News that the National Assembly has adopted the 2014 national conference report for constitution review is heart-warming and raises the hope that the N9 billion worth of public document and an incalculable emotional, patriotic investment will not be a waste, after all.
The decision of the legislators is in sharp contrast to the curious opposition of the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to the implementation of the report.
President Muhammadu Buhari had said in his first ever media chat on national television early this year that he had not read the public document which his predecessor submitted to him in a remarkable ceremony at the State House shortly before handing over. And, in a most disdainful tone, Buhari said the document would be confined to the national archives.
Though there hasn’t been any concomitant endorsement by the Senate, the position of the House of Representatives on the conference recommendations is heart-warming. Even so, it is expected that the Senate will not work at cross-purposes with the House of Representatives on an issue of great national importance. While adopting the document, the House had said that it was persuaded the 2014 national conference report actually contained some useful suggestions that could move the country forward.
Another laudable construct in the report-adoption stance is the inherent hope that both proponents and opponents of the report can now come over to the National Assembly to engage the lawmakers on all issues. A member of the committee was actually quoted as saying that the adoption of the conference report is “an endorsement of the work of the elders and patriots who were paid from the national coffers to sit and discuss our common project.”
Therefore, as the clamour for restructuring gets more traction, the representatives of the people should show genuine commitment to the 2014 Conference Report as part of the working documents, especially in the absence of a referendum on the issues raised in the report. In fact, this is a shorter route to referendum that many people have suggested. Meanwhile, the National Assembly leadership should avoid being partisan and do all within its power to get the Federal Government and leadership of the ruling party to be part of the review of the constitution in a way that will deliver justice to all.
Specifically, instead of issuing summons to the executive arm of government, the legislature should persuade it to be part of history-making by adopting the document.
The current constitution derived from the military which had been part of the political leadership since 1966 when it struck and suspended a parliamentary democracy that was running a working federation. The succeeding military regimes after the collapse of democracy in 1966 imposed a unitary government through a unification decree (decree no.34).
Everybody, except, perhaps the ruling elite knows that Nigeria is not working as it should. A new constitution, not even a mere amendment that will derive from the people is exactly what is needed to restore Nigeria to federalism. We have been in this business of getting a new constitution since 1999 when this democracy began. For instance, apart from Confabs in 2005 and 2014, the National Assembly too has spent not less than N9 billion on constitution reviews purported to achieve this restoration.
The prayer now is for this latest effort to make a difference and birth the much-desired federal constitution for Nigeria. Records show that the first attempt at reworking the constitution was by the Fifth Assembly. It cost about N2.5 billion.
The second exercise was initiated by the David Mark-led Sixth National Assembly and more than N3 billion reportedly went into it.
Nothing was clearly achieved and there was a seventh attempt for which the highest amount of N4 billion was spent.
Now the Eighth National Assembly (NASS) is on the same path but with a different approach having agreed in principle to adopt the 2014 conference report. This is most commendable.
All that Nigerians expect is a rigorous examination of the 2014 Confab report and an adoption of its recommendations that will terminate the unending business of constitution review in Nigeria.