May 3, 2019

1979 Constitution: How Nigeria missed the mark – Minority Report

1979 Constitution: How Nigeria missed the mark – Minority Report

From left: Dr. Olusegun Osoba, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN and Mr Attahiru Usman, son of late Yusufu Bala Usman during the public presentation of the Minority Report and Draft Constitution for the Federal Republic of Nigeria, held at UNILAG, Lagos State.

By Clifford Ndujihe & Dayo Adesulu

NIGERIA would not have been caught in the widening web of insecurity, corruption, stunted socio-economic and political growth among others, if the Minority Report and Draft Constitution of 1976, was adopted.

From left: Dr. Olusegun Osoba, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN and Mr Attahiru Usman, son of late Yusufu Bala Usman during the public presentation of the Minority Report and Draft Constitution for the Federal Republic of Nigeria, held at UNILAG, Lagos State.

This was the view of eminent Nigerians, who gathered in Lagos, last week, to launch the minority report written by Professor Olusegun Osoba and Dr. Yusufu Bala Usman.

Osoba and Usman were two of the 49 members of the Constitution Drafting Committee, CDC, appointed by the military government of Murtala Muhammed and Olusegun Obasanjo in October 1975. They disagreed with the majority report of their 47 colleagues and wrote theirs.

The majority draft was published by the Federal Government and was widely debated by the public in 1976-77 before it was put before the Constituent Assembly for further consideration and subsequent enactment in 1979.

However, the minority report was declared ‘non-existent’ by the then Military Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo, who later enacted the majority report as the 1979 Constitution after inserting into it the Land Use Decree of 1978 in spite of the Constituent Assembly’s objection to it as inappropriate in a constitution.

Then, Osoba and Usman warned of looming dangers of escalation in ruling class misdemeanours as intra and inter-ethnic violent conflicts, looting of state resources on a grand scale by its custodians, and brutal and authoritarian governance.

Forty-two years after the minority report and 39 years after the 1979 Constitution, which to a large extent formed the fulcrum of the 1999 Constitution, the warning of Osoba and Usman has remained like a sore thumb as the country continues to swim in avoidable crises.

Provisions of the minority report

Essentially, the minority report addressed issues like no immunity for president and governors, funding of political parties, minimum age for contesting election, qualification for Nigerian citizenship, public accountability, resource control, and some other hiatuses currently observed in the constitution.

In the Minority Report, the authors noted that the fundamental issue that is facing us as a country is how to create a constitution and a structure of governance that are truly democratic in content and form. Reason: Only in a society where all have access to the necessities of life like food, education, health, housing, security can true democracy exist.

On the issue of qualification for Nigerian citizenship, it opposed the concept of the Majority Draft Constitution as being use in our country today. Osoba and Usman in their Minority Draft Constitution of 1976 posited: “The following persons are Nigerian citizens by birth: (a) every person born in Nigeria before 1 October, 1960 either of whose natural parents or grandparents belong or belonged to a community indigenous to Nigeria.

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(b) every person born in Nigeria after 1 October, 1960 either of whose natural or legal parents or any of whose grandparents is or was a Nigerian citizen. (c) every person born outside Nigeria either of whose natural parents is or was a Nigerian citizen.”

Osoba lamented that if the issue of citizenship had been resolved 43 years ago, the country would have avoided so many of the tragedies which have followed in the wake of the confusion about this constitutional provision.

On the question of public accountability, Yusufu Bala Usman noted: “There cannot be genuine accountability in a capitalist society, more so in a dependent capitalist society like Nigeria.

“This is because the ownership and control of the basic means of existence- land, housing, clothing, food, transport, information is central to accountability. It is farcical to pretend that those who own and control these or those who serve them can be made accountable to those who have nothing but their humanity, labour and need. In order to have accountability, there has to be a just and democratic social and economic system.”

According to Osoba, now that Nigeria society is facing a worsening crisis, and its citizens have sunk into an unimaginable level of desperation, it is time to look afresh at the issues raised in the minority document of 1976.

Said Dr. Abubakar Siddique Mohammed, director, CEDDERT, on the abandoned minority report: ”This landmark document has become a sort of ‘ghost’ publication, never formally published but widely circulated in mimeographed form, and referred to in numerous discussions, symposia and publications whenever issues about structure of Nigeria is being discussed.

”In fact, every time we go back to this document we find incisive discussions of issues affecting the Nigerian situation. We find penetrating analyses of conditions and clearly stated solutions, which, if they had been followed since 1976, might have solved, or avoided, many of the serious problems, which Nigeria is facing today.”

