October 26, 2021

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Discordant tunes trail legality of 1999 constitution

The two-day national public hearing on the review of the 1999 constitution ended on Friday, with various stakeholders expressing divergent views on the legality of the law book and desirability for a new one.

While representatives of the six south-south states under the umbrella of BRADEC United Peoples Assembly described the 1999 Constitution as illegal and a contraption not desirable by the majority of Nigerians, the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, said it was only a court of competent jurisdiction that could set aside the constitution as illegal.

Responding to BRADEC’s submission that making of a new constitution is possible through the elected representatives in the National Assembly, Omo-Agege advised the body to approach the court and stop the implementation of the constitution.

Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mike Ozekjome, a member of BRADEC, who made a personal presentation on the second day of the Senate public hearing, said the 1999 Constitution is an illegal document that should be jettisoned rather than decorating it with series of amended clauses.

“No amount of amendment can make illegality, legal,” Ozekhome said.

He, however, called on the Senate committee to adopt various recommendations of past consultative bodies and memoranda submitted during the zonal hearings in commencing the process for a new constitution.

Reacting to Omo-Agege’s submission on Thursday that the National Assembly lacks the powers to set the entire 1999 Constitution aside and birth a new document, the Senior Advocate said the “1999 Constitution was hurriedly compiled from the schedules of Decree 4 by the military.

“The constitution is a unitary document which over concentrated powers at the centre in a federation.”

‘Not amendment’

Ozekhome described the 1999 Constitution as “an illegitimate child”, arguing that no amount of amendments will give it legitimacy.

“You cannot put something on nothing”, he told the panel.

Similarly, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Tom Ikimi, faulted the remarks by Omo-Agege that the Nigerian people cannot have a brand new constitution even when it is widely accepted that the 1999 Constitution is seriously flawed.

He said while it may not be feasible to immediately have a new constitution; the National Assembly can begin the process now.

Responding, the Deputy Senate President urged Ozekhome and those agitating for a new constitution to first seek the amendment to Section 9 of the 1999 Constitution before commencing the process of having a new constitution.

Senator Opeyemi Bamidele (APC Ekiti) said though having a new constitution is desirable, the current situation and letters of the constitution does not allow for it.

He advised those clamouring for a new constitution to sit back and look at the process to be involved.

The senator urged all Nigerians to allow the ongoing process be concluded while there will be an opportunity for further review as the amendment is a continuous process.

People’s alteration

Omo-Agege, in his closing remarks, assured that all the presentations both at national and zonal public hearings will be taken into account by the committee to make the alteration, a people’s alteration.

He said: “Because of the serious agitations from stakeholders, we respect most especially the enactment clause of the 1999 constitution to the effect that says ‘we the people of Nigeria enacted this constitution’.

“For those who have a problem with that, this is an opportunity we have provided to make the alteration a people’s alteration.”

The chairman, however advised those that made submissions not to rest on their oars but reach out to their elected representatives in both the state and federal levels, who, he said, were among the major stakeholders to bring the constitution review exercise to a fruitful conclusion.

“Whatever positions you have advocated, depending on how much you feel strongly about it, reach out to your legislators,” he added.