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Cosmetic changes as constitutional amendments

By Owei Lakemfa
THE  proposed amendments of the 1999 Constitution are in the closing stage. It is actually a stage  because it is a comic play crafted by the leading political players in the name of  the people.

But the people whose sovereignty has been usurped by few politicians, are of no interest to those pushing the amendments; fundamental issues affecting the masses are not reflected.

The amendment play which was partly staged in the state assemblies has the main ingredients of the linear Nollywood script.

Its urgency is etched on the contrived controversy of a terminally ill president who refused to admit his illness, and  like a dog in the manger, refused to make way for his deputy even to act even for a second.

Initially, the power blocs, including the National Assembly, state governors and the ruling wing of the political equation accented.

Rather than think and act in accordance with their claimed  mandate, they serenaded the populace with supplications to the Almighty,  blackmailed  the rest of the people into endless prayers while dishing out fake health bulletins.

When this sick drama was turning tragic with the real possibility  that the entire ‘democratic’ contraption was going to end up in smoke by a renewed power seizure by a military that is still suffering withdrawal symptoms, the political leadership agreed to allow  the Vice President  act.

I had been part of the pressure to install the  acting president not because I hoped for fundamental changes, but having fought military regimes most of my youth and lost some comrades in the process, I know how deadly, irresponsible  and utterly useless military rule is.

Although almost all beneficiaries of these struggles were apologists or agents of the military regimes, there is the consolation that at least Nigerians can freely debate and  there is no fear of detention without trial.

In fact, we are free to  publicly demonstrate our feelings as we did in demanding for an acting president without obtaining permit from any state authority. Comparing military and civil rule is like making a comparison between a moonless night and dawn; but it is not yet daylight.

The other leg of the proposed amendments is how the various factions of the political elites can rule over the people and have dominion over our collective wealth without over-heating the system and causing internal combustion.

So all factions are to abide by some rules such as “letting the votes count” as much as possible, and strengthening the hand of the electoral body to be fairer to all factions rather than be the ready tool of the ruling gang.

In many parts of the country during the 2003 elections, voting was not allowed, rather, votes were manufactured and  electoral  agents signed results  of elections that never took place.

If the 2003 elections in which the military were turned out in parts of the country to suppress legitimate voting and protests were very bad, the 2007 situation was far worse to the extent that its main beneficiary, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua in his inaugural speech acknowledged the problem and the need for basic electoral changes.

It is not surprising that despite the tightening of the electoral rules which made it difficult to prove rigging, lots of state and federal assembly results in the 2007 elections were upturned while a third of the gubernatorial election results declared did not survive.

The results in Adamawa, Bayelsa, Sokoto, Cross Rivers, Kogi and Ekiti states  were upturned  while different governors rather than those declared in the April 2007 gubernatorial elections emerged in Edo, Anambra, Ondo and Rivers states. The  results in Osun State are still matters  before the Election  Tribunal over three years after a supposed winner was sworn in for a four-year tenure.

That in Imo State which was initially awarded to the APGA candidate, Martins Agbaso was cancelled and given to the PPA candidate, Ikedi Ohakim with the understanding that he would decamp to the ruling PDP.

With such brazen robbery of mandate and denial of the vote, it is clear that the party cannot go on for too long.

It is these twin issues of how to allow a fairer electoral contest and regulate incumbents’ stay in office, rather than people-centred issues that are the core amendments proposed.

So a ‘highly contentious’ issue in the proposed amendment is independent candidature in a polity with over 50  political parties with more in the offing!

Others are checking cross -carpeting  by elected politicians, and raising the minimum educational qualification for elections from school certificate to diploma in a country that denies its citizens basic education, and the quality of its tertiary certificates is suspect.

Other  amendments proposed are that general elections should hold six months before the expiration of the incumbent’s tenure obviously to accommodate litigations; but the greater challenge is how to check electoral cases that elongate for three years or more.

Another is the automatic transmission of vacation letter by incumbent presidents and governors within three weeks to allow their deputies act rather than allow the Yar’Adua-like “ for better, for worse, in good health and in sickness, till death do us part” approach to power.

Another addition is that there will be no tenure elongation   for governors who are declared winners of re -run elections. The independent funding of the judiciary, the Independent National Electoral  Commission and the legislature also make the bill for the proposed amendments.

Senate President, David Mark has also vowed that new states, and inevitably, new local governments will be created within one year. This will be welcome to the politicians as both are  a basis of sharing the country’s wealth.
The argument here is not to suggest that amendments are not needed in the 1999 unitary constitution  imposed by a departing military junta, or that electoral reforms are not needed. Rather, it is  that the proposed amendments are not fundamental to the very existence of the people and the federal system. Let us meet here next week to discuss amendments that can be fundamental.


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