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APC’s moment of truth

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It seems that each time the members of the national assembly bestir themselves and remember that they are there to make laws for the good governance of the country, their minds instantly settle on the 1999 constitution. It is the whipping document of the legislators. Beating it satisfies legislative masturbation. It feels good but it does not produce life.

The 9th national assembly, following, I presume, the hardened tradition that reviewing the constitution is the best evidence of the legislature in action, has served notice that they are about to embark on this expensive but often futile exercise for the nth time. We should not let them waste the opportunity and the money.

The said constitution bequeathed to the country by the General Abdulsalami Abubakar military administration has been panel beaten more times than anyone can remember. It is part of our national obsession consistent with our belief, even if misguided, that there is something called a perfect constitution. Despite all the panel beatings, this supreme law of the land has not approached the threshold of perfection. It continues to invite more panel beating. Poor 1999 constitution.

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There is a reason for seeking to perfect the supreme law of the land but none for the apparent obsession. A constitution is a work in progress because society itself is a work in progress. Mores and morals change, necessitating changes in the supreme law of the land to accommodate them. And because of this, every constitution makes provisions for its amendments to ensure that what no longer serves the country are discarded and replaced by more modern contemporary thoughts that serve it better. So, why should we bellyache over the frequent constitutional reviews by the national assembly?

There must be many reasons, one being the high cost of a simple legislative work turned into a legislative jamboree. But more seriously, the constitutional reviews have all been about motion, not movement. At the end of each exercise, the constitution was not in a better shape than before. In all the so-called reviews so far, none has touched on the fundamental problems of a federal system that does worse than mimic a unitary system cum military command structure.

This strange and stifling system is anathema to the principles of federalism. It does not serve the principles of federalism nor of a unitary system of government. Such a mish-mash is a clear and dangerous recipe for national confusion and quite a bit of bellyaching. In no federal system are the federating units treated like a military command system with the central government taking it upon itself to accumulate powers to an extent that it makes the states mere appendages rather than autonomous federating units and partners with the central government.

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I am yet to see any attempts by the national assembly to dismantle this stifling system, clean up the detritus of the military command structure and set our federalism on a new pedestal and thus able to deliver on the promises and the best practices natural to the federal system of government. If a constitutional review fails to cure the ills inherent in the constitution, it becomes an object of ridicule. A constitutional review ought to rescue our system of government from being a mere contraption that serves the vested interests of those calling the shots at the moment but poorly serves the nation.

The legislators have limited rather than fundamental objectives in their approach to the constitutional reviews, past and present. Mere cosmetics cannot be a substitute for the fundamental changes that we require. The agitations for true federalism or restructuring, reflect our collective dissatisfaction with the structure of our federation, the nature of our federalism and our continued practice of federalism in a manner strange to this tested form of government. I have dwelt at length on this in this column but as long as nothing changes and as long as our law-makers continue to behave as if they are deaf to the yearnings of the people, it would be a dereliction of duty on the part of the citizens not to afflict these comfortable men and women with some cruel reminders of what we expect of them for the sake of the giant of Africa. The agitations for true federalism or restructuring should not be permanent features of our national politics. It heats up the system.

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The 9th national assembly is in a fairly good position to seriously review the constitution to the satisfaction of the many at this point in time in the history of our dear country. History appears to be on the side of the 9th national assembly. Our patience with the cosmetics has won thin.

Two attempts were made not too long ago to ostensibly address the inherent weaknesses of the constitution. President Obasanjo convened a national political reform conference in 2005. At about the same time the constitutional review committee of the national assembly chaired by the then deputy senate president, Ibrahim Mantu, was putting finishing touches to its work. Both the work of the conference and that of the Mantu committee came to a gallant nothing. Suspicion about the real intentions of the president in convening the conference to achieve his alleged ambition for a third term in office, forced the conference to founder on the rocks of a stout opposition. The fate of the conference report became the fate of the Mantu committee report too.

The late President Umaru Yar’Adua set up the electoral reform committee headed by the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mohammed Uwais in 2007. The committee had a lot to say about getting our elections right through some fundamental changes in the constitution. It is gathering fine dust in the government archives.

In 2013, President Jonathan was virtually dragged into doing something he did not believe in – convene a national political conference to look into the growing agitations for restructuring. The conference produced a detailed report that made some sensible suggestions in addressing the burning political issues of the day that could be tackled through administrative and constitutional changes. But nothing came of it. Jonathan simply sent it into the archives. These reports should be retrieved by the constitution review committee to help guide them in their work. Each of them contains gems and new thoughts on those things that hobble us and make us ever so quarrelsome.

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It is not naïve to take it for granted that the constitution review committee can count on the support of the ruling party, APC. The party promised in its manifesto to “restructure governance in a way that kick starts our political economy so that we can begin to walk the path of our better future.” It also promised to create a federalism with “more equitable distribution of national revenue to the states and local governments because this is where grassroots democracy and economic development must be established.” More than four years later, there is nothing to show that the party is anxious to keep its promises.

In 2018, the party set up a 27-man committee chaired by the governor of Kaduna State, Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai, to advise it on the modalities for fulfilling its promise to the people on the score. The committee worked hard to produce a comprehensive report. It deliberated on 13 key issues, namely, the creation of states, merger of states, derivation principle, devolution of powers, federating units, fiscal federalism, form of government, local government autonomy, power sharing and rotation, resource control, independent candidacy, land tenure system and type of legislature.

The party has so far not taken a position on the report of the committee, at least publicly. From what I have seen of its report, it would make valuable contributions to the constitutional review, if and when, the national assembly gets around to it. Taken together, its report along with those of the political reform conference, the electoral reform committee and the national political conference should be enough materials to enable the 9th national assembly give us a new constitution that satisfies the current national agitation for a federal system that is true in name and in fact. Will the APC deliver on its promise? Let me borrow from Buhari’s inaugural address as head of state in January 1984 and say to the party, this is the moment of truth.

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