National Assembly and endless constitution amendments
Since democratic government was restored in 1999 anchored on a constitution put together by the military and top civil servants that swore in Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as President, every elected National Assembly has had as one of its core committees Constitution Review.
This is one of the so-called juicy committees whose membership is a privilege. It is ‘juicy’ in the sense that members of this committee usually go on a ‘retreat’ which can last for three to five days in a posh hotel invariably out of Abuja with all expenses paid and generous allowances.
The whole idea is that during the refresher course, the members will be flooded with innovative ideas to fashion a more functional constitution for Nigeria. Whether this has ever been achieved or can’t be achieved is another matter. The jury, which is the Nigerian public, has not come to a verdict and is still out.
The whole point that needs forensic and critical analysis is whether the 1999 constitution as amended is really a genuine legal document. It is predicated and hinged in a declaration which is not true to wit – “we the people”
The first page of the 1999 constitution as amended starts with: “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria do hereby make, enact and give to ourselves the following constitution.” It then goes on to enumerate the various provisions. That opening statement is false, as it did not happen. If the foundation is faulty as this one obviously was, it follows that any structure built on it will eventually collapse. That is why we have to be panel beating the 1999 constitution with each parliament.
A number of buildings erected on structurally defective foundations have collapsed all over Nigeria. The examples are legion; one of the notable ones being T.B. Joshua’s Synagogue Church of all Nations. For the nation to survive, grow and thrive, the foundation must be totally re-engineered and the only way is to involve the people, set up a Constituent Assembly to formulate a constitution, debate it, put it through a referendum for adoption or rejection by the Nigeria people. It is only then that we can enact a Peoples Constitution as the supreme law of the land.
This cannot be done in a hurry but the process must start now. The current parliament must do its duty and set up the constitutional body so that the next parliament can finish up the job. Any constitution that is not production-led and fashioned by the Nigerian people working as the committed proletariat will not fly.
The argument has been made in some quarters that the body set up under President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration had done this job. That argument can be punctured upfront because in spite of all the billions of naira spent on accommodation, allowances and administrative expenses, that exercise has no legal authority or backing. At best, it is a document that can assist discussions of the constitution body.
During the course of that conference, there was a meeting at Hotel Barcelona in Abuja, which Gen. Buhari (not yet President) attended. I was at that meeting. General Buhari, in reference to the ongoing conference, said the exercise was a waste of public funds having been generated by a knee-jerk reaction to defuse the heated polity. The temperature of the nation at that time was almost at boiling point. It is therefore not surprising that its recommendations have been deliberately left to gather dust on bookshelves.
The kind of body that is envisaged for this new constitution must have only two representatives per state. Trade Unions and student bodies must be represented if they show genuine seriousness. I say genuine seriousness because a situation where the President of NANS comes late to functions in a convoy of Range-Rover does not speak well for students’ seriousness and commitment. Who is buying the Range-Rover? Some of us also served NANS as undergraduates at the national level and we did not carry on in that fashion. Only when the constitution has been approved can we start talking about “we the people.”
There has been so much public discussion as to whether Nigeria is getting value from the work of the National and State Assemblies. So, this constitution body will also address and recommend to the nation, the duties and responsibilities of the National Assembly. There will be need to enforce attendance requirements failing which the members will automatically forfeit their seats. It may also be empowered to examine critically whether Nigeria can afford a bicameral legislature with all its burgeoning running costs and whether one chamber will not function adequately.
It is only when these institutions are firmly entrenched and functional that plans for a unified nation will thrive and grow.
Our years of paper independence have unfortunately been wasted by a parasitic-slave bourgeois class who has continued to function as commission agents for our former colonial masters. The colonial masters continue to have a field day of exploitation knowing we cannot make any progress with the current status quo. This class of rulers is more interested in growing their bank accounts and siphoning money to foreign banks. Corruption is their advanced weapon of attack so corruption will never die. Neocolonialism is much alive in most of Africa and the so-called third world. Have we ever bothered to find out why serious world leaders like Joe Biden, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin have never bothered to visit Africa? They are so busy improving the living standards of their peoples and only the crumbs from their food baskets are sent to Africa.
This perhaps explains why a city like Lagos, which has all the reserves to be a world-city, continues to be an uncoordinated concrete maze enveloped in smelly slums. Can one compare Lagos with Dubai, which is a virgin city forged from an arid desert? What of the narrow strip along the coast called Singapore built more or less by Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore has been transformed into a haven on earth.
A respected Nigerian lawyer, Afe Babalola (SAN), is reported to have said recently that Nigeria would collapse if the nation is not restructured before the 2023 general election. With due respect, I make bold to state that the 2023 election will hold with the 1999 constitution and Nigeria will not collapse by then. This nation has that resilience. However, there is a basic but major scientific law we cannot ignore. Every metal has its elastic limit which if exceeded, the metal will snap. So it is with countries.
The kind of constitution that is envisaged will recognise and accommodate all divergent nationalities and cultures. All the ingredients for a really great nation including the human component have been placed by a benevolent creator in this land. Why then is this lack of meaningful progress? Could it be the laziness and Slovenes of the human workforce. If these are identified as the retarding factors, then let us address them by fire and force and get that attitude buried permanently.
Until all these things are in place, all the talk of Nigeria being the Giant of Africa is nothing but a pipe dream or at the best discharge of hot air amounting to nothing.
Dr. Mbadiwe, a former member of the House of Representatives, wrote from Abuja.