Random Musings On Constitutional Amendments
As the intellectual head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA ) I'm hereby writing on behalf of the nearly 10,000 registered members of the organization that has for almost ten years of registration being actively engaged in carrying out advocacy programmes with the fundamental aims and objectives of promoting, protecting and nurturing the respect for the human rights of the citizenry and for the enthronement of a law based democracy in Nigeria.
We write randomly to appreciate the renewed but seemingly unending effort by the National Assembly to strengthen the constitution through a fundamental amendments. We say your constitutional amendment enterprise has seemingly become a regular feature of all the sessions of the National Assembly and we want to start by asking this National Assembly to take greater time to ensure that this would be the last time in many decades to come that the Nigerian constitution would be tinkered with particularly because the tax payers are made to cough out humongous amount of money that is usually frittered in the processes leading to the constitutional amendments.
We have watched with considerable trepidation the attempt by some of the members of the constitutional amendment committee of the National Assembly who met at a retreat in Lagos at the weekend to reduce the process of amending the nation’s grund norm to a season of redistribution of our commonwealth to the elite.
The suggestion whether remotely or otherwise of the introduction of life pension for principal leaders of the National Assembly is not only selfish, self serving and irrational but goes a long way in painting the graphic picture of a committee that may turn out to be just as bad and pecuniary inclined as all the other previous committees that unsuccessfully attempted to amend the 1999 constitution.
What are the germane and/or key questions that must be answered logically by those privileged to amend our national constitution? The issue of insecurity and police reforms are as critical as the need to consolidate provisions that clothes the anti graft agencies with more powers to wage law based war against corruption which remains a hydra headed monster.
The policing institution in Nigeria is weak and compromised so a lot of places in Nigeria are left without security which brings us to the imperative of creating a state police. The current Nigeria Police Force has a notorious origin in such a way that the colonialists who set it up made it primarily to serve as defenders and protectors of the few ruling class. There is therefore the need to properly situate the Nigeria Police in such a way that national security and not person al security of executive officials of government would become their focus. The current police force is farcical and rotten from top to bottom thereby making it imperative that the entire institution be overhauled through this constitutional amendment process. That armed hoodlums unleash violence on innocent people is precipitated by a weak and inefficient policing institution.
Corollary, the judiciary must be reformed to weed out unprincipled judges with ethical challenges.
We are writing to hereby inform you that as our humble contribution to the success of the constitutional amendment process that we undertake to carry out massive enlightenment campaigns to sensitize Nigerians on the imperative of supporting the ongoing amendments so this assignment becomes the very last for many decades to come.
Also we charge the National Assembly's constitutional amendments committee to introduce provisions that would institutionalise anti-graft fight as a truly pan -Nigerian project and stop the agencies from playing politics of 'he who pays the piper should dictate the tunes'.
As a starting point, the immunity clause in section 308 (1) should be deleted so certain Nigerians are not clothed by the Constitution to be lawless. A situation whereby the President Vice president Governors and their Deputies are treated as sacred cows throughout their tenures is unsustainable and amount to the promotion of impunity. This section 308 has created monsters out of these set of executive officials of the Nigerian State excluded from criminal prosecution. Section 308 is similar to what the North Korean dictator enjoys. This immunity clause breeds corruption which breeds poor governance and mass poverty on an unpardonable scale.
We are of the firm belief that corruption amongst politically exposed persons is the root cause of all human rights violations. That thousands of Nigerians die from seemingly curable ailments such as malaria fever and typhoid due to collapsed health infrastructures is a product of section 308 of the Constitution which makes these benefitting executive state officials as persons who are above the law. As a human rights group we have called attention to all the previous National Assembly's constitution amendments committee to wipe out thus immunity clause but our pleas fell on deaf ears.
Besides, our platforms made up basically of committed patriots who work on voluntary basis have often engaged in the advocacy activities that promote good governance. We commend President Muhammadu Buhari for the recently published manifesto for waging law based war against corruption which was presented in London recently at a global anti-graft forum hosted by the government of Great Britain.
We make haste to however observe that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has yet to show sufficient respect for the constitutional provisions that speak to the issue of respect for the Fundamental Rights of the accused as expounded in Section 36(5) thus:
“Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty;
Provided that nothing in this section shall invalidate any law by reason only that the law imposes upon any such person the burden of proving particular facts.”
The resort to sensationalism and media trial of suspects by the EFCC is painting a graphic picture of a failed state because a functional democracy is rule based and the functionaries are obliged to respect the provisions of the law especially Chapter Four of the constitution.
