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Three missing features in the 1999 Constitution


constitution-495x330Sir: The Abuja Area Council election is not the first local government election making headlines. Indeed local government elections have been a controversial issue since the return of democracy in 1999. At present, Nasarawa House of Assembly is in turmoil over appointment of four local council sole administrators which has led to the suspension of six legislators who dared to address the press on the issue without the permission of the speaker.

That brings to mind the idea of independent candidacy which is one of the three missing features in the 1999 Constitution. The other two are referendum and Constitutional Courts. The relevance of independent candidacy in this contest applies to local/grassroots politics across the nation. One of the reasons the Supreme Court allowed late Chief Gani Fawehinmi’s appeal against restriction of political parties to only three PDP, ANPP, and AD was the concern about stifling political opinions. If independent candidacy was not missing in the constitution, it would have been convenient for politicians not affiliated to any political party to vie for position in their localities.

Given the role which the apex court played in widening the political space in the 1999 Constitution, constitutional court is also critical at this moment considering the congestions in our courts. Elections are about constitution provisions, the relationship between legislature and the executive; separation of powers; whether the leadership of the legislature requires immunity from prosecution or not.

A constitutional court will serve as dictionary, Wikipedia and interpretation tool for the constitution. Both independent candidacy and constitutional court were captured by the intellectual minds of the makers of the moribund 1995 Constitution. That was a draft produced by a 45-man panel led by eminent retired Justice of the Supreme Court , Godwin Adolphus Karibi-Whyte who distinguished himself as an erudite judge and constitutional expert.

The missing feature which is not necessarily relevant to local government elections is referendum. It is usually stuck inside the constitution to enable people to vote on issues that require decision either way. They often use it to determine whether people are carried along in their decisions to establish certain projects / policies or not; but in the case of constitutions it has proved dangerous as sitting government leaders have elongated their tenures through referenda in Cameroun, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Congo DRC, etc.

Even if the three missing features are suddenly found in the 1999 Constitution, I doubt if those are enough to cure the problem of the third tier of government that remained political pawn in the hands of equally bankrupt state governments.

• Iyke Ozemena,

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