BEFORE YOU AMEND THE 1999 CONSTITUTION
Back in 2009, the House of Representatives, constituted a 44-member Committee to review the 1999 Constitution. The representatives were selected from each state and the Federal Capital Territory. One amendment that was proposed to improve the 1999 constitution, was a bill introduced by former Minority Leader, Hon Ali Ndume, which proposed limiting the political parties to two-party system considering the political muddle of the national elections of 2003 and 2007. Sadly enough, the Fifth House of Representatives did not give the two-party proposal any serious consideration in their constitutional amendment exercise, and the two-party electoral bill was thrown-out. Today, nobody can correctly say if the other thirty-nine reforms were actually worked on or not.
Despite my skimpy knowledge on matters of constitutional matters, I added a voice to the public debate on the constitutional amendment arguing that a two-party system will be a vital ingredient of political and electoral reform in Nigeria. I also argued that the constitution that we have today is not only deficient to the ethos of presidential and democratic system of government that we copied from the United States of America, but does not accommodate the true aspirations of all Nigerians. I supported a two party structure that will, perhaps allow few independent political candidates. The two-party structure must constitute its BOT and party members from all the six geopolitical regions, with at least 35% of women representation.
There is no doubt that the 1999 Constitution is over due for review and amendment considering the inadequacies and anomalies in our society. Most Nigerians are clamoring rather for Sovereign National Conference to address the inadequacies and injustices in our nation. Many are agitating for true federalism. The constitutional amendment is an opportunity to revamp and fix the injustices in our federal structure, so that we can make progress as a nation. Today, the Nigerian society is barricaded by injustice, an openly conspicuous in the manner in which the nation’s revenue are shared, award of government contracts, federal infrastructural development and distribution of political positions. Instead of our politicians to govern well and honor the call and divine duties of leadership placed upon them, they loot and squander public treasury. The recent Wikileaks expose on Nigeria simply explains how greedy and corrupt the typical Nigerian is – unfortunately including those highly accomplished and esteemed among us. No nation can flourish and enjoy order, peace, security, and make progress with such monumental corruption and injustice. No nation can achieve genuine progress tolerating injustice and unrighteousness.
It is because of the injustice in our nation that led some courageous men to form peaceful groups and unfortunately some militant groups to battle against the biased, discriminatory, and satanic system that they live in. Today, we have MASSOB, OPC, MEND and other Niger Delta militants fighting against the injustice in the federal system. The injustices in our society must be eradicated otherwise; we cannot have a peaceful nation. The negative effects of injustice will always hunt and prevent us from reaching our potential as a nation. It must be eradicated. The political muddle and wrangling, we witnessed in the last few national elections can also be minimized if we had quality document that governed our life and the way we conduct business in our country.
And, so this week, when the Senate president, Senator David Mark named a 47-member Committee for a holistic review of the 1999 Constitution, I felt once again compelled to add a voice despite my limitations on the subject of constitutional matters – this time on the issue of the composition of the Constitution Committee members and what exactly do the Senate and Legislative want to accomplish with the constitutional amendment. The Senate president, Senator David Mark announced a 47-Senate member committee, which consist of one Senator from each of the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital territory (FCT), one representative from each of the six geo political zones of the country and three representatives described as special interests. The panel will be headed by the deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu. This list may not represent the true make-up of the Nigerian society.
I am neither a lawyer, a constitutional scholar, political scientist nor a politician, but I believe that we cannot leave the issue of Constitution Amendment solely into the hands of the Legislative body. The current political, social, economic and religious turmoil in the nation can be checked and curtailed if the constitution is strong – with patriotic legislation and honest enforcement of the laws of the land. I want this essay to awaken our constitutional lawyers, liberal thinkers, historians, traditional and religious leaders and those enlightened minds on the subject of political science and art of governance to contribute to the national discourse on the constitutional amendment exercise. As a nation, we should rethink of our current political culture and figure out the best methodology the nation can tailor and construct its constitution and political systems for producing credible candidates, knowledgeable electorates, building strong democratic institutions and entrenching patriotic values that are capable of yielding the expected dividends of democracy and progress.
