The Senate has said it cannot give Nigeria a brand new constitution, as demanded by some socio-political and cultural organisations in the country.
This was made known yesterday, June 3, by Deputy President of the Senate and Chairman, Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, Senator Ovie Omo- Agege (APC, Delta Central), at the opening of a two- day National Public Hearing on the further Alteration to the Provisions of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, in Abuja.
He said though the Senate respects the opinion of some persons who want a new constitution, a section of the constitution does not give the National Assembly the powers to produce a brand new constitution.
He however stated that the best it could do was to amend the existing one as it was currently doing.
It will be recalled that the Southern and Middle Belt Forum had repeatedly argued that the National Assembly was wasting its time amending the present constitution, contending that what the country needs is a new constitution written by the people.
‘NASS has no powers to issue new constitution’, he said.
Omo-Agege, who assured Nigerians that the committee would be guided strictly by best legislative practices, highest ethical standards, integrity, open mindedness, and patriotism, however, implored every one, irrespective of political leanings and other affiliations, to abide by the same standards in their contributions.
Omo-Agege said he is of the strong conviction that it is the desire of every Nigerian that the ongoing process produce positive transformations to our country, adding that all hands should be on deck to enable the 9th National Assembly bequeath to the country a constitution that speaks to every citizen’s yearnings and aspirations.
He said, “Now, some of our compatriots have urged that rather than amend the constitution, we should make a new constitution all together.
“We respect this opinion, and we believe it is a 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 the manner in which it is to be done.
“Unfortunately, it does not make similar provision or provide 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, will amount to gross violation of our oath of allegiance to the constitution.
“Fresh amendment needed for new constitution”.
“In other words, it will take a new constitutional amendment to be able to give Nigerians a most desired new constitution. It would be unconstitutional to do otherwise.
“Cognisant of the truth that the will of the people is the foundation of any democratic and open society, the Senate places high value on public participation in the law-making process.
“And I assure you, this committee is strongly committed to its obligations to facilitate public involvement in the constitution review process. “That is why we have, from the commencement of the process, invited written submissions from citizens, governmental organizations, interest groups, socio-cultural organizations and civil society organisations and subsequently held zonal public hearings.
“Today, this national public hearing is testament to that commitment, and provides another opportunity for citizens to be actively involved by contributing to decisions that will undoubtedly have impact on their lives.
“So far, the committee is immensely impressed with the public response to the constitution amendment exercise, and we are eager to repay the confidence of Nigerians by ensuring that the final product reflects the inputs citizens have made to the process.
“As I have stated repeatedly since inception of this committee, Nigerian citizens are the pillar upon which the committee’s work is anchored, and the success of the amendment process will largely depend on their beneficent support and partnership.
“In addition to the memoranda the committee has received on a broad range of issues, we have also studied and engaged a select group of competent and non-partisan consultants to further examine specific recommendations from the reports of the 2014 National Conference and the All-Progressives Congress (APC) Committee on True Federalism requiring constitution amendment for implementation.
“The committee has also revisited some of the bills in past constitution amendment exercises which did not pass the hurdles of concurrence with the House of Representatives, ratification by State Houses of Assembly and Presidential assent. “We have painstakingly re-examined those bills and reintroduced some of the 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, with a view to improving on them to suit the demands of our time and ensuring that they do not suffer the same fate.
“As we work towards an inclusive amendment process underpinned by the public good, free from manipulations by self-interested or partisan actors and not dominated by destructive or short-term motives, I encourage you all to make your inputs with candour and guided very importantly by national interest. We are ready to listen closely to every view and reflect on every proposal and give due consideration to every contribution.”