BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, Deputy Political Editor
GRADUALLY, a consensus it seems is emerging on the kind of constitution Nigerians want. If aggregate opinions of stakeholders, eminent persons and ethnic-based organisations were anything to go by, the citizenry want a truly federal constitution as opposed to the prevailing 1999 Constitution.
And getting such a code-book is beyond piece-meal amendments being carried out by the National Assembly. It requires a national conference to tackle critical and fundamental issues such as restructuring, devolution of power, derivation, state police and system of government among others.
Proponents of a national conference hing the nation’s intractable socio-economic and development problems to a flawed groundnorm. They say that the raging debate over removal of fuel subsidies, inability of most states to pay N18,000 minimum wage and the face-off between the Federal Government and state governments over the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) among others justify the need for restructuring of the polity.
Flawed constitution bane of our development – Nwabueze
Indeed, Legal icon and former Federal Education Secretary, Professor Ben Nwabueze said: “In confronting the problems facing Nigeria today we must all work together. The problem first and foremost has to do with the constitution. We claim to have transited to a democracy. Have we really? Can there be democracy without democratic constitution?
“Ours is to try to evolve a democratic constitution and to do this you must involve the people through a referendum. You cannot talk about a national conference without involving ethnic nationalities. We must have a peoples’ constitution. We have never had a people’s constitution in this country. Some people in the National Assembly are saying ‘no’ because they want to amend the constitution.
“If you want to amend the constitution and touch fundamental issues, you must go to the people. You don’t touch fundamental structure without going to the people. We hope that the National Assembly and government will listen so that Nigeria will not collapse because if Nigeria collapses, it will fall on all of us.”
Let’s return to regionalism – opposition parties
Opposition political parties have canvassed that any state which could not generate at least 70 per cent of its needed revenue should fold up. They called for the scrapping of the state governments and a return to regionalism as a way out of the current near-total dependence on federal allocation.
These positions came on the heels of the current face-off between the Federal and State Governments over the SWF.
Chairman of the Action Alliance (AA), Senator Sulaimon Salau, urged urgent return to true federalism to save the country from imminent collapse. “To prevent the collapse of Nigeria, we need constitutional reforms. Federalism is the only system that accommodates diverse people as we have in Nigeria. All the crises, ethnic problems, Jos crises, etc are due to faulty federalism. The present Nigerian system is not working. Only true federalism will save Nigeria,” he said.
Chief Maxi Okwu, Chairman, Citizens Popular Party, reportedly said that Nigeria was better off with regions, which used the funds they generated to develop their areas.
“We sincerely think that states that cannot regenerate enough money to run its affairs should close up. We must jettison the drunkenness of over-dependence on Niger Delta oil,” he said.
Okwu said that although the Federal Government lacked the constitutional powers to unilaterally draw funds from the consolidated revenue account, it did not exonerate the over-dependence of states on the centre.
“Aside one or two states that are viable, the rest simply wait for the (federal) allocation, which is wrong,” Okwu lamented.
Also speaking, the Chairman of the National Action Council (NAC), Dr Olapade Agoro, observed that it was wrong for states to run to the Federal Government for money every month because “the allocation should be an added revenue not the basic revenue needed to operate.”
He said that there was need for Nigeria to revert to the principle of derivation, adding that states that rely solely on the Federal Government for existence should be scrapped. Agoro averred that unless Nigeria operated true federalism, there would always be crisis in the polity.
Nigeria’s problem is systemic– Ikokwu
In like manner, Second Republic politician and one of the founders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Guy Ikokwu, said in addition to having a people’s constitution, there was need to jettison the presidential system of government for a parliamentary one.
His words: “It is quite clear by now that the 1999 constitution was framed more by the military than by the population because it was not the result of either a constituent assembly or a national conference. The national conference which was to have been held in Lagos about 1967 was unilaterally cancelled by General Yakubu Gowon the former head of the federal military government.
“General Obasanjo attempted to amend the constitution after the conference held in Abuja failed because of his attempted third term coup. Since then the present National Assembly in its last session carried out some amendments of the constitution and is now planning another round of amendments.
“It is quite clear that the main problem with Nigerian politics and governance is systemic. It has to do with the system of government that we are presently adopting which is more unitary than federal politically and fiscally. The country has to choose immediately between the presidential system of government which is very expensive and unaccountable on the one part and the parliamentary system which is less expensive, accountable, democratic and conducive to party discipline.
