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Nigeria needs a New Constitution – Discussants

…Agreed 1999 constitution, a fundamentally flawed document

 

The 1999 constitution which Nigeria currently operates has been described as a fundamentally flawed document, bereft of legitimacy and proved unsuitable to tackling the many challenges confronting the country.

 

This was the general consensus of many discussants at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) Victoria Island, titled: “Legal Procedures for Actualising a People’s Constitution in Nigeria”, organised by The Patriots, to honour their departed leader, renowned constitutional lawyer, Professor Ben Nwabueze (SAN).

Elder statesman and former top commonwealth diplomat, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, on Monday tabled two restructuring paths before Nigerians.

He said it is either a retrace to the 2014 confab report or a cheap delegate option, not elected on party basis for a fresh national dialogue.

He spoke in Lagos at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) Victoria Island, where a national dialogue on the future of Nigeria was held.

Anyaoku who chairs the group, in his opening remarks, said Nigeria is a pluralistic country struggling to be a nation, with success and failure of other pluralistic countries to learn from.

He said: “Some pluralistic countries have succeeded in becoming a nation while some pluralistic countries have failed. The lesson from this is that such pluralistic countries that have succeeded have practiced a people-centred constitution.

“This fact was recognised by the founding fathers of Nigeria who painstakingly drafted the 1960 constitution. The second incontrovertible fact is that the present 1999 constitution not only lacks the legitimacy but proved unsuitable to tackling the many challenges confronting the country.

“It is a recognised fact that some areas of the country have deteriorated and have continued to deteriorate. Security and economy of the citizens. Infrastructure including road, education and health facilities, social cohesion and values and the sense of national unity. These are areas significant deterioration has occured over the years. There has been no shortage of opinions on what should be a suitable constitution.

“I hope therefore that this colloquium will focus on producing such constitution. We have only two options, either we accept the 2014 confab or we go for a relatively inexpensive directly elected delegates not on party basis.”

At the event, Lagos governor, Babajide Sanwoolu faulted the current big brother status of the Federal Government in its relationship with the federating units.

He also could not understand why those who served in states before moving to the federal, would turn round to battle the states where they once served, stressing that  National Assembly can create an avenue for Nigerians to come together to amend the constitution.

Sanwo Olu averred: “How well do we see the anomalies that we have in our country? Why would we have a federal agency come to control the water in front of Ozumba Mbadiwe? Why would we have a federal agency 1, 000 kilometres away to come and see the needs of my people right on Ozumba Mbadiwe? These are some of the things that we need to tell all and say, indeed we need to have true federating states.”

Also, a constitutional lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ozekhome called on President Bola Tinubu to establish National Referendum Commission which will be saddled with the responsibility of creating a new constitution.

Ozekhome was a federal government delegate to the 2014 national conference.

In his keynote address, he described the 1999 constitution which currently operates as a fundamentally flawed document, pointing out that “the constitution is the certificate of every nation. It is very important document. Therefore the process and procedure by which it comes to be is very important than the constitution itself. The Green and Red Chambers have set up a committee to amend the constitution but will this amount to what Nigerian are looking for?

“Can you amend a fundamentally flawed document? My answer is, you cannot. This is because it was imposed on you and  by a military junta led by Gen. AbdulSallami Abubakar. It was never subjected to the scrutiny of the people.

“Nigerians must own their constitution through a referendum without that we will just be on a journey to no destination. All the problems of insecurity and mutual distrust, banditry and more are mere symptoms of a larger ailment. We are operating a system we are not meant to operate.

“Can we not sit down to negotiate our nationhood? There are several unions. This is why people believe in their hometown than Nigeria as a country.

“When I hear of Yoruba complaining of being marginalised, I say the Hausa are complaining of marginalisation. The Igbo too are complaining. So are the minority groups. We are to look at some of these issues so that we can move forward.

