History teaches us that once upon a time in Nigeria, there were four constitutions –the Federal, Western, Eastern, and Northern constitutions. Every region was represented in London by an ambassador called Agent General. The independence of these regions was not in doubt. M.T Mbu was the ambassador and Hugh Commissioner for Nigeria. The Ambassador for Eastern Nigeria was Mr Jonah Achara; for Western Nigeria it was Mr Omolodun; and for Northern Nigeria, it was Alhaji Abdulmalik. This cohesive structure was agreed to by every stakeholder in the new and independent Nigeria. Things worked seamlessly according to individual regional schedule.
Suddenly, bullets rang from the barracks. The military torpedoed the existing civilian rule. All constitutions ceased to exist. The military’s unitary constitution became a sidelining replacement, putting behemoth authorities and power in the hands of men in uniform. Feeling of ethnic ill-will, distrust, and mistrust began. Then there was a countercoup. And then the unfortunate Civil War in 1967 claimed millions of lives.
The present 1999 Constitution was the brainchild of a reckless dictator who many believed cooked up the document to favour his agenda and that of the part of the country he came from. I believe it was more of control and arrogant arrogation of power to one man out of over a hundred million Nigerians. The document is a piece of falsity and temerity that daily stares us in the face as we try to rebuild a nation falling apart. And politicians who came to power in 1999 have made matters worse. They closed their eyes to the rejuvenation of a true and binding document and opened their hearts and minds only to what served their selfish interests.
When out of power, politicians speak in favour of restructuring and changing the constitution. When in power, they rudely renege on promises to either scrap or rejigger the dawdling document. Not too long ago, in a confab of Southern Leaders of Thought, the group insisted that Nigeria requires a new constitution to be adopted by the people in a referendum. Championing the group, Professor Ben Nwabueze said restructuring would not be meaningfully done by amendment to the existing 1999 Constitution that the military bequeathed to us. It is obvious to all that if Nigeria is not restructured, the country will continue to take five steps forward and 50 steps backwards. The leaders posited that the 1999 Constitution must be replaced, because it was never a democratic constitution in the first instance. I agree with them.
“Indeed, it is a constitution only in a loose sense of the word, but not in the strict, generally accepted sense of ‘an original act of the people’ by which a state and its government are constituted. The 1999 Constitution was not made by the people, either through a referendum or through a constituent assembly specially elected for the purpose and specifically mandated in that behalf or both but was made instead by the Federal Military Government by way of a schedule to a Decree, Decree 24 of 1999,” the group said.
Except for a few Nigerians who largely benefit from the status quo stench derailing the nation’s dreams of becoming a true Giant of Africa, majority of Nigerians believe that a rejiggered or an entirely new constitution will among other things, establish new territorial structures of government in the six regions of the country. These territories will each run their own separate zonal or regional constitution; redistribute powers between the Federal Government and the federating units and establish other structures as may be required, such as other apparatuses of government, like regional or state police force and independent electoral body for each zone or region. A document that vests the ownership and control of all minerals, including the power to issue licenses, collect rents, fees, and royalties, on the Federal Government is ogreish. This power is exercised through the Ministry of Solid Minerals Development, an organ established to boost non-oil exports.
“The 1999 Constitution, as it were currently, commands or enjoys little respect and obedience among Nigerians. It has been deprived of much authority by manifold acts of abuse, perversion, desecration and even subversion perpetrated with impunity among others,” the Southern Leaders of Thought also lamented. The 1999 Constitution has allowed round pegs to be situated in square holes. It’s allowed misfits to occupy top positions in major vital organs of the economy. The same cohort of people and their coteries since Independence is still holed up in power directly or indirectly. The cultist hobnobbing between these ‘owners’ of Nigeria continues till today. The military did Nigeria wrong. In its many years of reign-of-terror-and-horror; it wreaked much havoc on the psyche of the nation.
The document has permitted the central Government that’s unable to run its requisite machinery correctly salivate to bite more than it can chew. Peaceful coexistence, prosperity, progress, and good life and living for all Nigerians will continue to be elusive as long as the nation’s brand of democracy continues to be lovey-dovey, accommodating to remnants of ‘militocracy.’ Today, unfortunately, my friends, Nigeria is still lying on the surgeon’s table with heart-wrenching diagnoses. As the nation strives to cure ailments in one part of its body, others sprout up in other parts. Vital organs of Nigeria remain battered and bruised. Corruption has metastasized like inoperable cancer. Ethnic hate and religious intolerance have been the surreal weapons of mass destruction incubated in the weird womb of our constitution. The 1999 Constitution is only a breeding ground for hubbubs about violent self-determination chants that will never go away. It is the same constitution that has shovelled too much authority to lawmakers who continue to remain parasite bleeders of the country’s precious blood.
A few years ago; Senegal voted to eliminate its Upper Chambers, the Senate; and the position of the V.P. The Senegalese Senate cost the country an annual budget of almost eight billion CFA francs ($16m). The position of the VP cost more than more than two billion CFA francs ($6m). Italy’s parliament voted to cut the number of elected lawmakers’ seats in the Lower House to 400 from the current 630, while the Upper House Senate would be sliced back to 200 seats from 315. The cut would save Italy €1bn ($1.1bn) over the next decade. The Nigerian legislature costs an arm and a leg; it is prudent to consider doing the same and save Nigerians from poverty and hunger. But the myriad provisions of the law in the 1999 Constitution are the hiding spots for Nigerian politicians. The motherboard of Nigeria’s monumental errors in all spheres is the 1999 Constitution. As the nation warms up to transition from Muhammadu Buhari, who detests restructuring, whoever succeeds him will be doing over 200 million Nigerians a favour if he champions the move to scrap the crap!