Getting It Right On Constitution Reform
JUST as the sense of a general objective tension that enveloped the political atmosphere respecting truly feared probable or practical consequences of the Presidential election result or outcome was relieved or doused by what objectively qualifies as a celebration of the values of self-immolation or sacrifice (in pursuit of the public good, peace and tranquility by President Goodluck Jonathan), the in-coming All Progressives Congress, APC, Federal Government is under a patriotic obligation to defuse the time-bomb regarding the requirement to interrogate the necessity to firmly ground the basis of Nigeria’s corporate existence. It must, from the very beginning, hit the ground running by taking a critical position with respect to the popular pan-Nigeria quest for a politically restructured country under a new constitutional regime favoured by the 2014 National Conference report and/or of other well-heeled prescriptions contained in our pantheon of views regarding the subject matter. This duty, it may bear repetition, cannot be shirked or otherwise avoided without telltale or fraught consequences. There is a requirement for the expansion of the geo-social context of the promised or covenant benefits of our democratic enterprise through a proper or correct establishment and application of rules or guidelines that truly describe, represent or situate our collective and respective aspirations as the people of Nigeria.
The tortuous, fractious campaigns, the election results that demonstrate or amplify a sorely fragmented or divided polity along religious, ethnic and regional lines and the bated fear of probable vengeful reprisals by the new wielders of political power all point in the direction of the requirement to heal or repair the seared soul or the fractured limb of the nation vide the agency of a fundamental constitutional amendment. It should not be the case that the new government will be comfortably ensconced in the splendour or panoply of power as to smugly ignore this desideratum.
A lot of literature has poured forth concerning our continuing search for a political philosophy or direction that is homegrown or that is congruent with our worldview which worldview is in desperate search of re-discovery. A forlorn or wistful search for solution outside of our context or from within some arcane body of rules (outside of our worldview) is futile, time-wasting or even fatal. The provisions `of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, it is humbly submitted, cannot properly situate our deep-seated yearnings for a correct or appropriate solution to our myriad of social or political difficulties. It has demonstrably evinced failure in that regard.
The processes by which a constitution is entitled to solemnly declare that “We the people …. Do hereby make, enact and give to ourselves…” or by which it receives the affirmative imprimatur of the people are glaringly or patently absent. They were smugly disregarded in the case of our constitution. There ought to be a direct relationship between a constitution and the political spirit of the nation-state. Our constitution should be a reflection of our historical development and its existence should mirror the changing circumstances and purposes of our political life.
To contemporary thinking, a constitution must suit the citizenry’s needs, values, interests and capabilities. It is the standard for authorising the work of the ruler and for gauging or evaluating that work. A nation’s political life or the general social conditions will fail in the absence of a proper or legitimate standard for adjudging legitimacy or the propriety of the acts of government.
Thus the fashioning of a constitution deriving from the people’s consciousness ensures that what government does and how it is done remains the expression of a broad public opinion rather than the rulers’ whims or caprices. Therefore, to determine whether or not a true constitution exists or is present, we must consider if the terms of public authority are limited by a fundamental law receiving general support and, further, if through this network of rules and their machinery, the exercise of political power is shared within and outside the government.
The formal stipulation that a constitution should derive from the shared values, aspirations and common consent of the people has not adhered to, or been obeyed by, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999. A further formal prescription is that a proper constitution’s provisions should serve the general welfare and protect diverse interests.
The Nigerian Constitution under review was put together behind the peoples’ back; the consent of the people was neither sought nor obtained. In a free society, unless the basic provisions of the constitution are compatible with the fundamental beliefs of the people about government and about their aspirations, such constitution is unlikely to work or be used or employed as a basis for abjuring, ignoring or denying practical or pragmatic options.
