The Endless Nigerian Constitution Review Process

“I thought you have given up on Constitutional Reform Advocacy in Nigeria”. That seems to be the question that resonates in my mind when I commenced this piece. The fact is that if you are a true son of the soil and a committed Nigerian, giving up on the country would be the last thing in one's agenda for the country. “I love Nigeria I no go lie” As a young graduate of Political Science from the University of Ibadan, I was fortunate to get a job as “Office Assistant” at the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), a Centre that his Excellency, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the incumbent Governor of Ekiti State spearheaded its formation with support from others like the late Pan Africanist, Late Dr. Tajudeen Ibrahim, Kole Shettima, Funmi Olonisakin, Abubakar Momoh, K. Busia and few others from the Continent. When I got a placement in CDD then, an undergraduate colleague, who is now a manager with the Nigerian Flour Mill once made his usual gesticulation when I gave him my complimentary card, he said Aristotle,but you are a bloody messenger there in CDD. My response was yes, I know but I knew what I was aiming, to practice as a Political Scientist and to be part of the civil society force promoting good governance in the country.

Fortunate for me, the events turned around in CDD and I was found suitable as Research Assistant, from there to Program Officer, and eventually to Senior Governance Officer and the National Secretary of the Citizens Forum for Constitutional Reform (CFCR). My immediate boss and mentor, Dr. Otive Igbuzor was the pioneer National Secretary of CFCR. During this period, we organized colloquia; we wrote uncountable articles on citizens' approach to constitutional reform and facilitated the process that led to a draft of civil society led Constitution for the Federal Republic of Nigeria. CFCR was then the leading civil society organization working on constitutional reform in the country with organizations like CLO, HURILAW, WARD-C and several others too numerous to mention here. In fact, through our advocacy, a special page was dedicated to Constitution review in ThisDay Newspaper.

Today, some of our phrases then have become the “language and quotation” of Nigerian legislators- citizens Constitution; Citizens approach to Constitution making and review; a gender sensitive Constitution; a process led approach to Constitution making etc. My question is why the current legislators using these progressive and development phrases but vehemently refused to transform them into reality. As we are all aware, the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, was 'imposed on the country by the Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar through Decree 24 of 1999 and tagged the Nigerian 1999 Constitution and as amended in 2011. The likes of late(s) Chief Rotimi Williams, Chief Anthony Enahoro, Beko Ransome Kuti and other living legends like Ben Nwabueze, Baba Omojola; etc all cried in vain when they argued that the Nigerian 1999 Constitution was an imposition and that Nigerian should be accorded the opportunity to give themselves a fresh new Constitution through a citizens approach to writing a new constitution.

It is unfortunate that the amount that the Nigeria government and the international development community had expended on Constitutional review over the past ten years in the country is enough to alleviate millions of Nigerians' poverty and build hundreds of hospital and schools. Despite this, Nigeria is yet to conclude its Constitution review exercise. Nigeria should get it straight once and for all. Why are others doing it and we are finding it difficult. Today, a refinery has been built in our neighbouring Ghana, many African States like Kenya refines crude oil yet without producing crude oil. Country like Ethiopia has State Police and runs their Airline without problem. Oh God, why is Nigeria case different. I believe It is therefore critical at this juncture to argue that the Nigerian National Assembly cannot give Nigerians a legitimate and enduring Constitution what they can offer is a legal Constitution that may not necessarily satisfy the Nigerians. The Legislature are elected representatives of the citizens, where the tyranny of the elected representatives does not permit a genuine representation, the citizens must take the bull by the horn; that was the Kenya experience on Constitutional reform. Today, Kenya has one of the best Constitutions in the world. The old paradigm of selecting legal and political experts or constituting a legislative committee to write a constitution for the country has since changed to that of citizens self-determination where the right to participate in governance has long taken over. Under the modern day governance architecture, the legislature has no space and power to give the country the desired brand new constitution but to amend or tinker with the available one for the day-to-day governance of the country. Government does not give a Constitution to a nation in every decent society. On the contrary, it is the responsibility of the people to give the government a Constitution as a covenant for governing them within a nation.

What then is the way forward on Nigerian Constitution reform to overcome the endless Nigerian Constitution Review Process? Some have canvassed for a national conference, other calls it a Sovereign National Conference but I call what we need a National Referendum (NR). Today, some section(s) of the country are not comfortable with the idea of Sovereign National Conference due to certain believes and position that they hold or what they believes are hidden agenda of the SNC. From my own calculation and from the modern day good governance, what can solve the Nigerian Constitution reform problem without hurting any part of the country is a citizen led approach, with government involvement and legislative oversight; the process would then be concluded with a referendum of a minimum of 51% yes vote. We can do it. This process will permit all Nigerians of eighteen years old to participate in the writing of the Constitution and at the end of the day we would have a legitimate Constitution. The Nigerian legislators should therefore send some of the Constitution Review Committee members to Kenya to learn how they produce one of the best Constitutions in the world through the above process.

John Ikubaje, a Governance and Development Specialist wrote this piece from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

"The less I pray, the harder it gets; the more I pray, the better it goes."

Martin Luther

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