This patch- patch Constitution (2)
By Josef Omorotionmwan
IT is not the intention of this column to return to what was said last week. Since senators are already bent on the ludicrous exercise of patching the already patched Constitution, this column shall only attempt to x-ray some of the proposed amendments.
Why would anyone who has the interest of this nation at heart be seeking to create more states at this time? After the last Minimum Wage Act, which some states have implemented under excruciating pains; and up till now, some states have not been able to pay the minimum wage to their workers – it became crystal clear that many states as currently constituted have flunked the viability test, which is one of the strong criteria for state creation. By now, we should be talking of acquisitions, mergers and consolidation of some states, as happened recently with the commercial banks, not creating mushroom states, just to satisfy the gubernatorial desire of some individuals.
What does anyone profit from the creation of many states that will barely exist to pay salaries – sans growth, sans development? As it were, the people are asking for rain and you are giving them rainbow. They are crying for development and you are carving out empty empires for yourself!
It is convenient for our legislators to point to the fact that America has 50 states but what they do not readily tell you is that some of those 50 states are bigger than the entire continent of Africa by every known standard of measurement – viability, land mass, population, etc. They also do not tell you that America and the rest of the advanced democracies are busy developing alternative sources of energy. While their universities are empowered to research into how to render your oil less useful, our universities are only sparsely funded to research into the packaging and sale of pure water.
Advocates of states creation hardly give thought to the fact that the oil on which we all depend is a depleting asset and it will dry up one day. Besides, there could come an administration that would drastically change the present revenue allocation formula, which really encourages indolence on the part of states. When that time comes, what are you going to do with the carcass of the idle states that you are now creating?
We shall now move to a more difficult area. Any attempt to explain the real import of Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution, which speaks of immunity for certain government functionaries, would sound like defending fraud and its perpetrators. For instance, the dubious practices of some past governors make it difficult for anyone offering an explanation to have a listening ear. The issue has become one of “Here I stand” from where there is no further shift.
Retention of immunity clause
The other day, the Chairman of the Governors’ Forum, Chief Rotimi Amaechi, was almost at a kneeling point, trying to impress on members of the Senate Committee on Constitution Review who gathered in Asaba for a three-day retreat, on the desirability of retaining the immunity clause in the Constitution.
The immunity clause is not, strictly speaking, about the present stock of governors. The Constitution is supposed to be an instrument for all time. The immunity clause provides a good protection for serious governance. It presupposes that every governor is in the business of serious governance. With time, we shall get there! The clause is not intended to protect thieves.
Evidently, there are already signs of
good governance in some of our states. Without prejudice to others, we can easily point at Edo, Akwa Ibom, Lagos, Imo, Rivers, etc., where frivolous court actions should not be allowed to impede the serious business of quality governance. Again, given the Nigerian factor, a party that has been trashed at an election is likely to resort to the institution of frivolous court actions, just to distract the serious governor from his quality service delivery. This is what Section 308 seeks to prevent.
The fault is not in our stars but in us. Government is a chain and this chain can only be as strong as its weakest link. Somewhere along the line, the legislature, which by original design, was supposed to be the most senior partner in the government family, has reduced itself to an errand boy of the executive, all because the executive holds the power of the purse.
That explains why the legislature is no longer able to assert its authority. It has, therefore, rendered itself impotent and unable to perform. Where there is a serious legislature, the executive cannot misbehave. An upright legislature that knows its onions should hold the executive in check.
The import of the immunity clause is that the moment the chief executive ceases to perform his functions, the legislators have a duty to impeach him and as soon as he is impeached and removed from office, he becomes an ordinary citizen and can therefore be dragged to court to answer for his crimes. Essentially, impeachment is not a ploy for coercing the executive into giving the legislators more pocket money. It is a serious affair.
Look at the folly in our present system: Year after year, the legislature approves an annual budget for the president or the governor.
The approval of this year’s budget is predicated on the fact that the legislators are satisfied with what the executive did with the previous year’s budget. Between the budget approval and the legislative oversights, an erring executive must be found out.
But because somebody somewhere is not performing his functions, at the end of four years, a governor is able to steal billions of Naira. While the governor heads for prison, the legislators who gave him his annual budget are walking our streets in full freedom. There is something wrong. The system is simply bizarre!