FORCES AGAINST CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
Early this January, an Australian newspaper published an opinion article which focused on Nigeria as a paradox of a nation that is so well resource rich and yet the majority of the populace live in absolute poverty. The writer then concluded by affirming that Nigeria is indeed a nation where the simple things are so difficult to accomplish.
Also, in the recent edition of the New York review of books, Jared Diamond wrote about what makes countries rich or poor in a review of the scholarly book of Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson beautifully titled “why nations fail: the origins of power, prosperity and poverty”.
Drawing a sharp analogy between cities of identical origin in Mexico and United States of America, Jared Diamond concluded by saying that strong institutions and good governance are exactly what makes the difference.
He wrote thus; “The fence that divides the city of Nogales is part of a natural experiment in organizing human societies. North of the fence lies the American City of Nogales, Arizona; south of it lies the Mexican city of Nogales, Sonora. On the American side, average income and life expectancy are higher, crime and corruption are lower, health and roads are better, and elections are democratic”.
Remarkably, Jared Diamond further observed that; “Yet the geographic environment are identical on both sides of fence, and the ethnic makeup of human population is similar. The reasons for those differences between the two Nogaleses are the differences between the current political and economic institutions of the United States and Mexico.
The above two scenarios apply to Nigeria whereby the very ordinary and noble idea of improving upon and amending certain fundamental bobby traps enshrined by the military in the extant constitution of Nigeria of 1999 has berthed in the troubled waters of ethnic irredentism and the overbearing retrogressive force of the state governors who are opposed to this progressive move that has so far gulped several billions of public fund.
Again, because the ruling elite in Nigeria have amassed so much illegal wealth and have cornered substantial percentage of the nation's wealth to their private bank accounts, they are prepared to go the extra mile to bribe some reactionary forces in the National Assembly to scuttle the process of amending the Nigerian constitution to create strong institutions whereby equity, fair play and social justice would become sacrosanct and inviolable.
It is no secret that most state governors have emasculated the functions of the local government councils in their states and have implanted their surrogates as managers of these councils in clear violation of section 7 of the 1999 constitution as amended which prescribes democratic elections for local government councils.
Section 7(1) of the constitution states unequivocally that; “The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the Government of every state shall, subject to section 8 of this constitution, ensure their existence under a law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils.”
But since 1999, most state governors have breached this strategic section of the law for their selfish agenda.
Most contemporary state governors rely on the misreading and misinterpretation of a certain nebulous judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria which appears to have ruled that states have control over the affairs of local councils but the fact remains that the Constitutional provision that guarantees democratic elections in local councils of Nigeria is non-negotiable.
Accusations are rife of governors' interference in administering the finances of these local government areas making use of their boys appointed to head these councils to divert funds allocated from the federation account meant for the development of the local councils.
These state governors who are opposed to the move by the National Assembly to grant autonomy to local government councils are fingered as the masterminds of the ongoing moves in the National Assembly particularly in the House of Representatives to scuttle the assignment of the constitution review committees headed by the Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu and his opposite number in the federal House Mr. Emeka Ihedioha.
From day one of the inauguration of these constitution review committees some governors like that of Kano State Mr. Musa Rabiu Kwankwaso and the Nigerian Governors forum have voiced out their opposition to the process of amending the Constitution.
Some of the reasons adduced by these persons bordered on the bizarre, incongruous and indeed are absurd.
For instance, the Kano State governor generously made use of the media to engage in regional campaign and played the ethnic card by asserting that the National Assembly was hiding under the guise of amending the Constitution to grant additional state to the South East because according to his line of thinking, chairmen of both constitution review committees are from the South East.
This is the worst form of ethnic politics for a governor of an important state like the Cosmopolitan Kano with diverse ethnic and religious make up to voice out this type of parochial sentiment in an important matter as amending the bad aspects of the extant constitution so as to make the institutions of government stronger and better transparently administered.
The Nigerian governors forum is known to have kicked against any suggestion that section 308(1) which grants immunity to themselves, their deputies, the President and Vice, be amended.
It is believed in rational circles that governors' opposition to expunging the immunity clause stems from their fear of the unknown because of certain skeletons in their cupboards.
It is said that clear conscience fears no accusation. It is therefore shocking that governors will stand in the way of the mass movement to remove a strong impediment to the anti-graft fight.
I have never underestimated the power of money that have allegedly been amassed by these state governors who are now up in arms against the popular clamour of the majority of the citizenry to amend the constitution.
Last Thursday, the first sign that the state governors have deployed their resources to undermine the process of amending the constitution emerged when suddenly the leadership of the Federal House of Representatives postponed the public presentation of the constituency-based national constitution review conducted by the House of Representatives which cost the tax payers heavily.
The individual members had proceeded to their respective constituencies few months back to brainstorm in publicly televised sessions with the citizenry on areas that they would want amended. Votes were transparently conducted and the reports from the constituencies forwarded for collation to the central constitution review committee headed by the Deputy Speaker who has indeed worked so hard to convince Nigerians that the process would be participatory, transparent and open which however was the case.
But on the day the Federal House invited Nigerians to witness the presentation of the collated result last Thursday, the session was called off in circumstances that questions the credibility of the parliament.
Speaker Aminu Tambuwal who spoke to the disappointed members of the public that waited patiently for three hours, said the committee would need to correct certain hitches 'here' and 'there'.
His words: “I would like to say that as leaders, we will continue to engage ourselves and in the process of doing that what ought to be done or needs to be done is done very well, especially here in the House of Representatives where this process has been acclaimed to be transparent thus far”.
The Nigerian Labour Congress has already called on the National Assembly to transparently present the collated results of the constitutional amendment process.
It is the view of Nigerians that the Federal House of Representatives and the Senate must not allow reactionary forces that are opposed to the amendments to carry through with their selfish agenda to scuttle this democratic process.
The hierarchies of the National Assembly must note that Nigerians are watching their every steps and indeed any clandestine moves to undermine the growth of democracy and the principle of transparency and accountability would be resisted vehemently.
***Emmanuel Onwubiko; Head, HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS' ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA [email protected]***