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Nigeria's Bid to Rewrite Constitution Stalls

Nigeria's bid to rewrite its constitution has turned into a battle for supremacy between its Senate and House of Representatives. Some lawmakers are boycotting the reforms process because of differences over the status of the two chambers in the review committee.

The much-anticipated review of Nigeria's 1999 constitution kicked off last year with the creation of a special panel of 88 deputies and senators.

But the third attempt to rewrite the constitution in less than a decade, has been stalled by a dispute between Nigeria's Senate and House of Representatives about whether the Deputy Speaker of the House should be designated deputy head or co-chair of the constitutional review committee. Some lawmakers have gone to court to seek judicial interpretation regarding the status of the two chambers.

The panel is to review issues such as the structure of the federation, immunity from prosecution for top officials, electoral reform and revenue allocation.

Abuja-based lawyer, Maxi Okwu, says choosing a holistic review of the constitution was a mistake.

"The whole process is doomed to fail because it is only in the sovereign national conference situation that you do a holistic adjustment of the constitution. Normally, it is done in piecemeal. So long as these people go into this merry-go-round of constitutional review, a lot of money down the drain and the nation unnecessarily kept in suspense, it will not work," Okwu said.

The last attempt at constitutional reforms in 2006 failed, after the senate rejected one of the 120 proposed amendments, which would have paved the way for then president Olusegun Obasanjo to run for a third five-year term.

With more than 250 ethnic groups competing for political relevance, analysts say old grievances could be exacerbated rather than settled. Okwu says reaching a consensus on key issues would be very difficult.

Nigeria, a country of a million-square-kilometers, is divided into 36 states and federalism is always a topic of debate. The current constitution was drawn up under military rule in 1999.