The Arts

October 26, 2020

The need for truly people-oriented Nigerian constitution

The need for truly people-oriented Nigerian constitution

By Mark Columbus Orgu

Sir John Macpherson in 1948 had earlier charged the Legislative Council on the making of the Nigerian Constitution, that no one can hand over his responsibility in this matter to others. “Every Nigerian has a stake in his own country and it is for him, by means of village meetings and Divisional meetings and Provincial meetings, throughout the organization of which he is a member to make his views known.”

Macpherson concluded by admonishing that there should be the fullest opportunity for public consultation at every level. This is how a democratic Constitution is made. We hope, that someday, the true Nigerian Constitution would come, a Constitution, we all can boldly call ours, and be proud to teach it everywhere, both in the Mountain.

This year’s Afrikanwatch Memoir titled, 1999 Constitution and the Nigerian Economy; what hope for the people, dealt with issues with workable recommendations. Prof. Solomon Akinboye, a Professor of international relations and political scientist, University of Lagos, in his piece titled, “Nigerian Constitution is Grossly Anomalous”, argued that if we agree that a constitution is the organic law of the land and the legal framework within which policies that bind everyone, including those in government, are fashioned, then it is logical to state that there exists a constitution in Nigeria that is largely unworkable.

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It is largely unworkable because of the various anomalies and infractions contained in existing Nigeria’s constitution. Dr. Tunji Abayomi blatantly refused to acknowledge that there exists a constitution in Nigeria but accepted that the various constitutions from 1979 till date are military constitutions that lack legality and legitimacy. In his contribution titled “1999 Constitution: A fruit of a poisonous tree: The need for inclusiveness”, he said: “I don’t believe in the 1999 Constitution, because it is not legitimate, and it is not lawful. It lacks legitimacy and it lacks legality.”

Let me first take the issue of legality.  The military conferred on itself – when it came to power under decree 1 of 1994 – the power that was equal to the National Assembly – the power to make law. It never gave itself the power to make a constitution, because the constitution is not law. The military imposed that Constitution on us but it realized that a Constitution can only be legitimate when the people gave it to themselves. The 1979 Constitution and all military constitutions, including the 1999 constitution are fruits of poisonous trees. And the poisonous tree is the military.”

In his defense, Col. (Barr) Abayomi Dare retd, a former Nigerian Army Legal Director, argued that the 1999 Constitution should not be seen as a military Constitution. His piece titled “1999 Constitution: The military acted out of patriotism, disagreed with Dr. Abayomi’s position: “I believe that what the Nigerian military did, with respect to the Constitutions that was alleged to have been foisted on the nation, was borne out of patriotism and zeal to move our dear nation forward. I dare to say that the doctrines of necessity became paramount. As far as I am concern, there is always room for amendments, hence our democracy is still work-in-progress.”

For Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, a prominent jurist in “The 1999 Constitution cannot give us a country of our dream”, one of the most popular arguments in justification of amendments to the law is that the law is a fraud on the Nigerian people, smuggled in and dumped on us by the military. Fagbemi however said: “The greatest lesson we ought to have learned from the operation of the Constitution is that it cannot, as presently constituted, give us a country of our dream, politically and most importantly, economically. Amendment of the same is inevitable, and the earlier the better for all of us.”

Prof. Timothy Atte, a professor of International law in his argument, stated: “That Constitution never originated from the people. It was imposed on them by the military regime of Abdulsalam Abubakar. Consequently, the framers basically considered the interest of the ruling oligarchy at the zenith of leadership that constitutes the microcosm of the society, at the expense of the common people. This accounts for the numerous crisis associated with the constitution that has heinous implications for socio-economic development.” His writeup is the theme of today’s lecture.

Dr. Otive Igbuzor, Founding Executive Director of African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development (Centre LSD) and Chief of Staff to the Deputy President of the Senate, argued that the 1999 Constitution fell below standard, blaming the military. His writing titled “The only hope for the Nigerian people is to demand a reviewed Constitution with inclusive economy” demanded for the collective will of the Nigerian people to seek for a reviewed Constitution:

“The 1999 Constitution was enacted by the military without the participation of the Nigerian people. Both conservatives and progressives were unanimous that the constitution tells a lie against itself when it claimed in its preamble that “we the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria….do hereby make, enact and give to ourselves the following constitution.

“Although the 1999 Constitution may be argued to be legal, it lacks legitimacy because it was not made by the people. Meanwhile, the Nigerian economy is structurally defective and not inclusive. Therefore, the only hope for the people of Nigeria is to either make a completely new constitution or significantly review the 1999 constitution in such a way as to constitute the ground norm for an inclusive economy.”

Prof. Patrick Egbule, Director of Academic Planning, Delta State University, and former President, Nigeria Vocational Association, dealt with the issues of the loss of leadership values and economy while admonishing Nigerian leaders to trace back when the country once excelled. His writeup titled “No Nation has ever survived and achieved unity and development under gross acts of injustice” argues:

“There are so many issues that have to be addressed – the constitution, true federalism, state police, state of origin, federal character, quota system, rotational presidency, resource control, and many more. In all, the basic question has to be answered – Do the majority of Nigerians, including our leaders truly believe in one Nigeria? If yes, how can the patriotic zeal and inclinations of our founding fathers be fostered? For me “share the money” economy we are presently operating is not sustainable”

On his part, Mr. Alfred Omenihu, the publisher and editor-in-chief of National Impact Magazine, argued that the Nigerian Constitution ought to serve as a catalyst to promote national consciousness, political reconstruction, and economic growth cum stability. His contribution titled “Can Nigeria’s Constitution guarantee national economic prosperity?” stated:

“Drafting of a new constitution and restructuring of the country’s political structure will be the beginning of a new dawn for Nigeria because it will be very unreasonable to expect different results with the same rules of engagement and methodology. Political-governance arrangements that ensure participation and ownership of the Nigerian project by all segments of the federation—a stable and more efficient system which is fairer, more equitable, and just. Some 230 years ago, Thomas Jefferson argued that ‘the two enemies of the people are criminals and government’. Hence, my argument in this piece is that the genesis of rescuing Nigeria’s systemic collapse is a new constitution”  

The next was written by my humble self, titled “Sir Hugh Foot and the revelation of making a people constitution and how the Nigerian green flag was raised”, where l stated: “If we believe in the affairs of the Nigerian project, we must then first, adopt a unification of agreement to critically review the 1999 Constitution to what the British government saw in Nigeria as regards to our strength regionally. In the South, strength, intelligence, determination to succeed, well-established history, complex but focused lifestyle, and great aspirations were found,

“In the East, (Igbos) strides in business and technology; In the West, (Yorubas) Commerce, Law and Medicine; while in the North, strength was largely on agricultural production. When all these surfaces in the review of the 1999 Constitution without local or foreign interest or individual’s interest, we can have a better country. Again, if this is reflected in the review of the 1999 Constitution with autonomous power for each region to excel economically without a barrier, then, the yoke of poverty and economic retrogression will be a thing of the past.”

Certainly, this great work of purpose largely contributed by men of repute with experience in governance and public service is a product of human satisfaction. I, therefore, recommend this Memoir for academic purposes and research, for politicians, public servants, civil society actors, students, and the general public.