Friday, October 16, 2009

The Nigerian Constitution: Amendment or conference?

OF all the constitutions that Nigerians and Nigeria had operated, none has been so severally stricture as the 1999 constitution presumably because of its military background. Some see it as an imposition by the military to ensure the unity of the country through a powerful and wealthy central government in a federal environment.

Nigerians who acquired Independence in 1960 were under the mistaken impression or grand illusion that they were running a federal system of government where each of the three regions had specific roles on Education, Health and General Administration and welfare of its people adequately provided for and securely protected by the constitution –The supreme law of the land.

The grand illusion was however shattered by the direct intervention of the federal government in the Action Group crisis which resulted in the breakdown of law and order in the Western Region. That apparent partiality of the federal government in the 1960s brought in its wake disputed elections, destruction of lives and properties and eventually, the disastrous but unnecessary civil war and the incursion of the military in administration.

With all its virtues, the 1979 constitution did not consider the attitude of Nigerians and the political naivety of Nigerians when it presented the presidential system of government for the country. Typically, Nigerian politicians messed up, enthroned tribalism, encouraged sycophancy and embraced political jobbery and corruption.

The 4-years tenure of the 1979 constitution showed vividly that the presidential system was costly and required matured flexibility which Nigerian politicians lacked. The failure of the 1979 constitutional experiment brought the return of the military adventurers into civil administration of the country.

Some of them brought order and discipline; some assaulted the Naira and crashed it while others saved our resources in foreign countries without our knowledge and consent. At the end of the military rule, the country was kept united but poor. The command tone ,’with immediate effect’ was in vogue but without any positive motion.

At the threshold of the 1999 Constitution, the centre (Federal Government) had become very strong ;states and local government councils had appeared in many shapes and forms, with neither homogeneity or wealth to survive and serve the citizens.

To lawmen, the 1999 Constitution , made by the military was designed to sustain military errors in governance , i.e. strong centre with weak states and weaker local governments; distorted federal fiscal system and gradual abandonment of welfare concepts.

The operation of the 1999 Constitution has shown clearly its limitations in many areas. Since the enthronement of Democracy more than a decade ago, the country has witnessed the growth of the “federal might” . An example is the operation of the concept of “stick first, ‘carrot later’ approach in the Niger Delta.

The federal government still takes more than fifty (50) percent of the country’s revenue; it is the only investor (on behalf of the country) in the oil and gas industry and distributes money realized to the other tiers of government as prescribed by the Constitution.

The experience under the operation of the 1999 Constitution confirmed the impression in political circles that the court and not the voter is the arbiter in any political contest. It has also enshrined the supremacy of political parties against individuals in the country. Only party members could contest elections in all tiers of government.

Thus, the supremacy of the party is complete and the removal of a non-performing ruling party is more than an herculean task. A more sinister aspect of experience under the present dispensation is the lack of security of lives and properties. While armed robbers confront security agencies in broad daylight, assassins and kidnappers operate freely day and night.

Political killings are becoming more fashionable while mere dissents are being visited with vengeance. It has become almost impossible to separate personal from political differences in a system where ‘everything goes’ in an atmosphere of recriminations and abuses.

It is a fact that a constitution cannot provide for everything or provide answers to all problems when the attitude of the people are fixated on wrong premises and remained unchanged. However, it is not too late to re-examine the present 1999 constitution in the light of obvious deficiencies which could not be appropriately or properly tackled by the Senate and the House of Representatives because of political partisanship and ethnic chauvinism.

These matters noted below should be suitable for a National Conference:
1. Power Problem and its effects on National Economy.
2.Parliamentary/Presidential system of government
3.Power of Federal Government in a federation
4.Many poor states or six viable zones
5. Federal/State police Authorities
6.Security of life & properties
7.Final solution to Niger Delta Development
8. Electoral Reforms