Will Nigerians obey the new Constitution?
By Pini Jason
IN recent times,Nigeria has preoccupied itself with the review/amendment of the 1999 Constitution, as amended. Yes, as amended! It is less than three years since the constitution was amended, you remember?
Now we are at it again. Let me say that the exercise is very desirable. We all acknowledge the flaws in the Constitution. I was a member of the Citizens’ Forum for Constitution Reform, CFCR, that, from 1999 to 2002, looked at the flaws in the 1999 Constitution and came out with a model constitution.
The gender issue that played out during the aborted swearing in of Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo as a Judge of theAppeal Court was just one of the several abnormalities in the 1999 Constitution interrogated during those efforts.
Even though the efforts of the CFCR and other civil society organisations were made available to the politicians during the money-guzzling nationwide gyrations about constitution amendment, including Obasonjo’s National Political Reform Conference, the politicians simply looked the other way and embarked on self-serving exercise with the sole intent to consolidate their stranglehold on the people.
So I have no illusions whatsoever about the necessity for a more inclusive and participatory constitution review process as the recent exercise tried to achieve.
Lawlessness, our bane
I am also one of those who believe that a more law abiding people would have made more progress with the 1999 Constitution even with all the flaws. Many Nigerians will say that our problem as a nation is ethnicity. Others will even say our problem is corruption.
But I will say that the crises of the nation from independence have been largely because of our unwillingness to obey the laws we made for ourselves by ourselves! Nigerians, especially our political leaders, are geniuses when it comes to sidestepping, avoiding and outright disobeying of our laws.
So the question many people are asking now is what use would the present effort serve if at the end the outcome will not be obeyed or we lack the will to enforce them? Those who express such scepticisms have good reasons.
Though our laws are the same but we have two systems of application; the poor man who steals a goat may rot in jail awaiting trial; the big man who steals billions can have his passport released to him to go abroad for medical tourism, and if ever convicted (which is near impossible with a retinue of Senior Advocates of Nigeria who arrange plea-bargaining) he simply spends time in a five star cell in a private hospital!
The 1999 Constitution, for example, provided that when a legislator elected on the platform of a political party defects to another party, he or she loses his or her seat, except in the case where the party on whose platform the legislator was elected is factionalised or merges with another party.
I am aware that there was a Supreme Court ruling during the Obasanjo-Atiku imbroglio as it affected a president or vice president and a similar ruling on governors during Governor Yuguda’s case.
But I cannot remember if there has been a similar ruling concerning legislators or when that section of the Constitution was deleted or amended. But we have witnessed many legislators defect to other parties without the leadership of the National Assembly as much as calling their attention to the provision of the law.
It is as if it did not exist. There was a case where a court, I think is a South West state, ruled that a defecting legislator should vacate his seat. Otherwise that provision in the Constitution is as good as dead.
Those decent enough to go through the motion of obeying the law went to their wards to simulate crisis and thereafter told us that their party was factionalised! We all know that what the Constitution envisaged was fractionalisation of a party at the national level! Yet, the law makers have been law breakers, taking the nation for a ride!
Between November 23, 2009 when President UmaruYar’Adua went to theKingdomofSaudi Arabiafor medical treatment and May 2010 when he died, the nation was dragged through what many agreed was a needless constitutional crisis over a simple matter of writing to inform the National Assembly about his medical vacation as provided by the Constitution.
It was clear then to any discernible person that a president who made rule of law a cardinal principle of his administration could not wilfully subject the nation to the trauma we went through; meaning that at the time and in the condition President Yar’Adua left the country, he may not have been in a position to transmit a letter before proceeding to Saudi Arabia.
But it was some power mongers around him who did not want such constitutional provision obeyed. After all, if Yar’Adua was able to sign a Supplementary Budget from his hospital bed, it would have been possible for him to sign a letter!
The crux of the matter was that transmitting the letter to the National Assembly would have transferred power to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to become Acting President till Yar’Adua returned.
Why the Constitution provided for a joint ticket of a President and Vice President was to avoid vacuum in the nation’s leadership. It clearly stated that where for any reason the President could not carry out his or her responsibilities, the Vice President stepped in.
But there were people who did not want that law obeyed so that power did not go to Jonathan. They, therefore, devised all manner of lies and shenanigans that made the nation look ridiculous and unserious in the eyes of the world.
Even when, for the fear that the Federal Executive Council was about to invoke section 144 of the Constitution, the manipulators (we called them “the cabal” then) hurriedly ferried Yar’Adua back to the country, the serial lies continued. Today, Yar’Adua was seen climbing ten flights of stairs; the next day he was seen playing squash; yet another time he was seen in his study!
The next day he receives marabouts and Pentecostal clerics! Yet, the man would not see his Vice or go to his office! An impression was created that there were two Presidents in the Villa! It was all lies to avoid obeying the Constitution.
Religious & geographical sentiments
When we try to obey the Constitution, we infuse into it religious and geographical sentiments for what we call balance. Thus, when the President is a Northerner, we ensure that his Vice is a Southerner. When he is a Christian, we insist that his Vice must be a Muslim.
