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REMARKS BY, H.E. RT. HON. (DR) SIMON BAKO LALONG, KSGG AT THE NORTH CENTRAL ZONAL PUBLIC HEARING ON PROPOSED ALTERATION TO THE PROVISIONS OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, 1999 ORGANIZED BY THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON CONSTITUTION REVIEW HELD AT CRISPAN HOTEL JOS ON 26TH MAY 2021.
- It is with great pleasure that I welcome distinguished Senators of the Federal Republic to Plateau State for North Central Zonal Public Hearing on Proposed Alteration to the Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 holding here in the beautiful city of Jos.
- I want to thank the leadership of the 9th National Assembly particularly the Senate for not only embarking on this very critical assignment, but also choosing Plateau State to host the North Central Public Hearing. While we are not surprised by the choice of Plateau State, we are honoured to continue to play a very critical role in the democratic journey of our nation.
- Distinguished Senators, and invited guests, we are gathered here for an assignment that is not new to Nigerians particularly since the return of democracy in 1999. While several attempts have been made in the past to alter the Constitution in line with the yearnings of the people, not much seems to have been achieved despite the resources spent and time devoted.
- We hope that this particular exercise will not go the way of previous ones which failed to address some key issues affecting the governance of the nation and in some way even threatening the peace, security and unity of the country.
- While it is not proper to blame all the challenges of the country on the Constitution, it is however important that concerns raised about the current constitution which is the grundnorm that, binds us together are addressed. This is even more so when the clamour have persisted and rather than abate, are getting lauder. This perhaps is the time to try something different.
- To this end, this public hearing is very important as it presents another opportunity for various interest groups to present their perspectives as to how they desire to see Nigeria administered. They are therefore afforded this platform to ventilate and make submissions as to what they want injected or removed from the 1999 Constitution to make it more responsive to the yearnings of all.
- Over the years, we have heard blames upon blames on how the 1999 Constitution is either, ineffective, lopsided, or inadequate in addressing key national issues. While some of these assertions may be exaggerated or even factual, the collective drive to take another look at the document with a view to making it better is a right step in the right direction.
- This is more apt when Nigeria is today facing serious security and economic challenges that many tie to the 1999 Constitution. For instance, many believe that if the Constitution had provided for State Police, the level of crime and insecurity will not be as high as we are witnessing today. The same assertion goes for the economy where many feel the centre controls too much.
- I am happy that these and more items have been listed for this public hearing aimed at generating views and submissions that will eventually lead to the birth of a people’s constitution that will address the yearnings and aspirations of the citizens.
- Already, there are many issues in the court of public opinion which need to be addressed in this attempt to alter the 1999 Constitution. Many have raised concerns on the need to devolve more powers to the sub-national levels; enshrine Fiscal Federalism in revenue allocation; guarantee autonomy for all arms and tiers of Government; provide specific roles to traditional rulers; and strengthen electoral reforms to guarantee free, fair and credible elections among others.
- Of course the much talked about issue of restructuring is also very much canvassed by different interests. This is the time to thoroughly deal with the matter and ensure that the agitations and anxieties being expressed are addressed.
- However, we have to conduct the discussion on the review of the 1999 constitution within the context of the unity, stability, peace and progress of the Country. While we should have an open mind to every submission, we should also not be ignorant of the desire by some internal or external forces to destabilise our nation by pushing their interests under the guise of promoting constitutional review,
- We have to realise that there is no constitution that will ever resolve all our challenges as a people who are diverse in ethnic, religious, political and tribal affiliations. In any case, the review of the constitution is a continuous exercise that will always arise in response to the demands of the times. What is important at the moment is to ensure that we work towards building national cohesion and stability.
- As a Government, we have canvassed for policing that is grassroots-oriented which we believe will better address the current insecurity in the country. That is why we have embraced Community Policing which is a precursor to State Police. In addition, we have strengthened our Operation Rainbow which is backed by law and has helped us tremendously in tackling crime and insecurity in the State.
- I want to use this opportunity to again condemn the barbaric and callous attack on innocent citizens which claimed the lives of many including women and children in Dong, Jos North LGA and Kwi, Riyom LGA. While we commend the efforts of our security agencies for responding to stop a de-escalation of the situation, we want the perpetrators fished out and dealt with. Hopefully, this Constitutional review should lead to better policing that is closer to the people to stop this of unacceptable murders.
- On autonomy, our administration has also gone far with the implementation of autonomy for the Judiciary, Legislature, and the Local Governments even before the commencement of the strike by Judiciary and Legislative workers. We hope that other grey areas will be addressed through this public hearing so that the matter will be settled once and for all.
- We also hope that the issue of Local Government Creation will also be dealt with during this exercise because we have just recently inaugurated the Committee on creation of development areas in the State to get the submissions of the people who have continued to yearn for closer government presence at the grassroots.
- Let me use this opportunity as the Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum to say that we have since set up committees on Restructuring, Role of Traditional Rulers, Engagement, with the Youths and even Economic Reforms of the Region. The reports of these committees will also be submitted to the Constitutional Review Committee for consideration.
- I call on all citizens of Plateau State and other interest groups who have one position or the other to canvass to take advantage of this opportunity and articulate their positions rather than go about playing to the gallery or overheating the polity in the social or conventional media. We can only blame ourselves when we fail to avail ourselves of this platform only to continue complaining afterwards.
- Your Excellencies, Distinguished Senators, I am very confident that with the caliber of personalities on the membership of this committee, the North Central Zonal public hearing will produce some of the best solutions to the current challenges of the nation.
- I strongly suggest that we should use this opportunity to answer very critical questions about our nationhood. Who are we? Where are we and where are we going? How do we intend to get to our destination? What is our guiding philosophy as a people? We must be frank with one another and act with the best of intentions. That is the only way this exercise will make a difference and return our country to the path of development.
- Let me also draw our attention to the fact that it is not how many times we amend the constitution that will guarantee our unity, development, peace, and good governance. Rather, it is how committed we are to faithfully following the constitution and obeying its provisions that will make the difference.
- As citizens, we are the guardians and defenders of the constitution who can either make it work or fail by our actions or inactions. No one should be allowed to be above the constitution and at the same time, no one should be put beneath it by those in power or anyone saddled with the privilege of implementing any part of it. The rule of law must prevail at all times to guarantee democratic rights, freedoms and responsibilities.
- I wish us all a successful public hearing and pray that this will lead to a more united, prosperous, secure and loving country. God bless Plateau State and the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Rt. Hon. (Dr) Simon Bako Lalong, KSGG
Governor of Plateau State.
26th May 2021.