The Speaker of the House of Representatives Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila has asked the Special Committee on Constitution Review of the House to engage as many voices as possible in the course of its work.
Gbajabiamila said the committee, headed by the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Idris Wase, should also consider the expectations of different interest groups among Nigerians.
Inaugurating the committee at the National Assembly on Thursday, the Speaker said the House is determined to come up with a constitution that addresses most of the current challenges facing the country.
“Mr Chairman, Honourable Members of this Committee, I do not envy the enormous amount of work you have in front of you. However, I know you have an abundant capacity to execute this important assignment and deliver on our joint commitments to the Nigerian people.
“I encourage you during this assignment to seek out and listen to as many voices as possible. Engage with as many interest groups as possible, reject misinformation, document the stories of our people, consider their expectations.
“Let the work you do demonstrate that this House of Representatives is fully capable of reflecting the most urgent concerns of the Nigerian people and acting in their best interests. I am confident that you will act judiciously and produce for the consideration of the House of Representatives, a quality report we can implement expeditiously,” he said.
The Speaker said the House is commencing the “constitutional review process at a time of great and ongoing upheaval in our country.
“New challenges emerge daily from every corner. Some of these challenges are of our own making, and others, we could not have foreseen or been prepared for.
“Whichever may be the case, the Nigerian people look up to us as government to proffer solutions that work, to do the heavy lifting of writing a new constitution, one better suited to our current aspirations and reflecting our vision of the future.”
He said when the House updated its Legislative Agenda two months ago, one thing that was made abundantly clear during the preparation of the document was that “the answer to many of our development questions lies in the pages of a new Nigerian constitution.”
“When you ask me what the state of our nation is, the honest answer is this: we are in a fight for the very survival of our country and the continuation of the Nigerian project. Recent global developments have exposed all our systemic weaknesses so that we can no longer pretend to ourselves that things are on an even keel and slow progress is enough to get us to where we ought to be yet are still so far away from.
“This 9th House of Representatives has since committed to the cause of reform. Our commitment must neither waver nor wane on the matter of thoughtful and fair overhaul of our nation’s constitution.
“The reality of our current circumstances and the now certain knowledge that only we can save ourselves imposes on us an obligation to act with greater determination and all the urgency this moment calls for.”
Noting that “the ongoing evolution of our nation’s democracy requires of us that we continually review and update the rules of our engagement,” Gbajabiamila said, “Every election season exposes significant gaps in the process that if left unaddressed, threaten our democracy.”
For this, the Speaker noted, the House would, through the constitution review process, ensure electoral reforms that would address the challenges in the electoral system.
“Electoral reforms are not a party-political issue, they are a matter of loyalty to an ideal that is greater than the party to which one belongs to, or the personal ambitions we may each hold.
“Electoral reforms are a matter of our nation’s future, and the process of setting out systems and protocols for managing how we choose our leaders and representatives begins with the Constitution. We must keep this in mind as we begin this process.”
On the #EndSARS protests going on for over a week in parts of the country, the Speaker said: “In addition to whatever other changes that may be caused by these protests, they have exposed the stinking underbelly of our nation’s policing system.”
With that, he said, “We now understand better why our federal police is often unable to effectively respond to the localised manifestations of insecurity across the different parts of our country.
“The simple truth is that we have a police that doesn’t have the trust of the people, and a policing system that doesn’t make for productive partnerships between the police and the communities they serve. However, for those of us who are out there, we must be careful not to lose the plot.
“The Inspector-General of Police has heard you and he has spoken. The House has spoken, even before now, and continues to speak. The President has been unequivocal and spoke clearly. It is now time to sit back and see what happens.
“I believe the Hand of God is on this Nation. The point has been made, and the Government in all its layers has responded. Let us sit back and see if the Government does what it has committed to do. Which I have all assurances, and as your Speaker I pass these assurances on to you.
“Honourable colleagues, overcoming our overwhelming national security challenges now requires of us all that we be willing to accept new approaches and consider novel ideas. Neither the security institutions nor political leaders can afford to hold on too tightly to a status quo whose frustrating limitations are painfully evident, whilst reflexively rejecting innovations that may improve our fortunes if properly implemented.”