By Dayo Benson, Political Editor
SINCE the 2007 general elections, there have been sustained and stringent calls for both electoral and constitution review. Perhaps , in the history of constitutional democracy in the country no election has been that controversial .
Amid widespread public outcries that trailed the conduct and outcome of the poll, President Umoru Musa Yarâ€™ Adua himself admitted there were flaws in the exercise . He consequently promised his administration would carry out electoral reforms that would meet Nigeriansâ€™ yearnings. In fulfillment of this, Justice Muhammadu Uwais led electoral reform panel was set-up.
After completing its job, the panel submitted a comprehensive report which contained fundamental and far reaching reforms. but by the time the federal government issued its white paper on the report , it was far from what most Nigerians expected .
The president had also sent six executive bills to the National Assembly for consideration in reviewing the constitution.Â In the two chambers of the National Assembly , the process of amending the 1999 Constitution is also on.Â But many have expressed doubts over the ability of the federal lawmakers to amend the constitution before 2011 general elections.
Part ofÂ Â Uwais recommendations, for instance, anticipates constitution review. Example is the unbundling of the Independent NationalÂ Electoral Commission INEC.
However, some groups have been advocating a more fundamentalÂ approach to the issues. Recently, former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, convened a Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform CODER. Since inauguration , the body has been calling for total adoption of Uwais report.Â For CODER, implementing the report to its letter is the only wayÂ to ensure that peoplesâ€™ votes will count at elections.
Recently however, another group that calls itself â€˜ Change Nigeriaâ€™ came out with a more radical approach to the political problems facing the country.
With some of its leaders drawn from chieftains of National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, the group rejected the 1999 Constitution outright and called for regional constitutions in its place.
From these proposed regional constitutions, each region will determine portions of its sovereignty it wishes to surrenderÂ Â to the centre.Â Â It is from these collections of regional donations of powers that a central constitutionÂ Â will emerge while each region will exercise authorities in its jurisdiction. â€˜Change Nigeriaâ€™ warnedÂ that any attempt to conduct 2011 general elections with the current constitution could spell doom for the countryâ€™s future .
It also cautioned the National Assembly against amending the constitution, arguing that it lacks the power to do so .Â Â Its logic: Since members of the National Assembly are products of illegitimate constitution because it was a military imposition , it is not up to them to amend the document.
Signatories to â€˜ Change Nigeriaâ€™s presentation are: Lt-Gen Alani Akinrinade,Â Rear AdmiralÂ NdubuisiÂ Kanu Rtd(chairman of the group) , ChiefÂ Solomon Asemota SAN( Ethnic National Movement) , Fred Agbeyegbe, Hon. Olawale Oshun ( Chairman, Afenifere Renewal Group) and Alhaji Yerima Shettima, (president Arewa Youth Consultative Forum).
Tracing the problems of the country to constitutional failures, the group said â€œThe search for how we got into this pit, this quagmire, starts with the circumstances of the birth of Nigeria itself, its journey through colonial parentage, internal self-governance by the federating Regions; independence and immediate post-independence teething problems; the intervention of the military in governance in 1966 and the consequent jettisoning, over time, of the federal foundations upon which Nigeria was built; the replacement of the federal structure by a unitary command-style structure in which subservient impotent-rendered, dependent states replaced erstwhile self-sustaining
Regions; the civil war; the long years of military rule during which immediacy replaced due process; the unmasked negative politics of the same period; during which resources owned and controlled by the erstwhile Regions were by various decrees hijacked and confiscated by the almighty Centre.
â€œAll attempts since 1914 at imposing the same Constitution upon all of Nigeria from the centre, instead of making a federal Constitution to federate the unitsâ€™ constitutions, are the product of deliberate policies to forcefully keep those parts of the country who have the essentials of a nation-state, away from evolving rules and regulations for giving effect to their consanguinity, their ethnography, their mythology, their religion and their language. No wonder it has remained singularly â€œunproductiveâ€.
In a statement titled, â€œThe Face of NewÂ Country Beyond Partisan Politicsâ€, it argues further that â€œThe last use to which the discarding of our ethnic nationalities and the stealing of our sovereignties were put, manifested in the 1999 Constitution in the following realities:
*A structural setting in which one Region pre-1966, has become 19 States plus the Abuja federal Capital Territory and three Regions plus the erstwhile Federal Capital Territory of Lagos of the same period, have been collapsed into 17 States with the implications for representation at the National Assembly and revenue allocation.