Whereas the heterogeneous, varied or diverse nature of the Nigerian populace suggests the true practice of federalism, our constitution is a poor reflection of the ideals of that socio-political management option. The imperative of the practice of federalism has been snubbed or shunned by the constitution. The major indices of a federal state are largely missing in this hapless document. Subjects such as derivation, resource control, mining, minerals, oil fields, local government establishment and control, policing, etc. – all of them shared or devolved responsibilities in typical federal democracies – are invidiously listed as exclusive federal matters. The federal government has curiously turned itself into the nation’s paymaster even as the States have become impoverished or made to look up to the centre with beggarly entreaties or schoolboy blandishments. The power, purview, authority and opportunities available to the government at the centre are so awesome that the states have become insignificant in the scheme of governance respecting responsibilities or duties.
Even though there is a palpable or observable fundamental incongruence between feudalism and federal values, the two seem to have a curious symbiotic [albeit impractical] relationship in Nigeria. There is in our circumstance an inherent aristocratic (or feudal?) tendency to establish hegemony and disregard or fail to acknowledge diversity. The ethos of federalism need to be recognised as ideologically conflictive with or manifestly in oppositional relationship to feudal principles and so do not mix.
Quite naturally, feudalism sits in uneasy juxtaposition with the ideals of federalism. Our present objective conditions will make us conclude that feudalism is largely irrelevant and may not be considered as an option regarding our search for proper guides or platforms in our state-society relations. Any attempt to co-mingle federalism with feudalism is sure to produce an initial illusory strength but will beget in its trail contradictions of the atavistic desires of its promoters and expose their chicanery or ill-purpose for all to see. Our diversity in culture, language and religion suggests the requirement of the practice of true federalism. A vote for true federalism is a vote for unity, peace and progress in its full dimension of plurality, diversity, peculiarity, respective identity, panoply and competitiveness.
The convocation of the National Conference of 2014 is a studied acknowledgement of our attenuated links and of the futility of a continuing sterile or threadbare explanation or rationalisation of a giddy Federal state. It is recognition of the grim potential dislocation that is imminent to afflict our essentially weak link as a people and is sure to cause eventual monumental disruption or catastrophe.
The proponents of the conference may have correctly reasoned the requirement of a deliberately contrived or negotiated policy of unity designed to maximise the freedom to practice diversity, plurality or peculiarity. The conference was proposed to advise the government on the legal framework, the legal procedure and the options for integrating its decisions or outcome in the Constitution or any law of the country. Happily, the conference has since completed its assignment and has submitted its recommendations to government.
In the opinion of this writer, the conference’s resolutions amply provide us with a workable agenda (particularly in the light of the absence of rigour or cerebrum in the content of the roadmaps or in the articulation thereof regarding the manifestoes of the major political parties). The new helmsmen ought to be put on the spot concerning what they intend to do or not do with the report of the conference. The monumental gains of the conference must not be buried in the din of the over-orchestrated ‘Change!’ mantra.
With the similar sensitivity and acuteness of perception with which the Nigerian people fought the 2015 presidential elections, they must acknowledge the centrality of the requirement for re-jigging the Nigerian constitution as it stands today. They may not be able to continue to insist on high standards or good performance by their governments in the absence of guidelines for the practice of governance based on accepted or prevailing rules usually embodied in a constitution. (Prof. Ben) Nwabueze’s definition of a constitution is very apt as it best exemplifies the linkage among the known conceptions of that instrument. It describes a constitution as:
“a formal document … by which a society organizes a government for itself, defines the limits of its powers and prescribes the relationship of its various organs with the citizens.”
Our constitution ought to be rooted in our society’s concrete historical experiences and preferences. By historical experiences is meant the juxtaposition of past and present realities, successes, failures and challenges of all our collective efforts or endeavours. So, our effective guide for, or gauge of, the performance by government especially regarding public policy issues and regime performance is a constitution stricto senso deriving from the people’s participation in its formulation or making. A major reform in this regard is submitted to be the way forward. What we have at the moment is packaged to account for a new or continuing wave of socio-political failures now or in the very immediate future. Whichever way we look, our resolve should be for the effectual promulgation of the conference recommendations. We have put our hands on the plough regarding our desired forward movement; we cannot afford to look back.
One would dare to say more, were there no danger of one’s motives being deliberately mis-understood or mis-interpreted as apocalyptic or foreboding of some impending peril, catastrophe or doom.
•Rotimi-John, a lawyer and commentator on public affairs, wrote from Abuja.