9 February 2013

Nigeria: Review Yourselves Before You Review the Constitution


Top on the agenda of the current session (7th in the series) of the National Assembly is the review of the 1999 constitution. Many Nigerians believe that some aspects of the existing constitution which was fashioned out by a military regime need to be reviewed, amended or altered. Such critical areas may among others include section 162 (6) which relates to the operation of "Joint Account" by state governments. What though seems flabbergasting is the manner in which some leaders (executive and legislative) at different levels of the structure of governance are aggressively pushing for or opposing specific amendments. This raises pertinent questions that interrogate the sincerity of the "official" motives for the review.

Granted that some aspects of the existing constitution fulfill all the requirements for review, more seem to be wrong with Nigerians (as interpreters and implementers of the constitution) than with the document. Is it, for instance, the fault of the constitution or that of the presiding judge who jails a criminal for stealing a chicken or a made-in-Aba pair of shoes whereas the same judge asks another who stole billions of naira to pay a small fine? That is the kind of judgment recently delivered by Justice Abubakar of the Federal High Court Abuja who ruled in the case of Mr. John Yakubu Yusufu, one of the eight accused persons standing trial over the embezzlement of N40billion from the police pension funds.

The former deputy director at the police pension office who pleaded guilty to the 3-count charge brought against him by the Economic and financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was accused of conniving with others to steal about N23billion. The EFCC also found N325million in Mr. John Yakubu's bank account in the addition to the over 30 "choice landed properties" in Abuja, Lagos and Gombe which the accused forfeited to government. Even if Mr. Yakubu had been on the salary of a permanent secretary from the day of his conception in the womb, it is doubtful that he could have legally owned those properties that run into billions. The judge amazingly sentenced the pension thief to two years in jail on each of the three charges to run concurrently with an option of N250, 000 fine on each count. What deterring purpose would the payment of a total of N750, 000 by a man who stole billions serve? The convict was however re-arrested by the EFCC probably because of public reaction to the judgment that though sounded like a "celebration of theft and thieves"!

Now, is it the result of constitutional deficiency that the former Delta State Governor James Ibori was discharged and acquitted by an Asaba High Court in 2009 or that of the trial judge who refused to find him guilty on any of the dozens of charges brought against him by the EFCC? Ibori was later to be found guilty of the same charges in a country where judges do not celebrate criminals but treat them according to provisions of the law. The issue is, even if you give Nigerians the best of constitutions, it may fail to make a difference if those saddled with the responsibility of implementing its provisions (in their capacities as judges or law enforcement agents) lack the willpower and commitment to doing so.

We may not be right to attribute our inability to tackle the socio-economic ills that threaten us as a nation to archaic laws that derive from a weak constitution. I think our failure in this regard lies more with our attitude generally: lack of conscience; high sense of irresponsibility; indiscipline; corruption; and a decadent value system. This is why you find some Nigerians asking for the enforcement of their fundamental human rights as enshrined in the constitution while at the same time they forget or rather refuse to perform the duties placed upon them by the same document. Some Nigerians need to be reminded or (in the case of many) educated that the rights of other citizens make up their duties just as their rights constitute the duties other citizens owe to them. The rights of others, indeed, begin from where ours end.

Is it not an irony to find people asking for "right to life" when actually the same people deny others the same right through armed robbery, political assassination and other violent crimes? Is it not ridiculous that those who as married men believe in the promotion of decent family life as contained in section 17(h) of the 1999 constitution are the same people who do not only engage in adultery but also made attempts in the recent past to legalize prostitution in Nigeria?

Is it not equally cynical that those who quote section 25 of the constitution to lay claim to Nigerian citizenship are the same people who deny other Nigerians the same right by labeling them as settlers? Is it not even more sarcastic that criminals who kidnap others (denying them one of their fundamental human rights) are the same people that (after their arrest) argue for bail and the enforcement of their right to freedom of movement?

Is it not a mockery of the constitution when the head of a federal government agency such as the Nigerian Immigration Service who (by the virtue of the public office she occupied) ought to have full knowledge of section 14(3) of the Nigerian constitution but chose to undertake a recruitment exercise that jettisoned the Federal Character of Nigeria? Is it not the height of travesty and betrayal that leaders who in their respective oath of office swore to the constitution which seeks in section 15(5) to "abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power" to have allowed some indicted public officers remain "untouchable" simply because such persons are the only "Maggie" cubes that can make the "meal" of the ruling party delicious.

It is in truth scoffing for a government which advocates Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) in the provision of essential social services in the power, health and education sectors of the economy to pretend to forget about the same initiative when it thought of building a N4billion office for African First Ladies peace Mission in Abuja.

The review of the constitution should first begin with Nigerians themselves. They need to review many of the existing sections of their public and private life. This way, we would be able to forestall the possibility of having unprepared or inefficient presidents; accidental ministers or public servants; insensitive or double-tongued legislators; and ceremonial or supercilious local government chairmen. May Allah (SWT) guide to keep re-examining ourselves in order to repent from our sins, appreciate our weaknesses and lead a righteous life, amin.

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