By Alfa Belgore
We have Oba of Benin, Asagba of Asaba, Obi of Onitsha, Emirs, Sultan, Shehu of Borno, Alaafin of Oyo, Ooni of Ife, all traditional rulers. In the Republican Constitution of 1963, like the independence Constitution of 1959, our cultures, norms and religions were adequately catered for. In the regions – we had Houses of Assembly with concurrent Houses of chiefs.
At Federal level we had the senate which included some traditional rulers. The two constituencies worked well. Is our present Constitution really working? My answer with the greatest respect is that it is far from working. Right from grassroots we have virtually destroyed our cultures and in the process threw away our time-honoured discipline.
The local government chairman is greater than his traditional ruler with the traditional ruler not having any role. If there is civil disorder in any state, the governor, Assembly member, councillors may become helpless, sometimes physically threatened, but appearance of traditional ruler calms the situation immediately. Are the traditional rulers not relevant?
It will be a great error and ignorance to write them off. The framers of 1999 Constitution certainly looked across the ocean to borrow a Constitution totally irrelevant to us.
We may make one thousand amendments in our present Constitution we shall still remain with irrelevant document as our fountain of laws.
The spate of robberies and kidnappings will not exist if from village head to classified ruler we have their role well defined and articulated in Constitution and laws made thereunder. No strange face will enter a community without the local rulers knowing. What i am articulating is not new because it exists somewhere in the Commonwealth. Malaysia is a Federation like Nigeria; it is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations but it is not under the Queen of the United Kingdom.
They have a number of traditional rulers who by rotation become the Federation’s king (AGOG) for a defined period (I believe 5 years). He, the Agog, dissolves the parliament, appoints the Prime Minister, and swears in the minister and Federal Judicial Officers. It has worked very well from 1957 up to now. My argument may sound impossible in attainment but without it we are living on borrowed time. The states will be there with their Houses of Assembly but we must adjust our Constitution with new nomenclatures and with commissioners as also members of the Assembly except the Attorney-General. The National Assembly will similarly produce ministers from among their members.
The Disgraceful Trial of Election Petitions
The main reason for the inordinate delays in electoral adjudication is not due to the fault of the electoral tribunals, rather it is due to archaic and totally ridiculous procedures we have for trying all matters in our courts. There is need to repeal all our procedures – civil and criminal – so as to enhance expeditious trial of cases. The present civil procedures (especially the one borrowed from Lagos state) do not address adequately timeousness and cost of litigation. What we borrowed from colonial masters of England is not suitable for our present progress. The procedures are archaic, expensive and is not of help for expeditious trial. United States of America has nothing to teach us because their procedures have no respect for timeous trial of cases and for cost effectiveness.
It will be a great thing for the Chief Justice of Nigeria to call a National conference on procedures. Such a conference will discuss fully the new way forward to speedy and cost effective trial of cases. Luckily the Constitution provides for the head of court to provide the procedures for trying cases. Such a conference is urgently needed and can arrive at new procedures before 2011.
In conclusion, i make bold to say that we have made a lot of progress in putting in place the enabling legal and organisational framework for having a good election. What is missing is the citizen’s own readiness to appropriate and take responsibility for following every stage of the process; that is, to register to vote; to vote and make sure the vote is counted and the proper result declared. This is the process that will lead to institution of government. At this stage in our electoral history and experience so far, we should look more at this idea of electorate reform.
The truth is, once the citizens change their attitudes and agree to say no to all forms of abuses; once they are prepared to rise and defend their votes rather than be bought over through material inducements and used to subvert the electoral process, we shall record massive improvement. You will see that as soon as the people themselves engage in self mobilisation, to assert their sovereignty, then and only then, can we have a truly people based reform that will take root and consolidate this democracy.