*Says It Is A Recipe For Anarchy
Senator representing Ekiti Central and Chairman Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Michael Opeyemi Bamidele has said the expectation of a brand new Constitution is a tall dream.
He made the declaration on Friday while speaking with newsmen at the end of the two days national public hearing of the Senate Committee on the Review of the Constitution held in Abuja.
Certain socio-political organisations have been in the vanguard of the agitation for the process that would lead to a new Constitution for the nation unlike the ongoing movement for the amendment of the 1999 Constitution.
Legal icons, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN) and Wole Olanipekun, (SAN) recently called for a return to the 1963 Constitution which they noted allowed true Federalism and autonomy for the federating regions.
Senator Bamidele who incidentally is the Chairman Southern Senators Forum and a member of the Constitution Review Committee argued that those canvassing for a brand new Constitution should seek an amendment of Section 9 of the 1999 Constitution which he submitted restrict the Parliament to only an amendment of the document, not wholesale alterations.
He said:” There is a difference between what is and what ought to be. What is, is what is governed by law, which is a possibility. What ought to be, exists between the realm of morality, which is, how it should be.
“If we are talking of what ought to be, it will be a question of letting us get a new constitution. At this point, we can only do what is, which is what the law permits, what the law makes possible.”
“Nigerians who are calling for a brand new constitution are doing so based on their own assumption of what ought to happen.”
However, as a National Assembly, Section 9 of the 1999 constitution as altered, has addressed the issue and it doesn’t leave any room for debate as to whether or not we need a new constitution or not. The only thing that is possible under the law as it is now, is piecemeal, gradual amendments to the various provisions of the constitution. We cannot have a totally new constitution because the law does not grant us the power to do that.”
Senator Bamidele who suggested that a new Constitution was possible through an Executive Bill or private bill further noted that there was no such Bill before the Constitution Review Committee.
“What Section 9 of the Constitution grants us the power to do is an amendment to the existing provisions. However, part of the amendment that can be made is an amendment to Section 9 which has specified the mode of altering our constitution. If it can be amended to provide for a referendum by Nigerians that would make it possible for us to go for a new constitution, it is okay but we have considered so many bills and we have concluded the national public hearing and we would start the process of compilation.
However, no single bill from any quarter in Nigeria has proposed an amendment to Section 9 of the constitution. It is the only means by which the constitution can provide for a referendum that will make it possible to have a brand new constitution. It is no longer possible at this point to have a new constitution.
“Any Nigerian that wants a new constitution should bring a bill which will have to go through all the process of constitutional amendments. The bill will have to be passed in the two chambers of the National Assembly, and following their concurrence, and the constitution review committee will have to take it to Nigerians.
We will debate it, pass it and send it to all the states Houses of Assembly and we would need 4/5th which is 80 per cent of voters in the Senate, House of Representatives and the Houses of Assembly to pass an amendment to section 9 of the constitution before we can begin the process of having a new constitution.
“So in the meantime, we have to do what the law permits at this moment. Talking of a brand new constitution in Nigeria today is not going to be a tea party. A new constitution is possible but we have to amend section 9 for the process to be activated. We cannot afford to do away with the current constitution because it would be an invitation to anarchy. The only way a constitution could be suspended is if there is a military coup that no one prays for. Only the military can suspend the constitution.
The National Assembly of states houses of assembly or the courts can say a constitution is suspended. Once that happens it means there is a regime change and that the whole democratic process has come to a halt. Those calling for a totally new constitution could come up with a private member bill, or an executive bill or a bill from civil society or professional bodies.
“Coming up with such a bill at this stage, however, cannot be part of the process we have started and almost rounding off now because we don’t have the mandate to jettison this constitution and write a new one. Our mandate can be extended by Nigerians if they so desire in ensuring that a bill is brought to the parliament to ensure that section 9 is amended. “Anything short of that will be a highway to nowhere.”
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