Ahead of the Senate zonal public hearings on the alteration of the 1999 Constitution slated for May 26th and 27th 2021, Yiaga Africa has mobilised and organized groups and other stakeholders’ citizens to effectively participate in the constitutional review process and, importantly, harness their voices. The roundtable held on Monday, 24th May in 12 centres across the 6 geopolitical zones in Nigeria, exposed citizens to information on how citizens can engage at the public hearing as well as deploy effective post-public hearing engagement strategies.
During the roundtable which brought together women groups, youth groups, marginalised groups and other stakeholders, citizens identified key issues requiring immediate attention and developed plans to integrate them into Nigeria’s constitutional review process. The events also helped citizens to build consensus on key issues especially Increased women representation and vulnerable group participation in government, Local Government Administration/Local Government Autonomy, Federal Structure of governance and Power Devolution and Electoral Reforms.
The conversation around key issues on Constitution review and electoral reform was the same across all 12 centres where the citizens’ roundtable was held ahead of the zonal public hearing on the alteration of the 1999 constitution.
In Kaduna State, the coordinator of the event Ms. Gloria Bulus reiterated the need for citizens to know how to make a difference by participating in the public hearing and engaging the amendment process effectively. She said, “we want citizens in Kaduna State to know what the issues for the public hearing are, issues for citizens to focus on, and the modalities for participation in the public hearing.”
Speaking also at the event in Kaduna, Dr. Rakiya Shonekan, the Executive Director, Women, and Youth Awareness Empowerment Network who facilitated the roundtable stressed the need to build solidarity for effective post-constitutional review, public hearing and electoral reform engagement.
She added that this will enable the mobilization of citizens to demand speedy passage of the electoral amendment bill and constitution review when State Assemblies commenced voting on a proposed amendment.
Similarly, the Coordinator of the roundtable in Enugu, Prof. Magdalen Igbolo who is also the Head of Department, Sociology Department, University of Abuja urged citizens to take advantage of the public hearing and make their contributions count in the march towards a better constitution that will reflect the yearnings of the people.
Participants were drilled on how to engage the constitution amendment process, how citizens can make inputs during a bill process, how citizens can make a difference through public hearings and ways citizens can participate in public hearings. Participants were also given tips on how to make presentations at the public hearing and issues as enumerated for the public hearing were further buttressed upon.
In Gombe State, the facilitator, Barr. Benjamin Sati said youths would gain a lot through active participation while expressing optimism that citizens’ input on constitution review would be implemented. Sati said, “There is a need for youths across all sections to fully participate in this as it is particularly geared towards addressing their challenges. Laws are usually subject to change. Public hearing comes when there are issues in contention. It goes beyond the legislature. Pre-public hearing discussions help citizens not to go to such hearings ignorantly.
The facilitator of the Lagos State roundtable and Executive director of the International Press Centre, Lanre Arogundade decried the fact that, previous constitution amendment did not reflect all the memo submitted by various citizens’ groups. He was however optimistic that this time around, issues of utmost concern to citizens will be factored into the constitutional amendment, saying that this process would yield positive results.
Ayodele Taofiq-Fanida, Yiaga Africa’s Lagos State Focal Point who also spoke at the roundtable reiterated the role of the organisation in supporting democracy in Nigeria, taking into cognisance critical issues like increased women’s representation and vulnerable group participation in government; Local Government Administration/Local Government Autonomy; Federal Structure of governance/Power Devolution; Electoral Reforms; and Justiciability of Social Economy rights.
Other states where the roundtable held include Niger State which was facilitated by Yiaga Africa’s Head of Elections, Paul James while the Port Harcourt Centre was facilitated by Coordinator of Yiaga Africa’s Centre for Legislative Engagement, Dr Ernest Ereke. The Delta State roundtable was facilitated by Lois Chinedu of the Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund.
The Owerri citizens’ roundtable was facilitated by Ezenwa Nwagwu, Executive Director of Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre in Africa while the roundtable discussions in the Sokoto and Akure centres were led by Aisha Abdullahi and Edidiong Idang respectively. Mr Gad Umar led the discussion in Jos, Plateau State and Nasiru Abdullahi facilitated the event in Bauchi, Bauchi State.