an audacious attempt at creating for our nation a constitution that recognises our diversity and draws strength from it, and addresses once and for all, the fault lines that distract from nation-building.
“It is all too clear that many of our citizens have come to expect too little of our politics and government. We are suffering from the tyranny of low expectations and the cynicism that causes us to believe that the political process cannot produce anything worthy or worthwhile.
“I understand the causes of this cynicism, but I refuse to share in it. I still believe that politics and government in Nigeria can be a force for good and that by our common endeavour we can achieve the vision of a just, peaceful, and prosperous society.
“However, beyond these Public Hearings, you still have an opportunity to make submissions that will be considered and that will help this process achieve the best outcomes. Please, by all means, participate. Let your voice be heard, and let your vision also inform the direction of this process.
“I urge all who have come to participate here today to do so with decorum and respect for one another. Let our deliberations be well-intentioned, well informed and reflect our patriotism. In this way, we will have a most productive engagement over the next two days.”