THE Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila has faulted the 1999 Constitution, stating that it falls short of standard because it was a product of a hurried national compromise to return the country to democratic governance.
Speaking at the South-West zonal public hearing on the ongoing constitutional amendments in Lagos on Tuesday, Gbajabiamila admitted that the constitution failed to address some critical national questions confronting the country.
He said that the National Assembly would need the inputs and support of the Nigerians to be able to amend the constitution to give it a national outlook.
“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,” he said.
“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 other to ensure that the military returned to the barracks and that we returned to democratic government.”
Gbajabiamila said though the current exercise is not the first of its kind, it might be the most important one in the nation’s recent history as the decisions to be made would have far-reaching consequences for the future of Nigeria.
Dismissing the doubts about the ongoing exercise, the Speaker noted that there was no perfect constitution anywhere in the world, but that it was imperative for Nigeria to have a near-perfect constitution to enable the country to confront and resolve many of its political, economic and socio-cultural challenges.
The Speaker, therefore, urged Nigerians to participate fully in the ongoing process so that their inputs would be captured for the country to have a new direction, adding that they could not afford to miss the opportunity of addressing their challenges and sustaining their future at this critical moment.
He assured Nigerians of the sincerity of purpose of the 9th National Assembly to deliver a reviewed constitution that everyone would be proud of.
“The foundational constitution of the United States of America deemed people of colour to be ‘less than’ and denied women the right to vote. It did not include any limits on the President’s term of office and allowed for citizens to be denied the right to vote for failure to pay the ‘poll tax’. Twenty-seven reviews and amendments, over one hundred years cured these and other defects.
“No nation in the world has a perfect constitution, but we need a near-perfect constitution in Nigeria and we can achieve that through substantive amendments that significantly alter the character of our nation.
“Therefore, the task before us now is to use this process of review and amendment to devise for ourselves a constitution that resolves the issues of identity and political structure, of human rights and the administration of government, resource control, national security and so much else, that have fractured our nation and hindered our progress and prosperity.
“Our job is to produce a constitution that turns the page on our past, yet heeds its many painful lessons. It is not an easy task, but it is a necessary and urgent one.”
He added that the National Assembly would not be able to deliver on the assignment if it restricts itself to tinkering around the edges of the constitution or by imposing upon itself artificial redlines that restrict an honest conversation.
He pledged that the House of Representatives would work conscientiously and in good faith to bequeath to the nation a constitution that recognises the country’s diversity and draws strength from it, and addresses once and for all, the fault lines that distract from nation-building.
“It is all too clear that many of our citizens have come to expect too little of our politics and government. We are suffering from the tyranny of low expectations and the cynicism that causes us to believe that the political process cannot produce anything worthy or worthwhile.
“I understand the causes of this cynicism, but I refuse to share in it. I still believe that politics and government in Nigeria can be a force for good and that by our common endeavour we can achieve the vision of a just, peaceful, and prosperous society.”
He said beyond these public hearings, citizens still have the opportunity to make submissions and it would be considered.
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