by Debo Adejugbe
Rather than wasting our collective time on a process that the next regime will seek to amend, just like the regimes before it, we should embark on the process of evolving a new constitution entirely.
As expected, the present constitution amendment process embarked upon by the National Assembly is generating a lot of interest from many quarters. There are those who feel the time has come for Nigerians to be rid of some of the provisions in the flawed 1999 constitution handed down by the military while in some quarters, the belief is that we should scrap the entire process and initiate a new one for the draft of an entirely new constitution. A tiny group, who feels that the 1999 constitution is good as it is, exists also; they feel the country is embarking on another wild-goose chase. They all have points but the facts on ground say something else.
Simply put, the constitution handed down by the military was an absolute necessity at the time but the principle behind many of its provisions is flawed and we have for ourselves a retrogressive constitution that is unworkable and anti-people in practice. Agreed that some of the provision were culled from the 1979 constitution but the times have changed and several factors ought to be considered in the case of Nigeria due to our unique heterogeneous composition.
For example, every regime that we have had since the return to democracy has raised the issue of constitution amendment. This is more interesting when you factor into reckoning that these presidents emerged from completely different zones and one way or the other they are mostly driven by regional positions when canvassing for an amendment. When they are not clamoring for regional positions, they tend to take a deep personal interest in whatever is going on, on the panel reviewing the constitution – Tenure extension, arrogation of power, Adjustment of revenue sharing formula etc.
In 2005/06, Olusegun Obasanjo constituted the National Political Reform Conference (NPFL) to give us a constitution with inputs from the people. His effort was littered with handpicked cronies and associates from all the states and the end result was that he smuggled in the tenure extension clause. The whole process was nothing more than a total waste of time and money as the baby (proposed constitution) was completely thrown away with the bath water (tenure extension). The Yar’Adua government also had a few tweaks where it considered necessary.
And in a close twist to the Obasanjo wizardry, Goodluck Jonathan made a play for constitution amendment by inserting a 6year single term for public officers into proceedings –to be pioneered by him. The Justice Alfa Belgore panel that he inaugurated in 2011 to review outstanding issues of our constitutional conferences since independence submitted its report on 12th July, 2012 and the national Assembly has taken the baton from there to make wholesale changes to constitution in order to evolve a constitution that will be generally accepted to the people.
How have they fared? Mixed performance, in my opinion.
There are good feelers from the House of Representative where they voted against the retention of the immunity clause in the constitution; “By the new provision on immunity, the President, Vice-President, governors and their deputies will vacate office, if convicted of any criminal offence.” They also overwhelmingly endorsed autonomy for local councils while scrapping the State Independent Electoral Commissions, transferring their functions to the Independent National Electoral Commission. Health, housing, electricity and railways were also transferred from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent List, allowing states to make laws on them. In other heartwarming news, they endorsed the position of independent candidates for elections.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing though as they, like the Senate, also retained some controversial proposals like the issue of life pension for our top public officers. The Yerima brigade in the Senate made matters worse as they coloured proceedings on Section 29(4)(b) of the constitution in religious light. A section that originally has nothing to do with child-marriage and religion but whose discriminatory subsection made it seem so, was brought up for discussion so as to delete the said subsection, but Yerima twisted its purpose and intent; and some gullible benchwarmers in the chambers chose to follow his lead because of religious blackmail.
We know that there would be a harmonization committee to revisit areas where the House and Senate differed to find a common ground. We also know that the outright two-third majority required (instead of a simple majority) to pass any of the amendments proposed is just a way of giving the “majority their say but the minority their way”, and it is working out perfectly. We also know that the present process is just a way of dressing the Baboon in human robes just to give it a sense of belonging and in the end; it wouldn’t achieve the desires of the majority of Nigerians. The 1999 constitution is deeply flawed and no matter how good they try to beautify it by a process of amendment, it will change nothing. It remains a flawed document.
Rather than wasting our collective time on a process that the next regime will seek to amend, just like the regimes before it, we should embark on the process of evolving a new constitution entirely. A constitution that will take into consideration the several ethnic agitations we have had in the past and in recent times; a constitution that will free us from the evil of centralized federalism that we have ensnared ourselves as a nation. One that will take the thoughts of every group represented in Nigeria into consideration and give everyone a fair share without necessarily sacrificing our values; that addresses resource control squarely without avoiding the associated thorny issues.
The present constitution amendment is just a dress rehearsal to the real thing. It will fail because it won’t achieve its aim of giving us a truly people-evolved constitution. It is just a waste of everybody’s time and the earlier they understand it the better. Let us have a new constitution that we can call ours! One crafted by a truly Sovereign National Conference and endorsed by the people through a referendum. Anything short of that is complete BS and we will keep dancing around the real issues until we take the initiative to do the right thing once and for all.
Debo Adejugbe is a trained Telecommunications/Electronics Engineer and a certified IT professional living in Lagos. Dad to amazing Hailey and an advocate against Sexual and Domestic Abuses. Debo has political sympathy for the Labour Party. He tweets from @deboadejugbe
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.