By Adekunle Adekoya
Whichever way you want to look at it, the fact that things that are taken for granted in other climes come very costly in Nigeria must be staring us all in the face. Or, put in another way, things that are easily done elsewhere take unusually longer here, with higher costs. Take university education for instance.
Unless your child/ward is attending a private university or schooling abroad, there is no guarantee that a regular honours degree, which normally takes four years cannot take the average undergraduate six, seven, or even eight years here.
That is because if ASUU (the university teachers’ union) is not on strike, the non-academic staff may down tools, or government itself may shut down all schools due to a students’ uprising. Sane thing happens with the polytechnics and colleges of technology. We’ve all seen it happen before, haven’t we?
But that is not the subject of today’s Pictures & Patterns, our constitution is in focus here.
In the last few weeks, from May to this month, the National assembly had been holding hearings in selected towns and cities nationwide. The hearings were headed by Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Idris Wase.
As usual, various socio-cultural and ethnic organisations, and the civil society presented memoranda on issues whose lexicon is too familiar — restructuring, devolution of powers, revenue allocation formula, fiscal federalism, “true federalism”, and others. A new one slipped in — reversion — a call to go back to the 1963 Constitution which was in use until Ironsi happened on Nigeria.
While various sections of the society availed themselves of this opportunity, not a few, some of them very prominent pointedly lampooned the exercise, and condemned it as a complete waste of time and resources.
Some of the prominent voices that have disdained the on-going constitution review exercise include legal luminary and founder of ABUAD in Ado-Ekiti, Aare Afe Babalola, former Deputy National Chairman of the PDP, Chief Olabode Ibiyinka George, and Oyo State Goivernor, Oluseyi Makinde. Apart from these highly-placed persons, organizations that have disdained the exercise include the Northern Elders’Forum, Afenifere, Middle Belt Forum, and Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
While the NEF pointedly asked the National Assembly to scrap “the wasteful idea of giving Nigerians the impression that it is involved in a serious review of our Constitution,” the other groups asked for a brand-new constitution, while others, like Chief Bode George, asked for the 2014 Confab report to be adopted.
It is not exactly clear when it dawned on Nigerians that the 1999 Constitution is a defective document. However, initiatives to re-work it began under the Obasanjo administration, which set up a multi-party committee to review it, about December 1999.
The committee submitted its report, and till now, its recommendations were not made public. After that, the National Assembly picked it up with the 5th NASS bidding to review the constitution. The 8th NASS also had their turn, and now the 9th NASS is taking the baton where its predecessor dropped it.
Of the exercise itself, Senate President, Ahmad Lawan said:
“This is not the first time the lawmakers are embarking on the review of the constitution, which came into effect in 1999 with the return to democratic rule. The legislature has been embarking on constitution review since the 5th National Assembly. Although some amendments have been successful in the past, many others suffered serial failures but kept appearing in new proposals.”
My take: At what cost? In the 2021 budget, the sum of N1 billion was voted for constitution review. I guess that sum will be spent on public hearings, travel and accommodation of the legislators as they travelled all over the country, secretarial work, etc, etc. How much did the 8th NASS spend? How much did the 5th NASS spend? How much did the Obasanjo committee spend?
All this money spent, and yet, Nigerians are still howling about a defective constitution, with shouts of restructuring, devolution of powers, fiscal federalism and other jargon rending the air! If in 22 years, all the purported amendments, with billions spent to enact them have not yielded desired results, then it stands to reason that we must look in another direction.
If as Lawan said, some of the proposals fro amendment failed, it is proper to ask whether the on-going exercise has taken due congnizance of that, so that Nigerians and NASS itself will have some respite over the constitution. Or, are some proposals programmed to fail? Which ones failed, and which ones succeeded? Nigerians don’t even know.
The 9th NASS has 24 months to the end of its tenure. Must the 10th NASS also take its turn at constitution amendment, with its own vote for public hearings and town hall meetings? Our constitution must be the most expensive in the world, yielding unsatisfactory dividends.