Constitution Amendment Caution - The Gallant News


Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Constitution Amendment Caution

  Constitution Amendment Caution


By Gabriel Amalu

The 9th senate has suddenly burst into life, and is undertaking a ‘holistic alteration’ of the 1999 constitution (as amended). Up till now, no far-reaching amendment of the constitution has been successful, because the political class usually disagree over drastic alterations, which is the minimum requirement to get Nigeria on the path of sustainable growth.

The four alterations made so far, while significant in some respects, have avoided the big issues, and without a resolution of the big issues, the clamour for restructuring, or even balkanisation of the country will not go away. Under President Goodluck Jonathan, the first to third alterations were made; while under President Muhammadu Buhari, the fourth alteration was made.

The first alteration was geared principally to grant financial autonomy to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the National Assembly and judiciary; and to secure the transmission of power should the president or governor refuse or is unable to handover to the deputy during a temporary absence from office. The second alteration was geared to ensure the timely dispensation of election petitions, and the procedure and makeup of various election petitions.

Like the first two alterations, the third alteration was also not contentious. The amendment was to create the National Industrial Court, as a superior court of record. The fourth alteration under President Muhammadu Buhari, came in five parts, and the first of the five parts dealt with the time-line for the determination of pre-election matters. The second dealt with the reduction of the age for electability to the various political offices.

The third of the fourth alteration granted financial autonomy to the House of Assembly of the state and the judiciary and but for the initial cowardly disposition of the members of state houses of assembly is non contentious. The fourth of the fourth alteration act, dealt with granting INEC sufficient time to conduct bye-elections, and provided ground for de-registration of political parties. Just as well, the fifth of the fourth amendment dealt with issue of the disqualification of a person who completed a vacated term of governor or president, being eligible for only one more term.

What is abundantly clear from the above-mentioned alterations is that none of them dealt with the contentious issues that have made our federation a quasi-unitary system of government. The alterations gingerly avoided the devolution of economic power, like whitling down the items in the exclusive legislative list. It also avoided the contentious issue of creating sub-national police, at the state and other levels. The amendments stayed clear of the issue of resource control, and the status of local governments amongst other issues.

Tragically, after what was thought to be a holistic effort by the 7th National Assembly, President Goodluck Jonathan, shot it down, contending that some of the provisions are offensive to the amendment procedure and the powers conferred on the executive. Under President Muhammadu Buhari as shown above, only piecemeal amendments have been made, but it appears the senate and the House of Representatives are geared to test the waters.

The senate in a jiffy have concluded the town-hall meetings across the six-geopolitical zones, and it is hoped the House of Representatives will embark on its own consultations shortly. The promise from the leaders of the National Assembly is that the amendments would be ready for presidential assent before they proceed on their summer break. Considering many unkempt promises, on the electoral reform bill, and the Petroleum Industry Bill, Nigerians are sceptical about the genuineness of the promise.

Again, considering that President Buhari is an ultra-centralist, and for some a sectional leader in favour of the status quo, many Nigerians are doubtful whether any fundamental alteration would receive his presidential assent. Furthermore, considering the make-up of the National Assembly which favours the northwest and northeast in numbers, especially in the House of Representatives, and the procedural requirement for any amendment, any proposed amendment that they don’t support will fail woefully.

Perhaps these obstacles are why the Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation decided not to participate in the exercise. Of course, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) which despite their proscription, commands significant followership in the southeast and south-south, and the Sunday Ighoho-led Yoruba separatist groups, which is growing in sympathisers, consider the National Assembly a contraption of a failed state, and as such lacks the legitimacy to meet the minimum demands of a restructured Nigeria.

So, could it be that that like their predecessors, in the 7th National Assembly, the 9th National Assembly members are merely on a jamboree, to deflate the agitation for restructuring? This column is worried that those elected or selected to govern our country are too far engrossed in their eating (apologies to late Sunday Afolabi) that they do not understand the urgency of the situation and the need to engineer necessary constitutional amendments to restore peace and progress in our country.

As the Ooni of Ife, asked recently, how many of our political office holders, including the president of the senate, and the speaker of the House of Representatives can go home to their constituencies and stay for a week, without overburdening the security men? The same situation, I might add, is applicable to the commander-in-chief and his top commanders. None of them can freely go home, and like Chinua Achebe said, gather with their kinsmen in the village square, to enjoy fairy tales and the succulent incandescence of the moonlight.

None of them will dare travel home by road, even with the protection of the national army, not to talk of stopping by the road-side to enjoy the decor of the undulating hills and the stimulating savannah of the country-side. Yet, most of our leaders are incapable of rising above their ethnic sentiments, religious bigotry and private interests masquerading as national interests, to become statesmen and history makers, and gift our country a life-line.

In case the members of the National Assembly cares, they have the opportunity to take the sail off the separatists, by making far-reaching constitutional amendments that can give our country an opportunity for a new beginning. Such amendments must touch on the fundamental underpinnings which hoist a unitary state on a multi-ethnic and substantially disparate nationalities. To think and act as if all s well, is playing the ostrich.

To believe that by force of arms, the present unitary structure foisted on the nation by the military can be rammed down the throats of every part of the country, is to live in a fools’ paradise. President Buhari who is playing the statesman, to save the unravelling democracies across the West Africa, must realise that he is being mocked for playing the fire-fighter for other countries, while his backyard is smouldering.


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