By Josef Omorotionmwan
QUITE often, when legislators are asked to write a law, they end up writing themselves into the law. That’s the way it has always been.
In our days at the Constituent Assembly, 1988-89, most members felt that those of us who were demanding the enshrinement of press freedom into the Constitution should have our heads subjected to psychiatric examination. Why would we be seeking to have a free press when it was clear that most of the state governors were going to emerge from among our members? By their reckoning, a free press would be inimical to our self-interests as governors and the political class in the emerging republic.
Even where people like Chief Segun Osoba and the late Lam Adesina were clearly focused on where they were going, they still joined us in the vanguard for the struggle for press freedom. Essentially, therefore, their self-interest weighed more on the side of the journalism profession than on politics.
Watching the theatricals on the numerous self-interests around the ongoing amendments to the 1999 Constitution, so called, one gets the impression that in 1817, when Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) coined his willing suspension of disbelief, he had our current legislators in view. A few instances will reveal the entire rumble in the jungle.
In the single six-year tenure being pushed for the President and Governors, we see a strong room. The door to this room is made of strong iroko wood properly fortified with the strongest iron bars. The door has a strong jam lock, which was specially imported for it.
A careless officer pushed the door and it got locked, with the key inside and the people outside. We are now faced with a serious dilemma – to abandon the room with everything inside or break that strong door.
On various occasions, this column has marveled at the jet-speed with which President Goodluck Jonathan introduced the idea of the single tenure. Originally, the request for the single-tenure was for eight years, from where it was reduced to seven, and finally panel-beaten to six years. That’s a good way of asking for the leg of an animal so that you do not get disappointed if you eventually get the hand. We smelt a rat when our President indicated that he was not going to benefit from the tenure change. That was when we wondered why the President was counting himself out of a measure that he considered so good. We asked if he was allergic to good things.
As time rolled by, the President’s self-interests began to inch towards his wanting to run for the office. Right now, it is no longer secret whether or not he wants to run.
There is this ambivalence in our President – wanting to run and openly confessing he does not want to benefit from the changed tenure.
We hear that the National Assembly is very bent on approving the single tenure, effective 2015 and in doing so, the legislators are saying that the President is right in ousting himself from the 2015 contest. What this means is that the President and incumbent Governors stand ousted from the 2015 elections.
One salient question is: Are we going to break the door or abandon the room in its jam-locked state? The bag will not contain it but the native doctor will not leave it behind. It is a serious dilemma. In the months ahead, we may see the Presidency working extra hard to dismantle the single-tenure idea that it originally cherished and wanted to get through the back door.
The idea of the creation of more states remains attractive. Elsewhere, we have suggested that the easiest way to satisfy the desire is to create 160 million states so that every Nigerian will have his own state. This also presupposes that in the next 10 years, the number of the states shall rise to almost 170 million to cater for our burgeoning population.
A bulk of our current leadership of the National Assembly is made up of people so bereft of ideas that the only plank on which they rose to power was the promise to create states for their people. In the individual self-interest of the legislators, it might also be a good idea for them to build little fiefdoms to which they could retire as Governors after their legislative lives.
We search but in vain for that section of the 1999 Constitution, which specifically forbids the creation of more states. We therefore wonder why the leadership of the National Assembly made the issue of the creation of states its topmost priority in the quest to amend the Constitution. They were to ride on the back of the genuine demand of the South-East sub-region for the creation of an additional state to bring it at par with other zones. They had silently decreed that each zone should have one additional state. That’s what was taken to the town hall meetings across the 360 Federal constituencies in the country. This will only aggravate the imbalance because in the end, the North East will have eight states, the South East will have six while the remaining zones will have seven states each.
Meanwhile, most of the states as currently constituted are unviable. That puts the whole idea of the creation of more states in direct collision with common sense.
When are we going to stop treating constitutional amendments like amending a local government edict? Any amendment based on individual self-interest will always collapse because people’s self interests will always differ.
Shall we invite Aristotle for his quick counsel on courage as “the first of human virtues because it makes others possible”? Courage is all we need; courage to stop pretending to hate what we love; courage to know when to stop this patch-patch work and go for a total overhaul of the Constitution; and courage to accept that, after all, the fault may not be in our Constitution but in us.