The House of Reps has ruled out the possibility of enacting a new Constitution or re-enacting the 1963 Constitution also known as the Republican Constitution for Nigeria, insisting on the ongoing amendments to the 1999 Constitution which has been widely criticised and condemned.
Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr Benjamin Kalu, in an electronic interview with journalists on Sunday, criticised the Republican Constitution as archaic, saying the version has lost its merits when applied to the current realities in the country.
Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, had listed the issues with the 1999 Constitution presently run by Nigeria, saying the law was hurriedly put together and falls short of the required standards.
Gbajabiamila, who spoke at the public hearing organised by the House’ Special Committee on the Review of the Constitution in Lagos on June 1, 2021, had partly said, “A nation’s Constitution is the foundation of its existence. It is supposed to set the terms of our nationhood and define who we are in a manner that reflects both our common truths and highest aspirations.
“Our constitution falls short of this standard because the 1999 Constitution is the product of a hurried national compromise that we entered into two decades ago in order to ensure that the military returned to the barracks and that we returned to democratic government.”
However, Kalu, in response to the calls by regional, socio-political and cultural groups for the abolition of the 1999 Constitution and a return to the Republican Constitution, noted that the 1963 Constitution was widely credited as “representing the basic understanding and agreement upon which Nigeria’s various ethnicities and regions came together to form the federation called Nigeria shortly after independence.”
He said, “Unfortunately, several years of military rule and oversight – as seen in the process that ‘midwifed’ the 1999 Constitution – gave birth to a constitution which skewed the basic understanding of the regions and ethnicities that birthed the Nigerian nation in the first place.”
The House’ spokesman listed the merits of the 1963 Constitution “at the time.”
Kalu said, “Despite these merits of the 1963 Constitution, Nigerians must acknowledge that law is made for man and not man for the law. The 1963 Constitution was ideal for a Nigeria that had just attained its independence and was still asserting its sovereignty and freedom from British colonial influence.
“Our country, and indeed the world, has evolved from the prevailing circumstances of 58 years ago and as such, we must focus on improving the current constitution rather than adopting a 6-decade old constitution.
“We must also acknowledge the fact that the 1963 Constitution was an imperfect document that had certain demerits.
“Rather than replacing the 1999 Constitution with an archaic one, I am strongly of the opinion that a comparative analysis of the merits and demerits of both constitutions must be had in order to adopt that which worked from 1963 and expunge that which does not work in the current constitution.”
He added, “While the calls for a total constitutional overhaul are valid and understandable, we must acknowledge that the situation in Nigeria demands a quick review of the constitution as opposed to a total overhaul, for want of time.
“A review of the constitution has become necessary in the face of growing insecurity and threats exposing the fragility of the Nigerian state. Fortunately, the 9th House of Representatives has severally affirmed its commitment to reviewing the 1999 Constitution in line with the yearnings of Nigerians.
“In exercise of the powers conferred on the Legislature by Sections 4, 8 and 9 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Amended) and Order 18, Rule 9 of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives (9th Edition), the House of Representatives’ Special Committee on Constitution Review is currently considering over 30 constitutional alteration bills.”
According to the House’ spokesman, the bills fall under broad thematic areas such as electoral matters, local government autonomy, judiciary, fundamental rights and gender equity, immunity, indigeneship and residence, devolution of power, strengthening the independence of institutions, traditional institutions, states and local government creation; and legislature and legislative bureaucracy.
“Nigerians are urged to embrace the constitutional review process and seize the opportunity of the public hearings to make their contributions to the review,” Kalu added.