*By Mark Columbus Orgu
Sir John Macpherson in 1948 had earlier charged the Legislative Council on the making of Nigerian Constitution, that no one can hand over his responsibility in this matter to others. He sad: “Every Nigerian has a stake in his own country and it is for him by means of village meetings and Divisional meetings and Provincial meetings throughout the organization of which he is a member to make his views known”
He concluded by advising, that there should be the fullest opportunity for public consultation at every level. To him, and indeed to many, this is how a democratic Constitution is made. We hope, that someday, the true Nigerian Constitution would come, a Constitution, we all can boldly call ours, and be proud to teach its content and provisions everywhere.
This year’s Afrikanwatch Memoir titled, 1999 Constitution and the Nigerian Economy; what hope for the people, dealt with these issues with plausible recommendations. There have been several positions on this subject matter. Solomon Akinboye, a Professor of International relations and political science at the University of Lagos, in his piece titled, Nigerian Constitution is Grossly Anomalous, argued that, if we agree that a constitution is the organic law of the land and the legal framework within which policies that bind everyone, including those in government are fashioned, then it is only logical to state that there exists a constitution in Nigeria that is largely, but not totally, workable. It is not totally workable because of the various anomalies and infractions contained in the constitution.
On his part, Dr. Tunji Abayomi, blatantly refused to acknowledge that there exists a Constitution in Nigeria, but accepted that the various Constitutions from 1979 till date are military Constitutions that lack legality and legitimacy.
In his work entitled 1999 Constitution: A Fruit of A Poisonous Tree: The Need For Inclusiveness, Abayomi said: “I don’t believe in the 1999 Constitution, because it is not legitimate, and it is not lawful. It lacks legitimacy and it lacks legality.
“Let me first take the issue of legality. The military conferred on itself- when it came to power under Decree 1 of 1994- the power that was co-equal to the National Assembly, which is the power to make law. It never gave itself the power to make a constitution, because the constitution is not law. The Military imposed that Constitution on us but it realized that a Constitution can only be legitimate when the people gave it to themselves. The 1979 Constitution and all military constitutions, including the 1999 constitution, are fruits of poisonous trees. And the poisonous tree is the Military”.
In another vein, Col. (Barr.) Abayomi Dare ( rtd), a former Nigerian Army Legal Director, argued that, the 1999 Constitution should not be seen as a military Constitution. In his piece titled: ‘1999 Constitution: The Military Acted out of Patriotism’, disagreed with Dr. Abayomi’s position. “I believe that what the Nigerian Military did, with respect to the Constitutions, that was alleged to have been foisted on the nation, was borne out of patriotism and zeal to move our dear nation forward. I dare to say that the doctrines of necessity became paramount. As far as I am concerned, there is always room for amendments, hence our democracy is still work-in-progress”
However, Lateef Fagbemi, a Senior Advocate of Nigerai(SAN) and a prominent jurist, the anomalies in the constitution make the case for a review of the constitution most compelling. He says that lies the basis or justification for constitutional amendments, stressing the provisions are a fraud on the Nigerian people, smuggled in and dumped on us by the Military.
Fagbemi posits: “The greatest knowledge that we ought to have learnt from the operation of the Constitution is that, it cannot, as presently constituted, give us a country of our dream, politically and, most importantly, economically. Amendment of same is inevitable, and the earlier the better for all of us.” His piece is titled: ‘The 1999 Constitution Cannot Give Us a Country of Our Dream.”
On his part, Prof Timothy Atte, a professor of International law states that, ” the Constitution never originated from the people, but was imposed on them by the Military Regime of Abdulsalam Abubakar. Consequently, the framers basically considered the interest of the ruling oligarchy at the zenith of leadership that constitute the microcosm of the Society, at the expense of the common people.
“This accounts for the numerous crisis associated with the constitution that have heinous implications for socioeconomic development”. Atte’s write up is the theme of today’s lecture.
