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CONSTITUTION AMENDMENT: THE UNRESOLVED ISSUES

By NBF News
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Mark
One must praise the members of the National Assembly for breaking the jinx in constitution amendment. For the first time in the history of Nigeria, the National Assembly has succeeded in reviewing the constitution. Even though it was neither a wholesale constitution making nor a comprehensive review, the exercise is worth commending.

However, the amended constitution has not answered the national questions that are very essential to the survival of the country. The unresolved national questions are resource control, restructuring of the polity, political rights of the less privileged, fiscal federalism, zoning of the Presidency and model of government.

Other national issues that were not resolved in the constitution review are state creation, state police and security, federal character, status of local government, secularity of state, Land Use Act and the Niger Delta crisis.

Even the amended sections of the constitution have attracted severe criticism. For instance, while financial autonomy was approved for the National Assembly, the State Assemblies could not muster the strength to insist on it. Also, the amended Section 66 of the constitution has drawn the ire of Nigerians, especially the civil societies. In the said section as amended, panel indictment cannot be used again to disqualify candidates for election. Candidates will only be disqualified if proved guilty in a court of law. The Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) was quoted in a news report to have said that 'the section did not reflect the views expressed by stakeholders during the public hearings conducted by the Ike Ekeremadu – led ad hoc Constitution Review Committee'.

Other amended sections that looked unjust are sections 135 and 180, in which there will be no tenure extension for a President or Governor who wins a rerun election. These sections stated that they can only serve a tem of four years. The implication is that governors who hope to stay beyond next year in office because they won reruns may have their hope dashed because the constitution will be operational immediately. This is quite unfair to the governors concerned. My advice to the affected governors is to seek a constitutional interpretation because of the likely retroactive effects of the new provisions.

Section 239 which stipulates that the Court of Appeal should be the first court of jurisdiction for electoral petitions involving the President, Vice-president, Governors and Deputy-governors has great implications for the Judiciary. It implies that more Judges have to be recruited to attend to this challenge. If I may ask, do we have enough qualified, honest and fearless Judges in this country with endemic corruption in every facet of our lives? Can the Court of Appeal be able to handle all electoral cases involving the President, Vice-president, Governors and Deputy-governors and dispense justice within the time allowed in the Electoral Act? Your guess is as good as mine.

However, some sections reviewed in the constitution drew applause from the public. For example, Sections 145 and 190 may have laid to rest the problem of leadership vacuum that may be foisted on the state or country owing to the inability of the President or Governors to properly hand over power to their deputies. The amended sections state that, if the president or governor does not forward a letter within 21 days, National Assembly and Houses of Assembly can pass a resolution making the Vice-president or Deputy-governor the substantive President or Governor.

Many people have also commended the new Section 81, which stipulates financial autonomy for INEC. It is believed that this section will boost INEC's independence and neutrality and it will no more be seen as an appendix of the Presidency. Another amendment that appear satisfactory to many Nigerians is the Sections 132 and 178. The new provision states that presidential and governorship elections would hold between 120 and 150 days to the expiration of the tenure of the incumbent.

One success has the tendency to motivate another. When facts are so open and straight-forward, the legal maxim of 'Res ipsa loquitor' (the fact speak for itself) becomes pertinent. Our lawmakers, should please, build on the modest success recorded in the constitution amendment by going ahead to make a comprehensive review of the entire constitution in order to address the unresolved national questions mentioned in the early part of this article.

The issue of resource control must be addressed. Also, the polity must be restructured for a true federalism. The centre must be made less attractive. It is very important for the issue concerning the political rights of the less privileged to be addressed in the new constitution. It should be categorically stated that employers must reserve at least 10% of their workforce for the less privileged. Additionally, provision for stipend payments for the disabled be made in the new constitution. Such provisions must be enforceable and justiciable.

On the issue of fiscal federalism, there is need to make a constitutional provision for the federating units to have control over their finances and only pay certain percentage to the centre. The outcry being generated by the issue of zoning could have been avoided if there was a constitutional provision for the zoning of the Presidency. There is, therefore, the need to include in the new constitution, a provision for zoning of the Presidency. This will foster national unity and a sense of belonging to every part making up the country.

There is also the need to make constitutional provisions for a model of government. Everybody agreed that the presidential system as being practiced by Nigeria is too expensive for the level of our development. Perhaps, what Nigeria needs at this time is a hybrid of West-Minister model of government and the American presidential system.

On state creation, my take is that the National Assembly should summon the political will to create at least six additional states, one each from the six zones making up the polity. More local governments should also be created in order to address some glaring injustices done to some sections of the country during the previous exercises. For instance, Dekina local government council in Kogi State is supposed to be split into three distinct local government areas. Dekina local government council is considered as the largest LGA in Nigeria, if not in the entire African continent.

I personally believe the issue of insecurity of lives and properties will be greatly reduced if state police is created. The present set-up which makes the Governors the chief executive of their states without commanding control on the police is an anathema. Additionally, the land use act, federal character, which stifles merit and Niger Delta crisis, should be addressed in the new constitution.

In its review of the amended portions, TMG observed that the National Assembly did not score a high mark. Its Chairman, Moshood Erubami, said that the two chambers failed by ignoring the views of Nigerians in the process of amendment. The amended constitution has not answered the national questions that are very fundamental to the survival of Nigeria.

Obaka, an economist writes from Ajaokuta, Kogi state.