By Lloyd Ukwu
THE Nigerian Constitution—its birth certificate—is illegitimate. The document was unilaterally decreed by a military dictator with ulterior motives to entrench the military and concentrate power at the centre. It’s an open secret that the Nigerian Constitution was an existing decree that was simply converted to a Constitution. It was never submitted to the Nigerian people for approval directly in a referendum or indirectly through representatives elected for that purpose. Yet, the consent of the governed is the cornerstone of every legitimate political dispensation.
Nigeria’s 1960 birth from British colonialism was also illegitimate. It violated the decolonisation mandate of the United Nations General Assembly, UNGA, enshrined in paragraph 2 of the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples: ”All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” The several distinct peoples of Nigeria were denied the right to self-determination. Britain handed Nigeria’s sovereignty to its political or economic favourites as if Nigerians were serfs to be disposed of by the lord of the manor.
It is thus no surprise that Nigeria’s Constitution has been denuded of separation of powers—a structural bill of rights to protect the Nigerian people from tyranny. The President and his minions in the Executive Branch possess all muscular authority, including a monopoly on the legalised use of force or violence and the power of the purse to keep state and local governments subservient.
The Legislative and Judicial Branches of government are to the Executive as a minnow is to a whale. But the combination of executive, legislative, and judicial power in a single branch is the very definition of tyranny. And the people not only have a natural right—they have a duty—to repudiate a tyrannical government and to provide new guards for their future security and liberty.
Nigeria’s Constitution also makes a mockery of genuine federalism. Devolution of power from the centre is urgent in a diverse country like Nigeria featuring multiple ethnicities, religions, and cultures to insure laws are responsive to popular sentiments, customs, and practices. All significant power is entrusted to the central government. States and local governments must beg for money. In politics he who has the gold makes the rules. States also lack control over police or security forces. They are powerless to protect ethnic, religious, or political minorities within their jurisdictions from persecution by national authorities or their myrmidons.
Nigeria’s Constitution is purportedly secular. Section 10 provides that, “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.” The author elaborated: ”By this section, Nigeria is declared to be a secular state and therefore cannot join any organisation that has a religious connotation.”
Yet, Nigeria has joined the Organization of Islamic Countries , OIC, and, twelve States have adopted Sharia as their legal code while some states in the southern part of Nigeria have, at times, openly referred to themselves as Christian states. Religion has become constitutionally divisive rather than unifying. A constitutional adjustment is necessary.
The illegitimacy of Nigeria’s Constitution has spawned a dilapidated economy, deficient schools, environmental degradation, regional and religious prejudice, chronic government lawlessness, monumental corruption, and overwhelming popular sentiments favouring restructuring. A Nigerian National Conference on the Political Future of Nigeria is the first step towards the salvation of the Nigerian people. Respected leaders from all of Nigeria’s diverse communities should come together in the United States away from the intimidating environment in Nigeria created by President Mohammadu Buhari’s truculent opposition to change.
Ironically President Buhari promised Nigerians change during his campaign but it has become obvious that his understanding and definition of change may not be what he had in mind during campaign. The primary goal of the Conference should be an agreement on a fair process for drafting a new Constitution ab initio for submission to the Nigerian people in a referendum. The drafters should be representative of Nigeria’s multifarious political factions.
They should be selected in elections organised and conducted by the United Nations Electoral Unit as was done in Cambodia (1992-1993) and Timor-Leste (2001-2002). Change is coming to Nigeria irrespective of Aso Rock. Or should I say that “change the change” is coming to Nigeria. The Nigerian people want the change to be peaceful, democratic and orderly. The purpose of the Conference is to honour that sentiment.
*Mr. Ukwu a lawyer, wrote from Washington, DC, USA.