Akuns: Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution Requires Total Overhaul By N’Assembly

Former Central Bank of Nigeria’s Director of Banking Supervision and Regulation and Peoples Democratic Party’s governorship aspirant in the 2023 election in Plateau State, Da Jonathan Sunday Akuns, in this interview explains why Nigerians should take special interest in the current constitution review exercise embarked upon by the National Assembly. Folalumi Alaran brings excerpts:

You seem to be upbeat about the planned review of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution and the call for memoranda by the National Assembly Committee On Constitution Review, what explains your optimism?

Thank you. I believe the constitution review effort provides a golden opportunity for rejigging of not only our nation’s democracy, but above all the foundation of our statehood.

In fact, I think Nigerians from all walks of life should participate in the exercise, because of the democratic exigencies that call for a reset in the constitution review exercise entirely. That is a paradigm shift away from reviewing the 1999 constitution created by a military decree, to a review of the 1963 constitution enacted by the sovereign consent of the elected representatives of our people that assembled in Parliament.

What do you consider as the major thrusts of your plan?

A – Two weeks after the House of Representatives published the call for memoranda, I put together my thoughts and various public interventions on the subject matter. I was able to send in the proposal, which I e-signed, by the first week of April to beat the deadline.

I must tell you that the submission was in exercise of my citizenship’s right to contribute to nation building and the search for good governance in a Nigeria that works for all.

Having said that, a look at my past media interventions would show that I subscribe fully to the tenets of federalism that emerged from the Lagos constitutional conference of July 25-26, 1963. It was upon that conference that the 1963 republican constitution was enacted by “we the people,’ represented by our elected members that assembled in Federal Parliament. I am a strong advocate for the restructuring of Nigeria on truly federal tenets, where the federating units play significant roles in fiscal federalism.

However, it is regrettable that the development and maturity of the tenets of federalism in democracy was truncated in Nigeria by the military coup d’état of January 15, 1966, leading to prolonged interregnums, which are incongruous to operating a federal system.

And, as a result, a military unitary system of government churned out decrees, including the creation of the 1979 and 1999 constitutions. Obviously, the hue of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), is glaringly of a unitary and un-republican origins.

So, you talked about one being upbeat, yes. I sincerely wish the Constitution Review Committee well and urge it to pay careful attention in stitching the democratic tenets of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in order to build a truly federal system that works for all.

So, you are among those that fault the 1999 constitution?

Yes, the 1999 Constitution was not enacted by a constitutionally recognized process, but by the promulgation of a decree by a military interregnum. This negates the assertion of “We the People” in the preamble of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Every constitution or statute defines the method by which it shall be altered. Obviously, the novelty of 1979 cum 1999 Constitutions is worn out and has thrust forth both documents as grafts and offshoots that are lacking of democratic republican attributes of sovereignty.

To bypass the method of altering a sovereign legal code is a tangent to the republican attributes of such a code and particularly so, when it is done by the elected members of parliament that are part of a governing administration of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The republican choices of Nigerians via partisan electoral processes are the legitimate corporate body such as the 10th House of Representatives of the National Assembly that is vested with the powers to alter a sovereign legal code such as the constitution.

This is the natural process to convey the consent of the constituent autochthones of the ethnic territories from which Nigeria was created as a single territorial entity bounded by the 1963 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In this regard, the 1999 document titled the CFRN isn’t the right focus for a constitutional amendment exercise due to its unrepublican origins.

It is the 1963 CFRN that holds the republican ace for a review, because it was enacted by the representatives of, We the People, as Honourable Members of the Federal Parliament that emerged from a partisan electoral process of 1959 elections.

Consequently, a reset by the House of Representatives is a necessary and sufficient condition that will rightly return the FRN to the path of democracy and foster a parsimonious constitutional amendment process. This will safely deflate the political bubbles that becloud democracy in Nigeria.

Does history bear out the points you are making?

 I am coming. The road to nationhood of Nigeria began as a British colony/protectorate from 1851 through 1900 to 1963. The process was nurtured by four working constitutions crafted by the colonial administration in 1922, 1946, 1951 and 1954 by Clifford, Richards, MacPherson and Lyttleton respectively.

This was expatiated in history of Nigerian constitutional development. Also, if you google West African Constitutional Development/Hugh Clifford Constitution, you will get the gist.

So, it is obvious that the constitutional exercises under the tutelage of the colonial administration provided the litmus test of the suitability of the choice of a federal structure for Nigeria beyond simply being a geographical expression.

As a self-governing entity, Nigeria enacted a sovereign document rightly titled the 1963 CFRN unto itself by the mantra of We the People as their “representatives [assembled] in parliament” by persons whose republican attributes were embedded in the partisan electoral process of 1959 that produced elected Members into the HOR.

