By Afe Babalola
“We must strive to produce a true Peoples Constitution so that one day we will have a Constitution which will truly promote national unity by firstly identifying our diversity and making it a source of strength rather than weakness”.
LAST week I stated why the future of the Nigerian nation lies in a system in which emphasis must be on the zones and not the states as dictated by the American Presidential system that we currently operate. The reason for this is simple. The application of the American presidential system in Nigeria has been nothing but a huge failure. We simply cannot afford 36 Houses of Assembly, 36 Cabinets of Commissioners, large number of State Legislators, National Assembly of more than 400 Legislators, thousands of staff for all these offices, over 40 Federal Ministers and numberless staff and assistants. On the 10th of September 2010, THISDAY Newspaper reported as follows:
“The amount expended annually to sustain members of the legislature in the states and National Assembly, many believe, is mind-boggling. Sources close to THISDAY revealed that the country spends N27 billion per annum on the salaries and emoluments of 109 senators while 360 members of the House of Representatives gulp down N73 billion, bringing the total to N100 billion ($667 million) expended on just 469 elected public officials.
When the emoluments, “constituency allowances” and other visible and invisible benefits paid to state legislators in each of the 36 states as well as the 7,888 Councillors who make bye-laws in the 774 local government areas, the annual cost of sustaining the entire army of 17,500 individuals holding political offices in the executive and legislative arms of government in Nigeria would amount to N1.3 trillion”.
It is clear from the above that the fragmentation of Nigeria into 36 states is unhelpful. Most of the so-called states were formally local governments or provinces. Such local governments were manned by District Offices and or Assistant District Officers. The provinces were manned by Residents, supported by Chief Clerk and Clerks. The substitution thereof of these District Offices and Residents with Governors, Deputy Governors, Legislative Houses is most unreasonable and uneconomical. The sight of these governors driving round in convoys of as many as 30 to 40 cars and motorcycle outriders worries the ordinary citizens who cannot afford three square meals, whose taps are dry and whose children are either unable to attend school due to non-payment of school fees or who are unemployed after laboring to get an education.
In the United States of America, the Federating States still possess a huge measure of independence. Thus each state is within clearly defined but expansive limits responsible for a remarkable number of aspects of its existence. The Federal Government is limited only to such matters as defense, foreign policy etc.
Finally it is worthy of note that the entire revenue of the Federal Government of Nigeria is lower than that of Texas which is the second most populous and second largest state in the United States of America. If Nigeria’s revenue is therefore lower than that of one of over 50 states in the United States how can we hope to continue to copy and fund the Presidential system of government as practiced by the Americans? There is need for urgent reappraisal of our operation of the Presidential system. This can be achieved by the involvement of the people in the Constitution making process. I earlier referred to the Constitution of countries such as Canada and Australia which recognise and make provisions for factors unique to those countries. The difference between these Constitutions and ours is that the people were involved in their Constitution making process. To dive home this point the Australian Government Solicitor stated as follows in 2010;
The Constitution was drafted at a series of conventions held during the 1890s and attended by representatives of the colonies. Before the Constitution came into effect, its terms were approved, with one small exception, by the people of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, and Tasmania.
Series of conventions
The Australian Constitution was then passed as part of a British Act of Parliament in 1900, and took effect on 1 January 1901. A British Act was necessary because before 1901 Australia was a collection of six self-governing British colonies and ultimate power over those colonies rested with the British Parliament. In reality, however, the Constitution is a document which was conceived by Australians, drafted by Australians and approved by Australians. Since that time, Australia has become an independent nation, and the character of the Constitution as the fundamental law of Australia is now seen as resting predominantly, not on its status as an Act of the British Parliament, which no longer has any power over Australia, but on the Australian people‘s decision to approve and be bound by the terms of the Constitution.
What has been judicially described as the sovereignty of the Australian people‘ is also recognized by section 128 which provides that any change to the Constitution must be approved by the people of Australia.
It is my hope that one day the same will be said of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We must therefore return to an examination of the circumstances surrounding the promulgation of our Constitution. We must strive to produce a true Peoples Constitution so that one day we will have a Constitution which will truly promote national unity by firstly identifying our diversity and making it a source of strength rather than weakness. It cannot be any other way.
In the next edition, I will examine some other constitutions which were approved by the people and which have moulded each country into a nation despite differences, culture, religion, language and origin.