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Unreleased Allocation Stalls Nigeria’s Constitution Review

Paucity of funds has stalled the activities of the National Assembly Joint Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, THISDAY gathered at the weekend. It was learnt that no

Paucity of funds has stalled the activities of the National Assembly Joint Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, THISDAY gathered at the weekend.

It was learnt that no money has been released to the two committees of both the Senate and the House of Representatives out of the N1 billion (about $2.6 million) approved for the exercise in the revised 2020 budget.

Sources close to the committee told THISDAY that two months to the end of the 2020 fiscal year, the N1 billion allocated for the constitution review programme for the two chambers was yet to be released by the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning.

It was gathered that the body language of the presidency, which is supposed to give the finance ministry the go-ahead to release the vote, does not suggest that it is interested in the exercise.

Top officials who are in the know also stated that the finance ministry is presently faced with the task of defending the 2021 budget estimates before the National Assembly from this week and may be taken to task on the issue.

It was gathered that with the delay in releasing funds to the committees, members are uncertain if they will be able to review the early enough so that it won’t be mired by the power struggle of 2023 general election.

The Joint Committee of the National Assembly on Constitution Review has been in the limbo since its inauguration.

The unavailability of funds delayed the Senate Committee on Constitution Review, headed by Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, from meeting after its inauguration by President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, in February. It held its first post-inaugural meeting in August.

At the first meeting with the 58-member committee last August, Omo-Agege told his colleagues that the six-month delay in calling the meeting was not unconnected with the non-release of funds for the committee to function.

THISDAY gathered that two months after, the committee, the zonal public hearing on the review of the constitution could not proceed as planned as there was no fund to implement the programmes outlined and approved by the Senate Committee at its August sitting.

Two members of the Senate committee who spoke to THISDAY on condition of anonymity confirmed that the committee had only met once since its inauguration eight months ago.

A senator said upon inquiry, he was told that the committee’s work had to be kept on hold since February due to the non-release of funds.

He said: “Since the committee called for memoranda from the public in August, nothing else has happened as we couldn’t proceed to the six geo-political zones for the public hearing on the constitution review and the Senate leadership has not been forthcoming on the matter.”

The same scenario is playing out at the House of Representatives where the House committee was not inaugurated by the Speaker, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, until a fortnight ago.

The speaker was said to have refused to inaugurate the committee, headed by the Deputy Speaker of the House, Hon. Idris Wase, until much pressure was put on him by the lawmakers.

Investigation revealed that since the House committee was inaugurated eight months after that of the Senate, it was yet to call for a meeting due to fund shortage.

This was why up till now, the House has not made public members of the committee apart from the chairman.

Deji Elumoye