• Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Anyaoku, Sanwo-Olu, Adebanjo, others demand new, legitimate constitution

How Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution is stifling economy

… Leaders say Nigeria’s woes would continue with current system

Since Nigeria returned to civil rule in 1999, the suitability of the current federal and presidential system has been a subject of debate among political leaders, intellectuals, lawyers and media practitioners.

The stakeholders have canvassed a new constitution that would spell-out appropriate political system for the country; also reflect the heterogeneous state of the country, the wish of the people of Nigeria and as solution to the nation’s numerous challenges.

Read also: Senate to conclude 1999 constitution review in two years— Jibrin

Many stakeholders say the current system is unlike what obtains elsewhere with emphasis on strong regions and a weak centre and that the country had deviated from the way the system has been practised in other countries, especially from the United States of America where the country copied the presidential system.

This has fuelled agitation for the country to abolish the current system and return to the parliamentary system in several quarters as the National Assembly begins another round of constitutional amendment process.

This was the focus of discussion when eminent Nigerians gathered in Lagos last Monday to address the core challenges bedevilling the country and agreed that a new constitution should be enacted.

The leaders said that Nigeria needed a new constitution that would reflect true federalism and address the problem of the country.

Former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Emeka Anyaoku; Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, and leader of Afenifere, Ayo Adebanjo, among others, believed continued whitewash of the 1999 constitution amounted to waste of effort and will not guarantee the progress that Nigerians crave for.

Lawyer and human rights activist, Mike Ozekhome, SAN, echoed a similar view, stressing that one million amendments of the 1999 Constitution will never work.

The leaders spoke at a national dialogue on the constitutional future of Nigeria in honour of renowned constitutional lawyer, Ben Nwabueze.

The forum was organised by The Patriots, a pan Nigerian group of eminent national leaders of thought, with the theme, ‘Lawful Procedures for Actualising a People’s Constitution for Nigeria.’

Anyaoku called for a new constitution to arrest the current deterioration in virtually every aspect of the country’s existence.

He stressed that the 1999 constitution lacked the kind of legitimacy expected of a constitution in a pluralistic country like Nigeria.

Anyaoku’s views were supported by Sanwo-Olu, Adebanjo, members of the National Assembly, former governors and eminent national leaders, who also demanded a new Nigerian constitution that would reflect true federalism and address the problems of the country.

They said Nigeria had two options in trying to get a truly federal constitution: either adopting the recommendations of the 2014 national confab or going for a relatively inexpensive constituent assembly on a non-party basis to produce a widely acceptable constitution for Nigerians.

Chairman of the Patriots, Anyaoku, said Nigeria was a pluralistic country, which had failed to develop like other pluralistic countries in the world that had succeeded by devolving powers to the federating units.

He cited examples of pluralistic countries, such as Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Sudan, which broke up due to issues bordering on lack of true federalism.

The former Commonwealth secretary-general said for Nigeria to get a truly federal constitution it should either adopt the recommendations of the 2014 national conferences.

He said, “We go for a relatively inexpensive directly elected constituent assembly on non-party basis for producing such a widely desired constitution.”

He further pointed out that the present 1999 Constitution is not capable of addressing the myriad of challenges confronting Nigeria. He called for the adoption of the recommendations of the 2014 national conference or conduct of an inexpensive constituent assembly that would be nonpartisan in order to have a truly federal constitution.

Anyaoku further said: “The country needs a new legitimate constitution. And the message of The Patriots, which I have the privilege to be the chairman, is quite clear that The Patriots should take this message to those in government. I like to say that The Patriots will take this message to the Presidency and to the National Assembly.

“We have had pluralistic countries that failed. Yugoslavia, for example, broke up into eight states. Czechoslovakia amicably broke up into two states, and coming home nearer, Sudan, which has existed for centuries broke up into two states.

“So, that should teach us that Nigeria should deliberately manage her diversity. The only way we can successfully manage our diversity, remain as one political entity, is by adopting a true federalist constitution.”

He added, “First, Nigeria is a pluralistic country that is still struggling to become a nation with assured political stability and progressive socioeconomic 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. The lesson from this is that pluralistic countries, which have succeeded in becoming nations have generally practised true federalism with considerable power devolved to the federating units.

“This fact was acknowledged by our founding fathers, who negotiated painstakingly and agreed to the Independence constitution of ‪1960-1963‬.

“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 confronting our country.

“It is a widely recognised fact that the crucial areas of the country have significantly deteriorated and continue to deteriorate.”

He said that Nigeria had suffered deterioration on many fronts in the areas of security of the citizens’ lives 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.

