It is with mixed feelings that the National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF) received the news of yet another Constitutional Review, proposed by the 9th Assembly. This would be the 5th Alteration in 20 years as previous Assemblies have undertaken similar exercise usually with a budget of one billion Naira. This humongous budget, at a time when the country is on the brink of another recession, is worrisome.
While Constitutional amendment, in a clime where there is sincerity in government is a welcome exercise, one is at a loss why Military Decree 24, which transmuted into the 1999 Constitution, without the input of Nigerian citizens, requires any amendment in the first place. The patriotic step for any conscientious National Assembly would have been to legislate a Bill demanding a new Constitution. This to our mind would require a Conference of Ethnic Nationalities, the true owners of Nigeria, to re-negotiate the country and draw up a People’s Constitution of the people, by the people, and for the people.
The perennial merry-go-round Amendments have not solved any problem for the country since it is often devoid of patriotic sincerity or the political will to make any meaningful change in the country. For example, the 8th Assembly in the Fourth Alteration in 2017 made 32 amendments to the Constitution and there is no significant improvement in the country. On the contrary, Nigeria grew worse by every index of measurement. This proposed Amendment exercise would be the 5th Alteration in 20 years. What Nigeria requires is a new Constitution.
Bearing in mind the insensitivity of the current Administration to progressive views, NCEF would like to sound a note of caution for the benefit of Nigerians. Given the direction of Government in the past five years, there is ample justification to be apprehensive about a Constitutional amendment by a National Assembly that gives impression of subservience to the Executive arm of Government.
Nigerians are urged to note the following points and remain on high alert to ensure that the proposed Constitutional Review is not a Trojan horse designed to legitimize sectional ethnic and religious discriminatory agendas that are opposed to the peace, unity, progress and well being of Nigerians. According to local parlance, “Nigerians, shine your eyes.”
1. In December 2019, CJN Hon. Justice Tanko, called for the amendment of the country’s Constitution to accommodate more of the peculiarities of the Shari’a law in a secular State. The CJN was quoted as saying, “… we have the number to amend the constitution to suit our own position as Muslims.” That call was condemned by many well meaning Nigerians. We hope that this exercise is not an attempt to railroad Nigeria, a secular state, into a full Islamic theocratic state. Rather than increase any religious content in the Constitution, as advocated by the CJN, any Constitutional Review should be used to expunge reference to ANY religion in the Constitution of Nigeria. Any mention of religion in the Constitution is in violation of Section 10 of the same Constitution and by reason of Section 1 is unconstitutional. It should be recalled that in 2011 in Harvard, USA, his eminence the Sultan of Sokoto who is also the President of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, was reported to have said during a public function, “I do not recognize any Nigerian Constitution and the only Constitution I recognize is the Koran”. This statement speaks volumes. What Nigeria requires is resolution of the conflict between Democracy and Sharia in the Constitution and we are certain that this Administration, with its compliant 9th Assembly, will work to the contrary. Therefore, the proposed Review of the Constitution by the 9th Assembly should be seriously scrutinized.
2. It is hoped that this exercise shall not be used to legitimize toxic Bills like Social Media Bill, Hate Speech Bill, Water Ways Bill, RUGA, Grazing Reserve, Grazing Colony, as well as dismantle the Federal Character Principle which the current Administration has flagrantly violated and abused.
3. It would be recalled that a Senator promised that he was going to the NASS with the intention of sponsoring amendment of the Constitution to make President Buhari life-president. The statement should not be dismissed as inconsequential. It is hoped there would be no subterranean move in this direction considering statements by some unpatriotic elements that this President should be allowed to do third-term.
4. This Amendment, if it becomes inevitable, should dismantle the obnoxious Exclusive Legislative list that has hindered the Federating Units from maximizing their potentials and resources. Most of the 68 items in the Exclusive Legislative that are supposed to be in the Concurrent List, which currently has only 12 items, should be appropriately designated so that the States can become functional and viable.
5. The Constitutional Amendment should provide opportunity for the National Assembly to legislate on the immediate implementation of the Report of the 2014 National Conference. Most of the issues listed for amendment are adequately treated in the Report of the National Conference. All that is required is the political will to implement it. It would be of immense benefit to Nigeria if the salient portions of the National Conference Report are included in the proposed Amendment.
6. This exercise gives the National Assembly the opportunity to legislate on a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Nigeria as the basis for healing and reconciliation of all the ethnic nationalities in the wake of the insurgency and the discriminatory policies of the current Administration. The sectional and discriminatory policies of the President Buhari administration have shattered trust and broken relationships amongst the divergent groups making up Nigeria.
7. The National Assembly should also consider this exercise as a temporary measure to restore balance to Nigeria while rapid arrangements are made by Government for Ethnic Nationalities Conference that would re-negotiate Nigeria and draw up a proper Constitution of the people by the people. It should be clear to all and sundry that Decree 24 which transmuted into 1999 Constitution has not guaranteed national unity, peace, progress and prosperity for Nigeria. After 20 years of appreciable failure, it should therefore be consigned into history, like the Military regime that gave birth to it. It is not people’s Constitution. Nigeria requires a new Constitution of the people, by the people, and for the people.
God bless Nigeria.
2nd September, 2020