The 108 members of the Nigerian Senate and the 360 members of the House of Representatives had just recently returned from their various Senatorial Districts and Federal Constituencies respectively to seek the inputs of their constituents in the proposed amendment of the 1999 constitution. Both arms of the National Assembly embarked on the exercise to satisfy the yearnings of most Nigerians for a constitution that truly reflects the wishes of the people; one in which the people are involved in the process of its amendments. The general belief is that the 1999 constitution in its present form is a document handed down by the military and therefore lacks the basic provisions in a democracy, hence the need for the review.
The question one may be forced to ask is: to what extent will these constituencies’ visits or the involvement of the citizenry result in bringing about a people’s constitution? The various constituencies and senatorial districts public hearings, as I heard, cost tax payers a whopping sum of N1 billion to be organised, but there are indications that those public hearings would be the only thing people will ever know about the amendment exercise. The rest of the review exercise would be done by the constitution review committee and the National Assembly along with the 36 State Houses of Assembly before it is passed into law. Can this make it a people’s constitution, especially when the wishes of the people as being expressed during the various public hearings may not find its way into the amended constitution?
I understand that this current exercise of reviewing the constitution is not a comprehensive one and so may have some shortcomings, but if Nigerians truly believe that the problem we have in terms of the constitution is because it is not a people’s constitution, why don’t we have a comprehensive review of the constitution in which people will be actively involved in its preparation, then subject its outcome to a referendum to enable them decide what should be included and what should not. That is one sure way to the making of a people’s constitution, but what we are likely to see from the current exercise is that the same people at the helm of affairs will impose their interests, especially as it satisfies their insatiable quest for the domination of the common man, on the constitution.
The sad thing about the outcome of this jamboree is that whatever is arrived at, at the end of the day will require the approval of the 36 State Houses of Assembly members who are saddled with the statutory responsibilities of law making, to pass it into law. These members might be lobbied and just act as a mere rubber stamp to approve whatever they have enlisted in the amended bills, and then it becomes our law.
Be that as it may, the basis of this discourse is not to analyse whether the proposed amendments to the constitution is one that will reflect the wishes of the people, but to analyse whether the constitution in its present form is the reason why the Nigerian state has continued to find itself in what it is today.
Many have advanced arguments that democracy and good governance have refused to work in Nigeria because the constitution has defects in many areas. Well, I do not entirely share in this assertion. The constitution, no doubt, has areas that need to be brushed up to conform to some certain realities especially in a democracy, but the real problem is not the defects of the constitution, but on the inability, greed and selfishness of those who are saddled with the responsibility of implementing it.
Many, for example, have agitated for the removal of immunity clause from the constitution so that public officers who are found to have embezzled public funds can be prosecuted. Is that the real reason why the law has not been able to catch up with any of them, despite the wide scale theft and brazen embezzlement we see on a daily basis? A governor for example spends a maximum of 8 years in office and afterwards, lost immunity from being prosecuted, but how many of those governors long after their tenure in office have even been tried, let alone jailed for stealing public funds?
Save for Chief Olabode George who got a two year sentence for a criminal act that should have kept him behind bars for years coming, others have being completely shielded from prosecution or have been given a soft landing in the name of plea bargain. Today, the likes of the Dariyes, Tinubus, Nyames, Odilis, Nnamanis, Bankoles and others too numerous to mention, in spite of the various evidences of their monumental corruption found against them, are still seen working the street of our society free. Many of them are either holding one public office or the other or still active players in our polity, therefore giving them more avenues to loot the treasury. Some of them are even members of the Senate and key players in our various political parties. Now, the questions are: Is it the defect in the constitution that has prevented this people from being prosecuted? Is it the defect in the constitution that was also responsible for the judiciary to discharge and acquit James Ibori upon his admission to have laundered billions of dollars belonging to Delta State, who is now serving a 13 year jail term in the UK for the same offence Nigerian judiciary ruled he was innocent of?
Within the last few years, there have been three amendments to the constitution; with the current exercise making it the fourth, but what change has it brought? Has it been able to provide justice for the common man whose rights are continually trampled upon? Has the amendments of the constitution changed the allegiance of our leaders from the looting of our treasury to the service of you and I? Has it fulfilled the guaranteed rights of every Nigerian’s access to education, good road, hospitals and security as contained in the constitution? We can amend the constitution one million times, but if there is no will on the part of its implementation by those who should, the constitution will never work. It will just be an exercise in futility. Everything seems to be schemed in favour of the powerful men and women in our society, where the highest bidders win it all.
Our political leaders must realize that the selective implementation of the provisions of the constitution is a deliberate attempt to perpetrate injustice; and where there is injustice; there can never be peace and progress. It is because of the failure of our system, due largely from the selective implementation of the constitution that we have had incidences like the Aluu 4, Boko Haram, Niger Delta militancy and so on. It is because of the failure on the part of those who are saddled with the implementation of the constitution that Governors, Ministers, Directors and what have you, embezzled money meant for road development, provision of schools, payment for pensions and yet still work free on the streets and are even given opportunities to steal more.
Now that the majority of the citizens are yearning for an amendment of the constitution and the National Assembly has begun the process, irrespective of whether it is going to be a people’s constitution or not, the time to take the issue of the constitution beyond just providing beautiful and well crafted provisions, but ensuring that those provisions are followed for the good of all is now. The constitution must not just be made a document whose provisions shall have binding forces on the authorities and persons of Nigeria, but must be seen to be so.
More importantly, however, there is need for the Judiciary to rise up to the challenges of ensuring that the provisions of the constitution are duly carried out. The Judiciary, they say, is the hope of the common man. If the Judiciary wakes up to its responsibility, other arms of government will be forced to follow the spirit and letters of the constitution.
The writer is on twitter @abusidiqu