Senator Ajibola Basiru, Constitution review
Senator Ajibola Basiru

* Those calling for new constitution ‘re minute minority

* Senate also looking at 1994, 2014 Confab reports

* We need to decentralize Police architecture

SPOKESPERSON of the Senate, Senator Ajibola Basiru (APC, Osun Central), in this interview, speaks on the state of the nation, controversies trailing the ongoing review of the 1999 Constitution by the National Assembly, averring that the outcome of the exercise would address the challenges of the country.

By Dapo Akinrefon, Deputy Regional Editor, South West & Shina Abubakar

Since Nigeria’s return to civil rule 22 years ago, many people argue that the country is still groping in the dark. Do you agree with that, looking at the state of the nation?

I don’t agree. There is no country that doesn’t have the challenge of insecurity, even the advanced democracies have challenges.

So, it will be unfortunate for us to say that we are still groping in the dark after 22 years of democracy and also give feelings to those who are anti-democratic.

We have made a lot of strides in various sectors and even when you look at the scorecard of the President Muhammadu Buhari Administration, which was published last week, there are a lot of areas we have made significant progress— infrastructure, social intervention even in the area of legal architecture to do business and engage in productive activities.

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So, I would say that every society continues to face various challenges. One of the challenges we are facing currently is insecurity and everything is being done to address it.

With the seriousness the national leadership has taken the issue of insecurity in a matter of weeks or months, we will be able to end it.

On controversies trailing the constitution amendment exercise, with many Nigerians asking for a brand new constitution and not an amendment…

Those people you called many Nigerians, we have not taken census of that. But from my experience, working as a member of constitution review committee, they are a minute minority.

I was at the Akure Centre for the zonal hearing and close to 200 memoranda were presented with physical presentations by 100 different organizations and there are almost 12 to 14 centres in the country.

I was also at the public hearing in Abuja which was held for two days. On the first day, more than 70 memoranda were presented. This shows that Nigerians are concerned and they are interested in the constitution amendment process.

So, the question of whether the process gets acceptability of the people would be gauged by the number of memoranda and interest shown by Nigerians from all walks of life in making input to the process that has begun.

Then talking about people saying there should be a new constitution, an amendment of the constitution can be by way of substitution.

So, if there are fundamental things that you need to be changed in the 1999 constitution, you can bring it forward, you can’t just sit in your room and be asking for a new constitution.

Also, when you look at legal theory, there is what we call ‘grundnorm’, which is the basis of the legal order upon which every other legal order would stand. As at today, the 1999 constitution is the grundnorm.

Section 9 makes provision for the amendment of the constitution, with four-fifth of the National Assembly and two-third of the State Assembly.

The implication of this is that such amendment would require consensus from almost the largest section of the Nigerian society rather than the wills of particular individual because it will translate to 80 of 109 of the Senate and about 288 of 360 in the House of Representatives.

The approach of the constitutional review committee of the National Assembly is:  Throw open all issues including structure of governance.

Even if you are referring to 1963 constitution, what are the existing provision of our constitution that is not in line with 1963 constitution, then you name the sections we will delete or replace, if it’s about devolution of power, if it’s the exclusive list you want to take to residual or to concurrent, you can so do.

So, it’s just that some people have fixated opinion that they just want to criticize without even engaging and interrogating the existing systems.

Now, talking about constitutional conferences, not only 2014 conference, some people possibly have atavistic connection with that because they participated in it.

They also forgot that there was a 1994 constitutional conference by the Abacha administration that particularly in the South-West, our traditional rulers, opinion leaders came up with a document that they called the Yoruba Agenda which they submitted and there were far-reaching resolutions there.

What the constitutional review committee of the Senate did is to set-up committees to review the 2014 Confab recommendations, El-Rufai’s report for the APC, and 1994 National Conference report. We also reviewed all the previous efforts at making constitution and what have been the gains and pitfalls.

Then, we reviewed all bills that have been presented by members of the National Assembly on constitutional amendment and all these preceded going to the public hearing.

So, for people who have something to say about 2014, they are assuming without requisite knowledge, without knowing that 2014 recommendations are part of what we are considering and it does them better gain to have participated by submitting memoranda rather than just sit down and say things.

But when you have people who just want to make criticism for want of criticism, they even go to the level of absurdity to make criticism; even the 1963 constitution was not done in Yoruba language or Hausa language.

So how soon should we expect an amendment?

The President of the Senate had assured, in his speech on the second year anniversary, that before the Senate proceeds on summer recess, the National Assembly would have done the needful but of course you know that after that, they would have to send specific amendments to the Houses of Assembly for which the Senate will get a return before the process will be completed.

So, we hope that by the end of this year, we should be able to have a new amended constitution.

