At Ighodalo’s birthday, Obasanjo, Abayomi differ on 1999 Constitution
Last week, Pastor Ituah Ighodalo, the Pastor-in-Charge, Trinity House and Chancellor of Wellspring University, Edo State, clocked 61 years of age. To mark the birthday at Victoria Island, Lagos, some eminent Nigerians, including former President Olusegun Obasanjo; his lawyer, Dr. Tunji Abayomi and the Vice Chancellor, University of Lagos, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, were invited. As a major part of the programme, a keynote address themed “The African Christian Leadership: Radical Transformation In Unsettled Times” was to be delivered by Prof. Ogundipe. Before that happened, there was what could pass for a controversy between Obasanjo and Abayomi over the legitimacy of the current constitution with which the country is being governed.
Before Obasanjo was invited from his seat, as the chairman of the occasion, to make his opening remarks, goodwill messages from different quarters had been innocently delivered in honour of the celebrating Ighodalo. But the goodwill message from Abayomi, which faulted the origin of the nation’s constitution and questioned its legitimacy, could not pass test of innocence as it agitated Baba Obasanjo, who waited patiently for the lawyer to be done.
The controversy was triggered when Abayomi, while lauding Ighodalo’s concern for the country’s development, quoted the cleric cautioning, during his birthday celebration last year, that the nation faced a bleak future unless the error that charaterises its origin, with regard to the source of its constitution, is corrected.
According to Abayomi, the constitution of a country must originate from the people. He faulted the impression created by the government that Nigerians gave the current constitution to themselves, insisting that it is a product of military regime and it is a clog in the wheel of national development, having not originated from the people.
Abayomi said: “ We have become mentally, spiritually and emotionally interested in what happens to Nigeria. This is very necessary, proper, appropriate and most required. Last year, I listened to Pastor Ighodalo’s thought on Nigeria on Arise Television as part of his 60th birthday as he said ‘in my view, Nigeria will not only face a continuing development retrogression but a bleak future unless her leaders are strong enough to correct the grave error of her origin and unity’.
“A nation is originated by a document that is called a constitution. For the document to be legitimate, it must emerge from the wish and approbation of the people in a free exchange and consensus. Nigerians must know that it is never a government that gives a nation a constitution, rather it is a constitution that gives a nation a government. Again, it needs to be emphasised that it is not the content of a constitution that validates a constitution but the procedure of making a constitution. Indeed the false 1999 Military Constitution foisted on the people of Nigeria recognises the fundamental truism that legitimate constitution must come from the people. That was why the Military Decree 24 of 1999 which the military called the constitution, began by affirming ‘We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria…do hereby make, enact and give to ourselves the following constitution.’
The lawyer, who is of the view that God did a unique and unusual job in Nigeria, explained: “He places different nationalities in different geo-political zones permanently. Yoruba in South West, Igbo in South East, Ijaw in South South, Kanuri in North East, Tiv in Middle Belt and Fulani in the North West.
“Seriousness about building a progressive Nigeria must begin with seriousness in establishing proper foundation in an appropriate constitution. This is not about restructuring. You don’t restructure a country that has no structure. Considering that the structure of a nation is established ab initio by her constitution, we can say this nation called Nigeria has no structure.”
Abayomi concluded his goodwill message to the effect that “until the people of Nigeria sit around the table of reason and agree on the terms of their relationship, which they can then codify unto a document we call a constitution, Nigeria will not likely know peace, prosperity, order or good government.”
According to him, “Nigerian leaders can continue to amend the illegal and illegitimate military constitution a million times, it will still bring us nothing but disorder and unfulfilment as well as imperfect national constituency.”
And when Baba Obasanjo, an incurable nationalist and strong defender of the controversial constitution, was formally invited to make his remarks, it became palpable the extent to which Abayomi’s criticism of the constitution had agitated the former military head of state.
“Please, let us treat the disease and leave the symptoms. When we lay emphasis on the symptoms and leave the disease, we are deceiving ourselves,” Obasanjo retorted.
“When you talk about democracy, you are talking about representative democracy. Those who brought democracy developed it by gathering under trees and similar places. It is all about representation. Democracy is basically about representation. And Tunji (Abayomi), the constitution that you say is not correct, I will tell you the process we went through to get it in place and you will tell me if anything will be better than that.
“We had 50 people, legal minds, very sound and respected to look at what our constitution should be. The team was led by the legal luminary, Chief F.R.A Williams. They sat and gave us a draft constitution. We didn’t stop at that, we said we wanted representatives of the people, that is Nigerians, to partake in the making of the constitution and so we got the local governments to elect representatives who formed members of the constituent assembly. They represented their constituencies. We also nominated people to represent the women folk, handicapped citizens and other groups that we felt should be represented. And then we had another team of highly respected Nigerians, legal experts under the chairmanship of Sam Udo Udoma to work on the draft constitution. They sat for months and submitted a constitution. For the document to become law, it has to be passed, and the military administration of the time passed it. If you say that the constitution is not good enough, may be you will have to tell us how we should have gone about it,” the former military leader said.
Faulting the linking of the nation’s woes to the constitution, Obasanjo said: “The problem is not the constitution but leadership. You may have the best constitution in the world, but if those that implement it are not men and women with the right attitude and orientation, you are deceiving yourself.
“Only yesterday somebody came to me and asked something about one of the leaders of the National Assembly. He asked, sir is the National Assembly a rubber stamp? And I said en eeen! He told me that the leader of the National Assembly said whatever the president of the country brings to the National Assembly would be passed. And he asked me, what do you think the National Assembly is? When there was no response, he said sir, you have not answered my question and I said yes, I have not answered your question because I want you to answer my own question first, is that a fault of the constitution? Somebody said whatever the president brings will be passed, abi e no say so? If e say so, you no hear am, when you hear am, wetin you do?
“I don’t say the constitution is perfect or that the process is perfect, but is our problem the constitution? The two major political parties have held their conventions, but none has talked about what will be the policy, how do we move the country forward?
“I was, as president, leader of the party for eight years. Every effort to ensure that convention is held to discuss policies, programmes and strategies was aborted. Is it the fault of the constitution?
“Leadership is crucial, and when we have a good leader like Ituah Ighodalo, let us make the best of him. The truth is that if Ituah becomes president of Nigeria today, with the caliber of people that we have, he won’t be able to achieve anything. How will you? When I contested election in 1999, I paid N2million to get form, now it is N40 million. Some people keep deceiving us that some youths bought form for them. Who are the youths, why are you telling lies, are we kids? If you have to buy form buy it and stop telling us lies.”
How the country came by the current constitution has remained a very contentious issue. While some Nigerians argue that it did not originate through acceptable global standard to be a product of the people and so cannot and has failed to take care of the peculiar interests of the federating units for national unity, others are of the view that whether or not the document is perfect, it is not the cause of the nation’s woes but the failure of the leaders to patriotically implement it.
Also at the event which was organised by Triune Foundation founded by Pastor Jeremiah Akinsele were Prof. Muyiwa Odusanya, Mrs. Morayo Afolabi-Brown, Pastor Dele Ajayeoba, Dr. Adebowale Ayobade, Mrs. Jumoke Akin-Taylor; Pastor J.O. Obayemi, National Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God; Rev. Samuel Aboyeji, General Overseer of Foursquare Gospel Church of Nigeria; Dr Siju Iluyomade, Founder and Visioner of Arise Women Foundation; Pastor Paul Adefarasin of House on the Rock and Pastor Remi Morgan.