‘Nigerian constitution does not provide for amendment’
In this interview with COLLINS OSUJI in Owerri, a lawyer and former chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Owerri branch, Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN) spoke on various issues such as politics, security, judicial system and governance in the country and asserted that the 1999 Constitution provides for alteration but not amendment.
Chief Mike Ikenna, Ahamba (SAN) was born June 18, 1947 in Imo State to a royal Mbaise family. He obtained his West African School Certificate (WASC) from Ngwa High School Aba in 1964. Ahamba studied law at the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus for his LL.B (HONS) and graduated in 1973. He was subsequently called to Bar in June 28, 1974.Shortly after serving his National Youth Service Corps in Cross River between 1074 and 1975, he was elected into the Imo State House of Assembly where he held the position of the minority chief whip between 1979 and 1983.He holds several traditional titles and he is an author of many books such as Thinking Aloud (1979); The Constitution (1982) and the Twin Pillars of Unity: Freedom and Justice (1991).Ahamba is a member of several professional organisations such as the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the International Bar Association (IBA) and Rotary International. He has delivered several lectures on diverse topics both home and abroad
What is your take on the rising security challenges in the country vis-à-vis, the RUGA controversy?
I am baffled that we are rationally adopting the common statement by the man on the street in our local pidgin English that “trouble dey sleep, yanga dey go wake am.” I think there is a deliberate effort by a set of people in this country to create problems because they believe they have an advantage to win the conflict that would arise. I beg them to stop thinking that way because it is not true. Everything is happening in Nigeria towards provoking some people or the majority of Nigerians by a minority group. But let nobody expect that the majority will just sit back and allow that to happen. I pray they wake up from their slumber overnight.
What is your position on the call for the amendment of the 1999 Constitution?
First, there is nothing done by man that is perfect and that is why there is provision in every constitution for amendment or alteration. But I want Nigerians to realise that those two words may be similar but they are not the same. Alteration is the type of amendment that does not obliterate what is already there. Amendment obliterates what is there and changes the thing to another thing. So when the constitution says alteration, an individual or the legislature cannot say amendment. The 1999 Constitution has been altered. Looking at it, it says alteration of a provision of the constitution. It does not say alteration of the entire constitution. So, you cannot be amending the whole constitution when the law allows you to alter a provision where necessary. The reason is that, that constitution, the way I see it, was tailored to avoid any change, to make it binding on the people for so long.
But people say it is a fraud on Nigeria; that it is a military constitution. 99 percent of the current constitution is the same thing with the 1979 constitution and nobody is quarrelling with the 1979 constitution. The preamble to the constitution makes it clear that the people, having decided that they want a constitution and so, tailored it towards the 1979 constitution. I don’t know why we should be worrying ourselves. There are one or two provisions that can be touched. I have not identified them myself but those who are talking may have identified them. But definitely, if we can even implement strictly and respect 60 percent of the provisions of this present constitution, there will be no crisis in Nigeria. That is why I have often said that the problem of Nigeria is not the amendment of the constitution but on its implementation.
So, you mean to say that Nigerians have issues with the implementation of the provisions of the constitution?
Exactly! Our problem is the implementation. At independence, we had a parliamentary constitution, when we had the executive, legislature and the judiciary. And then in that one, the executive and the legislature were sort of fused. That means Obafemi Awolowo who was the Chief Executive was a member of the legislature. That is what is happening in the United Kingdom and they are moving smoothly. America has a presidential system and they are moving smoothly. India has a parliamentary system and they are moving smoothly. Now we failed with parliamentary, we are failing with the presidential. So, is the problem with the system or the operators of the system? Our people used to say that a bad workman always quarrels with his tools. I think the problem borders on maladministration of our constitution.
You were a very close ally to President Muhammadu Buhari. What is your assessment of his administration so far?
I have resisted the temptation of commenting on his administration until recently. But if you want me to tell you the truth as I feel, my heart bleeds. I am bleeding from the heart because this is a gentleman in whom I had absolute trust that with him as president, there would be discipline in this country; there would be security and unity, alas the opposite is the case.
What is the problem?
I saw him as a man who has jettisoned ethnicity completely in his life. For eight years I was with him, I was convinced of that impression. I saw him as a man who had no religious bias but today, I am really disappointed.
At what point did you fall out in your relationship with President Buhari?
It happened in 2011. I have always tried not to talk about it to the press. Fortunately, we are both alive right now. The fact was that I took a step of attempting to become our party national chairman, which our states party chairmen forced me into, in the interest of Buhari. I went to him and told him about it because I had actually no interest of becoming the national chairman of the party. And he knew that I did not have such interest but he said since they said it, I should accept it. I reluctantly agreed. Then we came to a BOT meeting and somebody from Rivers State, Joy Uneh raised a point that I was running for the chairman of the party and at the same time, I was Convention Committee chairman.
Our party was Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). I actually accepted the Convention Committee chairmanship to avoid running for the chairman of the party. And I had not taken any step towards it. I had not taken any form and had not paid anything and I had not appointed anybody. When she raised that issue, my friend and leader (Buhari) of whom I have asked that question before, asked if it was true. I told him that it was nothing beyond what I came to discuss with him in his hotel. He said okay, what is your decision now? I said I had not made any decision. He said I should make it before evening of that day, when we shall meet. I agreed. Before that meeting, I went back to him and asked him what he felt. He said he had nothing against it. So, I resigned from the committee chairmanship and joined the race for the party chairmanship to dare those people who did not want me to be national chairman. I knew the whole party was behind me but it wasn’t my desire. My desire was to protect Buhari from betrayers. He had had very serious previous incidences of betrayal from the past party chairmen he led.
