March 18, 2024

Nigeria doomed without new constitution – Anyaoku, Adebanjo, others

Nigeria doomed without new constitution - Anyaoku, Adebanjo, others

…Ozekhome, Anya, Fayemi, Tambuwal, Daniel, Duke, Aregbesola, Ibori, others proffer solutions

…Nwabueze regretted contributing to making the centre too strong – Mrs Okwuosa, daughter

By Clifford Ndujihe, Olayinka Ajayi & Juliet Umeh

To halt the raging insecurity and socio-economic crises, and redirect Nigeria on the path of growth and development there is an urgent need to do away with the 1999 constitution and give Nigeria a new people’s constitution.

This was the consensus of elder statesmen, some serving lawmakers, political leaders and lawyers, who converged in Lagos, yesterday, for a National Constitutional Dialogue organised by The Patriots, a group of eminent Nigerians and elders in honour of late legal luminary, Professor Ben Nwabueze, SAN.

Themed: “Lawful Procedures For Actualising A People’s Constitution for Nigeria,” the event was to also mark the 10th anniversary of the convocation of the 2014 National Conference, which was set up by former President Goodluck Jonathan on March 17, 2014.

Eminent Nigerians, who spoke at the colourful event include Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos; Chairman of The Patriots and former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku; Afenifere Leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo; former External Affairs Minister, Senator Ike Nwachukwu; former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah; and Legal Icon, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN.

Others who shared their thoughts include Elder statesmen, Professor Anya O Anya, and Chief Solomon Asemota, SAN. Senator Aminu Tambuwal, Senator Gbenga Daniel, Chief Olabode George, former Governors Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), James Ibori (Delta), Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun), Donald Duke (Cross River), Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers), Dr Kalu Idika Kalu, Dr Tunji Abayomi, Alhaji Yerima Shettima and Chief Ifeyinwa Ezenwa, a 2014 confab delegate.

Chaired by Chief Anyaoku, the event was attended by a host of 2014 confab delegates, who lamented the recurring wastage of billions of Naira on constitution amendments by the National Assembly and sought an end to the unending exercises without commensurate results.

In sum, most speakers agreed that the 1999 constitution is faulty, the 2014 confab is a good platform for giving Nigerians a new constitution, the National Assembly should halt ongoing constitution amendment moves but rather make a law for the people to make a constitution for themselves.

They also suggested getting the buy-in of President Bola Tinubu, governors, the National Assembly, state houses assembly and other stakeholders.

Indeed, Governor Sanwo-Olu, who lamented that he did not know why some leaders at the presidency make 360 degrees on turn on issues they canvassed at the state level in the past, promised to collaborate with The Patriots and other stakeholders to ensure true federalism. He added that he did not understand why a federal agency in Abuja should be telling Lagosians what happens on the shoreline of Ozumba Mbadiwe.

Also, Senator Tambuwal promised to take the matter to the National Assembly alongside Senator Daniel noting that a doctrine of necessity from the legislature may be needed to overcome the constitution amendment lacuna provided by the 1999 Constitution.

Former Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Ameachi, said that it is time for action. “We have had this talk over and over, there’s no change. There’s a need to do something.”

On his part, Aregbesola called for a return to the parliamentary system of government warning that the executive presidential system would kill Nigeria, if not dropped.

Attah said there is a dire need for a completely new constitution, not an amended constitution. Recalling that Professor Nwabueze regretted participating in saddling the centre with humongous powers in the name of ensuring national unity he said the late legal giant regretted that “instead of producing unity, it’s producing disunity”

According to him, one of the fundamental and cardinal flaws of the 1999 constitution is the concentration of powers in the centre. “We might not achieve true federalism because the basis has proven to be misguided. The unity we set to achieve was not achieved, what we achieved was more disunity. From this it becomes critically clear that the underpinning principles that guided the drafting of our constitution has turned out to be misguided.”

He continued: “The National Assembly is making an urgent call for a memorandum and constitution review, my question is- Is this the way to go? It is misplaced. The National Assembly is not sovereign, but the people are sovereign to exercise constitutional power to make a constitution for themselves. We don’t need the National Assembly to make amendments to the constitution, what we need is a constituent assembly to make a constitution for the people. The National Assembly should make a law that states that the people have the power to make their constitution.”

Pluralist states like Nigeria succeed on true federalism – Anyaoku

Chief Anyaoku set the ball rolling via his opening remarks, as he said: “I would like to make brief observations of what I consider incontrovertible facts that should form the background of our discussions here today.

First, Nigeria is a pluralistic country that is still struggling to become a nation, a nation with assured political stability and progressive socio-economic development. The fact from across the world is that some pluralistic countries have succeeded in becoming nations, while other pluralistic countries have failed and disintegrated.

And the lesson from this is that pluralistic countries, which have succeeded in becoming nations, have generally practiced true federalism, with considerable powers devolved to the federating units.

This fact, I must say, was recognized by the founding fathers of Nigeria who negotiated painstakingly and agreed to the independence constitution of 1960 extended to 1963.

The second incontrovertible fact that I would like to state is that our present 1999 constitution as amended not only lacks the legitimacy that flows from a democratically made constitution, but also has proved to be unsuitable for tackling many of the serious challenges currently confronting our country.

