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NA and the 1999 constitution amendments

By Goldson Emem

THE Nigerian National Assembly (NASS) has in the past 10 years demonstrated gross incompetence.
I postulate that the above statement is not only fact but also true.  This discussion is not intended to argue this. However, we will make an attempt to substantiate it.

I think it is needful to scold the “honourable house(s)”, if peradventure I may have contributed in a little way to remind them that they owe it to their person, the Nation and posterity to work in the path of honour.

I have presented a perspective to the discussion by defining a set of criteria to measure the performance of the National Assembly. And it is to these that they have performed woefully. I presume that while these may not be exhaustive they will be indicative of the expectations from a representation arm of government anywhere in the world and at any stage of her history. The validity of these criteria, methinks require no need for extensive debate.

Firstly, the NASS has not contributed in any tangible way in strengthening National Unity and a sense of oneness. The NASS has not only failed in this respect but also deepened our lack of faith in the polity. In our short history as a country, we have drifted from three competing regions to six fiercely antagonising geo-political zones.  And subterranean to the above are actually 36 (with increasing agitation for more) contesting entities. It may not be a bad idea to really have 250 states to properly meet the genuine agitations for determination by each tribe and ethnic group.

I personally consider the agitation for state creation as a symptom of a deeper ailment.

Secondly, the NASS is grossly negligent of its charter –the Constitution. This is probably the “stroke that broke the camel’s back”. In the last administration the Senate (or the NASS) identified over 100 elements of the current constitution that require amendments. It generated no little hullabaloo, in the final event not one word, phrase, clause, sentence or article was changed.

In this respect I see the NASS as real representation of the people of the country. We joy in having lengthy discussions about issues and not lifting a finger to solve the problem. A people that care more for the National Soccer team and coach winning a match much more than a President delivering on critical national issues.

I feel shame when the nation runs into a frenzy that the Eagles fail to win a match of 90 minutes, but is complacent to discuss the “millipede pace” of the Administration in pursuing any developmental aspect, be it a 1-point or 7-point agenda.

This patience is madness; it is of a wrong order. I hold the NASS accountable for capitulating on the ignorance and narrow-mindedness of the generality of the people. The effectiveness of this scheme takes it root from the deep-seated distrust in the survival of our nationhood. It was exactly the antics used for the amendments of the constitution penultimate the third term agenda. It is smokescreen.

This ploy I like to suggest stems from the interplay of these factors. 1). It is calculated to divert attention. This will give the largest party in Africa the time to stealthily bring in new candidates from the back door. To distract from Mr President’s health challenge and the unsavoury public discourse –which properly should be based on the performance of the administration.

Present a sense of touching base with the aspirations of the people, preparatory to re-election bids. This is manifest in the agenda and proceedings at the sessions that are conducted in such a manner that appear to collate the desires of the people.

It beats my imagination that these cyclically restated expectations require a re-mention, and that at the middle of 4-year tenure. 2). The NASS has found the review of the constitution sufficient joker for re-election and a way to seek relevance. If this were not so, they would have progressed with the amendment of the Electoral aspects of the constitution and also the INEC; sequel to having  undergone all of these processes.

A public debate is intending to capture public interest in a specific aspect of the subject matter –say state or community Police. The current charade is not organised to make any contribution.  I like these “honourable” members to define what clauses of the constitution that requires amendment before states can be created. Are these the subject of the public debates in the various zones? 3).

The NASS has demonstrated a lack of knowledge that it is actually a representation of the people. This state of things has its source in one of two backgrounds. The first is that a significant number of them are not rightly representatives following the kind of electioneering process that took them there. Consequently, they have not developed the stomach to amend that process.

The second is that we have a history of constituent assemblies and a call for a sovereign national conference. Nigeria has developed a precedence in which the Military administrations have demonstrated far more courage to take on topical issues – whether rightly or wrongly is another kettle of fish. In these respects, I deeply feel for the NASS. I put it to her to wake up to the challenge and now. Individual representatives are responsible for identifying the varying aspirations of their constituencies, articulating these and developing an acceptable implementation strategy.

This can be achieved by wide consultations and the use of referenda, surveys, polls and other methods of feedback to determine the pulse of their people on topical issues.

Thirdly, the NASS deserve castigation in being long on talk and short on strategy. I dare to believe that the NASS does not and has no plans on developing a master plan on any strategic development aspect for the country. The NASS has the most representation, has a better chance of continuity, has oversight function over key government institutions and can promulgate enabling legislations to support their sustenance and growth.

Assuming these suffice in calming the concerns as to the question of jurisdiction, we can now ask the following questions. Has the NASS at all desired to evolve a National Power Strategy that will meet the energy need for the next 20, 50, 75 and 100 years for Nigeria? What is the outlook for the country’s need for Petroleum Products for the next 50 years? Are we laying or building on it now?

The entire oversight functions open sessions was a show of this lack. No nation makes meaningful progress when it only looks in the past and has no idea of what the future should be like. Following the power sector probes, what structure are we building to continually meet the power need for the country for the next 25 or 50 years? We can ask the same for Transportation, Agriculture, Healthcare, Education and the very instrument of government.

Fourthly, the lack of will of the NASS to deliberate on “tough issues” of true federalism, resource control, election reforms and the cost of governance tells more of the unwillingness to make significant impact. It requires a little introspection to understand that to a large extent we are a contracting economy.

There are  by far less factories working now than in the past 10 or even 20 years. Nigeria is about one of few countries in our league that has not achieved mastery on any issue since her independence. The state of the refineries, Kainji Dam, Ajaokuta, the railways, the cocoa exports, textiles, the groundnut pyramids, the unending directionless banking reforms, the police and the education sector are enough objective evidence of the catastrophic decay and erosion in core sectors of our national economy.

The discussion on the Niger Delta militancy provided a window to tackle the issues that may evolve supposing solid minerals become a main stay of our economy or tourism, gold, agriculture. The simple fact that we stopped short of the immediate debate is anything but honourable. It is rather unbecoming of such convocation of above equals.

The developed economy did not arrive there by a  magic wand, but they always had a sense of urgency. We require dissatisfaction with the current mediocrity to start an upward spiral to evolutionary improvement for ourselves and posterity.

It is this lack among a people that are addressed as “Honourable and Your Excellency” that leaves more to be desired.

We could find many aspects that require a good hold by the NASS, but if we start with these then we can have real hope in the next 10 years. As the NASS go on their vacations, I suggest some real reflection on the enormity of the title, “Honourable”. The year 2010 should not be wasted in providing us palliatives, continuing public shows of sheer oratorical relevance.

We may not have any power to constrain you to take this path of honour. However, the paradox of the retirees and pensioners in the public service and military is enough learning opportunity. Your desired old age will remind you of how you failed to correct an evil at the time you could.

At the age when your voice and manoeuvre cannot give you the edge, the effective structures will be sufficient. It will also position the next generation to make the needed strides for the improvement of society.

Mr. Emem, a public affairs analyst, writes from Port-Harcourt.


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