Hold Obasanjo responsible for constitutional loopholes – Falana

At the launch of the book were foremost human right activist and lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, former Ogun State Governor and journalist, Aremo Olusegun Osoba; President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba; President of ASUU, Professor Abiodun Ogunyemi; former ASUU President, Dr. Nasir Fagge; Director of Centre for Democratic Development Research and Training, CEDDERT, Dr. Abubakar Siddique Mohammed; and Mr. Attahiru Usman, son of the late Yusufu Bala Usman among others.

Speaking at the event held at UNILAG, Mr. Femi Falana, said that the lacuna in the 1979 and 1999 constitutions would have been removed long ago, if Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in 1976 had accepted and implemented the Minority Report and Draft Constitution for the Federal Republic of Nigeria written by Osoba and Usman.

He said that the controversy that surrounds the birth place of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and what qualifies someone to be a citizen of Nigeria were clearly resolved in the Minority Report.

Falana said that unknown to the youths of this generation, the ‘Not Too Young to Run’ campaign was initially championed by Osoba and late Usman, 43 years ago.

He said: ‘’Unknown to the Not Too Young to Run campaigners (who sometimes make a fetish of age in politics), Osoba and Usman had recommended in Section 145 of their own Draft Constitution way back in 1976 the minimum age of 30 as part of the qualifications to contest for the office of president or governor.

”Similarly, the constitutional immunity for the president and governors and their respective deputies was hotly contested by Osoba and Usman during the making of the 1979 Constitution.

”According to them, the immunity provisions contradict violently the fundamental principle of the equality of all citizens before the law and is an unwarranted attempt to shield these high officials of the state from the full rigours of the law as would apply to the other citizens of Nigeria in similar situations of misconduct or improper conduct.

”Other similarly remarkable provisions encapsulated in the Draft, but were regrettably rejected by the Obasanjo regime, include those on accountability by those in power; the purpose and management of political parties as well as the appointment of a prime minister by the elected president for the purpose of diffusing power.

”As Osoba and Usman rightly put it, the 1979 Constitution is a deliberate effort at mystification for the selfish interests of the bourgeoisie. The constitution is verbose. It is laden with technical loopholes. It is unwieldy with some contradictory provisions. As a matter fact, the pull for the Chapter II of the 1979 Constitution, which is also incorporated in the 1999 Constitution, was actually the Minority Report of Osoba and Usman that we are celebrating today.’’

On his part, Chief Olusegun Osoba said, ‘’ restructuring is a lie’’, adding that those calling for restructuring are doing so for their selfish interest. According to him, the call for restructuring by a chosen few in the country was not the solution to the country’s challenges.

In his view, the ideal restructuring should be the one that positively affects the people and remove poverty from the citizenry. He said: ‘’The recurring lie by the elite is that what we need to cure all our political, economic and social ills is do restructuring. Restructuring as proposed by some members of the ruling elites is a blatant lie. We cannot make any progress with that.

‘’When they say restructuring, they never defined it. I have not seen any one of them define what they mean. If you watch their body language and behaviour to the Nigerian people, you can guess what they mean.

”It is either the creation of more states, so that everybody will have a state at his backyard to the denial of its rival and competitors. Proliferation of states in Nigeria has almost reduced Nigeria to bankruptcy because of the high cost of administration.

The other reason, especially for the oil rich region, their primary concern is resource control. They want total control over their resources, particularly oil and gas.’’

In his views, the Director of Centre for Democratic Development Research and Training, CEDDERT, Zaria, Dr. Abubakar Siddique Mohammed lamented a situation in Nigeria where someone cannot be counted as indigene of a community after spending 150 years.

He said: ‘’A person can spend 150 years in a state in Nigeria and still not become an indigene of that particular state. It is not obtainable in any serious country of the world, but this is the situation of our country due to the kind of constitution we have.

‘’Hopefully, the ideas in this Minority Report will inspire a search for new solutions to our problems. That is why we are making the report in draft constitution available for all to read and understand.’’

In his remark, Mr. Attahiru Usman, the son of the author, late Yusuf Bala Usman lauded the Minority Report, adding that if the content was strictly adhered to, it would have resolved many constitutional issues.

He said: ‘’It is an event to present a copy of the Minority Report of 1976 which was never publicly presented. ‘’It was presented today (Tuesday) by the Centre for Democratic Development Research and Training, CEDDERT in Zaria which Yusufu Bala Usman founded. We are convinced that some of the issues he brought up were dismissed by the soldiers that imposed the 1979 constitution. We decided to publish it and organised this event to let other Nigerians to see what could have been and see it as basis for agitation for a better constitution.’’