Why Northern Elders Forum rejected constitutional review by Senate, opted for conference  

August 31, 2020
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The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) on Sunday flayed the invitation  by the Senate ad-Hoc Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to  the public to submit Memorandum for “further alteration of the provisions of the Constitution (as amended)”. It noted that the announcement gives all Nigerians only two weeks to submit their memoranda on all aspects requiring amendment of the current Constitution.

The Northern Elders Forum in a statement by the Director of Publicity and Advocacy, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, declared that “the repetitive initiative of the Senate is of no value and a predictable  waste of time, resources and energy of the nation, and should not be supported by Nigerians being alarmed  by waste in governance at this difficult time when the economy is facing unprecedented challenges.”

The Forum argued that  virtually every National Assembly since  1999  had spent huge amounts of money on jamborees that give them false hope that the three arms of government respect the overwhelming  desire of Nigerians for a holistic and genuine review and amendment of the 1999 Constitution. NEF maintained that “nothing fundamental or of any value has come out of these grand schemes to exploit our collective desire to address our political and economic fundamentals.” The Forum protested that the current National Assembly is also following suit, agitating that it should not be encouraged on this path.

NEF was of the view that only the Nigerian people can negotiate the country’s future which the Forum said rests largely on Nigeria’s willingness to address major constraints to equity and justice, a functional structure, consistent good governance, security for all citizens, a credible electoral process,  growing understanding between and among all groups and an economy that grows and narrows inequalities between and classes and regions.

“This cannot be achieved by a process that routinizes wasteful expenditure around false hopes,” NEF declared.

The Forum decried that the legislative and executive branches of government have large quantities of reviews, recommendations and reports from past attempts at amending the Constitutions. These, NEF said, represent enough resources for a review if the legislature is serious about this vital national priority. NEF expressed skepticism that the federal government may not be sincere to accept genuine suggestions from the people.

“Even this is not likely to produce a genuine effort to address the basic requirements of securing a stable, secure and prosperous Nigeria, because both arms of this administration are unlikely to accept to put through wide-ranging reviews of the Constitution.

“The Forum specifically reminded the legislators and other leaders from the North that security of our communities, reduction of crushing  poverty and widening distrust among communities should be their priorities,” NEF stated.

The Northern Elders Forum, therefore, recommended an alternative that leaders of thought, elders, groups and professional organizations and representatives of government should freely discuss every element of our co-existence as  a country under principles of voluntarism, genuine representation,  mutual respect and integrity  of the process.

“A Nigerian Peoples’ Conference on Review of the Constitution will benefit from past work in this direction in addition to contemporary challenges which the country needs to address in a context that allows free and productive engagements without pre-determined ends. “The outcome of this Conference should be submitted to the two arms of government which should provide for a referendum in the Constitution so that  Nigerians can directly decide on how they want their nation to be structured and function.

“The North is willing to discuss other options that will do justice to the current Constitution and the future of our great country,” NEF declared.

The Forum, thereafter, invited attention of, particularly, northern groups to be wary of  being railroaded into making submissions which the legislature will hold up as input, further justifying waste and deceit.

“No northern group should encourage further waste of public funds which should be channeled into battling killers, kidnappers, poverty and poor governance.

“The  North wants a major review of the Constitution, but it is also ready to resist attempts to create wealth for a few while it leaves parts of the country to quarrel and blame each other for the state of the nation. “Northerners are willing to discuss current challenges of the region and the state of the country with any group, anywhere, provided it sees evidence of sincerity and respect for each other,” the Forum further declared.

The Forum, therefore, advised the National Assembly to direct its energy and mandate towards convincing President Muhammadu Buhari to bring an end to the insurgency in the North East and killings in most parts of North Central and North West and other parts of the country. The Forum also advised the Senate to jettison the wasteful idea of giving Nigerians  the impression that it is involved in a serious review of the Constitution.

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