HomeNewsNew, Legitimate Constitution, Path to Nigeria’s Solution, Anyaoku, Sanwo-Olu, Adebanjo, Others Declare

New, Legitimate Constitution, Path to Nigeria’s Solution, Anyaoku, Sanwo-Olu, Adebanjo, Others Declare

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•Ozekhome: One million amendments of 1999 Constitution won’t work, illegitimate document remains illegitimate forever

Almost unanimously, some Nigerian leaders, yesterday, agreed that to address the core challenges of the country, a new and legitimate constitution must be enacted.

Former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku; Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu; and leader of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, among others, believed continued whitewash of the 1999 Constitution amounted to waste of effort. It will not guarantee the progress that Nigerians crave, they said.

Lawyer and human rights activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, echoed a similar view, stressing, “One million amendments of the 1999 Constitution will never work.”

Ozekhome said, “An illegitimate document remains illegitimate forever.”

The leaders spoke yesterday in Lagos at a national dialogue on the constitutional future of Nigeria in honour of renowned constitutional lawyer, Professor Ben Nwabueze.

The forum was organised by The Patriots, a pan Nigerian group of eminent national leaders of thought, with the theme, “Lawful Procedures for Actualising a People’s Constitution for Nigeria.”

Anyaoku called for a “new legitimate constitution” to arrest the current deterioration in virtually every aspect of the country’s existence. He stressed that the 1999 Constitution lacked the kind of legitimacy expected of a constitution in a pluralistic country like Nigeria.

Anyaoku’s views were supported by Sanwo-Olu, Adebanjo, members of the National Assembly, former governors and eminent national leaders, who also demanded a new Nigerian constitution that would reflect true federalism and address the problems of the country.

They said Nigeria had two options in trying to get a truly federal constitution: either adopting the recommendations of the 2014 national confab or going for a relatively inexpensive Constituent Assembly on a non-party basis to produce a widely acceptable constitution for Nigerians.

Chairman of the Patriots, Anyaoku, said Nigeria was a pluralistic country, which had failed to develop like other pluralistic countries in the world that had succeeded by devolving powers to the federating units.

He cited examples of pluralistic countries, such as Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Sudan, which broke up due to issues bordering on lack of true federalism.

The former Commonwealth secretary-general said for Nigeria to get a truly federal constitution it should either adopt the recommendations of the 2014 national conferences.

He said, “We go for a relatively inexpensive directly elected constituent assembly on non-party basis for producing such widely desired constitution.”

According to him, the present 1999 Constitution is not capable of addressing the myriads of challenges confronting Nigeria. He called for the adoption of the recommendations of the 2014 national conference or conduct of an “inexpensive” constituent assembly that would be nonpartisan in order to have a truly federal constitution.

Anyaoku said, “The country needs a new legitimate constitution. And the message of The Patriots, which I have the privilege to be the chairman, is quite clear that The Patriots should take this message to those in government. I like to say that The Patriots will take this message to the Presidency and to the National Assembly.

“We have had pluralistic countries that failed. Yugoslavia, for example, broke up into eight states. Czechoslovakia amicably broke up into two states, and coming home nearer, Sudan, which has existed for centuries broke up into two states.

“So, that should teach us that Nigeria should deliberately manage her diversity. The only way we can successfully manage our diversity, remain as one political entity, is by adopting a true federalist constitution.”

He added, “First, Nigeria is a pluralistic country that is still struggling to become a nation with assured political stability and progressive socioeconomic development.

“The fact from across the world is that some pluralistic countries 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 practised true federalism with considerable power devolved to the federating units.

“This fact was acknowledged by our founding fathers, who negotiated painstakingly and agreed the Independence Constitution of 1960-1963.

“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.

“It is a widely recognised fact that the crucial areas of the country have significantly deteriorated and continue to deteriorate.”

He said Nigeria had suffered deterioration on many fronts in the areas of security of the citizens’ lives and property, economic well-being of the citizens, infrastructure, including roads and education and health facilities, social cohesion and social values and the sense of national unity.

“I am hopeful that we will have a listening hear in the presidency. Why do I say so, I believe we are fortunate at this time to have a president, whose democratic credentials have been very clear to me for many years. Because, the man who is now our president, Asiwaju Ahme Tinubu, was very active in the NADECO days, and he was one of NADECO representatives who visited my residence in London a number of times. I also remember how he vigorously argued the NADECO course.

“Even, after I retired as Commonwealth Secretary-General, I had the privilege of chairing a colloquium organised to mark his 60th birthday.

“At that colloquium I called for the restructuring of Nigeria. I said that from my close association of the governments of 54-member countries of the Commonwealth, one lesson I learnt is the pluralistic counties such as Nigeria succeed only on the basis of true federalism.”

In his keynote address titled: “The never-ending call for a new people’s constitution,” Ozekhome described the constitution as the birth certificate and identity card of a nation.

