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CONSTITUTION OF CONVENIENCE

By NBF News
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OUR laws, already famous for being observed through breaches, are in further danger of a final eclipse from the highest quarters. The latest trend is the negotiation of laws by parties that feel the laws do not favour them. It is as if the Constitution and our laws are for convenience.

States, through their governors, are leading this affront on our law, making it seem laws are not to be obeyed, but negotiated or disobeyed.

Money always pits the Federal Government against the states. Otherwise, there is unanimity of all governments that the poverty of Nigerians should continue and that governments should run with the painstaking inefficiency that has been the standard for decades.

No state has gone to court against the Federal Government, for instance, over the daily human rights violations of Nigerians. When some states expel non-indigenes, or shut them out of federal opportunities, we expect states, that are experts in recognising constitutional violations, to head to court. They do not.

In their conduct as governments - state and federal - the interest of the key political gladiators is the only consideration. Government is not about the people though the Constitution places a huge burden on governments to act for the people.

Which government approached a court for an interpretation of Section 14, the most salient people-serving part of the Constitution? It reads 14. (1) The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice. (2) It is hereby, accordingly, declared that: (a) sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority; (b) the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government; and (c) the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.

Could anything have been more important than pressing the Federal Government to free resources to ensure democracy, social justice, participation of the people in their government? In 12 years of democracy what did governments do about Section 14 (2) b - 'the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government'?

No government is making any efforts to meet the clearly stated expectations of Section 14. There are enough reasons for this. The most cogent is governments' disinterest in people's welfare. They made that point through lethargic implementation of the minimum wage law. Constitutionally, a federal wage law is binding on states. Labour is on the exclusive list. Part I of the Exclusive Legislative List of the 1999 Constitution, Item 34 which states, 'Labour, including trade unions, industrial relations; conditions, safety and welfare of labour; industrial disputes; prescribing a national minimum wage for the Federation or any part thereof; and industrial arbitration,' makes the Minimum Wage Act binding on States.

However, governors had a different reason for accepting the Wage Act, which many of them now argue imposes special burdens on them. The elections were near and it made sense to please workers, who politicians thought could cost them re-election.

Government of the people, by the people, for the people - the most quoted definition of democracy - means more than regular elections. We want to draw the attention of governments again to their abandonment of critical issues that affect the ordinary Nigerian.