Dr. Otive Igbuzor, Founding Executive Director of African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development (Centre LSD) and Chief of Staff to the Deputy President of the Senate argued that the 1999 Constitution falls below standard, blaming the shortcomings on the Military. In his piece titled, ”The Only Hope for the Nigerian people is to demand for a reviewed Constitution with inclusive economy”, he makes a case for the collective will of the Nigerian people to seek for a review of the Constitution.
”The 1999 Constitution was enacted by the military without participation of the Nigerian people. Both conservatives and progressives were unanimous that the constitution tells a lie against itself when it claimed in its preamble that “we the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria….do hereby make, enact and give to ourselves the following constitution.”
“Although the 1999 Constitution may be argued to be legal, but it lacks legitimacy because it was not made by the people. Meanwhile, the Nigerian economy is structurally defective and not inclusive.
“Therefore, the only hope for the people of Nigeria is to either make a completely new constitution or significantly review the 1999 constitution in such a way as to constitute the ground norm for an inclusive economy”, he said.
Prof. Patrick Egbule, Director of Academic planning , Delta State University, and former President, Nigeria Vocational Association, dealt with the issues of the loss of leadership values and economy, while admonishing Nigerian leaders to recall the golden era of Nigeria when the country once excelled.
In his write up titled, ‘No Nation has ever survived and achieved unity and development under gross acts of injustice’, he argued that, “There are so many issues that have to be addressed – the constitution, true Federalism, state police, state of origin, federal character, quota system, rotational presidency, resource control, and many more.
“In all, the basic question has to be asked: do majority of Nigerians, including our leaders, truly believe in one Nigeria? If yes, how can the patriotic zeal and inclinations of our founding fathers be fostered? For me “share the money” economy we are presently operating is not sustainable”
On his part, Mr. Alfred Omenihu, the publisher and editor-in-chief, National Impact Magazine, the Nigerian Constitution ought to serve as a catalyst that should promote national consciousness, political reconstruction and economic growth cum stability.
In his contribution titled: ‘Can Nigeria’s Constitution guarantee national economic prosperity?’, he stated: “Drafting of a new constitution and restructuring of the country’s political structure will be the beginning of a new dawn for Nigeria because it will be very unreasonable to expect different result with same rules of engagement and methodology.
“Political-governance arrangements that ensure participation and ownership of the Nigerian project by all segments of the federation will guarantee a stable and more efficient system which is fairer, more equitable and just.
“Some 230 years ago, Thomas Jefferson argued that “the two enemies of the people are criminals and government. Hence, my argument in this piece is that the genesis of rescuing Nigeria’s systemic collapse is a new constitution.”
Also contributing to the conversation, the Publisher and Managing Editor of Afrikanwatch Network, Mr. Mark Columbus Orgu, in his piece titled: ‘Sir Hugh Foot and the revelation of making a people constitution and how the Nigerian green flag was raised‘, he stated: “If we believe in the affairs of Nigerian project, we must then first, adopt a unification of agreement to critically review the 1999 Constitution to what the British government saw in Nigeria as regard to our strength regionally.
“In the South, strength, intelligence, determination to succeed, well established history, complex but focused lifestyle, and great aspirations was found,
“In the East, (Ibos), strides in business and technology, West, (Yorubas), Commerce, Law and Medicine, while the North’s strength was largely on agricultural production.
“When all these surface in the review of the 1999 Constitution without local or foreign interest or individual’s interest, we can have a better country.
“Again, if this is reflected in the Review of the 1999 Constitution with autonomous power for each region to excel economically without a barrier, then, the yoke of poverty and economic retrogression will be a thing of the past”.
“Certainly this great work of purpose largely contributed by men of repute with experience in governance and public service is a product of human’s satisfaction.”
Orgu recommended this work for academic purposes and research, for politicians, public servants, civil society actors, students and the general public for their general knowledge and benefit.
NB: Mark Columbus Orgu is the Publisher and Editor, Afrikanwatch Network ([email protected])