Afe for Vanguard

March 6, 2024

Constitutional review or a new Constitution?  Nigeria at a crossroads, by Afe Babalola

Afe Babalola

IT is with mixed feelings that Nigerians welcomed the news of another round of tinkering with our military constitution of 1999. The Constitution has been subjected to series of amendments. These amendments were necessary to cure various anomalies in the Constitution discovered per time, and anomalies that were caused by adopting a constitution that did not resonate with the pluralist state of the ethnicities in Nigeria. 

On February 15, 2024, the Senate announced the need to once again “touch some aspects of the constitution to bring them in line with current realities”. To achieve this aim, the Red Chamber set up a 45-member Committee to review and amend the Constitution. The Senate President, Godswill Akpabio explained that the 1999 Constitution needs a review because it contains many issues that need to be “put right”. 

Most frankly I disagree with him entirely on this. The 1999 Constitution does not contain a few provisions that need to be put right, rather, it needs to be replaced in its entirety because the entire constitution is unfit to be used in a country like Nigeria. 

The 1999 Constitution opens with the preamble:

“We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,… Do hereby make, enact and give to ourselves the following Constitution.”

There is no reality in Nigeria as false as the preamble to the 1999 Constitution. “We Nigerians” never agreed to anything. Rather, the 1999 Constitution was an imposition and part of the several sores inherited from the military rule in Nigeria. The mistake we made as a nation was failing to revert to the 1963 Republican Constitution which was made by Nigerians, for Nigeria when we had the chance. To better understand this regret, I will examine the first two constitutions in Nigeria, and accentuate their contributions to national development and governance. 

The 1960 Independence Constitution 

At independence, Nigeria had the 1960 Independence Constitution. This was the first constitution that ushered Nigeria into a new era of political independence. This Constitution provided for a Parliamentary System of Government, a federal bi-camera legislature, Federal Executives led by the Prime Minister, et cetera. The drafters of the Constitution took into consideration that Nigeria is a country of nations. It therefore divided Nigeria into three regions, namely: the Northern, Eastern and Western Regions per the concentration of its tribes and ethnicities. Each region was led by the premier thus: Sir Ahmadu Bello for the Northern Region; Michael Okpara for the Eastern Region; and Samuel Ladoke Akintola for the Western Region. Likewise, regional parliaments were divided into two houses. These are the House of Assembly which was the lower house, and the House of Chiefs which was the upper house. Members of the Parliaments were elected directly by the electorate. 

The intention of the Independence Constitution was to usher Nigeria into an era of political independence; however, it failed to live up to this responsibility. This is because the Constitution was a British Order-in-Council which retained Queen Elizabeth II as the Head of State in Nigeria. She was merely represented by Nnamdi Azikiwe who was the Governor-General. It also retained the Privy Council as the highest court in Nigeria, amongst other things. Nonetheless, its contribution to the constitutional development of Nigeria cannot be ignored. 

The 1963 Republican Constitution 

On October 1, 1993, on the third anniversary of Nigeria’s independence, a new constitution was enacted, one that built upon the Independence Constitution adopting all its strengths and perfecting its weaknesses; one that is tailor-made for Nigeria. This is known in history as the 1963 Republican Constitution. 

The 1963 Republican Constitution was an Act of the Nigerian Parliament. The Constitution removed the British Crown as the Head of State, replacing her with the President who became the Head of State and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. The Constitution retained the parliamentary system of the 1960 Constitution and its ideals of Regional Government. It created the Mid-Western Region which was led by Dennis Osadebe as its Premier. 

Economic development in Nigeria from 1960-1966

Under the 1960 and the 1963 Constitutions, there was regional autonomy with the presidents and governors being nominal head of states. Nigeria experienced unrivalled development under the regional governments. Regional governments invested heavily in education, particularly in the Western Region. This led to the reduction in the rate of illiteracy and ensured citizens had the requisite skill to drive the development of a new nation. At this point, agriculture accounted for over 75% of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings, 68% of its GDP and created employment opportunities for about 65% of the population. Nigeria also exported natural resources during this era. The excess revenue generated was utilised to develop basic infrastructure needed for long term development, such as roads and communication networks. Secondary industries and automobile plants were established to further diversify the economy and to further create more employment opportunities in the country. Goods created by these industries had more competitive prices in the global market because of government policies and protection. 

Regional governments had investable funds to accelerate the rate of economic development in their regions. With this, they provided the necessary infrastructures and educational facilities for their regions. There was a healthy competition between the regions for economic, industrial, agricultural, educational and infrastructural development, with the Western Region setting the pace. At this time in history, the gap between the rich and the poor was not quite visible. Education gave Nigerians prominence in multinational industries and the Nigerian economy was so strong, with N1 being equal to £1 and 70 kobo exchanged for $1 at the international market. At this point in history, Nigeria generated more revenue annually than it needed for governance; Nigeria had no need for foreign debt. With the rate of regional developments in this era, Nigeria would have been at par with countries like India, Malaysia, or Singapore. This would have been achievable, but for the military coup of January 16, 1966.

Nigeria under the Military rule 

With the overthrow of governance in Nigeria by the military, the Nigerian economy deteriorated. As part of the attempt to cede power to civilian government, the military in 1979, under General Olusegun Obasanjo, drafted a constitution for the country. This Constitution introduced the presidential system of government, which reflected the style of governance of the military and was unsuitable for a pluralistic nation like Nigeria. 

The military seized power again in 1983, and by the time it handed over government to a civilian government in 1999, it handed over an economy riddled with debt, bribery and corruption, and policies which were unrealistic in civilian administration. 

Nigerians embraced the military-styled presidential government under the 1999 Constitution at the wake of the Fourth Republic, ignoring the 1963 Republican Constitution which was a true reflection of the pluralistic nature of Nigeria. 

If only we can go back

Fifty-eight years after the abandonment of regional governments, Nigerians are clamouring for bits and pieces of the benefits of this government, such as state policing and economic autonomy. It is evident that the rot in the economy and degradation of security in Nigeria is because of the abandonment of a well though-out regional and parliamentary system government reflected in the 1960 and 1963 Constitutions. 

Those of us who have lived the life of ages know this and have written a lot of articles to sensitise the nation. Quite frankly, there is nothing to review in the 1999 Constitution (as amended). Section 9 of the 1999 Constitution empowers the Federal Legislature to alter any part of the Constitution. This means that the federal legislature can substitute the entire Constitution having regard to the legal meaning of the 1999 Constitution. 

I therefore reiterate my recommendations severally published that the Federal Legislature should take advantage of this constitutional review to revert to the 1963 Republican Constitution which was tailor-made for Nigeria. Nigeria should adopt the parliamentary system of government again, and executive powers should be concentrated in regional governments. The 1963 Constitution can be amended to bring it at par with current realities, but not so much as to totally discard its ideals. This is what is direly needed now. 

Conclusion

Any nation will rise or fall based on the quality of its constitution. Nigeria has experienced tremendous prosperity under the 1960 and 1963 constitutions which heralded parliamentary and regional government. Conversely, Nigeria has experienced such economic rot and declining national security under the presidential system of government, a system of governance that was forced on the nation by a fraudulent constitution. To attempt to review the 1999 Constitution is an act of indirect validation of a constitution that ought not to have existed. 

What we need is purely a brand new and truly a new Federal Constitution with autonomous regions and parliamentary system of government.

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