“The National Assembly has a big role to play in bringing about a people’s constitution. The National Assembly needs to promulgate the National Referendum Commission to aggregate the decision of the 2014 confab and the work the Assembly is currently doing. They should look at them to give Nigeria a new constitution within 6 months. Within 6 months, we will have a new drive for the country.

“I proffer solutions as follows: We need six zonal structures which are directly overseeing the state. Each state will have a state police and allow the Governor to fund its police. Create Supreme Court for the sub divisional group to manage matters.

“State should be granted full control over their resources and pay 30 per cent to the centre. Vulnerable groups and gender must be given equality in National Affairs. The National Assembly drains the resources of the country. There should be power rotation, “Ozekhome posited.

Eminent Nigerians, including the leader of Afenifere, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, leader of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Shetima Yerima,  Ooni of Ife, Oba Ogunwusi Enitan, who was represented by Oba Adewunmi Sakaniyah Olaigbade, General Ike Nwachukwu, former governor of Sokoto state, Senator Aminu Tambuwal, former governors, former ministers, serving senators, amongst other notable personalities were in attendance.

Disagreeing with Ozekhome’s call for an amendment of the 1999 constitution, Adebanjo said there would not be a better confab than what was held under President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014.

He said, “You can’t get a better representation of this country other than that of the delegation put up by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014.

“No aspect of the country that were not there to get the best. My sympathy for those that do not understand why we said we should go back to the independent constitution. No President will want to change the 1999 constitution because of the excessive powers it accorded to the president.

How do you expect us to change or amend a constitution we didn’t make. This is one area I disagree with Ozekhome. Tinubu has the best advantage to set up a committee to give us a new constitution because he was in the trenches with us.”

On his part, the leader of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Alhaji Shetima Yerima, declared that northerners are victims of the 1999 constitution.

He said, “The northerners are the victims of the 1999 constitution more than other regions. I have been an advocate of the decentralisation of the central government. I am of the view that something is wrong and that we cannot manage this constitution. We cannot continue to manage the document that was foisted on us. The 1999 constitution does not have legitimacy.”

Earlier, in his welcome address, Former Finance Minister under General Ibrahim Babangida, Dr Kalu Idika Kalu, said the national dialogue is a platform to discuss issues that have been plaguing the Nigerian nation.

He said, “What a time to be undertaking a serious exercise as this. By the time we conclude this event, we should leave here by the inalienable rights of every Nigerian.

Former governor of Akwa Ibom state, Obong Victor Attah, pleaded with the National Assembly to reject the call for a referendum for the review of the 1999 constitution.

He charged the parliamentarians to make a new constitution for the country .

Former Governor of Sokoto state and serving Senator, Aminu Tambuwal, assured of his support for the process that will enable the promotion of the bill for the establishment of the proposed Referendum Commission.

Similarly, former chairman of Nigeria Governors Forum, Kayode Fayemi called for the building of consensus between the legislative and executive sides.

Founding member of The Patriot, Major General Ike Nwachukwu (rtd) said Nigeria needs a new constitution.

He said, “Our country needs a new constitution. How to go about it has also been proffered. We handed the 1999 constitution to the people but today it is clear that it is not working. We have to come up with a new constitution. The National Assembly should support the president to bring this to life. Also no state in Nigeria is insolvent. Every state should develop in its own pace. We need to decentralise and give a state the authority.”

In his contribution, erstwhile governor of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun said: “We all agree that our constitution is faulty. What we should do is to work on what everybody has been saying. The outcome of this colloquium should be taken to the National Assembly and don’t stop on that, we can seek an audience with the president and all the ethnic groups.

Former governor of Rivers State,  Rotimi Amaechi called for a positive change, stressing that “we have had this conferences over and over. This conference produced a South-South president. But there hasn’t been any change.”

Chief Olabode George said its time for the leadership of the country to change its direction.

He stated: “Don’t blame all these issues on the military because they are also Nigerians. Apart from pleading with President Tinubu, I will say it is time to change our direction. Let those who have contacts with the president, let them go and convince him on the need for a new constitution. Nigerians are crying.”

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