1999 Constitution Is Past Its Sell-by Date

Fadaka Louis

Just as a drug has an expiry or a sell-by date, so it doesn’t kill the patients, it is formulated to cure. The suffocating 1999 Constitution of Nigeria has outlived its usefulness. It is doubtful it was ever useful to anyone, except those who wrote it to meet their parochial intentions.

Pastor Paul Adefarasin of the House on the Rock Church, Lekki, Lagos, is trending on the Internet, with scathing excoriation of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution. By the way, his father, the late Justice Adetunji Adefarasin, was a Chief Judge of Lagos State.

His mother, 96-year-old Hilda, a trained nurse, human rights activist, and Nigerian of Caribbean descent, was President of the National Council of Women’s Societies. You can see that Pastor Adefarasin has the pedigree to speak to that fraudulent document referred to as the 1999 Constitution.

His soundbite: “The problem is not Nigerians. It is Nigeria and its Constitution. The document upon which we were formed was by a few soldiers, who put it together, and their surrogates. And that is what is supposedly holding us together.

“The foundation (of Nigeria’s political and economic problems) is the Constitution. And if that foundation is faulty, what can the righteous do? We’ve got to go back to the foundation. The next administration must not access power until we have a veritable Constitution that is truly a document of ‘We the people.’”

Fadaka Louis is a Nigerian freelance writer and sociopolitical commentator.

Another nonagenarian, Afe Babalola, founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, who is probably today’s doyen of the legal profession in Nigeria, added his voice to calls for a wholesale review of the cumbersome 1999 Constitution.

His submission: “There is a simple solution to the growing insecurity in the country, and that is the (1999) Constitution. We need a new Constitution where the different nations that were formed together can develop at their own pace.

“The West was doing well during the old (1963) Constitution, likewise the East and even the North… The solution is a new Constitution for the people.” There is a clear agreement between practitioners in the temples of God and that of justice.

Yet another nonagenarian, Ayo Adebanjo, acting Leader of Afenifere, the Yoruba pressure group, also a priest in the temple of justice, concludes, “This is an obnoxious Constitution… All the things that are causing conflict in the country today are (sic) in that Constitution made by the military.”

Two strikes against the 1999 Constitution are that it is not derived from the people, and it prescribes a cumbersome and almost impossible road for the Nigerian citizens to travel before it can be amended.

What seems to be the most galling part for those against the Constitution is that the people of Nigeria had no hand in its formation, either through a plebiscite or a congress of representatives chosen by them.

Former military Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, is fond of reminding anyone who cares to listen that in 1999, now late Justice Niki Tóbi of the Supreme Court of Nigeria led a 24-member Constitution Debate Coordination Committee to produce a document that formed the basis of the 1999 Constitution.

Some constitutional lawyers argue that the 1999 Constitution is a military decree because it was signed by a serving military General. This suggests that Nigeria is probably still under military rule or is a pseudo-democracy at best.

Many Nigerians feel alienated from the plastic, unfeeling state, or more appropriately, the Leviathan, created by the band of soldiers who, apparently, had inherent parochial and sectional agenda.

Because Nigeria is a plural society, a quilt of many cultures, languages, religions and geographies, each state should have its own constitution. Because of these glaring differences, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo may have to revise his position that national peculiarities should not determine what state a people should belong to.

But most annoying is Section 9, which allows “the alteration of… this Constitution (as it affects adjustment of state boundaries or the Fundamental Objectives of State Policy only if) the proposal is approved by… four-fifths majority of all members of House (or National Assembly) and… (the) resolution of the Houses of Assembly of… two-thirds of all the States.”

Also, you need “two-thirds majority of (the two Houses of the National Assembly) and… (the) resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the States” to amend the Constitution on other matters.

Imagine going through all this hurdle before a local government authority can relocate its headquarters from the path of a tsunami just because all the 774 local government authorities and their headquarters have been listed in Part 1 of the First Schedule of the Constitution.

By the way, why are the names and headquarters of local government authorities listed in the Constitution? Well, there is a sneaky suspicion that this was done to protect the skewed revenue allocation formula that favors a region.

The confusion between the Land Use Act that “Vests all Land… in … each State… solely in the Governor of the State,” and Section 39 of the Exclusive List of the Constitution, which leans on the Mineral Act to vest land with mineral resources in the Federal Government, should be straightened.

The failure of the Constitution to allow independent candidates for political offices, and the disgraceful acceptance of only evidence of attendance of high school to contest exalted positions of President, governors, legislators and elected officials of local government authorities, should be rectified. Why establish universities if you will not require the contribution of their graduates to nation building?

In the spirit of federalism, the Independent National Electoral Commission should conduct only federal elections, while another electoral agency, to be set up and funded by state governments only, should conduct state elections without interference from the Federal Government.

Also, regional electoral agencies, established and funded by local government authorities and also independent of federal and state governments, should conduct only local government elections within their regions.

To ensure that states or local government authorities do not manipulate these electoral agencies, their funding should be charged directly to the respective Consolidated Revenue Funds, just like INEC.

The Middle Belt has opted to break its enslavement by the Far North by seeking and building a geopolitical alliance with Southern Nigeria. The Nigerian Indigenous Nationalities Alliance for Self-determination (NINAS) wishes to break up today’s Unitary Nigeria into four federating groups comprising the Yoruba, Lower Niger, Middle Belt and the Sharia Territories as the ultimate solution to the current conundrum tormenting Africa’s most populous country.

The police and penitentiaries should be decentralized so that each state should operate and fund its own security system. Of course, the federal police should be retained to address federal crimes.

Advocates of state police complain that the Nigeria Police, and other security agencies, headed mostly by Nigerians of a single ethnic stock, fail to protect citizens from kidnappers, bandits, insurgents and rampaging herdsmen. They also argue that state police operatives tend to have good knowledge of their communities.

Apart from defeating the idea of rural electrification, the requirement that any electricity in excess of 25 megawatts generated by a state should be uploaded to the national grid stultifies the rapid spread of electricity and growth of the economy.

Some administrative, but not terribly constitutional issues, should be addressed: The Federal Accounts Allocation Committee should be dissolved as states exploit mineral resources within their borders and make agreed remittances to the central government.

Also, the concept of educationally disadvantaged states used for admitting students into tertiary institutions should be abolished and an education Marshall Plan should be introduced for states lagging in Western education.

This narrative is just to show those who claim they know not what it means to restructure Nigeria.