By Ochereome Nnanna
BETWEEN 2005 and 2006, the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo started elaborate amendment of the 1999 Constitution. He empanelled the National Political Reform Conference (NPFL). The effort died on the floor of the Senate due to Obasanjo’s insertion of a clause seeking to extend his tenure.
Shortly after being elected in 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan also inaugurated the Justice Alfa Belgore panel to review outstanding issues of our constitutional conferences since independence. On Tuesday, 12th July 2012, the Committee submitted its report.
Based on this, the National Assembly embarked on the latest round of large-scale amendments of the constitution. Bearing in mind that during President Umar Yar’ Adua’s reign the constitution was also amended, we are left with the grim conclusion that every regime will have to tinker with the constitution.
We are in this constitutional mess because the military bequeathed a document that is simply unviable, inchoate and discreditable. It is like trying to patch a structurally flawed building which has developed cracks all over.
I have always maintained that we need to write an entirely new constitution that will usher Nigeria into a new century devoid of the weaknesses, mistakes and mischief that ruled our crisis- and conflict-riddled first century as a nation founded by a foreign colonial power and dominated by internal regional overlords. It gave way to violent rebellions, a civil war, coups, counter-coups, and currently terrorism.
We must come together and evolve a constitution that will exorcise the demons of centralised federalism, which is a legacy of our colonial and military past.
It is amply evident that the only viable and credible system of federalism suited for Nigeria is one that decentralises power to the six geopolitical zones. This is the most adequate grouping of Nigerians based on principles Professor George Obiozor terms: “contiguity and consanguinity”.
Violent agitations in the country’s history were rejections of our centralised federalism. The failed secession of the Eastern Region (Biafra) was a flee to safety from a country unwilling and unable to protect its innocent citizens under attack.
The many failed counter coups carried out by officers of the Middle Belt (Col. BS Dimka’s coup of 1976, Major General Mamman Vatsa’s coup of 1985 and Major Gideon Orkar’s coup of 1990) were rebellions against Muslim North’s domination.
The campaign for the revalidation of Chief Moshood Abiola’s presidential mandate from 1993 to 1998 championed by the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) with activists from the South West zone as the spearheads was a struggle for power shift and true federalism.
The armed struggle of Niger Delta militants that lasted between 1998 and 2009 was a struggle for Resource Control. In 2000, Sharia riots swept through the Muslim North, after the Governor of Zamfara State, Alhaji Sani Yerima, unconstitutionally declared full implementation of the Muslim law.
Thousands of lives were lost. Today, the Boko Haram insurgents have taken up arms to implement the same Jihadist agenda, killing thousands of people across the North and sparking off the ongoing emergency rule. The handwriting on the wall is simple to decipher: Muslim North also wants true federalism where they can live their Islamic cultural life to the fullest.
Every major group has violently indicated its yearning for full, decentralised federalism. So, what is holding us from simply putting it into effect? Why have all constitutional efforts since the end of the civil war avoided it, opting to sustain a glorified unitary system that has failed to build the nation?
Therefore, my take on our constitution is that of total re-engineering, starting with the empanelment of a constituent assembly.
The National Assembly’s attempts to amend the military constitution will continue to fail. The Assembly is arrogating to itself the power to give Nigerians a constitution through the back door by amending a faulty military constitution.
In the subsequent parts of this article I will examine whether the 1999 Constitution is truly supreme. I will declare my stand on the controversial issues of immunity, autonomy for the local governments and creation of states.
Deportation of Igbos from Lagos
WHEN I first heard about it I could not believe it until the details were everywhere in the media. A detachment of officials of the Lagos State Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) bundled 70 indigent Nigerians of Igbo extraction and dumped them on the shores of the River Niger at Onitsha and sped back to Lagos!
It was a display of deep seated barbarism and an assault on the citizenship rights of Nigerians whose only sin was that they were indigent non-indigenes. Since I have not heard where the Lagos State Government (LASG) has dumped similar citizens of Lagos and South West extraction, it is difficult to dismiss accusations of xenophobia against the LASG.
I find it curious that an LASG that, since the days of the leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Bola Tinubu, as the Governor of Lagos, has responded to the electoral support of non-indigenes with concession of posts within his government to them, has now resorted to this inciting and uncivilised hostility to non-indigenes under Governor Raji Fashola.
I do not support the mass migration of people without means of livelihood to Lagos or the urban areas. People like that have better uses in the native communities than to become pests in the cities. But the LASG must approach the cleaning of Lagos streets of mendicants and destitute persons in a decent, lawful and wholesome manner, ensuring that no particular ox is gored. Lagos should go about its “mega-city” business with lessons learned from other great societies that have travelled the road.
The growing rudeness and aggressiveness to non-indigenes must stop. Lagos is our national commonwealth. It was built with the oil wealth of the former Eastern Region as the capital of Nigeria before being handed over to LASG in December 1992 when the seat of government moved to Abuja.
There are millions of Igbos and non-indigenes doing big time business, providing employment and paying through their noses to the coffers of the LASG. Non-indigenes make the Lagos economy tick, while the indigenes simply milk their effort. The scanty Igbo down-trodden in Lagos are entitled to care of the government because their virile and affluent brothers who control all the markets in Lagos, enrich the coffers of the state to the tune of billions of Naira monthly.
LASG must find a better method of moderating the complex social situation in the state because the resort to “Area Boy” strategies will not help anyone. Besides, those deported might have found their ways back to Lagos already!