For a meaningful amendment of 1999 Constitution

 
Wed Jun 2nd, 2021 - Abuja (FCT)
 

With the House of Representatives recent invitation to the general public, executive and judicial bodies, traditional institutions, political parties, civil society organizations, professional bodies and all other stakeholders, to public hearing on the ongoing amendments to the Nigeria 1999 Constitution, the process has graduated from mere rhetoric to reality.

According to the statement by the Chief Press Secretary to the Deputy Speaker, Umar Puma, titled ‘Constitution review: Reps to Begin Zonal Public Hearings 1st June,’ It is scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday in the six geopolitical zones. The Senate had already begun a parallel exercise.

While this awareness is viewed as welcoming, the question that is as important as the public hearing itself is: What will be our inputs as well as expectations as Nigerians? What are those areas that Nigeria and Nigerians have expressed concerns? And most importantly, how do we have the constitution amended in ways that will lead to national restructuring?

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To act as a guide, President Muhammadu Buhari while delivering a nationwide broadcast on Monday, January 1, 2018, noted that ‘no human law or edifice is perfect. Whatever structure we develop must periodically be perfected according to the changing circumstances and the country’s socio-economic developments’. Identifying those imperfections and catalyzing the process of reforming this changing circumstance as muted by the president should be the preoccupation of all at the present circumstance.

For sure, the above is imperative as the current posturing has made the government at the centre become the dispenser of goodness by proxy while leaving the federating states idle and lazy which is against the spirit of the federal system of government and the expectation of the masses. This is the time for Nigerians to remember vividly some recently over-used words in the nation’s political space- words such as, namely; true federalism, fiscal federalism, restructuring and resource control among others.

By the constant use of those words, what the masses are saying and wanting in my understanding is that the padding of the second schedule of the exclusive legislative list, of our 1999 constitution with 68 items has made Abuja suffer ‘political obesity’ and need to shed some weight via power devolution.

What the people are saying is that the over bloated exclusive list has made our nation to currently stand in an inverted pyramid shape with more power concentrated at the top and the base not formidable enough making collapse inevitable if urgent and fundamental steps are not taken.

What the proponents of restructuring are saying is that the majority of the items are too trivial for the Federal Government to handle and should serve the greater good of the people if left in the hands of both the state and the local government. This is the hub of the masses’ expectations. Items such as; Police and some government security services, mines and minerals; including oil fields, oil mining geological surveys, control of parks, stamp duties, public holidays, taxation of incomes, profits and capital gains, and insurance among others to my mind should find their ways back to the states and the local councils.

Another area of ‘interest’ to watch as it has caused concerns among Nigerians in the past is a chapter with a very long list of what ordinarily could have been very beneficial to the citizenries and at the same time solve the multifaceted challenges bedeviling the nation if it were at par with the provisions and status enjoyed by similar items as contained in chapter four. But, as expected, this portion for no clear reason shares the same body and spirit with chapter four but not equal in essence.

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How do we make the exercise a rewarding one? Let’s cast a glance at Felix N.C. Oragwu’s memorandum, entitled; Critical steps towards the resolution of Nigeria as a true federation. The memorandum proposed the steps for consideration that will help Nigeria develop and grow in real unity, peace and real economic progress.

Step One: There is now the need to eventually consider a new name for the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In this respect, Nigeria may be renamed,” United States of Nigeria (USN)”. Please see the UK of Great Britain. This may erase the ugly history or memory of Nigeria’s forced amalgamation without the consent of the different / distinct ethnic nationalities comprised in Nigeria and located along the length and breadth of the River Niger, by Lord Fredrick Lugard, the first Governor General of Nigeria, 1914-1918, acting on the Authority of British Imperial Power and Colonial Diplomacy. This transaction taken without the consent and agreement of ethnic nationalities concerned.

Step Two: Suggested terms of union for Nigeria as a True Federation:
The Terms of Union are already well spelt out early in 1951 during the British Colonial sponsored National Conference of Representatives of the ethnic Nationalities comprising Nigeria, at Ibadan, South West Nigeria, to restructure the amalgamated Unitary Administration of Nigeria operating since 1914. The Restructuring Conference of 1951 was attended by the True Representatives of the ethnic nationalities comprised in Nigeria, namely: Sir Ahmadu Bello leading the representatives of Northern Region of Nigeria (now 19 states of Northern Nigeria), Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe leading the representatives of Eastern Region of Nigeria (now the 5 states of Igbo land and the states of Akwa Ibom (Ibibio/ Anang) and Cross River State (Efik / Ogoja) land, and Chief Obafemi Awolowo leading the representatives of South West Nigeria (now, the 6 Yoruba states of Western Nigeria and the present Edo and Delta States, respectively. The British Colonial Secretary, then Sir Oliver Littleton, chaired the Conference.

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The Terms of Union of the Nation State of Nigeria, arrived at the Ibadan Conference, which successfully kept Nigeria together in relative peace, should be adopted with necessary amendments. The Highlights of these Terms of Union that operated from 1952-1965, are as follows, namely, The Federal (Central) Government is to operate as a Coordinating Government and not as a Controlling Government, but has the exclusive responsibility for the mutually agreed Common National Services, such as Armed Forces, Nigerian Police, Citizenship, Customs, Central Bank of Nigeria, / National Currency, Immigration, Foreign Affairs including Foreign Trade, National Education Standards, but not Educational Institutions (Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Levels, which are the sole responsibilities of the Federating Regional Governments), National Scientific, Technological and Industrial Goods Standards including Agricultural / Mineral Commodity Export Standards, Trunk A Roads or Interconnecting High ways of Nigerian Federation, but (as Stated in the Document) any other responsibility not specified for the Federal (Central) Government, is a matter for the Federating Regional Governments.

For more details, readers can also see the Report of Nigerian Conference at Ibadan, Western Nigeria, 1951, attended by the political leaders of Nigeria’s Federating Regions, led respectively by Sir Ahmadu Bello for Northern Nigeria, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe for South East Nigeria and Chief Obafemi Awolowo of Western Nigeria which include Mid -West Nigeria (now Edo and Delta States).
I wish Nigeria and Nigerians good luck on this task!!!
Utomi is the programme coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via; [email protected]
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source: Guardian