House Delivers Right To Health And Anti-Graft Fireworks

By Emmanuel Onwubiko

Emeka Ihedioha, is the Deputy Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives and incidentally the Chairman of the House ad-hoc constitutional amendment committee that actively worked with their opposite in the Senate which make up the National Assembly's constitutional amendment committee coordinated by the Deputy Senate President Senator Ike Ekweremadu, a consummate lawyer of many years of post-call experience.

This separate committees of the two chambers of the National Assembly have worked strenuously to collate recommendations of a broad spectrum of Nigerians on areas that demand immediate and comprehensive amendments in the 1999 constitution [as amended] so as to meet up with global best practices and deliver effective good governance to the teeming populace of Nigerians.

Many experts have blamed the ambiguities in the current constitution for some of the lapses in the enforcement of strong anti-graft laws and bureaucratic bottlenecks undermining delivery of social services to Nigerians by elected and appointed public office holders.

Recently, the ad-hoc committee headed by the Deputy Speaker presented scorecard of the work done so far and from what the Nigerian people were told, if at the end of the eventual harmonization of the findings and recommendations of the two chambers most of the salient aspects of the House ad-hoc committee are embedded into the forthcoming Constitution [after all the necessary steps], then majority of the aspirations of the Nigerian people would be met particularly in the area of providing compulsory and quality healthcare to millions of indigent Nigerians.

This is so because the House ad-hoc committee ensured that the much criticized section 308 is tinkered with so as to remove immunity from criminal prosecution from the executive members of Government who currently enjoy blanket immunity from all prosecution while in office.

This bold move is a remarkable revolution that when it becomes operational will change the template of the war against graft and will eradicate the regime of impunity that pervades the Nigeria's political space especially at the executive arm of government.

"It is a well known fact that the process adopted by the House to alter the Constitution, has been very painstaking and methodical. It has been done in a most transparent and professional manner. It is perhaps the most inclusive and consultative process ever undertaken by the House of Representatives", so says Emeka Ihedioha.

from the benefit of hindsight most Nigerians agree with this conclusion drawn by the Deputy speaker.

Apart from the right to health and the aggressive emphasis on anti-graft fight which the amendments by the House covered broadly, other equally important issues such as consolidating democracy at the local government areas were effected even though not too many Nigerians are happy that the House failed to grant total autonomy to the local government area councils to salvage them from the suffocating control of state governors.

Nevertheless, the amendments articulates clearly the structure, organs, personnel, procedures for exercise of powers by the organs and functionaries of the Local Government Councils. It replicates to a large extent the Presidential System of Government at the Local Government level.

Besides, one of the most revolutionary amendments is the introduction of new section 45A – 45D. By this, four items currently under Chapter 2 of the Constitution on the fundamental objectives and Directive Principles of State policy were moved to Chapter 4 on the Fundamental Human Rights in order to make them justiciable.

The House voted by 321 for, 2 against and 16 abstentions to provide for a new section 45A which grants every citizen of Nigeria a right to free basic education; by 322 for, 1 against and 16 abstentions to provide for a new section 45B which grants a right to a favourable environment; by 318 for, 2 against and 16 abstentions for a new section 45C which grants a right to free primary and maternal Health Care Services; while it voted by 317 for, 4 against and 18 abstentions to provide for a new section 45D which grants a right to basic housing. This is salutary.

It is noteworthy that the Deputy Speaker appealed to diverse interest groups and the civil society to remain vigilant in the remaining stages that would be followed before the amendments become law including the presentation for votes by the 36 states houses of assembly.

Emmanuel Onwubiko; Head; Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria; blogs;