The 1999 Constitution Review - The Courage to Make a Change

There is absolutely no solid building that has no foundation. The longevity and durability of structures depend on the quality of its bedrock. When there is a deviation from a building’s original structure and a tweak in purpose, it is also wise to readjust its foundational plan to bear the weight of the new structure.

Nigeria made this switch on 29 May, 1999, when Major General Abdulsalami Abubakar stepped down and the former military head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo, became the civilian president. We had switched from the militarist structure to a civilian structure but retained the same building plan from the past. That has been the cause of the agitations across Nigeria for decades.

I was privileged to attend the nationwide public hearing organized by the Nigerian Senate committee on the review of the 1999 constitution which held recently at Asaba, Delta state. This came as a response to the continued widespread agitations across the country on the need for a new constitution, owing to the several inadequacies the present constitution contains. Grand Hotels Asaba, Delta state played host to both Edo, Delta and Bayelsa states and virtually all stakeholders across sectors converged to be heard.

Representatives of various cultural groups, NGOs, the press, clerics, labor and other unions and numerous other delegates took turns to express their concerns. Some of the points raised were as follows:

1. The constitution’s preamble which reads; “WE THE PEOPLE of the Federal Republic of Nigeria having firmly and solemnly resolved to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation under God dedicated to the promotion of inter-African solidarity, world peace, international co-operation and understanding amd to provide for a constitution for the purpose of promoting the good government and welfare of all persons in our country on the principles of freedom, equality and justice, and for the purpose of consolidating the Unity of our people: DO HEREBY MAKE, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THE FOLLOWING CONSTITUTION”, was questioned. The constitution, foisted upon the Nigerian people has come to be accepted without question. Stakeholders at the public hearing stressed on the dictatorial and masculine nature of the constitution.

2. That a constitutional amendment won’t be as effective as crafting a new constitution.

3. Stakeholders, especially clerics stressed on the total removal of all Christian and Islamic terms from the constitution to reflect on the secularity of the Nigerian state as well as the abolition of sharia law.

4. It was suggested that a maximum age to run for office (pegged at 65) be enforced as well as putting a clause on immunity of government officials while in office on grounds of corruption and other related offences.

5. That a young Nigerian isn’t deemed fit enough to give consent until having attainted the age of 18.

6. Resource control and land ownership of of sites containing natural resource should be 100% managed by the state and a stupulated percentage be remitted to the federal government.

7. Stakeholders stressed on the need for internal security, state and local police as well as funding and welfare for the armed forces and veterans.

8. That a Youth Representative council be set up at the local, state and federal levels and the continued operation of the Local Government Councils as it is the closest form of government to the people.

9. Stakeholders agitated for the slashing of the cost of governance by at least 50%. Also, the maximum representatives (both at the senate and house of representatives) from each state at the federal level be pegged at 5.

10. The enactment of free primary, secondary and tertiary education as well as adult literacy programs for all, especially Persons With Disabilities [PWDs] and representation of young people and PWDs across sectors, including public offices and government agencies for inclusion.

These and more issues were raised and reports submitted to the various senate committees for proper documentation and deliberation.

I looked around that hall and what I saw was unity; a sense of direction, purpose and a clear understanding of what Nigerians wanted. Everyone felt special because their representatives listened to their demands. An air of trust and excitement wafted across the hall where I sat. I felt happy that this was happening after many years of radio silence. As I journeyed back home, I couldn’t help but wonder what the country would look like if the opinion of its citizens were prioritised by the government of the day, in line with a solid national vision and blueprint. The people would be patriots by default.

The move to restructure our currently operated constitution couldn’t have come at a better time in Nigeria’s history. As former Governor of Anambra state, Peter Obi aptly puts it, “Restructuring the country will bring out the comparative advantage of every state and our natural resources that are lying waste will be fully harnessed”.

It is therefore imperative that the representatives do not take the represented on a ride to nowhere. They must insist and ensure that the wishes of the Nigerian people are not swept under the carpet.

At such a challenging time in our history where the Nigerian people are earnestly demanding for an all-inclusive leadership and trust, crafting a new constitution and restructuring Nigeria will turn out to be one action of government that has the capacity to restore CONFIDENCE in the process of governance that can instill in Nigerians the COURAGE to play their part in the process of rebuilding, rebranding and making Nigeria better.

This is a wake up call for every stakeholder in governance (every Nigerian) to be part of the engineering that will birth the New Nigeria. We must be involved in the electoral process and decision making that produces quality leaders. We must be involved in the education of the uneducated amongst us, ensure that order is maintained and development is sustained. Nigerians must develop a new taste for quality that reflects on the quality of acceptable leadership.

When we have a crop of empathetic, visionary and excelllent leaders in position, coupled with an acceptable and credible guiding document (constitution) that aligns with our shared vision and national dream, it is certain that we will begin to truly experience exponential growth and unmatched development.

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