An uninformed observer could mistake the just concluded public hearing on constitution review in Lokoja, Kogi State, as the affair of a single state instead of the entire North-central zone as stated by the House of Representatives.
The two-day event started on Tuesday and ended on Wednesday nationwide.
The Lokoja centre was supposed to host interested groups from three North-central states, Kwara, Kogi and Niger but only the host state was well represented while the other two were not visible.
This newspaper understands that the same occurred at Minna, Niger State capital, during the Senate version of the same exercise.
Majority of the presentations and memoranda submitted came from Niger State, the host state, while Kwara and Kogi States had the least representations.
Advocates of participatory democracy and groups have attributed this to the insecurity ravaging the country which made interstate travels a risky adventure.
Also, many blamed the trust deficit in the process, saying Nigerians have lost confidence in the exercise that had been done virtually by different administrations in the past without tangible results to show for it.
The exercise, monitored by PREMIUM TIMES, welcomed presentations from traditional rulers, pressure groups, political office holders and concerned individuals.
Major subjects touched include creation of more states and local government areas, devolution of power, judicial autonomy and gender equality, amongst others.
Meanwhile, out of more than 20 presentations entertained in the two days, only one came from outside Kogi state.
It was a memorandum suggesting the creation of Edu State from parts of Niger and Kwara States.
According to Manzuma Mammah, a community chief from Kwara State, the creation of the state will help advance the cause of the Nupe ethnic group.
Edu is a Local Government Area in Kwara State and a Nupe-speaking area with the headquarters in Lafiagi.
Aside from Mr Mammah’s presentation, there was none else from Niger or Kwara States.
Speaking to our reporter, Daniel Makolo, a Lagos-based legal practitioner present at the event, said the same scenario played out at the Senate version in Minna.
“Likewise, Kogi was not represented (in Minna). There was apathy too from Kogi.”
He complained that the duplication of the event was not necessary, blaming it on the worsening security situation occasioned by incessant kidnappings and killings across the country.
“And many of us complained to the committee, why are you doing a double public hearing with the security situation in the land?
“Nobody is safe to travel. My family had to go on fasting and prayer for me to go to Minna, come back and go to Kogi, then come back to Abuja with a fear that if anything happens to me on the way I’m on my own. This is supposed to be public interest issues.”
Olorunfemi Adeyeye, the spokesperson of the African Action Congress (AAC), lamented the level of distrust.
“So, aside the level of insecurity in the country, the apathy seen in participation of Nigerians in the exercise could be attributed to the level of distrust in the whole system. Very expected,” he said.
An aide to the Kwara State Governor, Bashir Adigun, said the state government only attended the Minna version, when contacted by PREMIUM TIMES while Niger state Governor’s spokesperson, Mary Noel-Berje, did not return calls seeking her reaction.
Reacting to these concerns on Wednesday, the chairman of the Lokoja Centre and member of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas, said citizens absent had probably attended the Senate version.
“Although I cannot speak for them, there is every possibility that Niger State and perhaps even Kwara decided to attend the one organised by the Senate. That may account for why we did not see much of their presence in this particular secretariat.”
Mr Abbas, who admitted that Nigerians had lost trust in the constitution review process owing to the fruitlessness of previous editions, assured that the one done by the ninth assembly would be different.
“We are very determined and I want to assure you that all the recommendations made count.”
Need to go digital
Abideen Olasupo, the founder of YVote Naija, an organisation advocating against political apathy, advised that the process should be digitised to enhance popular participation.
“Of course, the challenges of insecurity have really contributed to it. But there is a need, especially for the National Assembly, to digitize it and make it possible for people to contribute remotely,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
He said the cost of logistics also prevented some organisations from participating in the exercise.
” You know, you have to consider that even when we deploy our volunteers across different states, we need to cater for transportation, get hotel reservations, pay for feeding and all.
“There’s no point in you asking for people to print out 10 copies of the document,” he said.
Mr Olasupo said the circumstance wasa challenge to his organisation and others to continue sensitising citizens on the essence of contributing to public discourses.
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