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The Nation-State of Nigeria became an internationally recognised independent nation in 1960 and has since then had series of constitutions in the past which include the colonial era constitutions (1914-1960), Independence Constitution (1960), Republican Constitution (1963), Second Republic Constitution Constitution (1979- 1983), aborted Third Republic Constitution (1992-1993) and the Fourth Republic Constitution (1999 to date). The current constitution was enacted on May 29, 1999, when the Nigerian fourth republic was inaugurated.
This constitution was rigid in many ways and helped the seamless flow of Law and Order in the newly upgraded Democracy of 1999 but like many other new additions to the practice of Democracy, it contained a lot of flaws which include the rigidity and inflexibility of the Constitution. In recent times, there have been a lot of requests by different individuals, groups, and countries for Nigeria to take closer review on the allowances and applications of the 1999 Constitution because it’s structure doesn’t suit a developing Nigeria, it also seems to handicap a few regions and place other regions above others.
The 1960 Independence Constitution was a product of the departing colonial authorities; the 1963 Republican Constitution was decided upon entirely, by the Prime Minister and Regional Premiers of the day, who merely amended the 1960 Constitution to make it conform with the Republican status. The 1966 Coup usurped democracy by replacing it with military rule while the 1979 constitution was a missed opportunity for the people to adopt a constitution for themselves when the Obasanjo-led military regime amended several aspects of the elected Constituent Assembly’s deliberations. As for the present 1999 Constitution, it came into existence as a result of a decree enacted by the General Abdul Salam Abubakar-led military administration.
Unfortunately, Nigerians have been using the expression in the preamble to the Nigerian constitutions, ‘We the people of Nigeria give to ourselves…,’ without having really produced any popular constitution since independence, indeed, from the time of amalgamation in 1914. This means that Nigerians have been arrogating to Nigerian constitutions, what really they are not. Nigeria has never approved its constitution through a general vote.
Other than the first, second, and third alterations to the 1999 constitution enacted during the Sixth Assembly (2007-2011), significant amendments have not been made to the constitution. The Seventh Assembly (2011-2015) undertook a constitution review process, but it ran into a logjam despite the huge amount of state resources deployed into the process. The efforts represented the first genuine participatory process in constitution-making since the country’s return to democracy with public hearings held across the six geo-political zones of the federation at both constituency and zonal levels. Nonetheless, one of the amendments proposed the removal of presidential assent from the process of constitutional amendment.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan vetoed the amendments. Since all the amendments were submitted as a single bill, Jonathan refused to grant his assent to all the changes. Facing the threat of legislative override of the veto, Jonathan dragged the National Assembly to the Supreme Court to annul the amendments for failure to comply with the required supermajority. The Supreme Court directed the maintenance of the status quo, restrained the National Assembly from overriding the veto, and ordered the President and the Assembly to resolve their differences over the issues, which the Court said were simple. The saga occurred a few days to the expiration of Jonathan’s administration, and the veto was not overridden, thereby leading to the lapse of the amendment bills without the Court passing final judgment.
Taking a cue from the last experience, the Eighth Assembly (2015-2019) commenced the review process with the establishment of two separate ad hoc committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate in January 2016. The Assembly decided to adopt a piecemeal approach to this constitution review process, with each proposed amendment presented in separate bills, to avert the fate of the last amendment proposals that were rejected in totality.
A total of 33 bills, some of which bundled together related bills making the total 46 bills, covering a range of issues were eventually considered. On 26 and 27 July 2017, the Senate and House of Representatives respectively considered and voted for the passing of 41 distinct bills. The approved bills must still be endorsed in 2/3 of the state legislative assemblies (24 of the 36), before they are sent to the President of the Republic for his assent. Although there are grey issues that have not been addressed, the proposed amendments should be commended as a step in the right direction. Some of the good amendments include the reduction of eligibility ages to run for office, the introduction of independent candidacy, timelines for the appointment of commissioners and ministers, enhanced autonomy for local governments and state legislatures vis-a-vis the state governor, and the allocation of funds to the state judiciary as a first-line charge from the consolidated account. These are commendable amendments but the Senate and the House of Representatives got it all wrong as regards the area of Referendum and application of Public Assembly.
Many Nigerians consider the 1999 Constitution military-driven and that the reference to ‘We the people’ in the Constitution does not truly represent them. It has also been posited that the 1999 Constitution and it’s recent amendments although meant to suit all Nigerian citizens place more priority on the Northern region of the country while putting the Southern and Eastern regions at a disadvantaged point. These amendments also craftily blotted out the topic of Referendum and Secession from the constitution while placing a criminal embargo on the discussion or the instigation of the topic of Referendum and Secession.
TThe flaws in the Constitution have prompted the cries for a review. The Nigerian nation-state has been operating till date with constitutions fashioned by those with continued colonial interests in the country or by their spinoffs, the elites, and politicians dominated by members from the most favored ethnic and religious group in the country which is the Northern Region and this is the root of Nigeria’s present predicament. It is the background for understanding the Nigerian situation.
It would seem that for Nigeria’s political leaders and elites, the arbitrary colonial arrangement that created Nigeria as a Nation-State, is ‘a no go area.’ In spite of the millions of Nigerian lives that have perished because of the arbitrary colonial arrangement, the political leaders and elites have remained dogged in insisting that Nigeria would continue to live under the Colonial system while marginalising other regions to the benefits of others. To make matters worse, the insistence of those who continue to advocate the advantages of the present post-colonial arrangement in Nigeria is not because they love the country. Neither is it because they want to build-up Nigeria as a truly democratic modern nation-state, it is not also because they want to promote shared values among Nigerians of different ethnic and religious backgrounds for a new nation. Rather, it is because Nigeria as she is presently structured favors their selfish interest, their continued looting from the Nigerian oil wealth in the Niger Delta, and the entire Eastern region of the country.
Petroleum and gas, the ‘black stone’, mineral, and natural deposits in the Atlantic Coasts of the Eastern and Sout-south region of Nigeria were the major driving forces behind the Federal Government slogan during the Civil War, ‘To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done.’ In other words, Nigeria is conceived and maintained to date as a ‘unified’ entity, not because of the values as one nation. But, rather because there is oil in the Atlantic Coast of the Eastern region of the country to loot. With these interests in mind, the Nigerian Government has truncated any form of avenue or strategy towards the re-amendment of the Constitution to accommodate changes that would benefit the whole of Nigeria and its citizens.
The strength of democracy is predicated on the decision of leaders mirroring the voice and demand of citizens. Many citizens have made it clear that they want a review of the Nigerian Constitution. The amendment process spearheaded by the Eighth National Assembly was conducted without due consultation with Nigerians. Unlike the last review process of the Seventh Assembly, there was no public hearing or direct engagement at zonal, state, and local levels to elicit citizen opinions on key amendment considerations. The process was largely shrouded in secrecy and conducted within the confines of the two legislative chambers. This is not how it should be, the Nigerian Constitution should be open and accessible to every Nigerian citizen.
The Nigerian Government needs to delegate a review and an amendment of the current constitution for it to be flexible enough to accommodate other well-known aspects of democracy which are part of a civilised country. Referendum when portrayed in the right manner is very beneficial to any developed Nation and the Nigerian Government should not shy away from that fact.
AFRICA DAILY NEWS, NEW YORK