You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2021 10 27Article 490363

Opinions of Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Columnist: Lekan Sote

Time to dump 1999 Constitution

File photo to illustrate the story File photo to illustrate the story

The half-hearted Constitutional Review train that deceitful members of the Nigerian Senate and House of Representatives took round the nation was a hoodwink after all. And Senator Oluremi “Madam” Tinubu, who couldn’t contain a mild interruption by her aggrieved constituents, caused a stir at the sitting of the Senate Committee public hearing in Lagos.

Her damage control in the media only further convinced Nigerians that the so-called constitution review exercise was a self-serving ploy or red herring to make the people think that the legislators were working in the interest of the people, whereas the opposite is the case.

After the junket funded by taxpayer’s money in the different geopolitical zones of the country, the politician magicians, whose stock-in-trade is the more you look, the less you see, have finally taken their drama scripts, props and cues back home. They were on a bogus trip all along.

But seriously, it’s indeed time to retire the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, a military decree signed by a serving General – Abdusalami Abubakar – of the Nigerian Army, that has gone past its sell-by date. Proof of this claim is in the prologue to the constitution, which reads in part:

“Whereas the Federal Military Government… in compliance with the Transition to Civil Rule (Political Programme) Decree has, through the Independent National Commission, conducted elections…”

The action by former President Goodluck Jonathan to assent a series of amendments to the 1999 Constitution through the “Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (First Alteration) Act 2010, signed on the 10th day of January 2011, amounts to what the Ijebu of South-West Nigeria would describe as “nwon gbe kishe le kishe.”

This, in the English language, would roughly translate to placing an aberration atop another aberration. According to Chambers English Dictionary, an aberration is “a deviation from the usual, normal, or right.” Curiously, the Dictionary adds: “a wandering of the intellect, mental lapse!”

The justification that a military regime and its actions are aberrations, whose actions must be reversed as soon as a democratically elected government succeeds it, is in Section 1(2) of the Constitution. It reads:

“The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed, nor shall any person or group of persons, take control of the government of Nigeria or any part thereof, except in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.”

For emphasis, Section 1(3) adds: “If any law is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.”

These two paragraphs indicate that even the military agree that their regimes, however benign and altruistic, are unconstitutional and the actions of all those military governments must not be condoned, tolerated or allowed to continue.

Whatever action a military government took – even with the best of intentions – was an aberration. Therefore, if it is not possible to reinstate pre-1966 state actors to office because most of them are dead, at least, the 1963 Republican Constitution that they worked with must be reinstated.

And if this is no longer feasible because of new realities, Nigerians, civilians and the military, in their capacities as citizens, should be encouraged to work out a new constitutional arrangement of, by, and for themselves.

That suggests that the military, as an institution, must never midwife a constitution for the people of Nigeria. You may recall that even retired General Charles de Gaulle had to argue for a semi-presidential system for the 5th French Republic with the slogan, “the spirit of the nation.”

But the dumping of the parliamentary constitution and political structure of the 4th Republic was accomplished only after the citizens, who had called de Gaulle to service, who were going to surrender their sovereignty, had ratified the constitution.

Indeed, some constitutional experts say that they had expected President Olusegun Obasanjo to have revoked the 1999 Constitution and convened a Constitutional Review Committee immediately after he was sworn in as President in 1999.

And the draft constitution fashioned by the Constitutional Review Committee should have been subjected to clause-by-clause approval, acceptance and adoption by a Constituent Assembly made up of representatives of all the nations that form Nigeria, however big or small they may be.

Many Nigerian pressure groups, like Yoruba Afenifere, insist that it is better to craft a new constitution or, at least, revert to the Republican Constitution of 1963 before the 2023 General Elections are held.

Some argue that the ratification or adoption of a new constitution for Nigeria should be done by the chiefs or representatives of the various nations of Nigeria, meaning the Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Igbo, Edo, Kemberi, Jukun, Tiv, Efik, and all the other nations.

After all, they argue, those who were said to have signed the document for the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates were chiefs of their nations and not some present-day legislators, many of whom are wired to protect interests other than those of Nigerian citizens.

The claim of the second and third paragraphs of the prologue to the 1999 Constitution, that “the Federal Military Government… inaugurated… the Constitutional Debate Coordinating Committee.. and… the Committee benefitted from the receipt of large volumes of memoranda from Nigerians,” is no more than a whitewash, which kind of rhymes with “hogwash!”

The claim is merely an attempt to make legitimate the violence done to the 1963 Republican Constitution of Nigeria by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, his cohorts, and succeeding generations of coupists and insurrectionists.

No matter how many times former military Head of State, General Abubakar, claims that a certain Justice Niki Tobi chaired some kind of constitution-making exercise, the exercise was the result of an errand run on behalf of a military government and should, therefore, be null and void.

Now, the argument by Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege that the circumlocutory Section 9 of the 1999 Constitution on “Mode of Altering Provisions of the Constitution,” does not provide for a plebiscite or referendum is another hogwash. It is also indecent and manipulative.

It signposts, indeed confirms, the scepticism of Nigerians who think that the zonal public hearings of the Special Committees on Constitution Review of both chambers of the National Assembly were mere pretences, done to appease the god of the coming 2023 General Elections.

Somebody should remind Senator Omo-Agege that laws are made to serve human beings and not the other way round. One could add that eminent jurist and former Chief Judge of Delta State, Justice James Omo-Agege, who happens to be the father of Senator Omo-Agege, can tell you that the law is an ass.

In any case, citizens of practically every pre-1966 northern, eastern, western and mid-western region of Nigeria made a public show of complaining that the 1999 Constitution marginalises them one way or another. Which makes one wonder why some Nigerians want it retained?

Section 9(2) of the 1999 Constitution which provides that you need at least two-thirds of members of each chamber of the NASS and a resolution of not less than two-thirds of Houses of Assembly of all States, is a veritable weapon in the hands of those who prefer to keep Nigerians at the mercy of vested interests.

A misguided majority may use this constitution to become a cog in the wheel of progress for everyone in the country.