Honourable Speakers and Members,
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is with great pleasure that, on behalf of the Senate Ad-hoc Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, I welcome you all to the Zonal Public Hearing of the Committee on proposals for the alteration of the 1999 Constitution, held simultaneously across all the six geopolitical zones of our dear country.
For those who have followed previous Constitutional Review exercises, you may be wondering why these Zonal Hearings are coming ahead of the National Public Hearing. The reason is not far-fetched; the Senate has decided to adopt a bottom-top approach by first listening to Nigerians at the geopolitical level. This approach underscores the critical importance the Constitution Review Committee places on the subnational levels of governance in Nigeria. Surely, and without a doubt, the success of the Committee’s review process will be dependent on your beneficent support and partnership. You are indeed the pillar on which the Committee’s work is to be anchored. That is why we deem it prudent to meet with you first. In other words, this exercise is your exercise and I implore you all to embrace and own it.
At the commencement of this 9th Senate, we had set for ourselves a legislative agenda as a basis on which we are to be assessed. Sitting prominently in that agenda is the need to address, by way of Constitutional Amendments, topical issues like Judicial and Electoral Reforms, Local Government Autonomy, and devolution of powers. You will agree with me that if we get those items through constitutional processes of alteration successfully then our Constitutional Democracy will be set on the right pedestal, and ultimately, Nigeria will take its pride of place among the enviable constitutional democracies in the world. It is therefore with great pleasure that I convey the intention of the Senate to leverage on this constitutional review exercise to achieve as many milestones as possible in one fell swoop.
Let me also remind our fellow patriots, countrymen and women, that a Constitution Review represents a critical phase in our development and advancement as a nation. So far, we have had over two decades of constitutional rule, under the 1999 Constitution. This is an important feat, and we commend ourselves as a country, even if we are not where we aspire to be. As a living document, the Constitution, and to a large extent, our constitutional democracy, need to be reviewed from time to time. Just as in our day to day lives, we take stock of the past and plan for the future, so it must be with the nation. Indeed, this ongoing review provides a platform for the good people of Nigeria to express their opinions on the fundamental law that governs our lives through proposals that will lead to the highest good for the greatest number of our people. No doubt, we are going to have diverse and differing views on the different themes of the exercise. However, the focus for this Committee is how to manage the review exercise in a fair, inclusive, credible, and transparent manner.
Public Hearings are critical to participatory democracy and indispensable in a Constitution amendment exercise – if the Constitution is to be seen as the people’s Constitution. These Zonal Public Hearings have been designed in such a manner as to give citizens greater opportunities to make inputs more than ever before in the Constitution amendment process. This is in line with the 9th Senate commitment to organise an amendment process that is informed by the public good, is inclusive and supported by a modicum of consensus, not dominated by destructive or short-term motives and free from manipulations by self-interested or partisan state and non-state actors.
The Senate Committee on the Review of the Constitution is mindful of the recurring clamour for constitutional amendment or review over the years. Since the return to constitutional democracy in 1999, many have argued that the 1999 Constitution is not a people’s constitution. In other words, it has been argued that it was written and forced down on us by the military without any input from “We, the people”.
There are developmental challenges in our country. Many argue that these challenges are due to several factors, which include history, culture, natural endowments, and politics. We have a compelling duty to carefully address every challenge to this nation and there is no better way to do it than through this constitution amendment exercise.
Undoubtedly, this places on us, the Senate and our counterparts in the House of Representatives, a herculean task of giving the people a Constitution that speaks to these challenges and one which our citizens can truly call their own. Although this review is not an attempt at writing an entirely new constitution, and we do not pretend to do so, it allows us to bring it closer to that which the people desire and to ensure active participation and input from all. This is the crux of the zonal public hearings.
So far, the Senate Committee on Constitution Review has received a lot of memoranda on a broad range of issues and proposals. We have also been referred to Bills from Distinguished Senators which seek to improve the constitution by providing clarity on some existing constitutional provisions while some are entirely new introductions seeking to respond to contemporary governance issues. The Committee has also been tasked with revisiting some of the amendments proposed in past exercises which did not scale through all the hurdles of the constitution amendment such as concurrence with the House of Representatives, ratification by State Houses of Assembly and the requirement for Presidential assent. We have painstakingly re-examined those bills and reintroduced some of those proposals we deem beneficial to our people. We are looking at them to determine at what stage of the process they fell off the list and the reasons thereof, to improve them to suit the demands of our time and ensure that they do not suffer the same fate.
Fellow Nigerians; distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I wish to assure you most sincerely, that the memoranda you have already submitted and those that may come forward arising from this hearing and all the deliberations and engagements that will come forth from them will not only enjoy critical consideration by this Committee, but they will be the lodestar of our work as a Committee. I encourage and implore all of us here today, irrespective of political affiliations and Nigerians both at home and in the diaspora to support the Senate, and indeed the National Assembly, in our desire to bring positive transformations to our country. I, therefore, invite you all to participate actively at this Public Hearing so that together we can bequeath our Nation with a people-centred constitution.
Before concluding this welcome address, I immensely thank Your Excellencies for your invaluable support and especially our host for our team’s very warm reception. Let me also place on record my profound appreciation for the untiring efforts of all my distinguished colleagues in planning this Zonal Public Hearing.
I wish to also thank all Honourable Members of the House of Representatives, Hon. Speakers and Members of State Houses of Assembly here present for your immense contributions towards hosting these Zonal Hearings. Our development partners and Civil Societies Organisations who have mobilised to be here are highly appreciated. Finally, we are grateful to our Consultants and secretariat who worked so hard to ensure that we conduct this hearing successfully.
Once again, on behalf of the Senate Committee on Constitution Review, I welcome you all to this Zonal Public Hearing.
Thank you for your attention.
Chief Whip of the Senate/Southeast Zonal Chairman (Owerri Center) Senator Orji Uzor Kalu on behalf of the Deputy President of the Senate, Federal Republic of Nigeria and Chairman, Senate Committee on Constitution Review SENATOR OVIE OMO-AGEGE.