Eunice Iheoma, Abuja
Members of the House of Representatives from the South-East geopolitical zone have called for a provision for referendum in the Nigerian constitution to open up avenues for discussions on self-determination by Nigerians.
They also insisted that Nigeria was due for restructuring and that it would be done, no matter how long it would take.
The 1999 Constitution makes no provision for a referendum, leaving the National Assembly as the only legal representative gathering for deliberations on the governance of Nigeria.
But South-East lawmakers, who spoke during the week, said a provision for referendum was long due because it was part of the fundamental rights of the people to self-determination.
They noted that a referendum and the debate on restructuring of Nigeria were tied together.
The members were embittered that a South-East Development Commission Bill, which they introduced as a vehicle to develop the region, was thrown out by the House on Thursday.
According to them, such actions are largely responsible for the cries of marginalisation and agitation in the South-East and other parts of the country.
One of the lawmakers, Mr. Igariwey Iduma-Enwo, who is from Ebonyi State, said that a referendum would further open up the democratic space.
Iduma-Enwo, a lawyer, said, “A referendum is an element of human rights. It is an avenue to feel the pulse of the people about a particular issue or issues.
“We should have it in our constitution because a referendum also falls within the context of the restructuring of Nigeria, which a lot of people are today talking about.
“Other countries and advanced democracies, including the US, have it in their constitutions. So, why can’t we have it in Nigeria?”
The Chairman, House Committee on Works, Mr. Toby Okechukwu, also supported the idea of a referendum if the “merits” of such a provision would be favourable to Nigeria.
“We have to discuss it on the basis of the merits. If we find it justifiable to use a referendum to discuss a progressive agenda for Nigeria, why not?” he added.
Okechukwu, who is from Enugu State, recalled that the country’s constitution in the 1960s, after independence, made provision for referendum and wondered why it was removed from the later versions.
“Why was it in the independence constitution in the 1960s? If our founding fathers, in their own wisdom, included it in the constitution, why was it removed?
“We should look at the issue of referendum and juxtapose it with the United Nations Charter on the Rights to Self-Determination,” he stated.
Reacting to the decision of the House on the South-East Development Commission Bill, Okechukwu said that the zone was denied a rare opportunity to advance its development.
“This was an avenue to encourage development of infrastructure and investments, but it was thrown out just because of other factors,” he said.
In a similar vein, Jerry Alagboso said there was nothing wrong in having a referendum in the constitution.
He explained that all Nigerians would be better off with it, besides the Igbo, who were denied a development commission “for no justifiable reasons.”
Alagboso described the rejection of the development commission bill as “unfortunate,” noting that lawmakers from the North had a wrong impression that it was an agenda to promote Biafra.
However, when contacted, the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazak Namdas, said, “The National Assembly is for all Nigerians. It is a representative assembly and every Nigerian is represented here.
“Whatever the grievances are, channel them through your representatives and they will be adequately addressed.”