LawPolitics

Sanwo-Olu, Anyaoku, Bode George, Ex-Governors Call For Change In 1999 Constitution

1999 Constitution

Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, on Monday, joined former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku; former governors, notable diplomats, legal practitioners and other elder statesmen to demand a change in Nigeria’s Constitution.

They spoke at a colloquium tagged ‘National dialogue on the future of Nigeria’.

The colloquium held at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos was in honour of the late legal luminary, Prof Ben Nwabueze.

In attendance were former Akwa Ibom State governor, Obong Victor Attah; ex-Cross River State Governor, Donald Duke; former Sokoto Governor, Senator Aminu Tambuwal; representative of the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adewunmi Olayigbade; Leader of Afenifere, Pa Ayo Adebanjo; a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gen. Ike Nwachukwu, the immediate past Governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi, and ex-Ogun State governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel.

Others included former Rivers Governor, Rotimi Amaechi; ex-Minister of Finance, Kalu Idika Kalu; former Governor of Osun, Rauf Aregbesola; former Military Governor of Ondo State and former Deputy National Chairman of PDP, Olabode George, ex-Delta Governor, James Ibori; pioneer Chief Executive Officer, Nigeria Economic Summit Group, Prof Anya O. Anya; and the keynote speaker, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN).

Speaking at the event, Anyaoku advocated that Nigeria jettison the 1999 constitution for lack of legitimacy.

He said, “The fact from across the world is that some pluralistic nations have succeeded in becoming nations while other pluralistic countries have failed and disintegrated. The lesson from this is that pluralistic countries, which have succeeded in becoming nations, have generally practiced true federalism with considerable powers devolved to the federating units.

“This fact I must say was recognized by the founding fathers of Nigeria who negotiated painstakingly and agreed on the independent constitution of 1960, which was extended to 1963. The second incontrovertible fact that I like to state is that our present 1999 constitution as amended not only lacks the legitimacy that flows from a democratically-made constitution but also has proved to be unsuitable for tackling many of the serious challenges confronting our country.

“Thirdly, it is a widely recognised fact that crucial areas have seriously deteriorated and continue to be. To mention just a few, security of citizens, lives and property, economic well-being, infrastructure including roads, education and health facilities, social cohesion and social values and the sense of national unity. These are areas where significant deteriorations have occurred over the years.

“I like to conclude my brief remark by saying that there has been no shortage of opinions and prescriptions of the nature and contents of what should be a suitable constitution for our pluralistic country. Many commentators have expressed the views that the 1960-1963 as well as the recommendations of the 2014 national confab provide a capable guide in this respect. I hope this colloquium will focus on the process of producing such a constitution.”

As a way out, Anyaoku recommended two options which said are available to Nigerians.

“I believe that in this respect, we have only two options. Either we accept the 2014 National Conference as an acceptable platform or we go for a relatively inexpensive directly elected constituent assembly on none party basis for producing such a widely desired constitution.”

On his part, Sanwo-Olu appealed that the conversation around the making of a new constitution should be deepened to pave the way for a truly federal constitution that would devolve power to the states.

The Lagos governor said, “Given the number of people that are here, we should take this conversation and make it very effective. Many speakers have said that it is not the National Assembly that will make those amendments and it makes a lot of logical sense. It is for the National Assembly to constitute a law where people will come together and make those amendments themselves.

“I stand here as a leader of the largest state. How well do we see the anomalies that we have in our country? Why would a federal agency come to control the water in front of Ozumba Mbadiwe? Why would a federal agency 1,000 kilometre away come to see the needs of my people in Ozumba Mbadiwe? Those are some of the things that we need to take forward and say that indeed we need to have a true federating state and be able to amend this constitution.

“I am a willing convert. Whatever we need to do now, there are so many serving and former governors here. Let us make the changes that we desire and let the soul of Prof. Ben Nwabueze rest in peace because this is something that he fought for over 60 years of his life. And we are still here talking about it. We have the opportunity to make those changes now and I stand here to say to you that we are willing to work with you to make those changes.”

But Ozekhome, a seasoned lawyer, believed everything was wrong with the 1999 Constitution, which he claimed was a far cry from the American system Nigeria copied.