This so-called balance satisfies our short term expectations until something happens, as in the case of Yar’Adua’s illness and death, which puts such short term calculations to test. Then, the Southern Vice President is no longer good enough to succeed his principal and the Muslim Vice becoming President is construed as an attempt to Islamise the country!
If we know we are never going to stand by the Federal characterisation of the presidency, why not have Northern-Northern, Christian-Christian or Muslim-Muslim ticket (as we had in 1993) so that should the Yar’Adua scenario occur, we do not feel we are losing power?
TarabaStatepresented a case similar to the Yar’Adua scenario recently when Governor Suntai was ferried toGermanyfor treatment and some elements tried to frustrate his Deputy from taking over. These things show a tragic lack of respect for the law.
Last week, the Daily Sun newspaper reported the arrest of a member of the Federal House of Representatives at the Games Village Junction in Abuja by Vehicle Inspection Officers, VIO, for driving against the traffic (Daily Sun November 23, 2012, page 13). He was reported to have resisted arrest because he was hurrying to a meeting with Dr. NgoziOkonjo-Iweala, the Minister of Finance. Even Mr. Steve Orosanya will scream: “So what?!”
It was further reported that the recalcitrant law breaker challenged the officer to watch out for public officers who have exception while using the road as the rule should be bent for their sake! His quote: “That is why am telling you that in government there are people that are allowed to bend some of the laws”.
This is a typical example of why we have the rot in our system. AUS senator that does this knows that he will land in jail and such a scandal that may cost him his seat! But not inNigeria! Ours is a jungle!
The former National Security Adviser, Gen. Azazi, traced the present violence in some parts of Northern Nigeria to the crisis of zoning in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Some disputed the link to violence, and indeed the President and the PDP did not seem to share Azazi’s sense of humour; he thereafter lost his job. But many agreed with Azazi. However, we can locate a sidestepping of the zoning rule inscribed in the constitution of the PDP in the emergence of President Jonathan as candidate of the party in 2011.
People who had different views, including the former chairman of PDP, Chief Vincent Ogbulafor, met with certain unpleasantness. There is no knowing the trajectory the country would have followed had the PDP obeyed its own rules. And this is not peculiar to the PDP alone.
The opposition parties that hypocritically criticise the PDP are no better when it comes to obeying their own rules. That is why there is hardly any political party today that is not crisis ridden, to the detriment of peace and stability of the country.
Even with the tentative attempt to define our country as a secular state, we still see religion intruding into the political affairs of the country with attendant tension.
Clerics have openly campaigned for political parties by sending threatening text messages to voters about damnation and in a certain case clerics in full regalia were seen at polling booths intimidating voters. Many times workers’ unions have subjected the nation to avoidable traumatic work stoppages on the grounds that governments refused to obey agreements reached with the unions.
Corruption is ravaging our country today simply because people are violating laws and, unfortunately, getting away with it. At the root of our inability to make progress as a nation is our penchant to disobey laws.
In every case of political instability you can always locate where the law has been flagrantly violated. Nigerians not only want to have their say, they also insist on having their way, whether right or wrong!
Nigeriais the only country I know that wants to be one of the best in the world, but with a set of rules different from that which produces the best among nations. Take theUnited States of Americawhose presidential system we copied and which we cite as a model of democracy, for example.
This is a country where a governor goes to jail and a president is brought to book for breaking any law. Every major and minor infraction of the law is punished no matter whose ox is gored.
But here we chose which law to obey and when to obey it as well as which law should be bent for us. So the question on many lips now is of what use would it be if we write a fantastic new constitution which the politicians will only obey in the breach?
Biafra, Odi and defenders of genocide
I WAS amused by the altercation between the Obasanjo camp and President Jonathan’s camp. In a recent speech in Warri, Obasanjo reportedly dismissed President Jonathan as a weak leader over his handling of the security challenges of the country.
And in his recent media chat, President Jonathan counter-punched Obasonjo for killing defenceless old men, women and children in Odi, Bayelsa and Zaki-Biam inBenue. He said OBJ killed defenceless civilians and not militants.
And pronto, Femi Fani-Kayode, the historian, jumped out to rationalise that, actually, the massacre of men, women and children in Odi helped stem the killing of security men by militants!
Few weeks ago, Femi Fani-Kayode jumped out to defend Chief Obafemi Awolowo and excoriate Chinua Achebe’s deprecation of Awo’s use of mass starvation as weapon of war against Biafrans. Mass starvation of Biafrans quickened the end of the war, he rationalised.
And Gen. Gowon lent his support by insisting he had no regrets for using mass starvation against Biafrans. But last week, Gowon again lent his voice, except that this time he was lambasting Obasanjo, for killing innocent civilians in Odi!
It seems genocide is becoming a golden bullet for quickly dealing with our national problems!
I found these exchanges, especially Gen. Gowon’s intervention in both cases, very interesting. Now, my question to Gen. Gowon is, when is genocide not genocide?