By Tonnie Iredia
I confess I couldn’t attend any of the sessions on the review of the Nigerian constitution organized by the National Assembly at several locations in the country last week. This also means I was able to avoid acting in vain because for quite a long time I have not been able to decipher sincerity on the faces of some of the organizers.
Understandably, they are politicians that many Nigerians suspect would never put the public interest above their personal gains. A former state governor during the military era and now party chieftain, Bode George has since described the event as a charade adding that agenuine remedy would be to revisit the report of the 2014 Constitutional Conference that was “generally applauded for the sweeping breadth of its equity and democratic balance in rectifying the prejudicial and unworkable structures that are on the ground now.”
Painfully, if the roles were reversed, Nigeria’s main opposition political party to which Bode George belongs, would have similarly acted as those in power now, are doing. We can therefore not look forward to a good constitution because what our politicians would want documented as a constitution, is a book of politics bereft of history or culture. Put differently, they may not mind a constitution of political materialism while national development remains stunted.
Let no one insist that the current constitution was produced by the military because we all know it was written by politicians though the nation was under military rule at the time. Indeed, a look further back beyond 1999, would reveal the prominent citizens who were the real authors of all controversial policies in the country. It was such Nigerians who helped the military to provide the legal terminologies which properly put in technical context, abominable issues such as ‘decrees with ouster clauses.’
I was spokesperson for the electoral body which conducted the famous June 12, 1993 Presidential elections. I can testify that it was the then Attorney General who urged us to disobey the initial court order stopping us from conducting the election. He refreshed our memories then with the specific provision of the relevant decree that no court had power to stop an election.
He was also the one some few days later, who helped to serve on our leadership, a warrant of arrest issued by a second court for disobeying the order of the first court. In like manner, all the provisions in the so-called military superintended constitutions that everyone is angry over today were drafted by politically ambitious actors.
In 1979, when the first transition to civilian rule occurred, the same people argued in favour of making everything federal under the jaundiced perception that such could guarantee national unity. Today, they are still active in leading everyone to appreciate that the same over-centralization they earlier helped to institutionalize is a negation of federalism.
Whereas the new argument is patently valid, we might, under their guidance, soon end up with what may lead to an uproar in the next two decades. There is therefore no better time than now, to be super cautious about structures, policies, postures etc. which anyone is canvassing today because, the real problem of Nigeria is politics, not the laws.
Thus, except we allow history and culture and not just politics alone to always be in the front burner of our national discourse, we may get hold of an ideal constitution which is probably the opposite of our current document and yet have the same results as we have today.
We need to note that the import of history lies in the lessons which humanity draws from the past to plan for the future. As the famous Spanish-born philosopher, poet, and novelist, George Santayana (1863 – 1952) once stated, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
There is doubt if Nigerian politicians ever look back to introspect, otherwise they would not have been screaming today in support of the same issues they willfully discountenanced only yesterday. A few examples would suffice. In 2014/2015, the All Progressives Congress (APC) which was then an opposition party went to court against the involvement of the military in elections.
She won and all true democrats applauded the decision because it is not a known trait of the military to perform excellently in democratic practices. Since then, the victorious APC has been in office vigorously promoting the involvement of the military in our elections.
Some 3 days ago, plans by the Ogun State Independent Electoral Commission (OGSEIG) to conduct local elections in the state next month were released. One of them was that the Commission had reached out to the Nigerian Army to deploy soldiers in the state on election day for the purpose of building what it called “public confidence.”
On March 20, 2015 the then President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law an amendment to Section 52 of the Electoral Act to empower INEC to determine the procedure shewants to use at an election. Yet, since 2015 we have been waiting for a law that would permit INEC to use electronic voting.
What is the real dilemma, lack of law or refusal to act? While we are not suggesting that nothing is wrong with our laws or constitution because so much is, our handling of certain issues covered by law as if there is a real vacuum is worrisome. The issue of open grazing for instance has raised tempers and dominated the public space as if it is a new phenomenon.
Yet, in this country, as far back as 1969, the judiciary in a suit no AB 26/66 ruled that‘to allowcattle to wander like pests and cause damage to another person’s farm is unreasonable and repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience.’
Those debating the subject of open grazing in the last couple of months have been citing different sections of the constitution to support their viewpoints but none has confirmed if this ruling has been reversed. All we have is anarrative which retains the subject as a new matter of the moment.
Nigeria was for long the country to beat. Apart from our diaspora citizens who excelled in several disciplines and occupations abroad, our support for freedom fighters seeking independence along with the sacrifice we made so that our fellow Africans can survive as in Liberia, Sierra Leone and other places confirmed us as a nation of brother’s keepers.
For such a country, internal unity should not be problematic more so as our constitution recognizes integration agencies like the Federal Character Commission. So, is our problem about legal provisions or about implementation? We can hardly have a good constitution if state actors cannot adhere to the letters and the spirit of the law.
Nigeria is in dire need of state actors who can have the disposition of the Emir of Katsina, Dr. Abdulmumini Kabir Usman. In 2017, when some Northern youths gave notice to Southerners to quit their region, the Emir publicly vowed to defend the continued existence of the so-called foreigners in the North with the last drop of his blood!
We need a new constitution because the one of 1999 has several defects. While some say amendment will do, while others insist that only a brand new constitution will solve our problems. May we find not only a good constitution but one that we ourselves shall not circumvent either through political manipulation or contributory negligence.