Can National Assembly uphold public opinion?

The House of Representatives has collated the views of Nigerians on the proposed constitution review across the 360 constituencies. But can the amendment reflect public opinion? ask Victor Oluwasegun and Dele Anofi.


On November 10, last year,the House of Representatives organised public hearings across the 360 constituencies on the proposed constitution amendment. Following the sessions, 43 items were identifiesd as the most important issues germane to the proposed amendment.

These issues include the immunity for the President and members of the Federal Executive Council, Sovereign National Conference SNC), state police and true federalism. Others are tenure of office holders, state creation, autonomy for Houses of Assembly, financial autonomy for the local government, indigeneship and citizenship and Diaspora voting.

When the Emeka Ihedioha-led Constitution Review Committee kicked off the assignment on April 18, many Nigerians doubted the sincerity of the legislators.

However, the Deputy Speaker assured them that, not only would the people be carried along, the amendment would reflect their wishes.

Now that the collated views have been presented to the House by the committe, the fear has resurfaced again. Will the views collated by the House form the main thrust of the constitution amendment?

At the presentation, Ihedioha ruled out the manipulation of the public opinion, stressing that the collated views would not be doctored or tampered with.

The National Assembly only approached the people with items that they felt were of utmost importance. No addition was permitted at the public hearing. Of the 43 items, 24 were considered by the people and 19 discarded. For instance, the decision of the people that Section 197(1) (b) be amended to abolish the State Independent Electoral Commission so that all elections are conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission is still being frowned at some quarters. This is Item 3 on the list.

Also, Item 13 generated ripples. While some felt that unelected local government should be denied funding, others felt that it would inflict pains on the grassroots. Item 13 was also an emotional issue. There was disagreement over whether the states should create councils without approval by the National Assembly.

According to the committee, state police was rejected by 307 constituencies. The question was: “Should Section 214(1) be amended to enable the establishment of a state police”. 292 constituencies said that the country should maintain the current police structure and system as in the Constitution.

The rotational presidency advocated by some Nigerians was defeated as 275 constituencies rejected the proposal that a provision be inserted in the constitution for the rotation of the Office of President between the North and South. In addition, 210 constituencies opposed the proposal that the Office of President should rotate among the six geo-political zones. On the other hand, 147 said yes and three refrained from voting.

The voting pattern may not dissuade the advocates of zoning. Analysts contend that the verdict of thye constituencies may not silence them too long.

In the report, one resolution stands out. This is contained in Item 8. Many Nigerians insisted that Sections 81 and 121(1) of the Constitution should be amended to require the President and governors to prepare and lay the annual budget before the Parliament, at least, three months before the end of a financial year. Hailing this resolution, many legislators said that it would avert budget failure.

Across the constituencies, indigeneship generated passion. But the majority voted that indigeneship should be defined to include the persons who have resided in an area for a long period and these Nigerians should be entitled to the rights, duties and privileges of citizenship. Many observers believe that this limit the tension and conflict between indigenes and settlers. However, in Southwest, traditional rulers have cautioned that rights for settlers have limitation adding that they cannot aspire to traditional thrones.

Predictably, many constituencies voted for financial autonomy for the local governments. They canvassed the abrogation of the State/Local Government Joint Accounts.

However, members of the civil society groups have pointed out that the House had manipulated the public hearings to elicit pre- determined responses to the items.

An example is Item 36, which asks the question:“Should the derivation component of revenue allocation be increased to, at least, 20 percent? 224 constituencies voted against it, 125 favoured the proposal and 11 abstained.

On state creation, there were antagonistic answers. Many constituencies that would not benefit from the exercise voted against it.

The analysis shows that 205 constituencies voted ‘Yes’, 14 voted for one state, five voted for two states, 32 voted for six states, seven voted for seven states, 22 voted for 12 states, three voted for 13 states, and 13 voted for 14 states.

Furthermore, one constituency voted for 16 states, 107 constituencies voted ‘Yes’, 133 voted ‘No’ and 22 were undecided.

Item 15 possed a challenging question: “Should the Second Schedule, Part 1 be amended so that some of the items, including those listed below be moved from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent List – (a) Fingerprints, identification and criminal records; (b) Insurance; (c) Labour, etc; (d) Prisons; (e) Public holidays; (f) Railways. (g) Bankruptcy and Insolvency (h) Registration of births and deaths. There were multiple answers.

According to the report, 170 constituencies voted ‘Yes’. 10 voted for sub-section (a) alone, 15 voted for sub-section (b) alone, 11 voted for subsection (c) alone, 10 voted for subsection (d) alone and 12 voted (e) alone.

Similarly, 15 constituencies – voted for subsection (f) alone, 6 (g) alone and 34 subsection (h) alone. while 57 Federal Constituencies wholesomely voted ‘Yes’, 181 voted ‘No’ and 9 were undecided.

However, Nigerians achieved consensus on some points. They supported the amendment of the Section 308 of the Constitution alter the immunity for the President, Vice President, governors and deputy governors, except on civil proceedings.

The rejection of immunity by Nigerians contrasted with the clamour for immunity by the federal legislators. In the House of Representatives, the two consolidated bills on immunity have passed through the second reading.

The bills, which were sponsored by the Chairman of the House Committee on Justice, Hon. Ali Ahmed, and Hon. Ralph Igbokwe, were consolidated, passed and subsequently referred to the ad hoc committee on the Review of the Constitution. Could the House be working at cross purposes with the wishes of the Nigerians?, many have asked.

House of Representatives members who spke with our correspondents have clarified that the immunity being sought by the legislators would not insulate them from criminal proceedings.

The proposed constitution may enhance wider participation in governance. This has reflected in the push for constitutional roles for the traditional rulers. 202 constituencies voted in favour of the proposal, 155 were against it and three abstained.

Applauding the committee, the Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly, Senator Joy Emordi, said that the outcome of the public session has negated the calls for a national conference.

She lauded the decision on the state creation, presentation of the budget proposal to the National Assembly three months before the end of the fiscal year, release of funds for unelected local councils, and the state electoral commission. Emordi observed that, if these issues are resolved, there may be no need for a Sovereign National Conference

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA)’s representative, Charles Edosomwan, who is also the Chairman of the body’s Constitution Review committee, warned that the result should not be taken wholesome, since it was based on voting.

He however, expressed optimism that the proposed constitution would be based on consensus.

The public hearings and collation were laced with flaws. But political analysts have commended the House for the steps taken so far. The question is: will the final decision of the House on the constitution review reflect the wishes of the people?


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