Amendment of a nation’s constitution is never a tea party. There is no gainsaying the fact that the 2019 elections brought to the fore, once again, a greed-propelled polity; a hypocritical heist characterised by highly monetised and obviously skewed in favour of the rotten rich. The onerous task should therefore, neither be the exclusive preserve of our recycled politicians nor be carried out in a blistering hurry.
For instance, it took the United States 67 years to tinker with theirs, all with the aim of satisfying the people’s wishes. Simply put, it must be thorough, painstaking and all-inclusive with the outcome not seen to have been tinkered by some vested interests. Unfortunately, the exercise that was carried out by the National Assembly in 2013 was viewed by some Nigerians as both a wild goose chase and lacking in depth to align with the wishes of the average Nigerian.
While there is a general consensus that the military-imposed 1999 Constitution handed down by Decree No.24 of 1999, with the anomalous refrain alleging that it emanated from ‘We the people’ has its defects, the position of the Nigerian Bar Association is that only a referendum could validate the constitutional proposals. The laughable one-day gathering of lawmakers in the 360 federal constituencies in 2013 could not amount to the referendum. It is worrisome too that the National Assembly, in its suspicious hurry, could not even wait for the Justice Belgore Committee set up by the erstwhile Presidency to submit its report before swinging into action.
On its part, PRONACO, speaking through Mr. Olawale Okunniyi, though agreeing that the National Assembly is empowered by Sections 8 and 9 of the current constitution to amend it, said it should not mix up the members’ interests with those of the people of Nigeria. So, who is afraid of what and who? That is the million naira question.
Lending his voice to the debate, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN), the Pro-Chancellor of the University of Lagos, argued that Nigeria is “yoked by an uneven and defective federal structure and cannot be fixed by mere constitution amendment”. One shares his feelings on this. More so, when the legislators have not adequately enjoyed the trust and faith of the generality of Nigerians.
Defending the lawmakers, the then Deputy Majority Leader, Leo Ogor, asked, “What type of referendum are they seeking? That Nigerians should reject the constitution or accept it?” The fear of such lawmakers is that they would not want to be held responsible for the disintegration of Nigeria as the referendum may be a catalyst for agitations for those wanting self-determination.
But for yours truly, there lies the crux of the matter of our fragile unity. Should we act as the ostrich and bury our heads in self-delusion that we are united while we are not? Or, should we for once, summon the courage to look at ourselves in the face and identify, as well as iron out the grey areas of the factors that have held us together so far? For how long are we going to look at the symptoms of our institutional dysfunction instead of tackling them at the roots?
For now, the main areas of the constitution crying for urgent amendment include ensuring true, fiscal federalism; devolution of enormous and corruption-infested economic powers from the centre to the federating units; settling the insidious indigene/settler dichotomy once and for all and equality of all Nigerians before the law, irrespective of ethnic, religious and political differences. We want autonomy for all local government councils to stop them being tied to the apron strings of overbearing state governments, whose chief executives dip their hands where they should not. Creation of states, though desirable should rather be based on economic viability rather than on base sentiments.
Other critical areas deserving urgent attention include instituting long-lasting judicial reforms that would do away with the insulting culture of impunity. It should be such as to bring offenders of financial crimes to justice within six months. There should also be a drastic reduction in the emoluments of public office holders so that lawmaking is on a part-time basis. But would our current legislators muster the required patriotic courage to do this? I have my doubts.
Any constitution that would tolerate the widening gap between the rich and the poor, as apparent in massive number of unemployed youth while their state governors fly above them in questionable private jets is not for us.
In fact, there should be social security buffers to cater to the needs of the vulnerable members of society including pregnant women, children, the jobless, the aged and the sick. Politicians should not deliberately underfund public educational institutions only to send their children to the most expensive and choicest schools outside our shores. Any legal document that encourages corruption in high places through spurious plea bargain for the rich while the less favoured citizens are sent to jail for stealing fowls is not for us.
The next constitution must not be viewed as a contraption, by the incoming National Assembly with the hidden motive of a political vendetta. It must be all-embracing. The views of all Nigerians; of variegated social strata and professional callings must be aggregated. The notion should not be given that the lawmakers already have their answers to our multifarious questions and have only taken some of us on a long donkey ride.
- Ayo Baje, Ikeja, Lagos State