In that Republican constitution of 1963, the preamble stated thus, “Having firmly resolved to establish the Federal Republic of Nigeria, with a view to ensuring the unity of our people and faith in our fatherland, for the purpose of promoting inter-African co-operation and solidarity; in order to assure world peace and international understanding and so as to further the ends of liberty, equality and justice, both in our country and in the world at large, we the people of Nigeria, by our representatives here in Parliament assembled, do hereby declare, enact and give to ourselves the following constitution.”

Then in chapter 1 section 4, subsection 1, the constitution stipulated that “Parliament may alter any of the provisions of this Constitution: provided that … an Act of Parliament shall not come into operation unless each legislative house of at least two regions has passed a resolution signifying consent to it having effect.”

Regrettably, such a sovereign enactment of 1963 was unilaterally set aside in 1966 by the junta that emerged from the military coup d’état of January 15,1966. That January 15, 1966 coup d’état was the shot that shook the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The following words opened the historic speech of Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu as he announced the coup: “In the name of the Supreme Council of the Revolution of the Nigeria Armed Forces, I declare martial law over … Nigeria.”

As a result, the Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN) suffered prolonged period of an interregnum that stifled and stunted the maturity of the tenets of republican governance in Nigeria. India is a global classic of republicanism in the nationhood strides of countries that also emerged by colonial creation.

Consequently, the Nigerian governing eras of 1966 to 1999 missed or messed with the opportunity to have called for the needed amendment of the 1963 constitution in order to restore the democratic foundations of the federal structure of the polity in Nigeria.

In general, the consent that was derived from the initial-conditions of the federating units that sustain Nigeria is a cryptic element embedded in the 1963 CFRN and not in reinventing the democratic wheel by creating any new such document as those of 1979 cum 1999 titled CFRN.

The preambles of the 1979 and 1999 military constitutions are the same verbatim, which  summarise the point I am making; both the 1979 cum 1999 constitutions lay undemocratic, nay fraudulent, claims to the federal tenets of governance in the sameness of wordings of their preambles; thus, “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” without the inputs of or subjecting the process to the elected representatives of the people in parliament vide the universal suffrage dictum of partisan elections.

Is there a way out of the quagmire…?

That is where the present attempt should toe a different pathway. The House of Representatives of the 10th National Assembly needs to reinvent the standing of its democratic credentials by refocusing itself enough to reconnect Nigerians to their sovereign enactment of 1963 by calling for an amendment of the 1963 constitution.

The incumbent administration of the FRN got enthroned through a rigorous democratic process of partisan elections based on the globally acclaimed principle of universal adult suffrage.

Such an exercise will simply treat the various reports of Conference Delegates as well as the 1979 and 1999 documents titled constitutions as inputs in the review of the 1963 CFRN. In doing so, the NASS will be a good fit for the job as the rightful republican entity than military interregnums and Conference Delegates that created new constitutions such as that of 1999 that is now requiring to be amended by the advertised exercise that contains 16 themes.

What makes the 1963 constitution remarkable?

The 1963 enactment is sovereign and was done by a republican entity of elected representatives of Nigeria in the 1959 elections akin to the 10th National Assembly that emerged from the 2023 elections of the Nigerian federation.

The focus of the NASS to amend the 1963 sovereign enactment will bypass the burden of incongruity to amend a product of Conference Delegates and/or military interregnums as is the case with the undemocratic focus of democrats on the 1999 constitution. The role of Conference Delegates and/or military interregnums as governance organs lacks the basic tenets of republican attributes.

The planned NASS reset exercise will birth an ironclad democratic CFRN by a contemporary republican entity. Otherwise, NASS is simply embarking on an exercise to deliver a fragile document that’s ordinarily made of a mixing of iron and miry clay.

Are you sure the expected outcome would offer salutary measures to Nigeria’s structure and its democracy?

The reset exercise will birth a two-tier federation consisting of the center and littoral states as federating units akin to the operating polity in the USA. That would also be complemented with full resource control modules and maybe a single term rotational presidency based on the six notional geo-political zones.

As for devolution of power, the Swiss governance collegiate framework could be considered where the six notional geo-political zones will have equal number of littoral states and would only serve as the baseline that provides the basis for democratic anecdotes cum nuances.

The entire gamut of the governance architecture of the federation would mimic those tenets that exist in the USA and Switzerland as maybe appropriate and compatible with our plural diversity and cultural traits.

In this proposal, I grouped the 14 thematic items on the NASS call for memoranda under this subsection for careful scrutiny leaving out items eight and sixteen that have to do with traditional institutions and welfare of persons on the principles of freedom, equality and justice.

 The applicable provision for governance in Nigeria of the other 14 themes could be distilled by different working teams of the NASS review committee on a provision-specific basis.

The Indian federation provides the best fit model for Nigeria to adopt for the role of traditional institutions in a democracy as opined in theme eight.

Under theme 16, the House of Representatives will do well to enact a provision that treats the reports of Conference Delegates by any governance administration as an input to amend the 1963 CFRN and its successor versions down the line of time in perpetuity.

