Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, yesterday, dashed the hopes of advocates of Nigeria’s return to the parliamentary system of government, insisting that lawmakers cannot swap the 1999 Constitution with the 1963 Republican Constitution in the ongoing constitution review process. Omo-Agege who chairs the Senate Adhoc Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, made this position known when the Steering Committee of the Constitution Review Committee, hosted the Eminent Elders’ Forum, which visited the National Assembly.
The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF), comprising four major socio-cultural organisations and political pressure groups, have been demanding for a brand new constitution or a return to the suspended 1963 Constitution. Omo-Agege explained that the clamour by various groups, including Eminent Elders’ Forum to have the 1999 Constitution swapped with 1963 Constitution, was outside the jurisdiction of the National Assembly, pointing out that the lawmakers could only amend the current constitution in piecemeal.
The procedures for amending the 1999 Constitution are clearly spelt out. It requires a lot of reaching out and lobbying. It is your job to reach out to other stakeholders. You will need to win over as many lawmakers as possible both at the national and state levels. So, you have your work cut out for you”, he said. Coordinator of the Forum, Professor Echefuna Onyeabadi, had, earlier in his address, called for the adoption of the 1963 Constitution which was in use before the January 15, 1966 military intervention in the politics of the country.
The Constitution, which was developed by the founding fathers of Nigeria, was styled after the Westminster Parliamentary system of the United Kingdom. According to Onyeabadi, all the previous models of Constitution adopted by successive administrations after the military relinquished powers to civilians in 1979 have not worked successfully.
“We took time to look at all the constitutions we have had in this country and it was resolved by our body that the best way to go about it is to retrace our steps to the Constitution that the founding leaders of this country handed over to us. “At Independence, we had a Constitution which was slightly amended in 1963 and was just in operation for only three years before the military struck. Thereafter, we abandoned that model completely and we have been experimenting with different types of governance. And experience has shown that all the models we have adopted subsequently are not working well for us as a country,” he said. Onyeabadi pointed out that the country is currently running a unitary system of government and not federalism.
The Eminent Elders’ Forum comprises over 300 elder statesmen who have served Nigeria in different capacities. Among them are former Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ibrahim Mantu; former governor of Niger State, Alhaji Babangida Aliyu and media mogul, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi, among others. Those who joined Senator Omo-Agege to welcome the guests include: Senate Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi; Minority Lead er, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe; Deputy Whip, Senator Sabi Abdullahi; Deputy Minority Whip, Senator Saabi Yau; Deputy Minority Leader, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha as well as Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Michael Opeyemi Bamidele. Meanwhile, the Senate Adhoc Committee on Constitution Review has disclosed that it will release the schedule of events for the forthcoming public hearings on amendment of the constitution by next week.
It also said that the subcommittees of the panel are expected to submit their reports by next week. Senator Omo-Agege urged Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora who have already submitted their memoranda to the panel to be prepared to speak to such documents at the forthcoming event.
“By next week, our schedule of events for the public hearings will be made public. We will have a national public hearing very soon. And, thereafter, we will have the zonal public hearings. In some of the zones, we decided that we will have at least two zonal hearings.
“All memoranda must have been considered by our subcommittees. In about a week, they will make returns to us, having perused thoroughly the contents of submissions by others. They will make recommendations to us and we will take it from there” he said, adding ,“Let me also state that the constitution review exercise is a very tedious one. It is not a tea party by any means.