By Bamidele Aturu
Recent tinkering with the Constitution of the Nigerian state in order to deal with the crisis of succession among the constitutive elements of the state has made the issue of an authentic constitutional framework for the development of Nigeria topical and urgent. Since 1922 when the first Constitution was made by the colonialists up to 2010 when some sections of the existing 1999 Constitution were purportedly amended certain issues have been recurrent.
First, there is unanimity, surprisingly across class, region and gender that the people of Nigeria have never made for themselves any Constitution. In other words, all the constitutions without any exception are impositions on the people by the dominant forces that organize or constitute the Nigerian state at any particular point in time.
As S.C. Ugoh rightly observed, ‘there has been a clear evidence of a continuing commitment to an elitist, non-transparent, non-inclusive and undemocratic approach to constitution-making. Second and more fundamentally, the Constitutions are not ideologically neutral and are essentially the same on the fundamental issues of accumulation of capital and control of power. I shall argue that the Constitution of a state is but the legal validation of the will and interest of the class in power presented as the interest of the entire people.
Thus, the traditional and dominant trend of seeing the Constitution merely as a law which regulates the relationship between organs and tiers of government does not find favour with me as I consider it formalistic and superficial. It follows that our analysis of the role of the Nigerian Labour Movement in constitution making is an exercise in highlighting the place of labour in writing a new will (or testament) and a new interest as law for the Nigerian society.
That I will again argue is a revolutionary project. This paper will therefore not focus on cataloguing proposals made by the labour movement for insertion into any of the Constitutions, although we would attempt to paint a general picture of the type of constitutional proposals that the labour movement ought to champion in elaboration of our main theses.
My aim is to critique the existing constitutional order (not necessarily the constitutions, although that may be unavoidable) by showing that it cannot guarantee the development of Nigeria and to identify the way forward for the reconstitution and development of the Nigerian state; for a new constitution can only follow that reconstitution.
The State and the Constitution
The State has been a subject of broad and wide-ranging academic discourse, and expectedly, there exists a vast literature on it. While, we will not review the abundant literature here, we intend to discuss briefly two theoretical perspectives on the state.
The first views the state in institutional terms and focuses on the functions of its organs. Gianfranco Poggi’s general definition of the state seems typical of the perspective of the institutionalists. According to him, the state is ‘a complex set of institutional arrangements for rule operating through the continuous and regulated activities of individuals acting as occupants of offices.
There is the other view, shared by scholars of the Marxist tradition, which conceives the state as the instrument of class domination of society by the capitalists or the bourgeoisie. Incidentally, there is a passage in Poggi’s The Development of the Modern State that seems to corroborate this view.
In describing the liberal state he made the point that it was ‘constructed to favour and sustain through its acts of rule the class domination of the bourgeoisie over the society as a whole’ and that ‘the equality of all individuals before the law made sense as a constitutional principle because as a matter of course the legal protection of private property directed the order-keeping, law enforcement, and repressive activities of police and courts to favour the interests of the propertied groups’
Viewing the state as simply a set of institutions is rather problematic. The definition does not pose or answer the questions: Which class sets up the institutions and dominate it? What are the interests protected by the institutions?; Can the state be reconstituted? and, If so, how? et cetera. This definition which presents the state as acting on behalf of the whole society, as if the institutions are voluntarily set up by all.
, and does not indicate the specific interest(s) which it serves, contradicts our knowledge or position that society is made up of different interests and classes.
If we proceed from the premise that the Nigerian society is made up of different classes, as I do, then one can easily appreciate that the Nigerian state does not exist and can possibly not exist to protect the interest of all the classes of Nigerians. In other words, the Nigerian state is the instrument of the dominant class, the propertied class, for the protection of the interests of that class and necessary subjugation of the interests of the working class.
There are ample writings to justify my conclusion on the existence of class and the relevance of class analysis to the Nigerian polity that I do not feel obliged to furnish further elaboration as that is not my aim in this paper.