While the Senate was holding its public hearing, the House of Reps was also holding its own. What informed this dichotomy?

There are two chambers in the National Assembly, at the end of the day there would be a harmonization of the ideas just like the process of 1963 lawmaking, even Houses of Reps can originate a bill and pass it to the Senate for concurrence and vice versa.

If there are areas of difference in what have been passed, a conference committee of equal number will be called and whatever it decides will be the ultimate decision of the National Assembly.

So, there is nothing untoward about it. It’s part of legislative process, particularly it also avails some people who missed out of the hearing by the Senate the opportunity to present their views at the one done by the House of Reps.

The President in an interview, last week, said he told Governors to go and deal with herders/farmers ’ crisis. What is your take on arguments that governors are not in charge of the security apparatus in their states?

I am an advocate of state police and I must say that I have introduced a bill on state police at the National Assembly; it is also a part of what is being considered by the constitutional review committee.

I am also an advocate of a decentralized police structure even at the Federal level. I have also introduced a bill to decentralize Nigeria Police operationally and in terms of budget at the zonal level and my bill is in line with the recommendations of the Senate ad hoc committee on constitution headed by Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, the Senate leader.

The thing is that we need to decentralize the Police architecture in Nigeria. The sense I make of what the President could do is that our constitution is exacerbated by break down in the social fabric of our society, it’s not just about synergy of security agencies alone, there used to be existing mechanisms for dispute resolution, for detection and prevention of crime.

It’s also possibly a wakeup call that when we are talking about reforming necessary legislation to decentralize the Police, our state actors should also actively engage the community with a view to collaborating with the community in gathering intelligence and giving requisite information.

So, the sense I can make of the President’s position is that there is a need for us to strengthen our local government structure to make them carry out their requisite constitutional function.

The call for us to engage our community, traditional rulers, religious leaders in that process and that was why in the bill that I proposed on decentralized police structure, there is a provision for zonal advisory council and state advisory council that will comprise the Governors, elected National Assembly members, State Assembly members, religious leaders and community leaders. We need to see the issue of security as a collective engagement of people within the society.

In the South-West, the Amotekun in Oyo, recently raised an alarm of imminent by foreign Fulani herdsmen and two days later there was an attack in Igangan. What step is the Senate taking to nip these crises in the bud?

It is part of the challenge of insecurity. It is unfortunate the statement made by the head of Amotekun in Oyo State, even if you have such intelligence, should not be taken to the press. One would have expected that you will be circumspect with such information.

I want to appeal to all of us, particularly the elite, to be very circumspect in what we say and not to further inflate the tension in the country. Nobody gains from an atmosphere of conflagration, violence and crisis. More importantly, we need community engage to conquer the issue of insecurity.

You are an advocate of state police and some Nigerians are afraid that it could be turned into a political tool by governors. Would there be any mechanism to ensure that state police is not used for political vendetta?

Anywhere in the world, any coercive instrument is liable to be abused and it is actually being abused even in advanced countries. The way you guide against abuse of power is to have independence of the judiciary and to have the rule of law.

No society can function without security. Gone are the days we allow our children to wander on the road, they go and play football, they come back but now for people to even do businesses, the amount of money you spend on security is far above whatever profit you would make.

So, I would say it’s a kind of trying to balance between two challenges, yes there is always the  challenge of abuse of office but the greater challenge is that do we continue to have a society where anybody would be able to perpetrate an abuse?

Between restructuring and secession, which one do you support?

I am an activist. Every society has right to self-determination but the question is: what secession are we talking about? Are you talking about secession that also has annexation of other people’s territory? Or you are talking of secession within the contest of self-determination of our own people?

I believe that there is an advantage in the size and diversity of Nigeria, particularly for the black people, so I am for the unity of the country. But of course I believe that we must get a system that will lead to proper utilization of diversification in terms of devolution of power and fiscal federalism.

Is it true that there is crisis between you and Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola?

Rauf Aregbesola is my leader, my mentor and benefactor. In politics, there is no zero-sum game. The Governor of my state today is Alhaji Gboyega Oyetola, we are close and we have good relationship and I will say I am a gladiator that supported his governorship ambition.

Unless you want to say that I am a senator and supporting my governor means that I am fighting the minister, it’s not true.

It’s just like saying that because I am close to Ogbeni Aregbesola means that I am not close to Baba Bisi Akande or I am fighting other leaders. I have said it several times that I am for unity and progress of our party. The success of the Oyetola government is a success for all of us.

Yes, in politics, there will be challenges and tension but the essence of political process is being able to aggregate and resolve those issues and I believe that going into the 2022 governorship election, we’ll go in as a unified party and I have committed myself to relate with every leader and stakeholder and work towards harmonious relationship.

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