Whereas we applaud government for going after suspected corrupt politicians, we however urge government to extend the searchlights to all the political parties that ran for elections in 2015 because we are living witnesses of how money played dominant role in the various campaigns by all the parties. Regrettably, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was complicit in the fraudulent deployment of heavy financial muscles by the Major Political Parties which engaged in the bonanza of distributing freebies such as branded essential commodities. All the parties spent hugely in advertisements which can easily be audited to determine their levels of breaches to the rules on campaign funding but as I highlighted above, INEC has constituted itself into a monumental obstacles to the enthronement of accountability and transparency.
May we commend the EFCC for recently going after top level INEC officials who colluded with corrupt politicians of all parties to betray the trust of Nigerians by demanding and obtaining heavy bribes to manipulate the outcomes of elections in Nigeria. We call for the wholesale and total reforms of INEC and for the appointment of chairman and commissioners of INEC to be advertised and selected by Independent panel of international management consultants.
Let the Constitution amendments reflect ways and means of keeping critical institutions that fight corruption from the overwhelming control of the Presidency and find a generic mechanism of reflecting in the constitution that all the insinuations created to fight corruption must be fundamentally independent in such a way that the appointment and removal of the heads of such institutions does not reside exclusively in either with the Presidency or the National Assembly to serve as safeguard for insulating them from executive or legislative whims and caprice. Also the staffing of such anti corruption institutions must be liberalised to bring in only competent experts in criminology and not the status quo whereby police form major segments of the staff.
We also call you in the constitution amendment committee to amongst the functions of the Attorney General of the Federation compel the holder of such office to regularly publish acceptable guidelines on how stakeholders and credible Civil Society groups could gain access to all detention facilities run by EFCC; ICPC; DSS; Police and Military because of the notorious fact that grave crime of human rights violations such as torture take place in the secrecy of these cells. Recently, a suspect died in EFCC cell. Thereason is need to consolidate chapter two with chapter four of the constitution to make the salient provisions in Chapter two as enforceable as those of chapter four. Such basic provisions that speak to the issue of Federal Character principles, Rights to quality heslthcare and Housing must be made enforceable to stop governors from siphoning public fund meant for such critical sectors. If this is achieved the era of governors coming cap in hand to beg for bail outs would be over since there would be provisions making it punishable for governors to divert state resources meant for those critical sectors.
We invite you the Senate constitutional amendment committee to work transparently with State governments of flashpoints of extralegal killings such as the sad incident of killing of civilian’s demonstrators by armed security forces in Onitsha, Anambra State to find ways and means to mount constitutional bulwarks against the use of lethal weapons against civilians.
There are widespread disappearances of suspected members of the Indigenous People of Biafra and MASSOB. The office of AGF must by law be compelled to wade into these sad events to stop the ongoing massive migration of Igbo youth to foreign Countries because of well grounded fears of political persecutions, extra legal killings and forced disappearances of persons suspected to be sympathetic to IPOB and NnamdiKanu.
Dear National Assembly members we believe that these phenomena of extra legal executions of innocent citizens are grave and disturbing so the coming Constitution must specifically create an ombudsman to monitor how armed security forces deploy their weapons during the periods they exercise their duties. Every act of use of weapons by law enforcement authorities must be subjected to forensic audits.
We invite you to look at the report prepared by Amnesty International on the Onitsha genocide and build in a strong provision to compel Attorney General to prosecute the specific security officials on ground in the South East or anywhere else who authorize the operatives to open fire with live bullets on protesters. This Constitution amendment committee must protect the right of citizens to protest lawfully because free speech and freedom of peaceful assembly are the bedrocks of democracy.
We call on you to create provision whereby the Attorney General of the Federation can be compelled to prosecute all arrested terrorists who have killed over 25,000 Nigerians. We reject any policy that would grant amnesty to mass murderers. So those amending the constitution can make or Mar history by introducing constitutional provisions to use other lawful means to compel the Attorney General of the Federation to competently prosecute terrorists whenever they are caught.
We endorse the decision to separate the offices of Federal Attorney General from that of minister of justice to make it imperative for non partisan professional to head the office of Federal Attorney General. Appointments of politically tainted lawyers as Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice since 1999 is responsible for the level of impunity in Nigeria. A stitch in time saves nine.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head of Human rights Writers association of Nigeria and can be reached on www.emmanuelonwubiko.com .