1999 Constitution Can’t Guarantee Nigerian Unity, Emeritus Prof. Warns

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· Says N’Assembly lacks capacity to amend constitution
· Recommends financially viable federating units

Kemi Olaitan in Ibadan

Amid divisive tendencies that daily threaten national development and unity, an Emeritus Professor of Political Science, University of Ibadan, Prof. John Ayoade has rejected the on-going effort by the National Assembly to amend the 1999 Constitution (as Amended) in response to public demands.

Ayoade, a member of the 2005 National Political Reform Conference and a director of the defunct Centre for Democratic Studies (CDS), argued that the 1999 constitution should not be amended due to what he ascribed to its inherent weakness to guarantee the unity of the federation.

He canvassed these positions in a lecture he delivered at the 2020 Senator Abiola Ajimobi Foundation (SAAF) at the International Conference Centre, the University of Ibadan, Oyo State recently.

The lecture, which was organised in collaboration with the university’s Institute for Peace and Strategic Studies (IPSS), was titled, “Nigeria: A Nation of States Or a State of Nations.”

Examining socio-political malaises that plague the federation, Ayoade observed that the 1999 constitution “cannot be amended because it is totally flawed.”

He noted that the 1999 Constitution “is long overdue for replacement. It is not a federal constitution except in name. It is a constitution that gives insufficient power to the states and uses financial power to neutralize even those powers.

“What we need is a total replacement. Secondly, the constitution is not written in a marketplace. We never produce a good constitution. How many people wrote the US Constitution? Was it written by the entire world?,” he asked.

After a critical review of the country’s constitutional development, Ayoade observed that the 1979 constitution “is the best constitution we had so far. A group of 49 selected experts produced the 1979 constitution.”

He, therefore, argued that the National Assembly “should not have anything to do with the amendment of the constitution. The servant cannot write his own scheme of work. Otherwise, he will write for himself.”

He said: “We asked them to decide their salaries. We saw what came out of it. Now, we want them to write our constitution. We cannot forget it. The National Assembly should hands off because they are incompetent.”

Under the 1999 constitution, the emeritus professor argued, the federal government can over-run the states just as the grazing land and the river basin proposals have strongly demonstrated.

He, therefore, said: “It is only a matter of time before the strange amalgam of a unitary federation becomes full blown. The tradition of orchestrating a pandemonium in the name of making a constitution must be avoided.

“Our experience has shown that a small panel of experts who are conversant with Nigeria and the aspirations of the people will be more appropriate to draw up a constitution than the hodge-podge that are usually empaneled under the guise of representation.

“The best constitution document, which has remained the template for the successive ones, was the 1979 Constitution prepared by 49 expert Nigerians. Constitution making is, therefore, not a job for boys and girls clubs. Rather, it is a job for sober seasoned minds,” the argued.

He, thus, recommended that a big government would not serve the purpose of an adversarial federation, which according to him, could only create more adversaries.

He said: “What is recommended is a slim government, which will permit the states to attain their highest political potential. Federal-State relations must be based on the principle that whatever can be done at any lower level is constitutionally assigned to that level.”

Of course, the don further suggested more direct governance takes place at the state level and therefore more funds should be allocated to that level.

Ayoade, also, recommended that states should be financially empowered “to function as governments and not as outposts of the federal government. The states must enhance their ability to deliver governance to the people.”

The emeritus professor urged states “to become more professionally competent by establishing appropriate institutions. Each state should establish a Policy Think Tank because governance can no more be by trial and error.

“Governments must be in a position to project and anticipate in order to plan appropriately. Governments must be able to build scenarios in order to maximize available options.

“Additionally, each state ministry must have a functional policy analysis unit to propose policies, simulate policies, critique and review policies in order to add value to governance generally. This will assist in reducing the cost of governance and release more funds for development.”

Faulting the resolve of the presidency to defend Nigerian unity, Ayoade argued that it was a contradiction “to discuss unity in a federation of 36 states. The purpose of a federation is to have different levels of government catering for the separate needs of the people.”

According to him, it is sheer ignorance to expect unity in a federation. That is not what a federation is meant to produce. The federation cannot produce unity. In reality, it is incapable of generating unity.

In its strictest sense, however, Ayoade argued that federalism and unity “are antipodal. Unity, as a deliberate goal, defeats federalism and to expect unity as a direct product of federalism is to expect from federalism what it cannot give.

“Any state that prioritises unity over federalism will end up being neither federal nor united because both are technically mutually exclusive. The desire to force unity is responsible for the constant political tremours that Nigeria experiences.

“At best, therefore, what federalism can offer is accommodation, tolerance and co-existence. This is one of the fundamental flaws in typifying Nigeria as one and indivisible republic. It is a false positive and contradicts the reality of unity by division.

“It, therefore, amounts to national mental illusion to believe in the unity of a country that is divided into thirty-six states each with its own government. States that want to unite go straight for it and neither temporise nor put unity on probation through federalism,” Ayoade explained.