2023 Interrogatories: What They’ll Do to the Constitution

Femi Akintunde-Johnson

In this last of our series on interrogatories on the three frontline political candidates as they canter towards the 25 February, 2023 presidential election in Nigeria, we shall direct our attention at their utterances and promises on constitutional reforms with potential impact on democratic dividends and enhancement of peace, unity and welfare of the Nigerian people.

 Of the three, the candidate of People’s Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar has been the most voluble, and trenchant – in his own confession – as far back as 2004. If my calculation is right, that would mean stretching back to the first year of his tumultuous second term as Vice President to the rambunctious President Olusegun Obasanjo. Hmmm.

  Here he is, setting the background for the high ground of his conviction (The Punch of 15 October, 2022): “In 2004 when I started advocating restructuring, I had a very strong opposition from the North; today, the northern governors themselves and the northern people have bought into restructuring.” We encourage fact-checkers to do their thing on this pronto. But Abubakar continues in the same steam: “This means giving states more powers and responsibilities to own their funding to execute their own individual programmes in their respective states. It does not mean that you are going to get less from what you are going to get. But it simply means more responsibilities as far as governance is concerned.”

  Still on his pet project, designed to animate Nigerians who have for long agitated over the compelling need to revisit the letters and spirit of the 1999 federal constitution: “Nigerian people are excellent supporters and team players in a leadership environment that is open, friendly, and merit-based. We have the will and determination not only to promote the pursuit of happiness but also the actual attainment of happiness and the good life in an egalitarian society.”

  “These hallmarks of our civilization require that we restructure Nigeria in every facet of endeavour, open up the democratic space and mobilise our collective energy towards full-scale economic production.” 

  “…There is over-concentration in the Federal Government with multiple duplications of agencies leading to the creation of parallel bureaucracies… The federating units shall benefit from the devolution of powers to increase their productive capacity for synergy and collaboration with each other.”

(Channels TV News – 29 September, 2022).

  To assure Nigerians that he is not all rhetoric, he recently intimated members of the Nigerian Guild of Editors that his campaign had completed a draft of an amendment bill for the restructuring of Nigerian governance architecture. His words: “in preparing the draft restructuring amendment bill, what I did was to assemble a team of lawyers who are some of the best in the country.”

  “I picked lawyers from each of the six geo-political zones so that each zone would have representation and a sense of belonging in what we were packaging for Nigerians and also to take into account the interests of each component part of the country.

  “What they have come up with after series of sessions is a draft bill that is ready as I speak to you. The bill is ready and it would be presented to the National Assembly on the first day of their sitting after inauguration…

  “The bill will cut across all spheres of restructuring, and resource control is accommodated in it.” (Vanguard – 16 November, 2022)

  Succinct. Inspirational. The only snag is in providential favour or disfavour of his ambition to rule. Let us borrow wisdom from a young Nigerian singer, Adekunle Gold… I paraphrase: “Ẹnu o ṣe…ariwo kọ ni music…” (rough translation: mouthing may not be enough…clanging noise is not exactly musical…)” – the rest of that stanza is not applicable here. 

  All that is to say this: based on what Nigerians have been exposed to since the coming of the fourth republic in 1999, no one will hold a candle to any politician’s assurances, until and unless, they see the words transform into tangible action. 

  Based on reported materials, the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Bola Ahmed Tinubu appears guided, and less voluble, about any fairly extensive constitutional reforms. His focus is seemingly fixated on re-engineering the dynamics of devolution of powers, and allowing the natural course of added responsibilities to act as catalyst for more enduring development. Vanguard of 21 October, 2022 reports: “A Tinubu administration will rebalance the responsibilities and authorities of the different tiers of government. We will collaborate with the National Assembly and State Governments to amend our national governance architecture such that States are afforded the autonomy and resources needed to better serve the people…”.

  “More funds should be allocated to the States and Local Governments so that they can better address local concerns and fulfil their expanded constitutional obligations to the people.”

  On another occasion, while unveiling his 80-page campaign manifesto tagged ‘Renewed Hope 2023 – Action Plan for a Better Nigeria’ – apparently a throwback to the 1993 power pursuits of Chief MKO Abiola who was inexplicably denied his electoral victory – Tinubu vows: “We will collaborate with the National Assembly and state governments to amend our national governance architecture such that states are afforded the autonomy and resources needed to better serve the people… The performance of federal, state and local governments shall improve while the people will benefit by having more political democracy and economic development more closely at hand…”

  “Working with the National Judicial Council, state governments and stakeholders within the judiciary and legal profession, a Tinubu administration will establish a committee to review and make recommendations on reforming the structure of our judicial system to better position our courts to function more efficiently and virtuously as the third co-equal arm of government.” (The Nation – 23 October, 2022).

  Sanguinity is perhaps one of the best words to describe the posturing of Labour Party’s presidential flagbearer, Peter Obi on the matter of constitutional reforms, and setting agenda for the possible multiple “reconstruction surgery” of the federal constitution. His usual bubbly and populist declarations are a little tempered but optimistic herein, if available materials could be trusted. Hear him: “We will seek to reunite Nigeria through strict adherence to constitutional provisions on equitable representation in federal establishments and regenerate a sense of belonging to all citizens through inclusivity and adequate representation of women, youths and people with disability in government…” Channels TV News – 1 September, 2022)

  “There is urgent need to restructure the country for the economy to grow to a desired level… it should be seen as a move to build the ailing economy and restore adequate security in the country….” (PremiumTimes – 26 May, 2021).

  Coursing through the six pivotal issues that should challenge and engage us as we saunter towards the general elections, the onus is now on the electorates to interrogate effusively and doggedly the posturing, declarations, manifestos and promises of the presidential candidates. Let us isolate the candidates from their political parties, which at the best of times are amorphous, indistinguishable and ideologically irreverent, to prick at the candidates, and ruffle their proud feathers and starched ‘àgbàdás’, while seeking sensible and pragmatic answers to achieving success and maturation on the economy, security, peace and unity, corruption and reforms. May Nigeria survive, and thrive.

Related Articles