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The Reps' fuss over nothing – Guardian

By The Citizen


The reported bid by the House of Representatives to take steps to ensure promotion of unity and foster peaceful co-existence in Nigeria is undoubtedly a positive step which deserves the support and active encouragement of all. That, after all, is the primary reason for its existence considering the provisions of Section 4(2) of the Constitution which define the House's responsibility.

There is no better time, in the history of this country, than now for this role to be properly played given the onslaught the unity of the country has been subjected to, leading to apprehensions about the continued survival of the country beyond 2015. Ethnic jingoists and political warlords have unleashed verbal assaults on the unity of the country with their highly incendiary and divisive remarks that remind Nigerians more about the diversity in their unity than the strength in that diversity. Against this background, whatever steps the House wants to take to bolster the unity of the country is understandable. But its present initiative, cognizable from a Bill being sponsored by Mr. Emmanuel Jime is, in range of vision and depth of conception, ill-proportioned to the end it seeks to achieve.

The Bill, according to its sponsor, was triggered by the incessant clashes between nomadic herdsmen and local farmers in various parts of the country which, according to him, have claimed so many innocent lives and assumed a dangerous trend, becoming more rampant in recent times thereby requiring urgent action on the part of government. This observation is well placed and in fact faultless to the extent that it emphasises the need to take decisive steps to nip this recurring decimal in the bud.

It is, however, wrong and ludicrous to castigate the Constitution as the basis of the anomaly. It is a wrong diagnosis of the problem and a sad commentary on the attitude of legislators to their statutory responsibility. Little wonder the prescription the Bill came up with as the solution to the lingering problem remains wrong. Having erroneously attributed the problem to the wrong definition of 'indegeneship in Sections 25, 26 and 27 of the constitution,' the sponsor threatened to work to expunge this from the constitution and 'replace it with citizenship'. In his words, 'The level of insecurity in the country has risen from the question of who is a settler and who is an indigene. Sections 25, 26, and 27 of the 1999 Constitution define who is an indigene and who is a citizen but this has rather caused more division and disunity'. He went on: 'I will introduce a Bill to remove indigeneship from the 1999 Constitution and replace it with citizenship and let me see how anybody will tell me that I cannot live in Lafia or any other place as a citizen of Nigeria'. This is a misconception of the 1999 Constitution generally and a lamentable misrepresentation of Sections 25-27 thereof in particular. Looking at the provisions, it is clear that the sections do not say expressly or impliedly nor intend what the honourable member ascribed to them. The provisions of Chapter Three of the 1999 Constitution to which the 'offensive' sections belong are outright innocuous and deal basically with the various ways of acquiring the citizenship of Nigeria. What is clearly at issue therein is not indegeneship of a community but citizenship of Nigeria which according to the constitution can either be by birth or by naturalization or by registration.

By no stretch of imagination can the fears expressed in the bill be read into the chapter. And that is where the misconception lies; that is where the wrong diagnosis is embedded. Attempting to expunge or waste time on any deliberation in that regard serves no purpose at all and qualifies perfectly as too much ado about nothing. It is simply safe to say the bill speaks to nothing in the myriad of problems bedeviling Nigeria. Of course, debating the bill at all has its own collateral damage. Apart from being a waste of precious time that can be spent on more beneficial things to the country and its people, it portrays the so-called honourable members of the House of Representatives as indolent and not given to research or doing their home work properly before going to town. This is not a good image for the House collectively and for the individual members.

It is absurd for members of the National Assembly, the highest law making body of the land, to give the impression that they are not familiar with the basic provisions of the 1999 Constitution, the organic law of the land. This is the same House that flaunts with eternal relish the provisions of Section 88(1) of the Constitution which it quite often deploys to arm-twist the executive or its agencies in the name of oversight functions. Does it mean that is the only section readily assimilated by the honourable members? Granted, like every other ordinary mortal, it is not out of place for the honourable members to be unable to reel out the provisions of the constitution off hand, but where a section is relevant to the debate at hand or the bill to be sponsored, honour, probity and high sense of responsibility demand that members must familiarize themselves with that particular section.

A member who wants to sponsor a bill in the hallowed chambers of the House is certainly presumed to have done his home work well by being abreast of relevant facts and, therefore, sufficiently equipped to lead reasonable discussion on the bill. His facts must perforce be correct and devoid of assumptions. It becomes more imperative when the subject of discussion is the Constitution of Nigeria. That is the only insurance against embarrassment and the insinuation of mediocrity against the honourable members. And, to cap it all, to every member is a retinue of legislative aides, handsomely rewarded by the state, to assist him or her in the performance of his or her duties.

Furthermore, the right of every Nigerian to live in any part of the federation without molestation is also adequately entrenched in the constitution, rendering superfluous or unnecessary the need for a new legislation as is now being contemplated by the House. Chapter 4 of the constitution guarantees this and specifically provides in Sections 41 that: 'Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof…'  and, in Section 42 that: 'A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person - (a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizen of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religion or political opinions are not made subject, or (b) be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizen of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religion or political opinions'.

The judicial interpretation given to these provisions is that every Nigerian, regardless of his indigeneity or where he lives has equal rights and opportunities within the federation and that he cannot be discriminated against for reasons that he is not an indigene of the community where he resides. There cannot be more elaborate and time-tested provisions than these. That this does not happen in reality has nothing to do with a dearth of legislation but inadequacies in the operation of the legislation.

This perhaps is the area that requires the attention of the House.  Not the enactment of a new law.