‘Nigeria has to adopt 1963 Constitution’
The call for political restructuring of the country is gaining momentum. Many Nigerians believe that the only way forward is to review the political framework to address the structural imbalance in the country. Uwemedimo Nwoko, the immediate past Attorney General and commissioner for Justice in Akwa Ibom State, in this interview with AYOYINKA JEGEDE in Uyo, said Nigeria should adopt the 1963 constitution. He also talked about the seemingly intractable Niger Delta agitation and other issues.
“The greatest challenge of the Nigerian nation is re-inventing the concept of its nationhood”. Those are the words of Nwoko. He said Nigeria must re-invent the concept of its nationhood, the very foundation that informed the agreement of the various nation states to come together to form a federation called the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He explained: “Why I say Nigeria needs to invent the concept of its nationhood is that the various military interventions in the polity and politics of Nigeria starting from 1966 to 1999 completely destroyed the basic content of the agreement on the basis of which the various nation states represented by their leadership of that time, the founding fathers came together to form a federation. This would be seen in the fiscal federalism otherwise called resource control. It would be seen in the creation and management of the institutional mechanisms that make up the governance of the country. It would also be seen in the structuring of the legal framework, principally the constitution, which is the grundnorm of Nigeria. There has been an attempt to change the goal post in the middle of the game as far as the legal framework of the Nigerian nation is concerned.
“If you pick the 1999 constitution of Nigeria even as amended and place it side by side with 1979 constitution and the 1963 constitution, you will get to discover that what you have in 1963 constitution was radically different from what we now have in both the 1999 and 1979 constitution. It is therefore, imperative that Nigeria goes back to the very foundation of its commission to re-invent itself. This will re-introduce trust, which is now lacking and it would now create the trust that has been completely wiped out of Nigeria, the mutual trust of the various nation states. Even as far back as 90’s, I remembered that in 1992, when I wanted to go for youth service, I said I wanted to serve in the North after my law school in Lagos, knowing full well that after my youth service, I want to come back to Lagos and practice.
I wanted to take one year out and spend it in a new environment, where there is an extreme temperature, but today how many Nigerian youths, fresh graduates can come out of the University and say they want to go and serve in the North? How many parents would tell their children to go to Borno, Sokoto, Kaduna or Kano state? There has been complete disruption of mutual trust that brought us together as a nation state, and if we cannot re-invent it and bring it back, if we cannot go back to the foundations that made us come together as a nation to form the federation, then we are wasting time.”
Nwoko believes going forward, Nigeria has to adopt the 1963 constitution in terms of federalism, in terms of fiscal control, in terms of the distribution, management and control of resources in the country. He said: “The Niger Delta which is now a cow that is being milked today is entitled to a far better share of the resources that is being generated from it in the Nigerian federation, otherwise the greatest fraud that has been committed in Nigeria is the fraud committed against Niger Delta people. We have managed miraculously to survive as one nation till today irrespective of all the threat to our unity that has been showing up from time to time and the gross mismanagement of trust on the part of the leadership and on part of the various ethnic groups that had power to control us at one point or the other. But our low point as a nation is the corruption of our foundation. Even this attempt of fighting corruption in Nigeria is a useless waste of time and resources. The greatest corruption that we need to fight is the corruption of our foundation which is the constitution.
The constitution of Nigeria that established Nigerian federation was the 1963 constitution. That constitution was completely corrupted. It has been infected by the complete erosion of the concept of unity, the concept of understanding the basic things that brought us together. In any federation, you would have state prison and federal prisons just as we have state fire service and federal fire service. We should have state police and the federal police. You have federal courts, you have a state court. That is how federations are run. Almost everything is duplicated, but today in Nigeria because of what I described as the corruption of the foundation all those things that ought to have separated the powers of the states of the component units from that of the powers of the centre have been completely wiped out and so we are battling with the corruption of the foundation. We are battling with the destruction of the principles of relationship that brought us together and I insist that a lot of things we find in the Nigeria constitution today were things that were introduced into the constitution by military fiats.
“We set up constitutional conferences as far back as 1976 that produced the 1979 constitution and 1995/1996 that produced 1999 constitution, all those constitutional conferences after their decisions, the military still on their own without references to the Nigeria people introduced certain clauses and provisions that could not have been introduced if we were to run a people oriented constitution. The corruption of the foundation started from the very day the military was able to force down certain provisions into the constitution that ought not to be there in the first place. I demand to know why we are still maintaining what is called the national grid in electricity distribution in the country where these facilities carrying on this national transmission have completely become moribund and incapable of sustaining themselves.
Some states are capable of generating power that can sustain them and they can even sell it out to other states, like in Akwa Ibom State we have the capacity to generate over 600 megawatt of electricity and our own consumption is less than 300 but we generate and we cannot evacuate because we need federal approval to evacuate the power we generate and transmit to the national grid. You cannot transmit except you pass through the nation grid. Meanwhile, the national grid itself is so weak that it cannot accept to carry the volume of power we are generating and so is either you generate and waste it or you cut down the capacity to generate, what kind of situation is that? There is no reason why power transmission and distribution should be an exclusive reserve of the federal government. There is no reason why we should have federal prisons and there are no state prisons whereas there are state offences and state courts. Meanwhile, the state courts are trying state offences, after which they now send the person to federal prison.”
Nigeria should not be a continental power at this time, Nigeria should be an intercontinental power, Nigeria should be at the international level, and there should be no country in Africa that we should be competing with in any thing. The basis is that we should remove the total dependence on one source of economy. If we continue to run a mono economy, where oil is the only source, definitely everybody will continue to scavenge and become lazy on that singular source of livelihood, but if we go back to the foundation and allow resource control to operate, if we allow every section of the country what ever you produce as it was in 1963, you will reserve 50 per cent of that for yourself and take 50 per cent to the centre, you’ll see people go back to their various states to look for how to generate revenue. They would maximize the use of potentials in their areas including farming knowing full well that whatever they are going to keep 50 per cent of whatever they generate. We are all lazy. Everybody is waiting for the sharing of the revenue allocation from oil at the end of the month,” he declared.
On the issue of Niger Delta agitation, he said: “Every component part of this nation is entitled to the control of its resources as at the time the founding fathers of Nigerian federation came together to form the Nigerian federation. They had the understanding that every section will control 50 per cent of the resources it generate and contribute 50 per cent to the centre and so it will be uncharitable and discourteous to describe the demand for control of resources as primordial.
It will be very unkind to describe the owners of resources, who think that given the level of degradation that they suffer, given the degree of destruction that the exploitation of these resources is bringing on them should not demand for the control of their fair share. Patriotism should not be defined to mean somebody closing his/her eyes to his own right. Genuine patriotism should be that everybody recognizes the right of the other. Genuine patriotism should suggest that when you see what is my own, you should allow me to have it. I will also respect you and allow you to have yours. Patriotism should mean that if we are going to the centre to eat from the same table when I contribute something, you should also contribute something to eat. Patriotism does not mean that I should be the only one contributing something. Genuine patriotism should comprise in the fact that every member of the family should contribute to the common purse so that all take from the same purse. The people of Niger Delta are entitled to demand for their rights and that is not suggesting that they are not patriotic.”
The former chief law officer of Akwa Ibom State is of the view that the government at the centre has lost direction and not in control of the economy. He said: “That is why there are demands across the country that the president should set up an economy team by bringing people who understand economy. Running an economy is not a propaganda business, this government came to power on the basis of propaganda and they thought that they can use propaganda to run the country and they have just discovered that propaganda does not run an economy.”
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