To buttress his point, the keynote speaker explained that a constitution that was crafted by a military junta and had no contribution through a referendum could not stand the test of time.

“A referendum is key to any constitution making. That is why the American constitution, which is just 192 pages, about 27 amendments and 7,591 words, unlike the Nigerian Constitution, which is as large as a portfolio, still stands the test of time 100 of years later. So, the process by which a constitution comes into effect therefore is very important. Right now, the Green Chamber has set up a committee to amend the constitution after the first four amendments and the Senate has also set up a 43-man committee.

“My brother and good friend here, Aminu Tambuwal, is also there. But can you amend a bad and fundamentally-flawed document? My humble answer is that it cannot. One million amendments multiplied by another one million amendments of the present fundamentally-flawed constitution cannot cure it of its original sin.

“What is this original sin? It is that this document was imposed on you and I militarily by a military junta led by General Abdulsalami Abubakar and 28 members of the provisional ruling council. It was never subjected to any referendum of the people. And guess what? The current constitution was attached as a mere schedule to Decree No. 24 of 1999. So the constitution you are using is a mere schedule to a decree.

“So how can you amend or cleanse it of the leprous pedigree? I will tell you. Just like Naaman the Leper who dipped himself into River Jordan seven times to become cleansed of its leprosy, Nigerians must own their constitution through a popular referendum of the people as was done to the Mid-West Constitution on the 10th of August, 1963 when it separated from Western Region. Without that, we will just be on a journey to no destination,” he stressed.

Meanwhile, former Governor of Ogun State, Ibikunle Amosun demanded that the outcome of the colloquium should be communicated to the National Assembly and President Bola Tinubu for due consideration.

He also admonished that the current and past speakers of the House of Representatives and Senate presidents should be carried along to ensure the labour of Nigeria’s past heroes are not in vain.

“We have all agreed on one thing, that our constitution is faulty. I don’t want to say we don’t have a constitution because I know we can improve on it. What I think we should do having had the experience in both legislative and executive arms is that the Patriots as a group should carry all the outcomes of this colloquium to the National Assembly.

“We should let them know what we think is the way forward. I think we should also toe the line of Governor Sanwo-Olu by also meeting with Mr President and seek audience with all the Speakers of Nigeria (current and past). We have been on this thing since 1960s and if we remember correctly, most of our leaders died in this struggle. That is why we also gather together to honour that constitutional lawyer, Prof Nwabueze,” he said.

Duke however objected to a complete overhaul of the 1999 constitution, saying the problem with its operation has to do with the wrong leaders the people voted into power.

The former governor also expressed concerns that if the President did not buy into the consensus, the entire exercise would be in vain.

He said, “A lot has been said here. I think it is procedural we should be looking at here. There is also a broad consensus on what the content of our constitution should be. But I think we should start with the president of Nigeria. The way we are structured is that if we don’t have the buy-in of the president, it will never work. There is a lot of work to be done there and I believe this is why Governor Sanwo-Olu was alluding that the transition from state to national has complications.

“When the president buys into it, I think he will call the meeting of the councils where the governors (current and past) are fully represented. From there, instructions will be given to the attorney general to perhaps proceed to draft a bill for the National Assembly to assent to. This is the process we should be talking about since we already have a consensus on what to do.

“But I believe the constitution we have now if we elect the right people, will work somewhat. We will never get a perfect constitution. But the bigger problems we have are the characters we allow to operate the system.”

Bode George, who shared the same sentiment, however, expressed absolved the military of blame in the composition of the constitution.

The PDP chieftain also appealed that it was high time the leadership of the country looked beyond the old way of doing things if they hoped to bring the country out of the doldrums.

“I want to plead because I have listened to many of the speakers here and something was rolling in my mind because they spoke the truth to power. This system we are running is not working. I have been in the military, had a non-regimental appointment and now came out to be a politician.

“Don’t blame all these issues on the military because they also are Nigerians. I will plead apart from convincing the current president that it is time to change our direction. If we don’t, we will take one step ahead and 10 steps backward,” he appealed.