Making laws that can move Nigeria forward has never been a strong point with our lawmakers. Instead, our National Assembly members live in opulence at the expense of the majority of Nigerians. Early this month, the Senate played a dangerous card on the future of the country by trying to frustrate President Goodluck Jonathan’s attempt to get the recommendations of the National Conference included in the ongoing constitution amendment.
As a newspaper, we believe that every opportunity to make the country better via the constitution should be encouraged. Senators should have a sober rethink on the bill, which was entitled, “A Bill for an Act to further alter the provisions of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and for other matters connected therewith.” Sensing that the lawmakers were opposed to passing it, it was tactfully withdrawn by Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu.
The bill proposes how Section 9 of the 1999 Constitution could be altered to make the Executive introduce new amendments in the Constitution. But, claiming that Jonathan had ulterior motives, senators truncated the passage of the bill during the initial debate.
Giving an insight into how the Senate’s Constitution Amendment Committee arrived at its decision, Ekweremadu said, “…we are clear in what we stated that only the National Assembly can bring about the process of a new constitution. But at our committee… we looked at our rules in which case the President can bring about a bill.” The argument did not make an impression on the senators, but this is an opportunity too good to be wasted, and the lawmakers should apologise to the electorate and make amends.
The crux of the matter is that the senators perceive wrongly that the President is using the National Conference to usurp their powers. However, the National Conference is critical to the wellbeing of Nigeria. The Senate should not muzzle the opinion of the people any longer since the citizens, who are the custodians of sovereignty, had no input into the making of the 1999 Constitution that was decreed into operation by the military.
This faulty foundation needs to be corrected through the resolutions to be reached at the National Conference, which would also be subjected to a referendum. The President will then codify them into an executive bill before the National Assembly. This is a practical approach to solving the multifaceted ills plaguing our tottering political edifice.
Senators should know that jettisoning the approach is as good as working towards the eventual breakup of Nigeria. Insecurity is soaring at an alarming rate. Indeed, the country is burning, but the lawmakers do not care. With a flawed structure that was so bastardised by the military and which turned the system into a unitary arrangement, peace and development have continued to be elusive. The senators should not think they will escape this impending implosion.
Since it became operational in 1789, the United States constitution has witnessed 39 amendments by the Congress, with 27 of those amendments part of that country’s constitution.
Nigeria has been misgoverned for too long by a rent-seeking elite that pretends about the real situation on the ground. For example, fiscal federalism, which will engender the equitable redistribution of resources wherever they are produced, is germane to the existence of the country.
It is wrong for states and local governments to be sharing free money from the central government, when federalism presupposes that it is the centre that should be dependent on the federating units. Taking the resources exploited from a section of the country to develop another part is a recipe for indolence on the part of those receiving such payoffs. As it is, the Federal Government is too big and in terms of local development, useless; it should be reduced to administering defence, currency, foreign policy and other essential common matters.
These are the pertinent issues that need to be urgently resolved through the recommendation of the National Conference and the people’s approval. Through fiscal federalism, each state/region will develop its own area(s) of comparative advantage, and at its own pace. This is how federalism works for the betterment of the society in countries such as Canada, US, Malaysia, India and Australia.
How can a federal system that outlaws state police guarantee the citizens peace and security in the face of deadly Islamist terrorism, militancy, armed robbery and kidnapping? Our lawmakers should wise up before the window of opportunity offered by the National Conference shuts down permanently.
Indeed, Nigeria is overdue for restructuring in many areas. As of now, a shadow of governance is what we have in place. This is a country that cannot muster the political will to rout terrorists using religion as an excuse; a country listed as the worst state for a child to be born in 2013 by the Economist Intelligence Unit, an arm of The Economist magazine of London.
Because of widespread religious conflicts, Nigeria is gradually descending into an irredeemable situation in which the federating ethnic units will begin to find ways to defend themselves in order not to go into extinction. Any country living perilously like this should not run away from the truth. This critical restructuring either comes through the law, a peaceful option the Senate is mischievously discarding, or through violent breakup. In addition to passing the proposed bill, the National Assembly should consider the repeal of Decree 24 of 1999, as suggested by Ben Nwabueze, a constitutional lawyer, to give legal teeth to the resolutions of the National Conference.