And thirdly, it is a widely recognized fact that the crucial areas of the country have significantly deteriorated and are continuing to deteriorate.

“To mention just a few of such areas, security of the citizens’ life and property, economic well-being of the citizens, infrastructure, including roads and education and health facilities, social cohesion and social values, and the sense of national unity. These are areas where significant deterioration has occurred over the years.

“I’d like to conclude my brief remarks by saying that there has been no shortage of opinions and prescriptions of the nature and content of what should be a suitable constitution for a pluralistic country. Many commentators have expressed the view that the 1963 constitution, as well as the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference, provide an inescapable guide in this respect.

“I hope, therefore, that this colloquium will, while reaffirming the essential ingredients of the desired Nigerian people’s constitution, will focus on the process of producing such a constitution.

“I believe that in this respect we have only two options. Either we accept the 2014 National Conference as an acceptable platform, or we go for a relatively inexpensive, directly elected Constituent Assembly on a non-party basis for producing such a widely desired constitution.”

After the submission of participants, Anyaoku, in his closing remarks said The Patriots would take the message of Nigeria needing a people’s constitution to President Tinubu and other stakeholders.

He expressed that a positive result would be achieved because “we have a listening president whose democratic credentials and potential are clear to many.”

Why 1999 constitution’s faulty, unacceptable – Ozekhome

Delivering the guest lecture, Chief Ozekhome, who recalled that the 1999 Constitution apart from many ambiguities came into being via a military decree 24 of 1999 noting that the procedure by which a constitution comes into being is not only important but is actually more important than the content of the constitution itself.

Noting that the 1963 constitution was the best so far and recalling what the regions did because they had control of their resources and contributed 50 per cent to the centre from which they also shared 30 per cent, he stressed the need for a new grundnorm along that line.

“The 1999 Constitution was imposed on you and I, militarily, by a military junta led by General Abulsalami Abubakar, 28 members of the Provisional Ruling Council. It was never subjected to any referendum of the people. And guess what? The present constitution was attached as a mere schedule… Nigerians must own their own constitution through a popular referendum of the people like was done to the Midwest constitution on the 10th of August 1963 when it separated from the Western region. Without that, we will just be on the journey to no destination.”

He continued: “Professor Nwabueze gave us very beautiful tit-bits as to how we can bring about a people’s constitution.In his seminal paper, Legal Authority for the convening and holding of a national conference and for the making of a people’s constitution.

“The learned Prof. said that the present National Assembly is already in place because your fears have always been that in trying to bring about a people’s constitution, we are going to sideline the National Assembly It is not possible It is a reality because the National Assembly itself came into being, elections were held in 1999, even before the 1989 Constitution, so the elections were held, so the emergence of the National Assembly, therefore, was based on the will of the people, what we call salut populi supremalis.

“The will of the people is supreme, so Professor Nwabueze therefore theorized that because the National Assembly is in place, they have the power to convene and conduct a National Conference and that what they should do is that they should look at their powers beyond the power to alter the constitution in sections 8 and 9 and go to section 315, which makes the present constitution as an existing law, being a document attached as a schedule to decree number 24, and that the National Assembly should yank off the constitution from that schedule, other than using section 1, subsection 1 And then simultaneously replace it with a brand new constitution, doing away with the schedule, with the military dictatorship aura.”

Way forward

However, he said: “My take on this is that the National Assembly has a big role to play in bringing about the people’s constitution. What are the ingredients we will use to cook this people’s soup?

I’ve talked about the 1963 Republican constitution. Then, in 2014, many of us here, including Baba Adebanjo, Chief Olabode George, were all at the National Conference, including Dr. Idika Kalu, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Major General General Ike Nwachukwu,

“The delegates were thrown up by different methods. Listen, the 2014 National Conference qualifies as a constituent assembly of the people. You do not require to waste further funds and energy looking for others. The reason is that the 492 members were thrown up by the people themselves, and you can throw up people through election and selection.

“Local governments were represented, and states were represented. Educated men and women. Market men and women. The civil society students were even there. The disabled, they were there. Military, police personnel were there. The diplomatic corps were there. The federal government itself was represented, and traditional rulers. Ethnic nationalities were represented. The middle-class people were there. So every segment, professional groups, private and public sectors, we were all there.

“The over 600 recommendations they made, some of them were for executive implementation, some were constitutional. And I was lucky to be elected or appointed by the Committee on Judiciary and Human Rights to head the subcommittee of how to bring about a new constitution.

And the recommendations are there. So why are we afraid to look at them?

“So my take on this, therefore, is that the National Assembly comes in now, Just promulgate a law setting up what I call a National Referendum Commission, NRC.That commission, behind its powers, don’t put a no-no-go area like Ibrahim Babangida once did.

The ultimate being to aggregate together the beautiful decisions of the 2014 National Conference, the beautiful provisions of the 1963 Republican Constitution, and the beautiful work you are currently doing in your own amendment based on your memorandum that you have. Let the National Referendum Commission look at all of them and work on them to give Nigeria a new constitution. And we can do this within six months.”

In her vote of thanks, Mrs Nene Okwuosa, Nwabueze’s daughter, said Professor Nwabueze regretted the enormous power wielded by the Federal Government and fought to correct the mistake till death. She said her father hoped that anomaly would be corrected to drive socio-economic development in the country through the devolution of power to the federating units.