I have a problem with the Constitution Review Committee. My problem is not the same agitation expressed by the Northern senators, who were complaining against favoring their female colleagues in the selection from the North for the constitution amendment. My issue is the quality of people selected to review and revamp such an important document of the nation. Where are the people’s representatives? Where are the constitutional lawyers, judges, historians, liberal thinkers, traditional rulers, and even religious leaders? How many of those selected are constitutional lawyers, scholars and experts? How many are judges? How many are liberal thinkers and leaders of thought? How many of them are patriotic citizens and genuinely interested in the growth of democracy and progress of Nigeria? How many of them have the expertise to work on the document that will become a catalyst for the entrenchment of solid democracy in Nigeria? How many of them will genuinely work for the peace, unity, and justice in Nigeria. I asked these questions because the review and amendment of a nation’s constitution is not what you leave for politicians to do, especially greedy, power hungry and biased politicians, but in the hands of trusted leaders, patriotic citizens, and liberal thinkers – the brightest and best brains of the nation. We can’t leave the constitution into the hands of Legislative powers alone. The nation cannot and should leave the issue of Constitution reform and amendment into the hands of the Legislative body – especially those lacking professional training in constitutional matters.
The constitution is perhaps the most important document of any nation – and it demands the best brains and brightest in the society and not politicians to frame it. William Gladstone described the American Constitution as the “most wonderful work ever struck off, at a given time, by the brain and purpose of man.” It was a work not of a moment, an hour, or even a lifetime, but of two millennia of Western thought, political struggle, and hard-won knowledge about the state.” In 1781, The Rev. Jonas Clark, said, “No man, party, order or body of men have any right to alter, change, or violate the social compact. Nor can any change, amendment or alteration be introduced, but by common consent.” Most American spokesperson then had an evident corollary view, that the constitution could be neither made nor altered by the legislative body. In the year of American independence, they argued that, “the supreme legislative are by no means proper body to form and establish a constitution because the same body that forms a constitution have of consequences a power to alter it.”
My beef with the newly constituted committee is this: the Constitution Committee should include constitutional lawyers, judges, liberal scholars, thinkers, leaders of thought, historians, traditional and religious leaders, ex-presidents, governors, senators, diplomats, and frankly fewer politicians and legislators.
For the last forty years, Nigeria has had military dictatorship, political hypocrisy, and extravagantly indulgent corrupt legislative body that denied the people and minority members of their constituents. Nigeria has had many kinds of government – unitary, parliamentary, military and now democracy and yet without sustainable success. Despite her enormous human potential and abundant natural resources, the promises of these various governments have been a dismal failure. They have not kept their promises but floundered and left the Nigerian masses worse than when they were under the colonial masters. In October 1, 1960, Nigeria became an independent nation and Republic in 1963 under a British Parliamentary system of Government. However, political instability, poor leadership, religious ignorance and intolerance and violence, ethnic hatred, moral degradation, corruption, injustice, indiscipline and irresponsibility quickly marred the nation’s prospect for development and progress. Until today, Nigerians have not really enjoyed any genuine freedom or political peace and national prosperity, despite abundant natural and human resources God endowed her, instead it has been business as usual – a vicious circle of myopic, incompetent, and irresponsible people as leaders. In a nutshell, Nigeria has been ruled by fools and idiots for the past forty years.
The Constitution Review Committee also included three representatives described as special interests. Who are those and what are the special interests. One of the absurdities of Nigeria is this: Nigeria is a democratic nation with a constitution and civil laws, and also a theocracy – an Islamic state with Sharia law with Christians and Moslems fighting over the much taunted secular state. We don’t have democracy in Nigeria but demo-crazy, theo-crazy, thugo-cracy, and gangs-crazy. Recently, the radical Islamic sect and Sharia Council threaten to go to war if Islamic banking is allowed to operate in Nigeria. The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar, said recently, that Nigeria is not a secular state. Former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar in an interview recently regarding his complicity in the death of Chief M. K. O. Abiola, said, “that now is the time for all ethnic groups in Nigeria to sit on the roundtable to renegotiate their continued co-existence” The Hausa-Fulani Oligarchy, the Sokoto Caliphate, the Kaduna Mafia and the Northern Jihadists do not believe that Nigeria is a secular state, but an Islamic state. Most Nigerian federal apparatus reflect that.
The problem of Nigeria is that the framers of the first Nigerian constitution were not Nigerians but the slave masters. Nigeria's first constitution was written by the British people in 1922. The British cared less about the culture or value systems of the myriad groups that make up Nigeria. Since then, the constitution has been revised a few times without the constitutional experts but dictators and stooges of a gangster government, who evaded revamping the constitution to accommodate the social, cultural, religious and tribal norms of all the variant groups that make up Nigeria. The fundamental core values such as character, honesty, genuine integrity, discipline, character, trust, truth, commitment, dedication, patriotism, etc, that suppose to enhance credible leadership, spur nation building, promote good business culture and inspire people to embrace good change were absent in the nation’s constitution. I am convinced that in order to build a respectable and prosperous nation that we aspire and dream to have, there must be first of all, a set of well-defined core values or code of conduct that will help to create an environment in which government, businesses, investment and people can thrive and prosper. Trust, integrity, honesty and sincere character are seriously lacking in all levels of our society. How can a nation make progress without trust? Trust is lacking among the major ethnic tribes. The Igbo, the Yoruba, and Hausa-Fulani do not trust one another, instead they hate each other. How can we make progress in such a hateful and mistrust environment?
