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Nigeria must restructure its governance system or continue to drift, Anyaoku warns

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• Calls for brand new Constitution
• Says ‘our constitution in 1960s served us better’

As Nigeria officially celebrates its (May 29) Democracy Day on a new date (June 12), former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyoku, has reiterated the need for new Constitution to address the structural problems associated with governance and security. In this telephone interview with MARCEL MBAMALU, he calls for an overhaul of the current governance structure to reflect true federalism as was the case in the 1960s when the political economy fared much better than it currently does.

Considering that there were long years of agitations before the Federal Government could agree to move the official celebration of Nigeria’s Democracy Day from May 29 (the day the military handed over power to a civilian government in 1999 after a16-year interregnum), what promise does this June 12 new date hold for the country’s progress?

I would say June 12 is a more meaningful date for Nigeria democracy. While I was in office, I received reports on the (1993) elections from highly respected observers that included George Robertson, who subsequently became Secretary General of the NATO, that the elections have been generally free and fair. This was why in my meetings with former Head of State General Sani Abacha in January and May 1994, I discussed with him a way of handing over power to the man who won the (1993) elections (MKO Abiola).

What was General Abacha’s response at the time?
At the meeting in January, he told me he would consider what I was saying; and, in May, he told me that he had decided on a Constituent Assembly to discuss Nigeria’s constitution, which in effect, meant a rejection of inclusion of my proposal on handing over power to Abiola.

Looking back at those long years of agitations that culminated in the official recognition of June 12 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day, how do you see things playing out, in terms of the country’s socio-political and economic governance structure?

I assume that you know my view, which I have expressed on many occasions, that Nigeria, if it is to face its serious current challenges effectively, it has to restructure its governance system. I am strongly of the view that, in order to live more effectively with the challenge of development, corruption and insecurity, we need to begin to build a truer nation of more viable federating units that would have responsibility for addressing these issues.

How worried are you over the fact that Nigerian politicians and political leaders are seemingly not ready to buy into this view?
I am aware of that but I haven’t changed my view on that, because my hope is that they will, at some point, realise the wisdom of restructuring the politics. Otherwise, we will continue drifting as we are doing at the moment.

Some Nigerians actually think that the country needs to have a new constitution for the country to begin to discuss restructuring. What is your opinion on having a new constitution?
Restructuring means a new Constitution, adopting a Constitution that would be truly people’s Constitution, and a Constitution that would aim to address these national challenges.

The call for a new Constitution has become a cry in a busy market? How do you begin to crystalize these ideas in such a cacophonic atmosphere of political suspicion and hate speech to convince Nigerians that they actually need a new Constitution?

If the Executive and the Legislature buy into it, they would take steps to organise a Constituent Assembly that would be genuine representatives of different sections of this country and the Assembly will discuss and agree on the new Constitution.

Yet, some lawyers think that legislators are not supposed to be part of a constitution amendment or the process of creating a new Constitution. Do you agree with those who argue that the National Assembly members should not be part of this discussion for new Constitution?

I don’t think that the National Assembly, as it is presently constituted, can amend or create the Constitution that the country needs. But because it is the National Assembly, the process is that they adopt legislation establishing the real Constituent Assembly that will be responsible for determining the new Constitution. I do not see it having a proper role in determining the new Constitution.
Politicians are busy with permutations for 2023 general elections, or so it seems. Do you think that this process could be activated before 2023 elections?

A new more proper Constitution would determine the electoral cycle. If we proceed to have 2023 elections without the new Constitution, you would just be repeating what exists at the moment. And everybody would agree that, at the moment, the country is not faring as well as it should be.

Does the outcome of the 2014 national conference present what could pass as a working document for some of these reforms you talk about?
I do not believe that the sort of Constitution that would meet the need of this country emerged from the 2014 conference. It did go some way but it did not create the constitution that would address Nigeria’s challenges.

What I am saying is the need to create a Constitution that would address Nigeria’s challenges. If you look back at constitutions of 1960 and 1962, Nigeria was faring a lot better than it is now. If we had continued with that Constitution, Nigeria, by now, would have been in a much developed and in a better state than we have now.

We need to return to a truer Federation, which it was at that time, because what we have now is more of a Federation in name than reality. We should return to a state which we began our Federation under which we fared a lot better than we are faring now.

What aspect of that documents from 2014 conference do you think fits into the idea of what should be done?
My idea of the truer Federation for Nigeria is based on more viable federating units. 2014 conference document did not produce more viable federating units.


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