*A federal/states power relation equation in which the states (the supposed federating units) have become beggars at the feet of an almighty, omnipotent, omniscient and
omnipresent federal government with the states having minimal legislative power or resources to address the needs of their peoples. The tail (â€œfederalâ€ – Centre) now wags the body (â€œfederating unitsâ€ – States). Even where the States exercise legislative power, they have no enforcement machinery of their own since the centre â€˜policeâ€™ the whole of the federation.
* An expensive Presidential system has replaced the relatively cheaper Parliamentary system in which the executive branch were fully accountable to their peers in the legislature.
*A unitary system of Government in which the Centre noses into all the nooks and crannies of the land-mass, sniffing out revenue producing resources to be hijacked, appropriated and shared under a skewed Revenue Sharing Formula, with almost no reference to derivation, the very antithesis of justice and fair play; a departure from the federal system under which the then federating Regions developed at their own pace using mostly their own resources between 1953 and 1966.
* A Land Tenure System that deprives indigenes of their natural right to their lands but vests access to land in the hands of stranger elements.Â Â Â *Appropriation provisions that practically hand over blank cheques to the President and the 36 Governors who are at liberty to spend from the treasury while appropriation debates are still going on in the legislatures.
*An immunity clause that effectively puts beyond our reach for query and sanction, the 37 men and their deputies whose signatures move all the monies contained in our treasury and who exercise full control over our commonwealth. Corruption remains hale and hearty, dwelling in the impregnable fortress of the Immunity Clause.
*An electoral system in which the Centre and the party in power at the Centre have absolute control over the entire electioneering machinery throughout the country.
In its outright rejection of the 1999 Constitution, the group contended that , â€œover-centralisation, is at the heart of the inefficiencies and corruption that has brought Nigeria to where it is today.â€
It addedÂ that â€œall the initiatives, genuine and otherwise, aimed at fighting corruption, reforming the Electoral System, improving infrastructure and alleviating poverty, will come to â€œAccording to â€˜Change Nigeriaâ€™,â€œthe conduct of any further national elections under the 1999 Constitution is further propagation of illegitimacy.
â€œTherefore we demand that before any further national elections a sovereign national conference must be convened as the first step towards the institution of a process that would put in place a truly peoples constitution. Failure to immediately initiate a process by which a fresh constitution is negotiated could spell doom for Nigeria as already predicted.
â€œTherefore all those no matter their ethnic nationalities, no matter their political colouration, who contributed in one way or the other to the destruction of this country should be prepared to take responsibility for their actionsâ€.
While insisting on a meeting of the ethnic nationalities in the country to fashion a new federal constitution, it said: â€œThe key is to sit down and agree and in the case of Nigeria, it is only in that light that we can understand that seemingly innocuous phrase: â€œwe the people of Nigeria…â€ which has continued to plague our so-called constitution-making with its worst manifestation in the 1999 Constitution.
â€œBehold, that phrase is the architectural design for meting out a fate tending to something worse than slavery, worse than the apartheid segregation system; it is the foundation for stealing and denying us the sovereignties which we inherited from our fore-bearers and our virtual exclusion from legitimate participation in our own affairs.
â€œIt is the gorged cheque under which our resources are being cashed over our heads and squandered with impunity by the custodians of our stolen sovereigntiesâ€.
The group added that â€œwe have gone the wrong way and we posit that no matter how far a traveler has gone on the wrong way, he should turn back and take the right path if he intends to reach his destination. It is essential that the denied sovereignties be returned to the people.
â€œFailure to do so could amount to encouraging or forcing them to begin to consider ways to salvage their futureâ€.
Dismissing fears that jettisoning the constitution could engender chaos, the group said â€œSome naturally fear that any tampering with the 1999 Constitution would lead to anarchy. That fear is misplaced in view of the fact that there is already a model of what is prescribed to be done in the form of the Draft Peoples Constitution which emerged from the Peoples National Conference organized by Pro-National Conference OrganisationÂ (PRONACO) betweenÂ Â 2005-2006.
In terms of process and content, the Draft PRONACO Constitution provides a guide on how Nigeria can be returned to a true Federal Union. We note with great pride that since the inception of Nigeria, the Draft Peoples Constitution is the only constitution known to have emerged wholly from the unfettered participation of the ethnic nationalities in Nigeria and has been openly
endorsed by a majority of them because they participated in its making and it answers to the issues of their pains in a wobbling Nigeria which they blame on the present constitution.â€ But the question that begs answer is: can this mission be accomplished?