Still on Constitutionalism: A wake-up call
Over the past several months, the restructuring debate has understandably been pushed to the front burner with opinions on the issue being as impassioned as they are divided. Expectedly, every Nigerian appears to have an idea on how, when and what to restructure.
That is the way it should be! But, with popular opinion in support of preserving the continued existence of Nigeria as one, united country, attention should be focussed on restructuring to strengthen political structures. It is good that the ninth Senate has activated a nationwide debate on securing a people-oriented constitution.
It might not have been top on the agenda when then Head of State, General Sani Abacha, convoked the National Constitutional Conference in 1994, but, little did he know that he had surreptitiously set the country on the path of restructuring. Had death not abridged General Abacha’s plans, it is safe to say that all the hot air over marginalization, more imagined than real, and some of the ills we are grappling with, would have been consigned to history.
Reference here is to stillborn report of the 1994/95 National Constitutional Conference. A review of salient provisions of the report shows that, had it seen the light of day, Nigeria would have transformed from a country of contending ethnic nationalities into a modern nation-state in a matter of thirty years! In a manner of speaking, the Abacha draft is the best effort at constitutionalism since independence in 1960.
Sadly, General Abacha died suddenly after holding the country together for five impossible years. Imperatively, survival instincts demanded that General Abacha be disowned by those who succeeded him. The national emergency then was to heal wounds and woo the aggrieved South-west geo-political zone back into the fold. It was, therefore, expedient for his stopgap successor, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, to distance himself as much as possible. The biggest casualty was the report of Confab ’94.
One of the committees hurriedly assembled by the new administration to explore the way forward was led by an eminent jurist, late Justice Niki Tobi. The Committee appeared to be in a haste to deliver; after all, it had its briefs well spelt out. The Committee took one hasty look at the Abacha Report and dismissed it offhanded as ‘anti-people’. Remarkably, the eminent jurist rationalized the decision to throw away the Abacha document by claiming it was the ‘product of a disputed legitimacy’. In its place, the 1979 constitution was lazily window-dressed and closed shop!
As things stand today, Nigeria continues to grope partly due to the lethargy with which the Abacha document was handled. The nation’s official six geo-political zones remains an enduring legacy of General Abacha. In any case, the zones were meant to be the building blocks for the fundamental changes envisaged by the 1995 draft constitution which made provision for the offices of president, vice president, senate president, house speaker as well as the position of prime minister and deputy prime minister.a five-year single-term for political offices. Public office holders were restricted to a five-year single-term tenure.
The ‘Abacha document’ had something for everybody. Had political exigencies not prevailed on General Abubakar into literally throwing away the baby with the bathwater, Nigeria would, by now, have experimented with the Abacha formula for twenty-two of the ‘thirty-year transition period’ which aim was to ‘promote national cohesion and integration’, after which merit and competence would replace rotation in determining who gets what.
In strict adherence to the principle of rotation envisaged by the Abacha document, at no point in time would any of the six geo-political zones have cause to complain of marginalization since there was always going to be one ‘juicy’ office to be vied for by each of the zones every five years. What this means is that, in 2018, the fifth of the six zones would have produced a president for the country and, by 2023, all six key political offices would have gone round the six geopolitical zones on rotational basis.
Of equal importance is that the unique provision eliminates the incumbency factor and its attendant abuses. Since the draft envisaged its replication at state levels, the president and other principal officers as well as state governors and stand disqualified from standing election for the same office during their five-year single term incumbency!
More than two decades after ‘throwing away the baby with the bath water’, Nigerians are still playing the ostrich instead of sobering up and still living in denial. overgrowing the prejudices of the Abacha era. As a matter of fact, the Abacha document was so comprehensive to have anticipated the untenable and wrong-headed agitations across the country and the hollow talk of marginalization that comes with it. Now, can and, should Nigerians continue to play the ostrich and allow lawlessness to dominate the political scene? Are we to allow a rambunctious few to continue to stampede us and dominate national discourse in the face of quick-fix solutions?
Of course, the talk of dissolving Nigeria is hot air that lacks substance. Yes, there is need to restructure and this should not be mistaken for a breakup as some have been programmed to believe. We need to restructure in a way every section of the country will, at all times, be appropriately represented in governance. The ‘Abacha document’ took care of these and more. The document suggested a five-year single-term for elective posts. To restructure in a way that lawmaking will be inexpensive and effective, the draft made provision for part-time lawmaking!
Of course, Nigeria should restructure in a way that treasury looters will not get dubious clean bills from regular courts or be shielded from prosecution. It may interest Nigerians and their elected representatives that there is no proclamation for the much-abused immunity clause for any public office holder in the Abacha draft for the president and vice president as well as governors and their deputies. The pestiferous eighth Assembly that canvassed for a dubious immunity for its principal officers was not expected to look at the document; it didn’t!
Nigerians should give the thumbs-up to the leadership of the current Senate for taking the bull by the horn. To achieve desired results, Nigerians must begin to look beyond General Abacha and ditch the prejudices that characterized his days. The task ahead may seem insuperable but it is not invincible.
The task will be made easier if we tinker with report of Confab ’95.
Magaji < [email protected] > is based in Abuja