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Restructuring for nation building and development (Part 2)

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On 30 November in this column we reflected on the imperatives of restructuring and the pre-conditions that we believe to be essential for successful federations. Today we conclude our reflections by considering the way forward.

The Constitution of Weimar Germany in the 1920s has been considered by jurists to have been one of the best constitutional documents ever written. And yet it failed. The 1999 Nigerian constitution was designed and handed-over to us by a military dictatorship without the full consent of “We, the people”. By that fact alone, it lacks political as well as moral legitimacy. That document is replete with jurisprudential mischief and widespread gerrymandering of the structure of our federation in such a manner that favours some while short-changing others. It has also compromised the secular character of our constitutional government.

I happen to believe that the 2014 Political Conference was one of the most successful episodes in democratic consultations that we have ever had as a country. The conclusions of the confab provide the basic framework for more constructive dialogue on future constitutional re-engineering and restructuring of our federation. We believe that holding a similar exercise will amount to a waste of public funds. What the government needs to do at this point is to release the report and develop a White Paper out of it as a basis for further action. After the report and What Paper would have been released, the federal government should create an enabling law for a constituent assembly to design a new constitution for our country.

We believe that the current six geopolitical zones, which have no basis in law but exist merely as convention, should be expanded to twelve regions. Among the regions that will need to be created, we demand two regions within the North Central area comprising Western Central Region and Eastern Central Region. The states or sections that would comprise the new regions will include the 6 existing states of the North Central Zone in addition to Southern Borno, Southern Kebbi, Southern Kaduna and parts of Adamawa, Taraba and Gombe.

We envisage a two-tier federation in which the federating units will be the 8 regions, each governed by an elected Governor-General. Within the regions there will be provinces with elected Provincial Administrators. Each province will be free to create its own municipal councils with Municipal Administrators and part-time councils. We envisage regions that shall be economically and financially viable; able to meet their basic obligations in terms of operating an elected government and professional civil service.

We advocate for a system of regional police with powers under the Governors-General to provide security for lives and properties of each of the federating regions and provinces.

The bulk of the natural resources of each region shall belong to the region. A sharing formula will be worked out such that the central federal government does have some share of the revenues accruable from those natural resources. But the bulk will belong to the regions and states. The definition of “natural resources” must also include hydro-electrical resources such as Kainji, Shiroro, Kurra Falls and Mambila Falls.

At the national level, we advocate return to the parliamentary system, with a Prime Minister who shall be the executive head of government as well as Commander-in-Chief. We also advocate for an elected President who will serve as head of state and symbol of the country.

We believe that the spring and fountain of participatory democracy must be founded on a vibrant parliament. Our parliament as a political institution has been the weakest link within the three arms of government. This is because throughout the long night of military dictatorship in our country, both the executive and the judiciary continued to function. It was always the parliament that was the casualty in every military coup d’état. As a consequence the institution of parliament has tended to be the weakest link in our political system. In the restructuring that we desire, we advocate for a popularly elected full-time unicameral legislature at the federal level. At the level of regional government we also advocate the creation of a popularly elected full-time unicameral legislature. At the level of state and local governments, however, we recommend the creation of popularly elected part-time legislative assemblies. Whereas in the former, the full-time legislators will subsist on a salary, the part-time legislators at state and municipal levels will only receive sitting allowances.

With regards to the judiciary, we believe that the common law tradition inherited from the British has served our country rather well. It is a corpus of living law rooted in equity and justice and also capable of development through organic evolution to meet the needs of changing times. I am a believer in the inherent fairness of the British common law tradition with its commitments to equity, natural justice and good conscience. The British, in their wisdom often applied the “repugnancy test” to all legal tenets that were alien to the common law tradition. A multiplicity of often conflicting legal systems is a recipe for confusion, if not disaster. For the sake of good public administration and sound civil government, it is always recommended that a country that aspires to a civilised status among the nations must possess one legal system and one corpus of laws that embodies its legal tradition.

Throughout the long history of constitutional development in Nigeria, our people were openly and actively involved in the process. Even in colonial times, the succession of constitutional developments from the Clifford Constitution of 1922, to the Richards Constitution 1946, Macpherson Constitution 1951 and Lyttleton Constitution 1954 involved some level of consultation with Nigerians. Indeed, the 1979 constitution, with all its defects, was based largely on the will of the people. The 1999 constitution marks a major departure from the letter and spirit of constitutional consultation. This is why, ab initio, it does not reflect the will of the majority of Nigerians and is therefore of limited moral and political legitimacy.

Going forward, we demand, that, in the design of a successor constitutional settlement, a committee of “wise men and women,” made of jurists and scholars of the highest intellect, will develop a White Paper out of the report of the 2014 political conference. They will also undertake broad consultations throughout all the sections of Nigeria to distil the essential elements of a broad national consensus on the way forward.

The next process will be for a Constituent Assembly, drawn from a broad cross section of our country, to work together on drafting a new constitution based on the broad elements provided by the committee of wise men and women.

The third and final process will be a referendum across the country for the adaptation of the new constitution based on the principle of simple majority.

There will also be a transitional period leading to adoption of the new constitution. The transitional period should not be more than 2 years, during which elected politicians will continue to hold office during that transitional period until new elections are held and a new government is installed in power based on the new constitution.

Men are not angels. The presidential system confers frightening powers on President and Governors. Only those who fear God will exercise power with restraint and justice. The system, as it is, must be reformed. I am persuaded that we need a decentralised parliamentary federation that devolves more powers to the people and allows them to participate in the governance process that shapes their lives and their future. This is the shape destiny assumes on the earth.

 

Obadiah Mailafia

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