The constitution is the most important document in democratic institution. The Constitution should be cherished basis of democratic government. The constitution should govern the affairs of the state and its people. It should provide defense, administer justice, and order, in which people could go in safety about their business. It should have checks and balances that provide more realistic safeguards – constraining absolute power of the federal government, security of its citizens and welfare of all. The constitution must establish a well-defined set of core values that will shape the lives of those who are called to lead. Core values are constant and passionate beliefs that drive people lives, business decisions or nation's priorities. Without a strong national value system no nation can be very successful. There has to be patriotic laws, decisions, and passionate actions that determine and drive our nations’ priorities.
The goal of those selected to revamp the 1999 Constitution must work to produce a document that would be separate from, and superior to, all forms of political power. The framers of the American constitution were not politicians, and weren’t dealing with theoretical issues but real nation’s problems. They had serious problems on their hands. The 1776 American political culture resembles the 2011 Nigeria political situation. There were thirteen separate, independent, and headstrong colonies, which could not be dragged into union against their will, but had to be persuaded. And there was no way this could be accomplished unless the system is formed to look into their powers, interests, and ambitions. The representatives from each thirteen colonies proceeded to do exactly that. The representatives included thirty members of the Continental Congress, seven former governors, and eighty signers of the Declaration of Independence, plus numerous judges, legislators, and state convention delegates. The group consisted of people of character, principle, experience, and understanding - not utopian like the French, but men of high training to the fullest and great qualities. Their background was reflected in the tenor of debate about the constitution. Almost everything was discussed in terms of immediate past and historical experience. This sounds like Nigeria to me. The standard used throughout the debate was what had worked, and how, and whether it could be expected to work again.
To the Constitution Review Committee, there must be the urgency to safeguard freedom, fundamental human rights, and a consequent effort to limit the reach and restrain powers of federal government. The boundaries around the powers of the federal government and state government must be examined and corrected. While the Federal government has the responsibilities to provide defense, administer justice, diplomacy, and foreign affairs and maintain order in which people could go in safety about their daily life and business, the state should be granted autonomy to regulate its internal order and business. The Constitution must guarantee and protect freedom – not imperil it, encourage peace, liberty, continuity and stability of art of governance and leadership for future generations. It must not be depicted as document of conspiracy and of proper interest against the common man. The executive powers, legislative powers and the judicial powers must be trammeled. The executive, legislative and judicial should derive its authority from the constitution and not vice versa. There must be a sharp curtailment of the legislative power – and all other power. There must be checks and balances between the tripartite division of power – executive, bicameral legislative, and judicial branches of power.
Nigeria is still in an era of cleavage – a period of ethnic violence, and authoritarian dictatorships, and anarchists. Ours is a democratic totalitarian statecraft in which power is concentrated in the center with abuse of power, persecutions, thuggery, godfatherism and corruption. The constitution need to impose restraints on power of the federal government and politicians. The constitution must be designed to protect the unity of the country and its citizen from tyranny. It must define the rights of her citizens and not just assigning duties to them. Even in the Western culture, with particular reference to the United States of America, the constitution is revised from time to time otherwise the constitution falls captive to the anachronistic views of long-gone generations. If any constitutional amendment do not acknowledge shortcomings and in our case - establish a well-defined set of core values that addressed national unity, patriotism and parameters to discourage tribalism and religious intolerance among the peoples of a diverse and complex nation like Nigeria, then we are just wasting our time as one indivisible nation. We cannot move forward as a nation and fulfill our common purpose and destiny if tribalism, injustice and corruption are not addressed in our country. We truly need a constitution and a national value system that discourage tribal identity. We need a constitutional amendment that will fix the current perilous political climate, promote democratic institutions and eradicate thuggery, godfatherism, greed, corruption, marginalization, and injustices in our society. Anything short of it is just waste of time and tax payer's money.
** Chima Kingston Ekeke, Ph.D., is a theologian, consultant and author of several books including Leadership Wisdom and Leadership Liability. He is the president of Leadership Wisdom Institute.