December 2, 2021

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Why we cannot produce a new constitution — Senate

  • Yadudu kicks as Ezekwesili wants referendum

The Senate, on Thursday, ruled out the possibility of giving Nigerians a new constitution despite agitations for a new law.

Stakeholders, including Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, among others, are calling for a new constitution that will capture the agitations of many Nigerians, instead of amending the 1999 Constitution which, they said, has outlived its usefulness.

They said the 1999 Constitution cannot sufficiently address the socio-economic challenges currently pummeling the nation.

But speaking at a national public hearing on the alteration to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution in Abuja, Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege said it would be unconstitutional to embark on any process to provide an entirely new law without prior alteration to Section 9 of the 1999 Constitution.

Omo-Agege said: “Now, some of our compatriots have urged that rather than amending the constitution, we should make a new constitution altogether. We respect this opinion, and we believe it is the most desirable proposition.

“However, we are conducting this exercise in accordance with the extant legal order, which is the 1999 Constitution.

“Specifically, Section 9 of the constitution empowers the National Assembly to alter the provisions of the constitution and prescribes how it is to be done.

“Unfortunately, it does not make similar provisions or provide the mechanism for replacing or re-writing an entirely new constitution.

“To embark on any process without prior alteration of Section 9 of the constitution to provide the mode through which an entirely new constitution could be made would amount to gross violation of our oath of allegiance to the constitution.”

But a former Minister of Education, Obi Ezekwesili, insisted at the hearing that the production of a brand new constitution remained the only way to address the nation’s social, political and economic crises.

She urged the constitution review panel to consider just one amendment to the law which would only provide for a referendum to produce a brand new constitution.

Referendum not recognised as means to change our constitution — Yadudu

A foremost constitution lawyer, Professor Auwalu Yadudu, has said contrary to the current clamouring, referendum is not recognised as a means to change Nigeria’s constitution.

He said this on Thursday in his presentation before the Special Committee of the House of Representatives on the review of the 1999 Constitution sitting in Kano for the North-west zone consisting of Kano, Kaduna, Katsina and Jigawa states.

Yadudu, who served as the legal adviser to the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, opined that Section 9 of the constitution has spelt out explicit rules to govern specific steps to follow to alter its provisions.

“I am satisfied that the procedure for any alteration does not envisage or recognize “referendum” as a mechanism for bringing about any change to the existing constitution or the adoption of a new one,” he said.

Yadudu, who is the Deputy Chairman of the 2014 Confab Committee on Law, Judiciary, Human Rights and Law Reform, stressed that recommendation for the adoption of the Report and Draft Amendments to the 1999 Constitution as proposed by the 2014 Confab for a restructured Nigeria via referendum is faulty.

“Since a referendum is designed to present two clear choices of ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, What issue or issues will be canvassed for adoption or rejection during the referendum? Are we going to put Nigerians to a choice between the much-touted 1963 Republican constitution, with its Westminster parliamentary system and four regions, against the 1999 Constitution?

“It should also be pointed out that there does not exist any Act of Parliament or Rules of Procedure in Nigeria that would enable any organ or under which to conduct a referendum and no agency of government is empowered by law to carry out same,” he stated.

CAN wants return to 1963 Constitution

Meanwhile, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has said that the country should return to the 1963 Republican Constitution, with a Confederation of Independent regions or Federation of states or regions.

The President of the association, Dr. Samson Ayokunle, while speaking in Abuja at a news conference, said the ongoing constitutional amendment should adopt the 1963 Republican constitution as a panacea to the multifaceted challenges confronting the country.

By Abdullateef Salau, Abbas Jimoh (Abuja) & Clement A. Oloyede (Kano)