By Innocent Anaba
Chief Charles Edosomwan, SAN, a former Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General, is chairman of Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Constitutional Review and Law Reform Committee.
In this interview, he opposed Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Governor, Mallam Lamido Sanusi’s call for scrapping of local government system, advocating rather, the strengthening of the third tier of government with reasonable autonomy.
On the security situation in the country and clamours for state police, he said the on-going effort to amend the constitution should provide for the devolution of power from the Federal to the State and local governments, to reflect true federalism.
He also spoke on other national issues.
What is your impression of the recently concluded House of Representatives public hearing on constitution amendment?
If you ask me, for the immensity of the undertaking which is a sweeping amendment project of the Constitution, the whole arrangement looked rushed. This project has on the amendment plate such subjects as States Creation, Six Zoning group regional federal structure, States Policing, Executive Immunity clauses and many more fundamental provisions that in truth makes it all look like a new constitution writing project that the nationwide exercise seemed a bit casual.
Monitoring the exercise from the NBA establishment, it was reported that there were no debates or discussions on any of these deep issues but were rather ruckus affairs of “Yays” and “Nays.”
It was also reported that that as at midnight before the day of the hearings, many stakeholders were yet to know their local venues. These were some of the reasons why I said that the hearings were rushed.
Do you believe the exercise was representative enough to produce the much desired peoples’ constitution?
I wouldn’t go so far to say so. The major reason I won’t say so is that there hasn’t been that level or depth of grassroots mobilisation of awareness for a fitting significance of this particular exercise or constitutional amendments hearings.
Also, not withstanding the best intentions of the Senators, members and their facilitating consultants, it is not possible to expect a national consciousness necessary for a cohesive constitutional amendment exercise of the magnitude contemplated by the National Assembly. This is an exercise that concerns everybody from the lowest to the highest, all Nigerians.
We shouldn’t be going about it with so much haste as if the end result depends on a deadline. A lot must be done to crank up a national consciousness relating to the true meanings and significances of the constitution that should drive this country of many nations. We shouldn’t be on a short leash on this.
In what ways is NBA collaborating with the National Assembly on the issue?
The NBA as the umbrella professional association for all Nigerian lawyers is a stakeholder in the Nigerian constitutional amendment project. It is in this way that the NBA is involved and all that had been done so far by participating in the hearings and meetings called by the leadership of the National Assembly on same.
Other stakeholders like the NBA that have also been participating are the National Union of Teachers, NUT; National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW and others. It is at stakeholders that the matter drew a lot of interest at the last National Executive Council, NEC, meeting of the NBA just held in Asaba, Delta State, where some strong views were expressed by anxious members, who didn’t want the project to be mishandled.
At the moment, this project that should be a truly national project is being carried on by the National Assembly but the NBA would prefer that such strategies are evolved to make it a people’s project.
What specifically is the position of NBA on the on going exercise?
The NBA as the umbrella body for all Nigerian lawyers is a stakeholder in the Nigerian constitutional amendment project. Having said that, notable leaders in the NBA seem to have a consensus that the project must be underlined by the mass participation of the Nigerian people with the end product derived from a well structured referendum
highlighting the principles and provisions that the people want settled in their constitution. This way, the new or if you prefer, the amended Constitution wouldn’t be one dictated to Nigerians. From what I heard and saw at the last NBA NEC meeting in Asaba, the association feels so strong about this that it would do all it can, including
embarking on enlightenment campaigns and much more to ensure that the people get their constitution.
What are the issues NBA is pushing forward as areas to be amended in the constitution?
On issues that the NBA would want to push on the amendment process, a democratic process within the NBA has been triggered to ensure a wide spectrum participation of its members in articulating issues. The Constitutional Review and Law Reform Committee which I head had sent notices to our nationwide network of branches for the submission of memoranda, articulating the issues that they may want the association to push on the amendment process.
So until the return of this process is completed and a sifting done that would democratically reflect the complexions of the association on this matter, I am afraid that all anyone would hear from the NBA now is that already said about the process being marked by the mass participation of the various interests and groups of Nigeria ending in a well structured referendum.
Different zones have various demands. How do you think all these differs interests can be accommodated?
We, I mean Nigeria is a country of variegated nations some of which were even empires before the advent of our past colonizers. Now that we have all been squeezed into what is largely a political contraption that is presently strife ridden and we are desirous of now taking our destinies in our hands, I believe enough sagacious persons exist in all the zones and states of our country that can talk to and among themselves to iron out grey areas or differences.
There are high levels of multifaceted consultations that should take place among several groups by sectional leaders, who will then articulate achieved consensus to their peoples. Talking about zones, it isn’t going to be about them only. You are bound to have interest groups that are going to be pitching for their interests.
For example, women and children’s rights, equal opportunity rights, the environment and so on. There is going to be a load of horse trading in order to achieve needed consensus. Ours being of a country of motley complexion doesn’t me
an we must be eternally incapable of agreement.
The most contentious issues are perhaps state police and the local government autonomy. What is your take on this?
For us to be truly federal, the time for States Policing is right now. We have had a monolithic Nigeria Police Force for decades and our current security challenges that are seriously testing our country’s ability to keep Nigerians safe have exposed greatly the inadequacies of a singular policing establishment for a large country like Nigeria with an expansive geography and bristling diverse cultures.
It is almost certain now that for security of life and property to be a deliverable good by governance, federating states and even local governments must take their share which should be the lion share of national policing. This would be more expedient under a shrewdly negotiated regime of Federal and States competence under the amended constitution.
The central Federal Government should devolve and cede local policing powers and functions to states and local governments while retaining policing on interstate issues and generally on other matters that a sovereign central government should handle for the whole country. With this, a state governor would truly in words and effect the Chief Security Officer of his state and giving the truth that states government presently fund policing to a great extent, it would make more sense.
The Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN governor had called for scrapping of local government system in the country. Do you agree with him?
I doubt if Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the CBN Governor, would have called for the scrapping of local government tier of governance, but if he did, I wouldn’t agree with him. Personally, that tier of government should be strengthened and a wee bit insulated from the strangle hold of states government domination by inserting relief provisions in the amended constitution limiting the extent to which overwhelming states governors can unduly interfere fiscally with the running of local government areas.
While at that, I wouldn’t go so far as to advocate outright autonomy as this would be encouraging too-much government in a polity where the weight of government at the three recognised levels is already back breaking. This is the much I would suggest; remove the talons and fangs of states governments from the finances of local governments but ensure these same states governments as the superior authority under which local government councils with supervisory powers, overseeing them.
The judiciary has been at the butt of public condemnation in recent time. How do you think sanity can be restored to the bench?
That the judiciary has been having some bad press isn’t new and the problem is one that I have always said needed analysis. Why? Because the mud that is being thrown at our courts are on account of the acts of an extremely few of the fold.
This in turn results in grave injustice to all those hardworking judges out there breaking their backs serving justice to all that seek her in their courts. The judiciary isn’t an institution that ought to be getting this kind of attention because of the awe it ought to be held for the sacred roles
it plays in any given polity. In any case, there is a new helms woman as Chief Justice now and from what I know of Justice Mukhtar in her discipline, experience and judicial ability, I am sorry for that judge having soiled his/her hands that would come before the NJC.
I personally have high expectations of Madam Chief Justice in her ability to make meaningful contributions towards shoring up the image of her court and her institution for the time she has on her beat as Nigeria’s top judge. My high expectations are based also on the fact that her long judicial experience puts her in a vantage position to know that institution more than most people as to be able to fathom how best to tackle these slurs.