The restructuring conundrum and 2019 elections

Following the 1914 amalgamation of the southern and northern protectorates of Nigeria into the Nigerian State, the British colonial masters and the Nigerian elite undertook several constitutional conferences to determine the constitution/form of government best suited to the peoples of Nigeria. From 1914, there was the Lugard Constitution, followed subsequently by the Sir Clifford Constitution of 1922 and the Arthur Richards Constitution of 1946 which effectively divided Nigeria into East, West and North. This was followed by the Macpherson Constitution of 1951 that indeed introduced Federalism as our system of government after consultative meetings with Nigerians at the Community, Divisional, Provincial and Regional levels. However, to further deepen Federalism the Lyttleton Constitution of 1951 was enacted. These constitutions were enacted by the British after Consultative Meetings (conferences) with Nigerians. Finally the British after massive struggle for independence by our Nigerian nationalists enacted the 1960 Independence Constitution. By an act of parliament Nigerians now enacted the 1963 Republican Constitution which we ran until January 15, 1966 when the military struck.

As a consequence of the successful coup of January 1966 the 1963 constitution was suspended and the military ruled Nigeria by decrees. The Military Government of General Aguiyi Ironsi promulgated the Unification Decree 34 in May 1966 which centralised power with the National Government whilst effectively scrapping the regions. The North perceived this decree as a domineering strategy by Southern Nigeria (specifically the East) over Northerners. This among other reasons (revenge inclusive) led to the counter coup of July 29, 1966 organised by Northern soldiers who now seized power, but rather than return the country to Regionalism/Federalism created more states out of the previous four regions, continued with the almighty National Government at the centre ‘incorrectly’ named the Federal Military Government of Nigeria. This continued with subsequent military governments until a return to civilian rule in 1979. The 1979 Constitution was a product of the military and was modelled after the unitary system of the military. The constitution making was by fiat of a military decree, we the people, were not involved in its making. The 1979 constitution boldly proclaims a Federal Republic of Nigeria but with a high concentration of power and resources with the central government using an Exclusive List of items only the centre should handle, whilst creating a Concurrent List of items the state governments can handle along with the central government. Consequently Nigeria became a federation in name only but for all intent and purposes a Unitary State. The 1999 constitution is basically similar with that of 1979.

From 1999 to date, we have been operating a unitary system of government in reality whilst masquerading to be a Federal Republic. Fast forward to 2018, most Nigerians now want a return to the Federal Constitution of 1963 or something very close to that, it is christened Restructuring. We as a people are now divided into those who want restructuring and those opposed to it. Politicians are now using it as a campaign issue and they have made promises post 2019. This is thus a realistic assessment of how we can achieve Restructuring because according to Socrates ‘the secret of change is to focus all your ENERGY not on fighting the old, but on Building the New.’ From the historical perspective, we were able to ‘restructure’ our constitution in pre independence times vide consultation/conferences of the people and eventually the enactment by the British Monarchy/Colonial government. Since independence we have enacted our constitutions only through military decrees. Therefore, to restructure the current 1999 constitution as amended can only be by an act of parliament in line with the provisions for constitutional amendments as laid down in the constitution. Consequently, any government that wishes to pursue restructuring will need to consult with the people through Consultative Meetings (conferences) possibly at the Communities, Local Government Areas, and the States levels. The outcomes of these consultations/conferences can now be distilled into requests/bills for the amendment of the 1999 constitution and forwarded by the President to the National Assembly for consideration. Thus all Nigerians who believe in the restructuring of the country would lobby their representatives at the national assembly to pass the bill so submitted by Mr. President for amendment of the constitution in line with the outcomes of the consultations/conferences. Once the bill is passed at the National Assembly, it will thereafter circulate to all the State Assemblies and once the required two thirds of the states of the federation approve the amendments, it is returned and presented to Mr. President for Assent and the Constitution at that moment stands amended and the country restructured accordingly.

The 2005 National Reform Conference of President Olusegun Obasanjo and the 2014 National Conference of President Goodluck Jonathan probably failed because the Reports were not sent as Executive Bills to the National Assembly to amend the 1999 Constitution to reflect the outcomes of both conferences. This we must avoid as we move forward. This in my considered opinion is the way forward. Any expectation that any government/president can simply proclaim Restructuring is misplaced in a civilian constitutional government, as it will amount to suspending the constitution that such a president has sworn to uphold. The other alternative is a military decree restructuring the country, but this will mean the death of democracy which we now enjoy and going back to the uncertainties of our past military era and the unknown consequences therein.

Therefore, as the politicians’ campaign for offices across the country in the 2019 elections, it is our responsibility as a people to vote only for those who represent the values we want from the State Houses of Assembly, to the governors, to the members of the National Assembly as well as the Presidency. The emphasis here is that you need Mr. President along with members of the National and State assemblies to effectively restructure Nigeria in our democratic setting. We the people must work and strive hard to enthrone the right people in the various levels of government to achieve the goals of restructuring Nigeria as no sitting President can simply proclaim a restructured Nigeria even after a National Constitutional conference without getting the national and state assemblies concurrence.

Okotete, a finance, strategy & policy analyst, wrote from Victoria Island, Lagos.

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