From then, I resigned and went on to campaign only for us to arrive a few days to the convention to see a document being circulated that there had been zoning of offices. Something we said we would not do in CPC for the first election. So, they zoned the national chairmanship to the South/South to make sure that I did not become the chairman. It was unsigned and I asked where is this coming from? When I asked my friend (Buhari) about it, he admitted knowing about it. I was shocked!
So he betrayed you instead?
Sure and I said it publicly that I considered myself betrayed by Buhari. I told him, look, I was so loyal to you, such that if you had said Mike stop just one hour to the election, I would have stopped. Why did you have to do this to me when I had consulted with you on it? So, that was it. Worse still, in the course of that meeting, someone from Benue State suggested that I should be taken as the vice presidential candidate. Buhari openly agreed and said the position is zoned to the South-East, but I would not be the one. So, I asked him, does it mean you have no confidence in me all this while? I decided to wait and see the person he would take from the South-East who would serve him the way I did. When I now heard that the vice president would no longer come from the South East, and that it had been given to the South West, I felt it a duty to my people to resign from the party. There was a conspiracy to make sure that nothing came from the South East. That was it. We had no personal quarrel. Till today, I see him as my friend. In fact, the letter he wrote to me, where he said it was bad that I left the party because I was not allowed to be the vice president was false. I did not leave because of that. I left because I considered myself betrayed in a place where I had put eight years of my practice and life; spending my own money.
It wasn’t because of vice presidency. I have the principle of taking charge without being in charge.
I don’t need office to operate. If anybody will check out my life in politics, I have been very relevant without office. For me, relevance is more important than office. So, I couldn’t have left the party because he didn’t want me to be a national chairman. So, I have just left everything. Let history judge us. I still regard him as my friend. As I said earlier, I thought he was the answer to our problems in this country, but now I am sincerely convinced that I was wrong.
Are you concerned about what some people described as lopsidedness in the appointment of the security chiefs in the country?
That is exactly what I am saying. Now a man who you see as very strict and who you felt would obey the rule of law cannot in a situation where the constitution provides geographical spread begin to do something opposite of that. It is an invitation to trouble. Are we going to say that in this country, only a particular ethnic group produces brains to run our parastatal and to run our government? That’s an insult to the rest of Nigerians. And the sooner we wake up from that slumber, from believing that any particular ethnic group will lord it over the others in this country successfully, the better for everybody.
Still on the issue of insecurity, some have called for the establishment of state police. Do you subscribe to that?
If you go out to the street, people say they want state police but most of them were not old enough to know the fate of state police before they were all banned. I saw the activities of the state police. I am afraid to have them back because what is happening now is so frightening that we may have shootout virtually every day between the state and the national established police when there is a disagreement between state authorities and the national authorities. In other countries where they have these things, those things existed before the country came into existence. In America, there were countries which came together, 13 of them originally and now 50. It was first of all a confederation. Now they retained certain things to the states and gave out some others to the federation. But in Nigeria, the federation created the states and gave them powers. We can’t ignore the origin of our political situation and we can’t pretend about it. I know people will say, if you control the police from Abuja, it will work against the states but that is because it is in our mindset to do the wrong thing.
Difficulties arise when people refuse to do the right thing. If you do something according to the law, you will not have any conflict with anybody. That is the problem we have here. So, we have only one police and have all these crises, when we have 37 police units under different commanders with one federal police, it would be scary. I am afraid I cannot feel safe in that kind of environment.
You were part of the 2014 National Confab. Are you not bothered the resolutions from the conference are yet be implemented?
If I am not bothered, that means I am not a Nigerian. And in any case, my being bothered is not that everything was not implemented because everything cannot be implemented. In any case, the implementation lies in three places. One, those that could be implemented by the president by executive fiat. Two, those that could be implemented by the legislature at the federal or the state level by parliamentary legislation and then three, those that require constitutional amendments. For example, this state police thing, you don’t go by alteration. Which section of the constitution are you going to alter to accommodate the state police? You need an amendment and the law does not provide for an amendment.
So, my postulation is that since we are all quarrelling about this or that in the constitution, let us have a constitutional conference by the National Assembly enacting law providing a constituent assembly or a constitutional conference to sit for two or three years as the case may be. We should not rush them as they rushed us at the National Conference. The body will exclude any member of serving executive or serving legislators from being a member.
Now, whatever they produce in that place should now go for a referendum as provided by that act. This can be done. Why is the National Assembly afraid of enacting a constituent assembly act that will provide for referendum for the product of that act? In America, a congress can initiate an amendment, their own word is amendment, but the congress has nothing to do with the process of deciding whether the amendment will be passed or not. It is either run by 4/5th of the states or 4/5th of the selected people to go to discuss it from at least a number of states.
They are the people to do that and after they have taken that decision, they will send it back to the National Assembly to enact it as an amendment. You can see the difference that the National Assembly has nothing to do with the amendment but the people amend either through the state structures or through a national conference structure.
If you allow the same people to amend the constitution, we would have legislative dictatorship. There was a time they wanted to enact an amendment to Section 9 to give them the power to do things provided under Section 9 without reference to the president. Assuming it went through, they may wake up one day and enact something worse. So, those who prepared that constitution, whether you call them the army or the people, they did not intend that anybody could wake up one morning and change any of its provisions.
No comments yet