President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, has said that the ongoing process of reviewing the 1999 Constitution was not intended to dent the solemnity, integrity and infallibility of the Constitution.
Saraki made this known on Friday at a two-day retreat in Lagos organised by the Senate Ad hoc Committee on Constitution Review, with the theme, “Towards Ensuring Governance Accountability in Nigerian Federalism”.
He said that the National Assembly was by the process, celebrating and affirming the inviolability of the Constitution and its integrity, adding that the process was in no way a ritual or routine.
“This National Assembly is seeking to further consolidate and entrench the essence of our Constitution as the only basis for the exercise of all powers under a constitutional democracy forged under the rule of law.
Since independence, our nation has sought to develop for itself workable constitution on which her unity can be perfected. Other nations have trodden a similar path.
For instance, following the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War in 1776, the original 13 States of the United States of America operated an Article of Confederacy.
This is a necessary but unwieldy document that institutionalised a central government. The Article lasted for eight years before it was jettisoned for the current Constitution of the United States,” he said.
Saraki explained that constitution making had always been a challenging issue in any polity.
According to him, it is because it is expected to put together the aspiration, commitment, values and agreement of different communities.
He said that debates on constitution could be polarising and contentious.
He added that as polarising as the issues could be, “with robust engagement, inclusive participation and process-led initiatives, we can resolve the contentions and agree on some of the issues”.
The president of the senate urged the review committee to concentrate on the 4th Alteration Bill before dealing with other proposals.
He also urged them to pay attention to the alteration in view of the immense work and national consensus garnered in determining it.
According to him, it will help the committee in concentrating its effort on agreed areas and few exceptional issues that were integral.
He said that it would help to deliver a more acceptable constitution before the commencement of political activities in first quarter of 2017.
Saraki recalled that the 7th National Assembly obtained national consensus on key challenges to the operation of the Constitution for national development through its work on the bill.
He said that the legislature was poised toward proffering workable solutions for freedom, abhorrence of discrimination, enthronement of the rule of law and accountability as well as continuity of governance.
He remarked that although some national questions would remain contentious and unresolved in spite of the review, they would help in cementing the process and deepen constitutional framework through a second phase of amendment.
Saraki expressed optimism that with the crop of participants at the retreat, there was no doubt that the deliberations would be robust and the recommendations far-reaching.
In his remarks, Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, lauded the effort of the national assembly and other stakeholders at reviewing the Constitution.
The governor, who was represented by the state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Adeniji Kazeem, said that the process would deepen democracy, adding that, Constitution was the guiding principle for good governance.
“The Fourth Alteration to the 1999 Constitution by the 7th National Assembly is commendable and the effort to review it again shows that the legislature is living up to expectation,” he said.
Ambode expressed hope that the retreat would further enshrine the culture of transparency and accountability in realising “the true federalism of our dream”.