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Constitutional negotiation we need

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Constitutional negotiation

By Yinka Odumakin

IT must be fully clear to the Senate now that the whole idea of leaving leprosy to deal with eczema which it has concentrated on in the last 20 years is not very popular with Nigerians.

A profound initiative by a former president and his colleagues in calling leaders of socio-cultural groups together in Abuja on Wednesday and leaders of state governors the following day for interaction revealed that Nigerians know the issues that should be on the table.

Chief Ayo Adebanjo who stood in for Leader of Afenifere, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, made it very clear that the whole idea of sending Nigerians on wild goose chase every four years has become tiring and it is about time we had a brand new constitution.

The President of the Middle Belt Forum, Dr. Pogu Bitrus, lamented how it took six months in 2015 to recruit those who had worked on the pernicious agenda not in the interests of Nigeria to run our country and said it was high time we had a consensus on the type of nation that we want.

Graphic pictures

Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (retd), the chairman of PANDEF was of the view that the time has come for us to talk about the issues that affect alll Nigerians positively. He recalled how he went to buy fuel after the new pump price was announced and the man after him on the line was a Fulani man which showed that all nationalities are affected by the negativities in the country.

Chief John Nwodo, Ohanaeze President, with his usual gift of the gab almost brought tears out of most people’s eyes as he painted graphic pictures of how we lost the great Nigeria we could have had and said each and everyone who has a role to play in it would have to answer query before God.

Prof. Ango Abdullahi, the convener of Northern Elders Forum, spoke eloquently on the system of government we run that has put Nigeria on the edge of the precipice which we are not addressing in all our Constitution reviews.

He addresses how the pre-industrial system has turned Nigeria to the global secretariat of poverty and has made those in government to be less responsible to the people than it was under the parliamentary system. He added that Nigeria has become like America where only those with money can play active role in politics.

I was in the committee that addressed this issue at the 2014 National Conference and we lost the argument for parliamentary system in under 30 minutes. We continue to deceive ourselves that we want to reduce cost of governance and fight corruption. 71 members of the House of Representatives at the twilight of the eighth National Assembly took a positive step in unanimously opting for a bill to enact a new law for a reversal to parliamentary system.

The bill was introduced in December 2019. Led by Kingsley Chinda representing Obio/Akpor Federal Constituency of Rivers State, the lawmakers lamented the flaws in the current presidential system.

They had this to say: “Studies have shown that countries run by presidential regimes consistently produce lower output growth, higher and more volatile inflation, and greater income inequality relative to those under parliamentary ones.

“Presidential regimes consistently produce less favourable macroeconomic outcomes which prevail in a wide range of circumstances, for example in Nigeria. Due to the excessive powers domiciled in one man under the presidential system, consensus building that is often required for economic decision is always lacking. The level of liability and volatility of presidential system makes it difficult to achieve economic objectives.”

Lending his voice also, Chinda said: “If you ask some legislators of some government policies, it is difficult for them to clearly understand because the interface between the executive and the legislature is not as it should be. The parliamentary system will ensure that the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary are on the same page.

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The system will iron out all these things; that is why we have thrown it up for Nigerians to look at, discuss and see that it will help us in proffering solutions to some of the problems of our country. What we have proposed in that bill is that the exclusive list should be pruned down and so issues of devolution of power are taken care of and I can assure you that you will see healthy competition and this country will grow for all of us.”

President Buhari in 2014 made strong promise on cutting the cost of governance in Nigeria, but when he hosted members of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC, at State House, Abuja, on October 10, 2019 he was stilll promising to beam the searchlight on cost of governance. We are yet to reduce anything but are borrowing to pay over 90 per cent overhead.

The President got most of his support in 2015 on the belief that he would fight corruption to a standstill. But after five years in office, it is his chairman of anti-corruption agency that is under investigation.

The presidential system has shown him its power. We should be discussing how to change it and tinker seriously with our Constitution to make every section of Nigeria productive under federalism.

Our Senate, spending billions of naira to change punctuation marks in the existing 1999 Decree, won’t cut anymore as Nigeria is in a serious crisis. If we don’t go into serious debate on a new constitution now, the present constitutional order will bury this country. Statesmen should rise from across Nigeria now and save this country from the political class.

Some eminent Nigerians under the group called Patriots rose from a meeting in Lagos in 2017, demanding a new constitution as a precursor of restructuring. To these leaders, restructuring cannot be implemented by an amendment of the 1999 Constitution. A new constitution should be approved by the people at a referendum is necessary, they said.

Addressing reporters after the meeting, the group’s chairman, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, noted that while the clamour for restructuring was sweeping across the country, “the National Assembly is still regaling us with talks about Constitution amendment, buttressing its position with the erroneous assertion that the 1999 Constitution can only be amended or altered”.

Nwabueze said: “The view that the 1999 Constitution cannot be completely abolished and replaced by a new Constitution is erroneous because the National Assembly fails to take into account the fact that the 1999 Constitution is only a schedule to Decree 24 of 1999”.

He argued that the Decree is an existing law under section 315 of the 1999 Constitution and, like all existing laws, can be repealed by the National Assembly. “We think the way for Nigeria is for the people, in exercise of the power inherent in them as a sovereign people, to make, through a referendum, a new Constitution, consisting a new political order. The process must be led by a President, as the elected leader of the people imbued by an ardour for change,” Nwabueze said.

The chairman said the group believed “that negotiated restructuring, implemented under a new constitution, is the best assurance for the realisation of our desire for one Nigeria. We members of Southern Leaders of Thought are committed patriots, imbued with an abiding faith in one Nigeria, and the belief that the majority of Nigerians share the same faith.” The position is still infallible.

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