The constitution review process, enabled by Section 9(3) of Nigeria’s Constitution which says “An Act… for the purpose of altering the provisions of… Section (9), Section 8 (on boundary adjustment and creating new States and Local Governments) or Chapter IV (on Fundamental Human Rights) shall not be passed” except by four-fifth of the National Assembly and two-thirds of state Houses of Assembly, “o lè werk!”
That’s the way natives of the streets of Lagos will say that the nationwide constitution review consultations won’t work. The custodians of the Nigerian state have stayed far too long on the side of inequity and injustice, and they profit by it.
The Nigerian elite’s intention to stealthily retain the oppressive status quo, using the cumbersome and impossible amendment provisions in Section 9(3) of the Constitution, neglects the caveat that while the majority in a democracy will have their way, the interests of the minority must be accommodated.
Proponents of restructuring have gone beyond cosmetic tinkering with the 1999 Constitution. They require that it be dumped entirely and replaced with a new one, otherwise Nigeria should return to the 1963 Republican Constitution.
And they are shouting their preference from the rooftops so that there will be no doubting their preferences. The Yoruba would say, “Kokoko là nd’ifa adití,” the divination for the deaf must be carried out as loud as possible.
They think the constitution review initiative is a smokescreen, a conspiracy of the comfortable political elite, against formulating a brand new constitution that will reflect current realities using a people’s plebiscite or referendum to ratify.
A columnist with The PUNCH, who was Deputy Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, as well as a former employee of African Development Bank, has weighed in on this conversation.
He suggests: “We need to work towards a referendum so that people can elect to go their own way or remain part of Nigeria.” He thinks communities should have the opportunity to remain in Nigeria or exit to form other countries.
The constitution review will fail because a majority of the members of the National Assembly and the state Houses of Assembly are ideologically against some of the proposed amendments that will allow the restructuring that are being sought by some Nigerians.
If members of the NASS were interested in creating more states, they could have invoked Section 4(2) of the Constitution, which gives “power to make laws for the peace, order and good government… with respect (to Paragraph 14 of) the (cumbersome) Exclusive List set out in Part I of the Second Schedule to (the) Constitution.”
In any case, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, Deputy Senate President and Chairman of Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Constitution Review, has put a seal to the dream of those seeking a new constitution, a proof that you can’t expect even Southern Nigerian politicians to argue in their own interest.
Omo-Agege declares, “The framers of the Constitution -and I was not one of them- in their wisdom decided that it would be best to have incremental alterations as opposed to a total overhaul; a total rewrite.
“And that is why they provided, under Section 9 of the Constitution, on how to go about this. What the law says is that we can alter any provision of the constitution. It does not say we can alter all of the provisions of the constitution. And the provision sets out the methodology and the mode for doing just that.”
Well, those who know about constitutional law aver that all it takes is that Section 9 can be amended to accommodate plebiscite and referendum. Cynics however wonder if a regime that ignores federal character provisions of the constitution in making appointments would implement provisions that are not in the constitution.
Of course, senators, who are seeking to increase their numbers, cannot be expected to allow a constitution amendment that seeks to scrap the Senate, an action that some Nigerians, including Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, reportedly supports.
But the governor may have denied this report with a suggestion that “making (the federal legislature) part-time would not only cut costs of governance, but also has the potential of enhanced performance… Therefore… misinterpreting this… to… depict a call for the scrapping of the Nigerian Senate is erroneous.”
In recent times, “Madam Tinubu,” or Senator Remi Tinubu, representing Lagos Central Senatorial District, did two things that further indicate that you cannot count on Southern Nigerian lawmakers to join in amending the constitution to further the agenda to restructure Nigeria for the benefit of all.
First, she scolded her colleague, Senator Smart Adeyemi of Kogi State West Senatorial District, for drawing attention to the nationwide insecurity in Nigeria. Then, she had a near spat with educationist and politician, Arinola Oloko, at the Marriott Hotel venue of the Lagos State hearing on the constitution review process.
If you go by the Freudian slips of Senate President Ahmad Lawan and Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, who aren’t exactly closet champions of the Northern Nigerian political establishment agenda, you can be sure that they will not be in a hurry to contribute to efforts that will take away the privileges they and their cahoots currently enjoy.
They will do everything possible to scuttle any restructuring process that will take away the vantage positions they hold. For them, failure to retain the status quo amounts to class and ethnic suicide.
And that is why proponents of resource control, fiscal federalism, state police, devolution of powers, and state constitutions, being part of the restructuring package that are being advocated, think the ongoing constitution review is dead on delivery. More like, Dead on Arrival!
Because there is a general deficit of trust of the state actors, proponents of restructuring strongly suggest that representatives of Nigeria’s many nationalities should rather be invited to speak for their peoples.
In a speech read by Ayo Adebanjo, the Yoruba Afenifere leader, suggests: “Powers, mandate and authority to formulate the articles of association to form the Central Government of Nigeria shall in effect lie jointly and severally with the ethnic nationalities occupying their respective territories and not with lawmakers who were randomly picked.”
The moderate collective of Southern and Middle Belt Forum, comprising Yoruba Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Pan Niger Delta Forum, the Middle Belt Forum, and Southern Kaduna People’s Union have also expressed their opinion.
They suggest, in a petition, whose title, “Nigeria’s 2023 Presidential Transition Inter-ethnic Dialogue,” coyly queries the basis for elections in 2023, that restructuring, negotiated through an emergency national conference, is the only way out.
But those with self-determination intentions, euphemism for secession, argue that the constitution review is just a ploy to derail, or delay, their agitation to balkanise Nigeria. These groups that include the Indigenous People of Biafra and Oduduwa Republic agitators have no patience with the exercise.
A Yoruba traditional ruler, Oba Gbolahan Timson, Jagumolu of Shomolu Bariga in Lagos State, thinks that matters have even degenerated beyond restructuring. Even as he joins his voice to those agitating for #Oduaexit from Nigeria, he thinks Yoruba Eko should consider exiting, but without the rest of the Yoruba, who he insinuates are under some ancestral curses.
But more to the point, the constitution review is going to be a mere waste of time and good money.
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