He said the fact that a dictatorial and autocratic military junta imposed the 1999 Constitution completely robbed it of its legitimacy, credibility and acceptability, as it did not represent the nation’s identity card, covenant and the supreme will of the Nigerian people.

According to him, the never-ending call for a new constitution arose from a recognition of the inherent fundamental shortcomings of the present 1999 Constitution. He added that mere amendments to or replacements of the constitution under sections 8 and 9, would be akin to merely applying a superficial remedy to a deep-rooted ailment.

“It simply cannot and will not work. I humbly submit, as I have done since the year 2000, that one million amendments multiplied by another million amendments, with the addition of yet another million amendments, will never work.

“Merely chopping off the branches of a tree without cutting off the taproot will never kill such a tree. It is akin to merely treating the symptoms of a serious disease.

“Just as one cannot cure cancer with medication meant for minor skin conditions, the need for a new beginning is dire. This is because the process and procedure for crafting a new constitution must be democratic and all-inclusive, as they are more important than the contents of the constitution themselves.

“The simple reason is that it is such procedure or process that confers legitimacy, credibility and acceptability on the supreme document called constitution.”

Ozekhome added, “Democracy must be rooted in the constitution. The people should be given a clear voice and mandate to manage the affairs of the nation, through appropriate measures of free and fair elections, and checks and balances.

“The people should be given the rights of access to information, participation in decision making process and access to justice.

“Democracy needs to take significance over politics in Nigeria, and oust the current practice of election malpractices, which prevent free and fair elections. Democracy and rule of law need to be revived once again in Nigeria, and that cannot be done merely by amending the present constitution.

“Rather, the present constitution must be discarded with, and a fresh, new constitution created through a referendum of the people as midwife by the NRC enacted into law by the NASS.

“One cannot amend a bad document; it is simply not possible. An illegitimate document remains illegitimate forever.

“The present Nigerian constitution is a child of bastard and nothing can cure it. Even one million amendments multiplied by another million amendments can never cure the present constitution of Nigeria of its original sin of its illegitimacy.”

In his speech, Sanwo-Olu said it was pertinent that the country reverted to true federalism. He wondered how federal agencies would dictate to the state how to administer resources in the state.

“How will a federal agency dictate how to run the river on Ozumba Mbadiwe? How will they dictate to the state on how to take care of residents in the state?” he asked.

He said he would do all within his power to ensure the return of Nigeria to a true federal state, adding that the conversation around the making of a new constitution should be driven further.

Sanwo-Olu stated, “If eminent Nigerians; people who have used better parts of their time serving this country, have a conversation and we cannot take it forward and make sure that we have a complete solution, then we are wasting our time.

“Given the number of people that are here, we should make this conversation 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 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 Professor 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.”

Former governor of Sokoto State and serving senator, Aminu Tambuwal, expressed sadness that the country had found itself in a conundrum.

“It is unfortunate that we have found ourselves in this conundrum, however, conversations like this provided by a platform like The Patriots gives and proffers a way out of the conundrum,” Tambuwal stated.

He assured of his support for the process that will enable the promotion of the bill for the establishment of the referendum commission.

Former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah, pleaded with the National Assembly to reject the call for the review of the 1999 Constitution. Attah charged the lawmakers to make a new constitution for the country.

Former governor of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, on his part, said, “We all agree that our constitution is faulty. What we should do is to work on what everybody has been saying.

“The outcome of this colloquium should be taken to the National Assembly and don’t stop at that, we can seek an audience with the president and all the ethnic groups. We have been on this since. Some of our elders died fighting for this. We should take this step and I am sure we will get there.”

Equally speaking, former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, enjoined The Patriots to seek an audience with President Bola Tinubu to secure his buy-in.

“Members of The Patriots need to sit with President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to secure his buy-in. Governor Sanwo-Olu should lead them to the president, he is a true advocate of federalism, so, he wouldn’t need too much convincing,” Ibori added.

Adebanjo also called for implementation of the 2014 national conference recommendations, which, according to him, represented how the people of Nigeria wanted to be governed considering the representation of the people from different parts of the country that attended the national conference.

He said what Nigeria needed was a brand new constitution and not the amendment of the current constitution, which the National Assembly was about to embark on.

Immediate past Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, left the audience with a cryptic message, when he queried what usually happened to regional demands or agitations, like resource control and restructuring, among others, anytime persons from the extractions that agitated loudest emerged president. Other eminent Nigerians at the event included Gen. Ike Nwachukwu; former Minister of Finance, Kalu Idika Kalu; elder statesman, Solomon Asemota; elder statesman and pioneer Chief Executive Officer, Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG), Professor Anya O. Anya; and Chief Bode George. Also present were former Cross River State governor, Donald Duke; and Senator Gbenga Daniel.

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