Constitution is Not The Problem By Simon Kolawole
The idea of a national conference, sovereign or not, has never been supported by two groups: the ruling class and the Northern elite. It is a very popular prescription in the South, especially among the activists, old politicians and their younger clones.
Those opposed to it say it is not necessary; that the National Assembly is in place to amend the constitution and attend to our needs; and that the conference may end up breaking up Nigeria. Those in favour say the National Assembly could not be trusted; that the ruling class is too comfortable to want a fundamental change to the structure of Nigeria; and that if the conference breaks up Nigeria, so what?
Let me be honest and make a confession this morning: as a university student during the military era, I supported a sovereign national conference.
Also, during the June 12 crisis when Gen. Sani Abacha held the country by the jugular, I was sympathetic to those clamouring that an SNC was the almighty formula for the resolution of the political crisis in our country.
I just heard people talk about it, painting a very rosy picture of how it was going to transform Nigeria and I bought into it, swallowing it hook, line and sinker.
I did not even bother to ask questions. However, as we entered this democratic dispensation in 1999 and I began to pay close attention to the dynamics of democracy and good governance, I became less enthusiastic about SNC.
I also reasoned that if it is conceived to break up Nigeria, there would be too many complications than envisaged.
Having said that, I am, in principle, not against a national conference or dialogue. Every era comes with its own issues and challenges.
The political issues we had to face 53 years ago are significantly different from those confronting us today. That is a fact. Today, we are all talking about state police, fiscal federalism, true federalism, resource control, Sharia, confederacy, regionalism, quota system, federal character, and all sorts.
The issues that featured at the previous conferences addressed issues of such eras. Beyond the obvious political issues, the interests of the disabled, women, children and other vulnerable groups in the society will have to be discussed and taken care of. On that note, therefore, if we need to gather and thrash out those issues, it is not a completely bad idea.
However, for practical purposes, those who think they can use the national conference to achieve certain agenda may be in for a shocker. I have just a few questions for them to ponder upon.
One, will the decisions of the conference automatically become law? If the answer is yes, what law provides for that? Currently, only the National Assembly is empowered to tamper with the constitution. I don’t know the kind of arrangement we are going to have that will turn the national conference into a law-making body.
If the answer is no, then there is a problem. If the legislature has to approve, will it be bound by every proposal made at the conference? Will the legislature be allowed to make changes and modifications? That is just one question, even though I asked it in many ways.
Two, how will representation be done in a way that will be reflective of the various interests in Nigeria? Will it be council by council? State by state? Region by region? Ethnic group by ethnic group? Senatorial district by senatorial district? Religion? Professional bodies? Will all groups have equal representation or will it be proportional? That is a minor issue, you would say.
But I will soon show that this is not a minor issue. It will determine the pattern of voting and the overall outcome. Three, how will delegates emerge? By election or selection? If by election, I am afraid the same people who know how to win elections will emerge as delegates to the conference.
The same people we have been fighting with over the poor state of Nigeria! Money, rice and bread will be shared and voters would sell their conscience as usual.
The votes usually go to the highest bidder. If it is by selection, then who selects? The same groups and associations who take instructions from entrenched interests? Let’s say representation will be through election and selection, but be sure that the same characters will find themselves at the conference.
Four – and finally – how will decisions be arrived at? It is through voting, as is normal in democracy? Well, there is a problem. If you table “resource control” before the conference, many states will be committing suicide to support it.
If we implement “true federalism” and “resource control” as they are being canvassed today, only 10 states will benefit. Others do not generate enough revenue to pay salaries much less fill potholes.
Chances are 26 states will vote against “resource control”! If we say let us have “confederacy”, chances are this will not pass through a simple majority.
If we propose “state police”, chances are it will be defeated by a majority of votes. If we say Nigeria should break up, the question is: into how many countries? How will the states or ethnic groups vote over this?
I wish I had the answers to these questions, but there is just one thing I can say confidently: the enthusiasm about a national conference is grossly overrated.
There are political and economic dynamics that the advocates have not taken time to analyse and digest. It is more of something said in fantasy and spite, without much thought being given to the practical aspects. For now, the 1999 Constitution is sufficient for the development of Nigeria.
If every level of government diligently discharges its responsibilities to Nigerians as spelt out by the “bad” 1999 Constitution, Nigeria would be a far better place.
There would be good roads, safe water, reliable security, excellent schools, decent hospitals, efficient transportation and clean environment.
There would be less room for socio-political rancour and economic deprivation.
My conclusion? Yes, a regular national conference or dialogue is good to discuss and address burning issues; but no, it is not the substitute for good governance. We should worry more about our bad leaders and less about our “bad” constitution.
And Four Other Things…
One tragic and ironic event in life is to die while going for a burial. The Associated Airlines mishap of last Thursday left a trail of tears in my eyes. Former governor of Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Agagu, had died relatively peacefully, but those going to bury him were burnt to death. We don’t know the cause of the crash yet, but a reader sent me an email raising questions about pilot welfare, overreliance on paper certification of aircraft and a lack of “whistleblower” culture in the aviation sector. The authorities must look into this.
BOKO HARAM AGAIN
Boko Haram’s murderous attacks on schools in Yobe State in the dead of the night only confirmed one thing: they are always a step ahead of our security agencies. Something is still wrong with our intelligence-gathering, even though I accept that some religious extremists in the security agencies are sympathetic to the insurgents. I also think the military celebrates victory too early and too cheaply, and the time has come for them to re-appraise their strategies. By the way, what happened to aerial surveillance?
DRIVING US CRAZY
Is it true that the Federal Government is increasing tariffs on imported second-hand vehicles AHEAD of a plan to encourage local assembling of cars? The policy, I was told, is meant to “open up” the industry to many international manufacturers such as Toyota, Nissan, Renault and GM. While it will be good to have these giants set up plants in Nigeria, I am unable to understand why we are instigating an increase in the prices of vehicles many years BEFORE these companies will actually think of coming to Nigeria. This is incredible.
POLICE AND POLITICS
As politics gathers pace ahead of the 2015 general election, the police may need to be reminded of their role in maintaining law and order without infringing on the constitution. We are no longer in the military era. Denying people the right to hold political gatherings under any pretext is unacceptable, as they tried to do to the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) in Bauchi last week. Moreover, I insist that the law, which restricts campaigning to just a few weeks before election is a military creation and should be scrapped.
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