Saturday, 13 February 2016

THE NEED TO JETTISON ANOTHER UNNECESSARY CONSTITUTION AMENDMENT

It is very sad that at a time the nation would like its federal legislators to treat with extreme seriousness the state of the nation, the lawmakers have come up with yet another shadow-chasing. They have set up ad-hoc committees on another round of supposed constitution amendment, a repeat of an expensive exercise which began with the 4th National Assembly, continued through the 6th and reached a ridiculous crescendo with the immediate past 7th Assembly. In the event, the legislators are yet again proving poor students of history.

Despite hundreds of millions of Naira and incalculable human energy dissipated on the exercise that began in 2003, the 6th Assembly for instance, made only three alterations, the most salient of which was the self-serving clause that fetched financial autonomy for the same federal legislature. Not many Nigerians can remember the benefits of all three alterations, as they are neither prominent nor significant to the survival of the nation.

The last session of the same National Assembly also completed another set of alterations in a Bill that was sent to the then President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, for his assent. This failed as President Jonathan declined to sign the document. Now, the 8th and current National Assembly has begun another effort to pursue an unnecessary constitution amendment process. This idea should be jettisoned and time should be devoted to what Nigeria really needs: a genuine overhauling of political architecture and governance structure.

At the inauguration of the House of Representatives Committee on the amendment the other day, the Speaker, Hon. Barrister Yakubu Dogara, said the specific objective of the current pursuit of the review is to complete the amendment started on the 1999 Constitution by the 7th Assembly. This explanation is not persuasive.

A nation’s constitution is not a document to be amended at every session of the National Assembly. More importantly, this constitution amendment bid is coming at a time the nation expects both the executive and the legislature to get more serious by either making a new constitution or amending the current one within the context of the 2014 Constitutional Conference Report. Despite some imperfections in the contents of the Conference Report, there is a sense in which the recommendations are remarkable – and far-reaching – enough to correct the anomalies that currently bedevil Nigeria.

No doubt, the current constitution is an imposition by the military government with which a federation of 36 states and 774 local governments are run in a flawed unitary system dubiously paraded as a federal one. There have, therefore, emerged from this grand national deceit too many iniquities that threaten the peace, harmony and unity, and above all, prosperity of the country. Certainly, the 2014 Constitutional Conference Report has enough recommendations to deal with most of these anomalies that have limited national development; and the time to start their implementation is now.

Oil revenue that has conveniently cobbled Nigeria together for monthly sharing at the centre is no longer a reliable stream of income. The country has deceived itself for too long with the idea of federal police, federal roads, federal electricity, federal energy corporations and other federal appurtenances that are not only ineffective but actually fraudulent.

Restructuring the unwieldy federation is, therefore, an idea whose time has come.
That is why it is disturbing that the current leadership at both the executive and the legislative arms are pursuing a parochial mission of constitutional amendment without considering or even adopting the 2014 Conference Report.

The government should not play the ostrich with the Constitutional Conference Report and the President in particular, should not be deceived into signing any amendment that does not include all the clauses that are capable of enhancing the ideal Nigeria as recommended by that Conference. The amendments being relentlessly pursued by legislators contain some noble issues such as separating the office of the accountant-general of the federation from the one of the federal government, among others, no doubt. But Nigeria needs more than such cosmetic adjustments.

Therefore, the president and indeed the governing party should treat the 2014 Constitutional Conference Report as a national document in which all Nigerians are interested and should be given priority attention now. Unless Nigeria is primed into practicing true federalism as dictated by its nature and history, there cannot be justice, equity and development, let alone unity. (Guardian)