The exercise of amending the CFRN has often benefited from scant involvement of critical stakeholders than by a fiat mill process that ended up in foisting upon the polity a Pandora box and a prebendal framework that stokes moral hazards, such as some key areas highlighted in public discourse about fantastic endemic corruption, insecurity, poverty, unemployment, among other vices.

How far is your proposition for a shift in paradigm and demands for a reset of the constitution review exercise focused on the 1963 Constitution rather than that of 1999 propelled by the crisis in Nigeria’s Middle Belt?

Yes, to a large extent; the Middle Belt ethnic territories are a constituent component that founded the 1963 CFRN.

The 1959 partisan elections turned out the representatives of the Middle Belt ethnic territories to the federal parliament as Honourable Members that assembled in parliament to deliver the sovereign consent of, We the People of the Middle Belt, to enact the 1963 CFRN.

In consequence, the Middle Belt successfully eschewed tribal cleavages and synergised the energies of their diverse tribes into a framework that helped the region to manage its diversity fruitfully. The tenets of federalism and the diversity management framework of the Middle Belt are two sides of the same coin; this understanding has been a safeguard for the Middle Belt cohorts to imbibe fortitude as a safety net in reacting to national scheme of things whenever stakeholders ignore the region or pass it by.

As a corollary, ethnic cum religious diversity of the Middle Belt is an asset that deepens our sense of nationhood as expressed in my previous interview which appeared in The Guardian newspaper, captioned, “We need to interrogate the foundation of Nigeria as political entity.”

The Middle Belt issue is the analogy for a need to restructure the governance environment in Nigeria and the need to take a deep and sober reflection to interrogate the founding of Nigeria as a single political entity.

Basically, and in a nutshell, European flag planting explorers in the 15th century derived pleasure in exploring the world and whoever was the first to land in any territory would plant the flag of his country, which thereafter led to the development of commercial influence for trading.

After trading, the next one was for political sphere of interest for colonialism. During that early period, the country called Nigeria today was an entity of nearly six different territorial entities, contiguous though, but uniquely different in autochthony, completely different in culture, completely different in economy and in every aspect of life and labour.

The first step in unifying the six territorial entities in what is called Nigeria today began in 1900, when Lord (Frederick) Lugard unified broadly three ethnic territories to become protectorate of Northern Nigeria: Hausa Land, Kanuri Land, and the Lands of diverse ethnic tribes labelled Pagan District, which is the Middle Belt in contemporary times.

So, by 1906, the similar unification exercise shifted to the 1851 Colony of Lagos and 1900 Oil Rivers protectorate to become the protectorate of Southern Nigeria ultimately consisting of Yoruba Land, Igbo Land and the Lands of diverse ethnicities of the South/South.

Thereafter, in 1914, both North and South protectorates were unified as Nigeria. When commentators say that the amalgamation exercise of 1914 was a mistake, they should be reminded that the real mistake occurred in 1900 when the territories of diverse ethnicities were grafted together by colonial hegemony; so, it was 1900 and 1906 that led to 1914.

So, today, if the colonial policy of one size fits all is proving difficult to sustain, there is a need to interrogate the founding of the single territory, revisit it and design policies that will accommodate various shades of interest. After all, those six pristine territorial entities are not anything different from what you have in Europe.

What is the size of Belgium as a country? What is the size of other similar countries in Europe? If the British wanted, those six entities would have been maintained as separate countries, but they chose unification. Life goes forward and not backwards.

We have made some advances, beginning from 1922 Clifford constitution. And that was the first time the country called Nigeria had a constitutional approach to the unification exercise that finally led to the republican constitution of 1963. Given that we affirm this much in history, let us go back to the founding. The efforts of the colonialists to seek consent of the six territorial entities for unification exercise is embedded in the 1963 republican constitution as a work in progress. Today, with the benefit of hindsight and advancement in science and technology, we will look at models that have succeeded in statecraft. And my preferred model is a combination of the federal tenets of USA cum Switzerland.

Switzerland has four unique ethnic groups that make up that country whose administration is hinged on a collegiate Presidency, not a one size fits all Presidency. Nigeria can adopt such a governance model rather than breaking apart into the pristine six territorial entities. Luckily enough, the six geo-political zones roughly approximate to the six notional original entities. With that kind of an arrangement, the fear of dominance by one ethnic group will be put at bay.

And then, every notional geo-political region will know for sure that a time is coming when they can have a shot at the presidency of the federation. The presidency of the country will not be a pie that someone will be dangling or a carrot or stick that will be applied at the whim or desire of any one person.        

I think that will help to keep the country united, as a federation and the assumed fiscal federalism will take proper shape.

Once power is clearly devolved, using the Swiss method, all the agitations will be managed carefully. I personally see IPOB (indigenous People of Biafra) and similar ethnic-based pressure groups as simple analogy for restructuring.

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