By Afe Babalola
“1999 Constitution is our major problem”.
TRUTH be told, Nigeria cannot afford the extension of the warped 1999 Constitution and the attendant sufferings it has imposed on majority of Nigerians for another four years. The consequences can only be imagined. I would, therefore, like to personally appeal to President Buhari to follow up on what he began towards the end of last year by surprising Nigerians with a Bill to the National Assembly asking for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference.
There is an urgent need to replace the 1999 Constitution with a people’s constitution. But unfortunately this cannot be achieved by the present crop of legislators in the National Assembly being the major beneficiaries of the rot. Nigeria at the present moment is made up of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The idea of federalism which is practised in Nigeria today was taken or borrowed from the American and Australian models. In these jurisdictions, persons of divergent nationalities, races, creeds, ethnicities, etc., have been able to come together to co-exist under one political and national identity.
The United States of America, for example, is made up of the Native Americans, Hispanics, African Americans, Latin Americans, English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, etc. Americans themselves proudly refer to the country as one created by immigrants. The country despite this wide diversity of its people has continued to flourish. This is so as the Constitution recognises the component units as the heart and soul of the union and does not necessarily concentrate power in the centre.
In Nigeria, the reverse is the case as power is concentrated in the Federal Government of Nigeria. The Federal Government controls virtually all important means of revenue generation with the result that a large chunk of revenue generated from the vast resources of the country end up in the coffers of the Federal Government.
The Federal Government, as provided by the Constitution then assumes the role of a big brother and decides what each State will get as its own share of the national revenue.
The immediate impact of this is felt in the corruption that has pervaded our political class. Each state and local government receives what is known as monthly allocation from the Federal Government of Nigeria. The ongoing prosecution of some past office holders on account of misappropriation of funds from the monthly allocations of their state or local government shows that the said allocation is seen by politicians as a prime opportunity to corruptly enrich themselves.
Nigeria also operates a bicameral legislative system comprising the Senate and the House of Representatives. At the state level, there are 36 Houses of Assembly and 774 local governments. The executive at the Federal level comprises of the President and a high number of ministers. At all levels, there are special advisers, personal assistants, secretary, orderlies, etc. Owing to constitutional requirement that each state be represented on the federal cabinet, some ministries have two ministers assigned to them. Interestingly, the Federal cabinet in the United States of America consists of about 20 persons much less than the number in Nigeria. The states are also not left out as each state has an equally high number of commissioners. At the federal level, the judiciary consists of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, Federal High Court, and National Industrial Court. In addition each State has its own High Court comprising a Chief Judge and a number of High Court Judges.
Mending a skyscraper
The effect of the above is that the cost of running government in Nigeria is astronomically high. To maintain the status quo, what the legislators have been doing for some time is to amend, re-amend and further amend the extant 1999 constitution. They should appreciate that no one can successfully mend a skyscraper which is devoid of pillars: such a skyscraper will simply fall like a house of cards. In the circumstance, what we need to solve the multiplicity of problems is the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference.
What is Sovereign National Conference? A Sovereign National Conference is one convened to reconsider the country’s political future. It is designed to carry out political transformation, in other words, to chart a new course. It is appropriate where the economic, political and social structures seem incapable of solving the problems of the country as it is in Nigeria today so that instead of resorting to arms, a peaceful and orderly change can take place. The distinguishing word “sovereign” in a Sovereign National Conference, therefore, connotes that the body is not merely advisory or consultative. Rather, it is an Assembly of elected Representatives of the Nigerian people, backed by an enabling law, with the mandate and power to fundamentally restructure the political, economic, social and constitutional future of the country.
A Sovereign National Conference will not have any “no-go areas or non-negotiable issues”. Rather, it will have the broadest mandate to determine the political, economic, social, judicial, legislative and security structures of the Federation, which will include issues of state police, fiscal federalism; multi-religiosity; separation of powers, bicameral legislature or otherwise, salaries and emoluments of legislators, fundamental human rights; and fundamental objectives and directive principles governing the coming together of different parts of Nigeria as a Federation.
The enabling law would ensure that the outcome of the Sovereign National Conference will receive the status of a draft Constitutional Reform Bill which will be passed by the National Assembly without any amendment.
Representation and efficiency
To ensure broad-based representation and efficiency, the Sovereign National Conference should be convened as follows:
- Two to three delegates per state, elected on zero party basis.
- Every ethnic group in Nigeria should be represented at the Sovereign National Conference.
- Representatives of accredited professional, religious and non-governmental bodies, who will be distinguished personalities with unimpeachable records. Such organizations will be proportionately represented, based on their numerical strength.
- 50-50 representation for both women and men.
- At least 20 per cent representation of youths in the SNC. Here I adopt the African Union’s definition of youth, which is “every person between the ages of 15 and 35 years”.
- The Principal Officers (Chairman, Deputy Chairman and Secretary) of the Sovereign National Conference to be elected internally by its members during the inaugural sessions of the body.
Conclusion: I repeat that our constitution is the greatest problem of Nigeria which is a country of nations. To get out of this quagmire and particularly as a follow up to his new mindset of closing Nigeria’s borders with Niger Republic and Benin Republic to save Nigeria’s economy from the influx of illegal importation of agricultural products and the release of the duo of Col. Dasuki and Omoyele Sowore from detention, I humbly appeal to President Buhari to immediately send a Bill to the National Assembly proposing the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference.
No election before a new constitution: The proposed Sovereign National Conference must conclude its deliberations before any election. It follows, therefore, that there should be no election before the outcome of the proposed Sovereign National Conference. The 2023 General Elections should be conducted using the new constitution which will be the outcome, indeed the product, of the Sovereign National Conference.
This is the way to go if we are to make it as a nation.