APC and the Farce Called Constitution Amendment
APC & the 9th NASS’s Constitutional Amendment Exercise: A Ruse
When someone told me that nothing would come out of the 9th National Assembly’s (NASS) constitutional amendment exercise, I argued, and obviously, rather blindly too, that the exercise was real, and it couldn’t be a ruse. Aside from the agitation from different quarters for a total overhaul of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended in 2018) (the Constitution) which had reached a crescendo, one of the APC’s main campaign promises was that it would restructure Nigeria – an exercise which would require a massive amount of redrafting of the Constitution, or even the making of a whole new document.
The APC had set up a Committee on Restructuring headed by Governor El Rufai of Kaduna State, which garnered over 20 issues for determination, and subsequently, made about 12 recommendations based on what their sample groups across the country had said, inter alia including devolution of powers to the State and Local Governments; sharing with the States about 10 items which had previously been on the Exclusive Legislative list, that is, transferring them to the Concurrent Legislative List, like Police (Federal, State & Community), Oil & Gas, Mineral Resources, Minimum Wage and some other items; States being able to operate their Judiciaries up to an appellate level, that is, State Court of Appeal. Governor El Rufai had rightfully concluded that while he did not believe that restructuring was a magic wand that would solve Nigeria’s myriad of problems, devolution of powers would “rebalance our Federation for better governance…..it will help solve some immediate problems, and provide a platform for future leaders to resolve the medium and longer term issues”. Absolutely. I took Governor El Rufai seriously on this restructuring and constitutional amendment issue, until it became patently clear that APC had gone back on its word and jettisoned the idea of restructuring, that is, if APC had truly intended to make good on that campaign promise in the first place. It seems that from the get-go, APC didn’t really have any intention of doing any serious restructuring, and only told the people what they wanted to hear, to secure their votes.
Deadline dates were given by NASS, for the public to submit their proposals for amendments to the grundnorm which they desired. I believe that the amended Constitution was meant to be completed, passed and transmitted to the President for his assent by mid-2021. As we say in Hausa “Ina”! (translated to pidgin English to mean “for where”!) Alas! Nothing of the sort has happened to date. All the call for memoranda from the public, debates, public hearings etc were nothing more than what we refer to in Yoruba as “gba, jé kin simi” (“take, let me rest”) – a situation where you give someone something or something to do, simply to keep them quiet or busy to get them off your back! It is apparent that neither APC (who made the campaign promise to restructure), nor the Legislature (where APC has the highest number of representatives in both legislative chambers; well even when PDP had the majority, they also didn’t overhaul the Constitution) could care less about restructuring and constitutional amendments, and only orchestrated that elaborate exercise to keep the constitutional amendment agitators busy and get them off their back. They did not really intend to do anything worthwhile, about the Constitution.
Even though the Senate set up a Constitution Review Committee headed by the Deputy Senate President, the House of Representatives also seemed to be up and doing in that regard, and issues that needed attention were identified, there was no sincerity of purpose. The issues included the heaviness of the Exclusive Legislative List, Devolution of Powers, Revenue Allocation, Fiscal Federalism, Creation of State Police and the Country’s Security Architecture, State Creation, Local Government Autonomy & Funding, Judiciary & Funding, Gender Equality, Electoral Reform amongst others. Of course, apart from Electoral Reform (the Electoral Act 2022 was enacted) which was dear to the heart of the Legislators, since it directly concerned them and their 2023 re-election bid, nothing else seems to have been achieved.
Going to Town on Constitutional Amendments!
I looked at the various methods to be used to make the Constitution a people-centred one, so that the Preamble “WE, THE PEOPLE ….” does not continue to be a falsehood. Whether we should convene a Sovereign National Conference or a Plebiscite or Referendum. My first submission was that the Constitution should be amended to include all three options (each option serves its own purpose), and the process by which they should be carried out.