“I am hopeful that we will have a listening hear in the presidency. Why do I say so, I believe we are fortunate at this time to have a president, whose democratic credentials have been very clear to me for many years. Because, the man who is now our president, Ahmed Tinubu, was very active in the NADECO days, and he was one of NADECO representatives who visited my residence in London a number of times. I also remember how he vigorously argued the NADECO cause.

“Even, after I retired as Commonwealth Secretary-General, I had the privilege of chairing a colloquium organised to mark his 60th birthday.

“At that colloquium I called for the restructuring of Nigeria. I said that from my close association of the governments of 54-member countries of the Commonwealth, one lesson I learnt is the pluralistic countries such as Nigeria succeed only on the basis of true federalism.”

In his keynote address titled: ‘The never-ending call for a new people’s constitution,’ Ozekhome described the constitution as the birth certificate and identity card of a nation.

He said the fact that a dictatorial and autocratic military junta imposed the 1999 Constitution completely robbed it of its legitimacy, credibility and acceptability, as it did not represent the nation’s identity card, covenant and the supreme will of the Nigerian people.

Ozekhome pointed out that the never-ending call for a new constitution arose from recognition of the inherent fundamental shortcomings of the present 1999 constitution.

He added that mere amendments to or replacements of the constitution under sections 8 and 9, would be akin to merely applying a superficial remedy to a deep-rooted ailment.

According to him, “It simply cannot and will not work. I humbly submit, as I have done since the year 2000, that one million amendments multiplied by another million amendments, with the addition of yet another million amendments, will never work.

“Merely chopping off the branches of a tree without cutting off the taproot will never kill such a tree. It is akin to merely treating the symptoms of a serious disease.

“Just as one cannot cure cancer with medication meant for minor skin conditions, the need for a new beginning is dire. This is because the process and procedure for crafting a new constitution must be democratic and all-inclusive, as they are more important than the contents of the constitution themselves.

“The simple reason is that it is such a procedure or process that confers legitimacy, credibility and acceptability on the supreme document called constitution.”

Ozekhome added, “Democracy must be rooted in the constitution. The people should be given a clear voice and mandate to manage the affairs of the nation, through appropriate measures of free and fair elections, and checks and balances.

“The people should be given the rights of access to information, participation in decision making process and access to justice.

“Democracy needs to take significance over politics in Nigeria, and oust the current practice of election malpractices, which prevent free and fair elections. Democracy and rule of law need to be revived once again in Nigeria, and that cannot be done merely by amending the present constitution.

“Rather, the present constitution must be discarded with, and a fresh, new constitution created through a referendum of the people as midwife by the NRC enacted into law by the NASS.

“One cannot amend a bad document; it is simply not possible. An illegitimate document remains illegitimate forever.

“The present Nigerian constitution is a child of bastard and nothing can cure it. Even one million amendments multiplied by another million amendments can never cure the present constitution of Nigeria of its original sin of its illegitimacy.”

Speaking at the event, Governor Sanwo-Olu backed the agitation for a true federal constitution for Nigeria to devolve power to the states and charged the National Assembly to put a legal framework in place for the birth of a new constitution that would be determined by the Nigerian people.

He said the conversation around the making of a new constitution should be driven further.

According to Sanwo-Olu, “If eminent Nigerians; people who have used better parts of their time serving this country have a conversation and we cannot take it forward and make sure that we have a complete solution, then we are wasting our time. Given the number of people that are here, we should make this conversation very effective.

“Many speakers have said that it is not the National Assembly that will make those amendments and it makes a lot of logical sense. It is for the National Assembly to constitute a law where people will come together and make those amendments themselves.

“I stand here as a leader of the largest state. How well do we see the anomalies that we have in our country? Why would a federal agency come to control the water in front of Ozumba Mbadiwe? Why would a federal agency of 1,000 kilometers away come to see the needs of my people in Ozumba Mbadiwe? Those are some of the things that we need to take forward and say that indeed we need to have a true federating state and be able to amend this constitution.

“I am a willing convert. Whatever we need to do now, there are so many serving and former governors here, let us make the changes that we desire and let the soul of Ben Nwabueze rest in peace because this is something that he fought for over 60 years of his life. And we are still here talking about it. We have the opportunity to make those changes now and I stand here to say to you that we are willing to work with you to make those changes.”

Elder statesman and Afenifere chieftain, Ayo Adebanjo called for the implementation of the 2014 National Conference, which according to him represented how the people of Nigeria want to be governed considering the representation of the people from different parts of the country that attended the national conference.
He said what Nigeria needed was a brand new constitution and not the amendment of the current constitution, which the National Assembly wants to embark on.