May 2, 2024

Clamours for a new Constitution


The calls for the promulgation of a brand-new Constitution for the Federal Republic of Nigeria are growing. Our 1999 Constitution has never been a darling of the more progressive sections of our society because it is seen essentially as a military decree imposed on Nigerians by the departing transitional regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar.

Some constitutional experts even describe it as “a lie” because contrary to its claim of “we, the people”, it was not drafted by an elected Constituent Assembly or Constitutional Conference saddled with the people’s mandate to draw up a new constitution to guide their democratic future.

Apart from the highly popular 1963 Constitution, no other constitutional document has been drafted under an elected government in Nigeria. The 1963 Constitution granted full republican status to Nigeria, created the Mid-Western Region and affirmed the full autonomies of the Regions which empowered them to develop competitively. 

Unfortunately, further efforts made during the Olusegun Obasanjo elected government were neutralised by the Senate due to Obasanjo’s alleged manipulation of the Conference to obtain tenure elongation in 2006. Also, the document of the National Conference of 2014 called by President Goodluck Jonathan was contemptuously sidelined by his successor, Muhammadu Buhari. 

The clamour for a new constitution has always been zealously countered by the conservative class which always argues that our problem is not the constitution but the crooked nature of the current crop of Nigerian leaders. They argue that through continuous amendments, the 1999 Constitution can be brought into alignment to the needs of the generality of Nigerians.

A recent forum held in Lagos to honour Nigeria’s foremost constitutional lawyer, teacher and activist, the late Professor Ben Nwabueze (SAN), saw the revival of the call for a new constitution coming from the broad spectrum of Nigeria’s ideological persuasions. These included former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anayaoku; leader of Afenifere, Pa Ayo Adebanjo; Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos; Senator Aminu Tambuwal, among the others.

Former Ghanaian leader, the late President Jerry Rawlings, once said that what Africa needs is a set of rules such that even if “the devil himself should sit on that seat”, he will be bound by the principles and practices that force him to serve the people, not himself.

We believe a new constitutional document is needed after over 24 years under a suspect military-imposed document. We must re-enact the 1963 feat, including bringing back its strongly federalising and autonomising principles which oiled the wheels of rapid development through healthy competition.

This centralised federal arrangement and feeding bottle dependency on Abuja is a military legacy that must go. We must prove that we don’t need a military regime to give ourselves a genuine people’s constitution. We are tired of state failure.