Constitution, See Your Babies




The principal law that governed the Fourth Republic in its 25-year existence, by far the longest of any previous Republic in this country, has been the 1999 Constitution. It is itself a slight modification of the first presidential-system constitution we first adopted in 1979. This Constitution outlined the powers and subtly indicated its expectations for each of the main institutions of the Fourth Republic. In 25 years however, we can see that some institutions exceeded their constitutionally-assigned powers. Other institutions shirked their powers. Still others failed to live up to constitutional expectations, while yet other institutions not mentioned in the Constitution emerged and acquired more power than the Constitution-created agencies.

There was this panel beater at Sokoto’s J Allen mechanic’s village who wrote on his shop, “Spray, painter and panel beating.” The Constitution itself has undergone “spray, painter and panel beating” under every National Assembly session  in this Republic. Yet, some people are still not satisfied. They want to overhaul its engine, change its gearbox, replace its dashboard, replace its tyres, change its brainbox and battery, change the headlights, replace the shock absorbers and discard the silencer.

In 1979 when Nigeria first adopted the presidential system of government, Africa magazine described the Presidency as the “star prize” of political contest. It has more than lived up to this billing. There have been five presidents so far in this Republic. Even though some of them were described as weak and some others were described as aloof, no institution was able to snatch away the president’s powers. But, enormous though these are, some presidents sought to add unto them the powers of the legislature, some powers of the judiciary, and all the powers of political parties under the constitutionally strange role of “Party Leader,” which arrogated to itself the power to anoint party candidates for all offices up and down the country. One President fought the National Assembly for four years because it did not choose his anointed candidate as Senate President, while another president lined up “banana peels” on the path of Senate Presidents so that four of them tripped in as many years. Two presidents completed two full terms in office. One president did one and a half terms in office. Only one president lost an election in 25 years. One president tried to amend the Constitution and do a third, possibly even a life, term in office.

There have been five Vice Presidents and hundreds of Deputy Governors so far in this Republic. Only one Vice President publicly fought his President; four others were content to occupy the position with its ill-defined constitutional powers. While most  Deputy Governors in the states managed to coexist peacefully with their principals, several others fell out with their governors and the state assemblies were commanded to impeach them, most recently in Edo State. One Vice President succeeded his President by accident, while only a few deputy governors managed to become governors, most recently in Sokoto and Jigawa and once in Zamfara State.

There have also been five official First Ladies in this Republic and an unknown number of First Mistresses. Some of the First Ladies were more assertive than others. Many of them created pet programs. One of them did a video recording that has since been quoted more often than presidential speeches. One First Lady publicly upbraided her husband for ceding too much power to his associates, and he in turn publicly told her to remain in the kitchen and in the other room.

The National Assembly of the Fourth Republic has metastasized beyond the Constitution’s expectations. MPs redefined their role from law-making to sharing cars, motor cycles, irrigation pumps and Hajj seats to securing jobs for constituents. NASS redefined “oversight functions” to mean threat and extortion. It introduced budget padding. It created a parallel budget called “constituency projects” worth trillions of naira, most of which never get done. It invented the “doctrine of necessity,” when presidential powers were transferred by side stepping the Constitution. At least one state assembly, Taraba’s, borrowed a leaf in 2012.

Governors prevented anyone from snatching their awesome constitutional powers. A few of them ceded some of their powers to godfathers. Yet, many governors emasculated their state assemblies, usurped the functions of state party chapters, emasculated local government councils by holding local elections only when they wished, usually when they are about to depart. They used SIECs as tools to install who they want. Budget means nothing to some governors; they embark on unbudgeted projects, dish out projects as it fits political whims, and they borrow and spend like money is going out of fashion. Some governors however excelled in discharging their duties. Several governors got impeached, always at the behest of Federal authorities using EFCC agents. Two governors died in office; one governor became incapacitated after a plane crash, and one man died just when he was about to win the governorship election.

Even though the Constitution vested “all legislative power of a state” in State Assemblies, almost all of them all over the country ceded their constitutional powers to governors, who appoint and remove their leaders at will. Majority of state assemblies went so far as to reject a constitutional amendment that was meant to give them financial autonomy, because the governors told them to.

Supreme Court and its subordinates, the Appeal, Federal and State High Courts, have tried hard to guard their constitutional powers but many of them have abused ex parte orders and delivered politically tainted verdicts. Some issued ridiculous injunctions, including one in 2001 that stopped the main opposition party’s national convention hours before it started. Election tribunals, which are adjuncts of the courts, have also not helped the judiciary’s image, to put it mildly.

Local Government Councils are the werewolf institutions of the Fourth Republic. The supposed “third tier of Government” is most of the time under unelected Sole Administrators. One state, Anambra, did not hold local government elections for 13 years. LGAs’ funds are commandeered by state governors through the “Joint Account,” which has been bastardised out of its constitutional intent. Local Government chairmen and councilors most often reside in state capitals; they are said to go to their areas once a month when statutory allocations arrive.

Ministers and Commissioners are more visible than elected legislators, which causes envy and rivalry. Although the Constitution demands that there must be at least one minister from each state [36], the first president in the Fourth Republic added one more per geopolitical zone, to make it 42. This number has since increased to nearly 50. As for commissioners, whereas they were as few as ten per state in the military era, sone states now have as many as 30 commissioners.

Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] is a key institution in this Republic, responsible for conducting national and state, but not local, elections. It has experienced major crises under some of its chairmen, has experimented with many new technologies, has had its fair share of rogue officers, and has been bashed for “inconclusive elections” which are caused by others.  State Independent Electoral Commissions [SIECs] have no credibility because in every state, the ruling party there wins every seat in local elections.

Political parties of the Fourth Republic have been more numerous than in any previous Republic, over 90 at some point. Most of them are “briefcase” parties whose purpose is to provide platforms for desperate aspirants who lose out in the primaries of major parties. Fourth Republic political parties have no ideological leaning at all. No one knows their programs, and even the biggest ones among them have comatose intra-party organs.

Two agencies not mentioned in the Constitution, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC] and ICPC, have acquired more powers than those created by it, chasing corrupt officials up and down the country. From chasing money launderers in the banking system, EFCC is now chasing black market forex dealers under mango trees and through bushes. Some wanted persons however slipped through their fingers when their agents laid siege to a house.  

The 1999 Constitution vested the Armed Forces with the duty of guarding the country’s territorial integrity and also as the ultimate repository of legitimate violence. The soldiers reciprocated the gesture by not overthrowing the Constitution in 25 years, six times as long a breathing space as they gave to the 1979 Constitution. The 1999 Constitution might however find it strange that soldiers took on the added responsibility of chasing terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and secessionists up and down the country. Check points on highways, special military operations in almost every state and more recently, guarding deposed emirs are all military roles not envisaged by the Constitution.

Trade unions, mass media and Civil Society Organisations [CSOs], which the constitution hoped will check all the other institutions, have done a sloppy job of it. But they might yet improve.

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