• Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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BusinessDay

How faulty Constitution underdevelops Nigeria

Constitution review: JDPC, others intensify advocacy for law protecting women, vulnerable

The current 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has continued to generate controversy among different sections of the country in recent times.

There is however, growing calls for restructuring of the federal system with a new constitution that reflects Federal Character that would compel the constituent units (states) to enjoy greater level of autonomy, so that they would become more productive instead of the centralised and unitary constitution imposed by the military, which has helped in small way to stunt the development of the country.

It is believed that the unitary constitution was deliberately imposed by the military dominated by elements from one part of the country to give their region economic hold on the country’s resources mostly domiciled in the south. The political expediency of such heavily lopsided arrangements unfortunately has not helped development as the Federal Government has taken up 68 items in the exclusive list and practically confiscated all the powers often without as much responsibility.

The grudge against the constitution has been steady but the cry for restructuring and a new constitution have become louder in recent times especially coming from the Niger Delta region that produces the oil wealth on which the country depends for her foreign exchange for nearly six decades.

Voices from the region and more agitation are rife over the perceived injustice of the current constitution, which gives advantage to certain regions alleged to be ‘parasites’. Even the 36 state system and the FCT is not working as most of them are considered to be unproductive. They are not even allowed to police their states because of the centralised system of security, which negates the principle of development.

Speaking to BusinessDay SUNDAY on the injustice imposed by the constitution, the Executive Director of Integrity Friends for Truth and Peace Initiative, an NGO based in Abuja, Livingston Wechie, lamented what he called the “configuration of the Nigerian contraption.”

He said: “It is potent to state that the configuration of the Nigerian contraption is so lopsided in a manner that continues to poach Nigeria to favour a feudal lord system that thrives on the fault lines of the fractured union against the native land owners who are subjected to a master-slave relationship against their choice.

“This is why some have been secretly and boldly exploiting resources in a part of the country with impunity amassing wealth with such arrogance yet the Delta the highest contributor to the National treasury and other parts that make their little resource contributions are treated like they do not matter and their stake mean nothing in every sense of the word.”

According to him, “This has been the issue because the branded unitary document now christened the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is the indisputable foundation of all the troubles bedeviling the Nigerian state. All the questions ranging from resource ownership rights, regional autonomy, law enforcement structures, devolution of powers, security structures, justice system, political rights and inclusiveness, human rights, police system, ports, all natural resources etc, are traceable to the disputed 1999 Constitution which should understandably be set aside for a true people’s Constitution based on a properly and voluntarily negotiated Nigeria. This will pave the way to address, land ownership rights, minority questions and rights, religion and other fundamental concerns.”

Wechie deplored a “situation where a country is designed to favour some against the others”, saying, “It must be viewed as repugnant to natural justice equity and good conscience.”

“We are in a modern and advanced world. Everybody must be given the opportunity to excel and prosper. Today, the Nigerian state stands the risk to become the big casualty if we fail or pretend about the underlining national health challenges that make it impossible for the nation to make progress or recover from continuous injustice like a Covid-19 patient as long as we continue to believe that Zamfara can sell gold directly to the Central Bank of Nigeria as in the case of other documented injustices whereas Niger Delta cannot sell its own oil by itself but can remain the cash cow that must be muzzled to fund Nigeria’s budgets for over sixty years endlessly while its people are branded militants when they demand justice. It is too late in the day and we cannot continue to progress in error.”

In the same vein, Spokesman of the Pan Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin said that the current constitution had been flawed because of the violation of the federal arrangements and advocated for a return to the true Federal constitution.

He told BusinessDaySUNDAY recently that “unless Nigeria returns to true federal arrangements backed by people’s constitution, development will remain a dream in the country.”

Contributing, an economist and former Presidential candidate of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP) in last election, Tope Fasua, also thinks that it is time for Nigeria to review the constitution and consider restructuring.

He said, “I think it has called for the restructuring which the government has kept under the table for too long. I have always said that restructuring should be written into the Nigerian constitution as something to be done every three years because no entity, organisation or country should be run perpetually on some set strategy without a relook from time to time. So, no matter how good the constitution is, it should be looked at every three or four years with impute as to how it will make life better for people.

“So, now more than ever is the time to look at the issues restructuring. I don’t know about creating a brand new constitution, no constitution is perfect and we also have to look at history as to how we got to where we are now. We should sit together and get what suits us.”

But vehement opposition to restructuring and a new constitution especially coming from the north has made the situation very sensitive and this issue would likely remain very dicey for now.

Sylvester Odion Akhaine, a professor of political science, said the absence of a popular constitution was at the root of Nigeria’s foundational problem. “Until it is resolved through a process-led constitution making, development will remain elusive. The overweighted exclusive list has to be unbundled among others in the process,” he said.

Adelaja Adeoye, national publicity secretary, Action Democratic Party (ADP), is of the belief that the 1999 constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria has some fault lines, which must be carefully handled and corrected if the country must make the desired progress.

“For instance, the resistance by majority of Nigeria is the fact that the document was put together by the military boys, and the claim at the preface that ‘We the people of Nigeria’ accept to use the constitution was a lie. Nigerians are yet to accept this clause because they didn’t have input in it,” Adeoye said.

Adeoye further said: “Carefully looking at the document, it permitted imbalance between the people of the North and the South. Looking at the Sharia clause in the constitution, it does not put into consideration that Nigerians should be governed by a single law, which means what is applicable to the North, should be applicable to the south. This alone has infringement on the rights and honor of others. Nigeria as a secular state should never permit religiosity in its constitutional provisions.”

He suggested that “Resource control and restructuring should be the next step, and how to deliberately reduce the cost of governance by deliberately inserting provisions that will make this realisable in the constitution, anytime there will be amendment. The era where a section of the country will stage a resistance to law that is capable of moving the country forward should be over; you can see the effort of the youths through #EndSARS; they are tired of the current system of government, and they are in the majority, the leaders should wake up before it is too late.”

He also suggested that “The country must reform; the Federal Government must look at the 2014 National confab report, the constitution must be restructured to reflect the wishes of all Nigerians irrespective of their religious or ethnic leaning; the truth is, we are better together as a nation; this is why those who profit from dividing Nigerians along religious and ethnic sentiments must have a rethink before it is too late.”

Wunmi Bewaji, a former minority leader of the House of Representatives, lawyer and activist, said that the main issue with the 1999 Constitution is that it is “predicated upon the senseless, illegal and illogical centripetal doctrine of the military Unification Decree No. 34 of 1966.”

According to Bewaji, “By unilaterally removing the negotiated federal structure of the Republic, the very pillar of the federation was ignorantly destroyed. Thenceforth, it has been a comedy of errors. The balkanisation of semi-autonomous regions into mushroom states, the transmogrification of federating units into glorified local governments, the emergence of unwieldy bureaucracy at all levels, mediocrity inspired by quota system, nepotism, disunity, internal colonialism etc are all byproducts of a ceased and failed federation.

“Consequently, Nigeria annually spends over 85percent of its revenue on administration and overheads leaving little or nothing for development. Any talk about development without restructuring will be a huge waste of time. Without restructuring, Nigeria is doomed, and will automatically sooner or later die a slow and painful death. If we restructure now before it is too late, we can immediately free up the much-needed resources for growth and development. The choice is clear. The time is now.”