Nigeria Needs A New Constitution 2 – By Anthony Akinwale, Guest Writer

Nigeria Needs A New Constitution 2 – By Anthony Akinwale, Guest Writer

Rev. Fr. (Prof.) Anthony Akinwale

Nigeria’s problems are largely political.  The political arrangement of Nigeria through the constitution imposed on Nigeria by the military makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to adequately address Nigeria’s problems.  What then are the characteristics of the political arrangement imposed on Nigeria by authors of the current constitution?

First, this supposedly democratic constitution is in reality a military decree promulgated by the “victorious” class of July 29, 1966.  It was decreed into existence by military fiat on the eve of the first “departure” of the military in 1979, and on the eve of the second “departure” of the military in 1983.

The 1979 Constitution came as Decree No. 25 of September 21, 1978, while the 1999 Constitution came as Decree 24 of May 5, 1999.  The preamble to each of the two Decrees are so identical that there is no need to cite the two.  It suffices to cite Decree No 25 of 1978 to see that what we have as Constitution is, in the words of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, an “army arrangement”.

Decree No 25 of 1978 states in its preamble: “Whereas the Constituent Assembly established by the Constituent Assembly Decree 1977 and as empowered by that Decree has deliberated upon the draft Constitution drawn up by the Constitution Drafting Committee and presented the results of its deliberations to the Supreme Military Council AND the Supreme Military Council has approved the same subject to such changes as it has deemed necessary in the public interest and for purposes of fostering the promotion of the welfare of the people of Nigeria:

“And whereas it is necessary for the Constitution to be vested with the force of law:

“Now therefore, the Federal Military Government hereby decrees as follows: –

“There shall be for Nigeria a Constitution which shall be as set out in the Schedule to this Decree….”

Whereas there were a Constitution Drafting Committee, a Constituent Assembly, memoranda from Nigerians, public hearings, seminars, workshops and conferences, the 1979 Constitution and the 1999 Constitution ought to have been subjected to a referendum so that the peoples of Nigeria would have used its acceptance or rejection to accept or reject the idea of living together as a nation.  That was not done.   Instead, the military promulgated the two Constitutions “after necessary amendments and approval” of the Supreme Military Council in the case of the 1979 Constitution, and of the Provisional Ruling Council in the case of the 1999 Constitution.  In the absence of a referendum, it cannot be truthfully asserted that this constitution is owned by the Nigerian peoples.

Secondly, the Constitution confers sovereignty not on the people of Nigeria but on government.  Section 2 subsection 1 of the 1999 Constitution states this clearly: “Nigeria is one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign state to be known by the name of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”  This constitutional provision, perhaps harmless at first sight, is, on the long run, not in favour of the citizen.  A constitution that confers sovereignty on the state and not on the citizen places the state above the citizen, that is, makes the state more powerful than the citizen.  But the state ought to be subservient to the citizen.  That is why, in a true democracy, government functionaries are either elected, that is, hired by the people or by those elected by the people.

In practical terms, there is a real and present danger that a state that is above and more powerful than the citizen can oppress the citizen and get away with it.  This is a regular occurrence in the Nigerian narrative.  And of course, the state is its functionaries.  One needs not look far before understanding why government functionaries in Nigeria are notorious in treating the people with contempt.  We see it in the way officials of state, soldiers, police officers, even civil servants can rough handle the citizen without fear of any sanction.  A state that is more powerful than the citizen can appropriate what belongs to the citizen.  That is why the wealth of the land is in the hands of state officials.  We have then a Constitution that facilitates corruption, an inefficient and unaccountable government bureaucracy.  In a nutshell, we have a Constitution that has established a state that is not at the service of the citizen.

Thirdly, which is perhaps a reflection of the military mindset of its authors, the constitution places more powers in the hands of the central government than in the hands of state and local governments.  As a result, Nigeria is saddled with an overbearing federal government that suppresses rather than support states and local government. In practical terms, provision for such an overbearing government at the centre is an antithesis to federalism brought into the constitution.  The Constitution is federal only in label and not in content.  A truly federal constitution would not have an exclusive legislative list that is almost twice as long as its concurrent legislative list.

Fourthly, to make matters worse, on the elongated exclusive legislative list can be found security, control over of mineral resources.   The government at the centre controls security and Nigeria’s oil wealth.  In practical terms, policing a country as vast as Nigeria from the federal capital city, because the constitution does not allow state and local governments to have their own police, exposes Nigeria to grave insecurity.  A country as vast as Nigeria cannot be adequately secured by policing her from the federal capital territory in Abuja.  A study of the history of empires of western Sudan would show that such an enforced centralist approach to governance was a factor in their rise and fall.

In terms of control of oil wealth, it is a scandal that the people on whose land the crude oil is found, the people of the Niger Delta to be more precise, have never really benefitted from profit accruing from the sale of petroleum product.  They and millions of Nigerians live in abject poverty despite the oil wealth.  Beneficiaries of the oil wealth are either state functionaries or friends of state functionaries.

To be continued…………………….

 

 

Rev. Fr. (Prof.) Anthony Akinwale was pioneer Vice-Chancellor, Dominican University, Ibadan, Nigeria.

 

 

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