As far as the constitutional amendments are concerned, I went to town! I pointed out many areas which I felt needed attention. Space constraints only permit me to mention a few of my suggestions here. For instance, the issue of what I perceived to be the unconstitutionality of declaring elections inconclusive, having regard to the fact that the Constitution has already set its parameters for when candidates are duly elected. For example, in the case of a gubernatorial election, Section 179(2)(a) & (b) of the Constitution clearly provides for what a candidate requires to be duly elected (see Section 134 of the Constitution for Presidential election). I had discussed this issue in 2019, when I disagreed with the decision of INEC to hold supplementary elections in Osun State, after Senator Ademola Adeleke had already satisfied the provisions of Section 179(2)(a) & (b) of the Constitution, to entitle him to be declared the duly elected Governor of Osun State. I concluded that no matter how well-intentioned inconclusive elections may be in some circumstances, the concept is not accommodated within the Constitution, and a constitutional amendment is required for it to comfortably become a part of our electoral process.
I asserted that even though Nigeria is supposed to be a Federation, by virtue of the Constitution, we are operating a Unitary system which is unsuitable for a nation as diverse as ours. This is evident from the 68 & 30 items on the Exclusive and Concurrent Legislative Lists respectively, while some irrelevant matters are left for the State Houses of Assembly. I suggested that in order to realise true Federalism, the Exclusive Legislative List should be purged, while State Constitutions which will be extensive and tailored to needs of each State should be considered. I talked about the fact that the Northern regions put together have more representation in NASS than the Southern regions, the issue of State creation and the fact that the zones do not have an equal number of States thereby giving some zones an unfair advantage over others, and the need to address these anomalies in the interest of equity and fairness.
Strictly upholding Section 10 of the Constitution and the secularity of Nigeria and its State, has always been a matter close to my heart, and I called for its reiteration, while amending the Constitution which only confers civil jurisdiction on Customary and Sharia Courts (see Sections 262, 267, 277 & 282), to restate unequivocally that criminal jurisdiction is not conferred upon Customary or Sharia Courts.
I also suggested an urgent review of the provisions regarding Judiciary funding, which seem to be inconsistent and contradict themselves. On this, see for example, Sections 81(3)(c), 84(2), (4), (7), 121(3)(b) and 162(9) of the Constitution, and Part I Paragraph I National Judicial Council Section 21(e) Third Schedule to the Constitution. See the case of JUSUN v NJC, AGF & 70 Ors Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/668/13 Judgement delivered on 13/1/2014 per A.F.A. Ademola J.
The absurdity of equating a Primary Six School Leaving Certificate inter alia with a Secondary School Leaving Certificate or Grade II Teacher’s Certificate in Section 318 of the Constitution when they are clearly not the same, was another aspect which I touched upon as being not just bizarre, but constitutionalising a blatant falsehood. The qualifications are certainly not the same, and it is ridiculous for the Constitution to seek to equate them.
These were just some of the aspects of the Constitution, which I examined. Like me, others also wasted their valuable time studying the Constitution, and commenting on amendments that should be made, even submitting them to NASS.
The other day, someone asked me why I had written on this page a few weeks ago that for the first time in decades, it is unlikely that I will vote in the next elections. Is the aforementioned constitutional conundrum not off-putting enough? The so-called constitution amendment exercise, turned out be a farce. A situation where the foundation of the country is shaky, the Constitution forming a part of that faulty, quivering foundation; and, those who are seen as the election front runners are not that interested in strengthening the wobbly foundation, by showing their deep commitment to holistic constitutional amendment as part of their manifestos; where candidates simply engage in nothing more than ‘motivational speaking’, with absolutely no intention of making good on their campaign promises – why would one be eager to vote, when there isn’t sufficient evidence to show that anything will change for the better when a new administration is sworn in 2023?. Unlike those who seem to be having ‘election fever’, just like in 2019 (only to end up being disappointed), I’m suffering from ‘election hypothermia’, because again, I’m just not encouraged by what I see or hear. While the PDP has been unable to unify its own party, let alone unify the country which this APC government has contributed in no small measure to divide, APC shouts down everybody that seems to criticise its administration or asks pertinent questions. Nigerians have been going through untold hardship, queuing to buy fuel for the past few months, and not much has been been heard from the Minister of Petroleum or the Minister of State of Petroleum on the issue. If we ask why we should vote for APC come the next election given the sad state of the nation, we will be accused of bias for asking such a question!