“Presently, there are about 30 former governors who in the last eight years of service to the nation have been charged by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for crimes against the nation and embezzlement of funds ranging from N10 billion to N100billion in each case. Almost all of these governors are on bail and have even conducted elections and are enjoying public offices and privileges.
“If we look at the constitutions which our former leaders had in the past when the country gained its independence from Britain it will be seen that there is a clear difference between the attitudes of our former leaders and our present leaders and governors.
“It is quite certain today that majority of Nigerians would prefer the truly federal and parliamentary systems or a slight mixture of the presidential and parliamentary system than the present presidential system in which the president or the governors run the government unilaterally, dictatorially and in a way that diminishes almost totally the functions of the legislature or even the judiciary.
“During the military dictatorships of Babangida and Abacha and Abubarkar and the struggle for the removal of the military from politics the Western zone and the Afenifere held meetings and drew up their own constitution for their own republic or zone based on the parliamentary system and the devolution of more powers from the centre to the zone and states. Similar meetings had been held in the South South and South East and maybe Middle-Belt. There is need for all the zones to meet and come up with their own resolutions.”
Nigeria needs to get it right now– Okunniyi
Spokesman of eminent leaders of thought in the country under the aegis of the National Consensus Group of the Project Nigeria Movement (PNM), Mr Wale Okunniyi, said Nigeria was toying with chaos by foot-dragging on restructuring the polity via a national confab.
Indeed, PNM leaders such as Alhaji Maitama Sule, Prof Ben Nwabueze, Dr Tunji Braithwaite, Dr Kalu Idika Kalu, Chief Audu Ogbeh, Dr Lateef Adegbite, Barr Olisa Agbakoba and Mr Ledum Mittee have started initiating moves for a national conference.
Okunniyi lamented that Nigerians had never had the opportunity of independently fashioning their own constitution. Noting that Libya, which just emerged from 42 years of dictatorship was taking steps to hold national conference and then a referendum, he urged the Federal Government not to further squander the nation’s scares resources on amending the 1999 constitution but to summon the necessary will to convene a peoples’ national conference
Disclosing that Prof Ben Nwabueze was currently harmonizing two constitutional reform bills of the group ahead of its proposed Political Reform Conference slated for November in Kaduna, where the bills would be adopted, Okunniyi said: “Nigerian people have already rejected the 1999 Constitution even as amended in 2011 because it still lacks the requisite legitimacy and moral basis to continue to compel obligations from Nigerians given its unpopular origin and narrow reform process.”
The political activist stressed that the electoral challenges in the country – Boko Haram hostilities and other bottled up anger in other parts of the country, pervasive corruption in the land, fuel subsidy tension and current face off between state Governors and the President over national resources were symptoms of the template created by the military in 1999 for the failure of the Nigerian democracy.
“We hope government will listen to the voice of the people and do what is right before this contraption goes up in flames. Government cannot continue to spend huge funds to amend an imposed military decree in the name of the 1999 constitution and hope to get the people to own, respect and defend such dictation called laws,” he added.
We need new constitution, not amendment – IYC
To the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), the 1999 Constitution is an irredeemably flawed military document that must be changed by the people via a national confab.
Apart from a new codebook, about 2000 members of the group and their allies, who converged at Ibeno, an Ijaw Clan in Akwa Ibom State at the weekend for a conference, also demanded immediate restructuring of Nigeria, and passing into law the 10 per cent community equity participation in the Nigerian Joint Venture arrangement as pronounced by the Government of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
In a communique by Mr Hamilton Opuende (chairman) and Mr Aladiokuma Henry Hart (secretary), the group, which also demanded for a distinct political and administrative political entity for the eastern Ijaws in the Niger Delta region, decried the present Nigerian constitution as “an irredeemably flawed military decree No 24 of 1999, which can never be made acceptable to Nigerians through the National Assembly amendment process except by a peoples’ conference properly initiated by government.”
They rejected the Constitution even as amended in 2011, saying it lacked the requisite legitimacy and moral basis to continue to compel obligations from them if it was not replaced urgently at a national dialogue.
“For we shall not hesitate to confront the Nigerian state if it continues to supplant and subvert the will of Nigerians through its hopeless constitutional hara-kiri tagged amendments. It is time for the National Assembly to allow Nigerians to discuss and agree peacefully as those who have made peaceful change impossible in the history of human societies have always made violent change possible.” the youths warned