Leading Civil Society group, Human Rights Writers Association Of Nigeria (HURIWA), has criticised the National Assembly for always subjecting the national constitution to amendments by all the sessions of the previous and current national legislatures.
In a statement by the National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers Association Of Nigeria (HURIWA), Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, and made available to NIM, it said the lawmakers were devaluing the essence of the Nigerian Constitution.
HURIWA said constitution amendments is not the regular mandate of the National Assembly, as the national legislature had its job cut out for it including the massive tasks of providing oversight supervision to ministries and agencies of government.
The rights group said “The Nigerian Constitution just like the USA constitution should be a tested, trusted and long lasting democratic heritage that shouldn’t be devalued unnecessary through vexatious and frequent amendments”.
While stressing that the frequent amendments to the Nigerian constitution has remained one of the items that brings international opprobrium to Nigeria, given that democracies Worldwide do not amend their national constitutions whimsically, HURIWA said since Nigeria borrowed aspects of her presidential system from the USA, it would be necessary to ensure that the constitution remained timeless
“Vexed by the simplistic underrating of the national constitution by law makers and for the obvious fact that members of each sessions of the national legislature since 1999 have often seen constitutional amendment as a ‘trading commodity’ whereby the committee members share generous sitting allowances and gallivant all over the nooks and crannies of the nation at massive expenses to Nigeria, HURIWA has called for an end to this legislative charade”, the statement read.
HURIWA proposed a legislation to halt the amendments of the constitution after the on-going amendment by the 10th session of the National Assembly, and advocated that provision be included in the yet to be amended version of the extant constitution, to stop further amendments once the ongoing amendment by the 10th session of the National Assembly is over, before 2027.
The group regretted that the federal parliament had from the 5th to the current 10th National Assembly made several attempts to amend some provisions of the 1999 Constitution to no avail.
HURIWA added that “It is generally observed by Nigerians that at every session, the parliament officially spends N1 billion shared equally between the Senate and the House of Representatives, recalling media reports that the lawmakers spend more than what is appropriated for the exercise.
“HURIWA Condemns the legislators for doing very tardy and substandard amendments deliberately to prolong and turn constitutional amendments into a juicy assignments for all the sessions of the National Assembly, because it is inconceivable why some amendments were successful in the past, but due to poor legislative drafting, several others suffered serial failures but kept appearing in new proposals”.
“HURIWA believes that considering the huge spending, it is therefore criminal that no significant amendments could be said to have been made to address the yearnings of Nigerians. We note with regret that the first attempt at amending the 1999 Constitution failed woefully in the 5th National Assembly under the chairmanship of former Deputy Senate President Ibrahim Mantu and Deputy Speaker Austin Okpara”.
“Understandably, the ill-fated exercise failed when an attempt was made to smuggle the purported third term agenda of then President Olusegun Obasanjo, when the lawmakers discovered that a clause to that effect was allegedly inserted into the document. The bill was roundly rejected. The second attempt to review the constitution in the 6th Assembly under the chairmanship of Senator Ike Ekweremadu and Representative Usman Bayero Nafada was said to be successful as some sections were amended. These included the financial autonomy of the National Assembly, which gave it the power to draw its funds directly from the federation account, otherwise known as the first-line charge.
“HURIWA noted that in the 7th and 8th assemblies, the constitution review exercise was a mixed bag of successful and failed amendment attempts. As observed by some media experts, the chief among the failed attempts was the provision stripping the president of the power to sign the constitution amendments, which is required for them to become law. Then President Goodluck Jonathan’s government argued that the legislature overreached itself in seeking to abridge presidential power, especially the power to “check and balance” the lawmakers”.