16 July 2013

Nigeria: Wanted - Another Doctrine of Necessity


To most Nigerians, the greatest impediment to Nigeria's rapid development is the structural imbalance on which the country has rested since its forceful amalgamation by Lord Fredrick Lugard in 1914. Since then, there have been several attempts by the colonial masters, military rulers and civilian administrations to formulate a suitable constitution for the disparate entities that constitute the present-day Nigeria. Every attempt to modify an existing constitution has rather appeared to be retrogressive, and meant to spite the very obvious desires of our people.

Perhaps, this is the best way to describe the current effort at constitution review by the National Assembly. Going by the reports submitted by both committees of the National Assembly on constitution review, it is clear that the outcome is predictable and premeditated. First of all, the committees' membership as we know are pure establishment and run-of-the-mill type which will never alter the status quo, as long as their bread is buttered. At worst they hold the very people they claim to represent with derision.

Their masters are not the Nigerian people, as their personal interests surpass even the most genuine and altruistic aspiration of the majority. If not, how will one accept the pedestrian excuse that none of the demands for state creation met the constitutional requirement? One may now ask: what is their role as lawmakers if not to smoothen the rough edges. as it were, to meet people's aspirations? Granted that the process leading to creation of a new state is cumbersome, but so are other aspects of constitution amendment. For example, in the case of state creation they overlooked the very popular demand for parity and equity in number of states for every political zone. Even when they found it hard to accept the numerous demands for states' creation, they ought to have recommended at least parity and equitable number of states for the six geopolitical zones. That way, the other five zones who are shortchanged in the number of states as compared to the northwest with seven states would balance up with one state each, with the exception of the south-east that will get additional two states. This is simple political arithmetic as the late political legend, Dr Chuba Okadigbo, would posit.

From the preliminary report already submitted, especially in the House of Representatives, there is absolutely nothing to justify the enormous time, energy and resources which they have put into the nationwide gallivanting over several weeks and months. They merely took Nigerians for a ride and on a political rigmarole not different from similar past jamborees. In fairness to the initial critics of the exercise, they rightly predicted that the committees were set up to divert Nigerians' attention from the agitations for a sovereign national conference which, at the time, was dominating national discourse and attention. They also rightly predicted that the committees and indeed the National Assembly would dash the hopes of Nigerians to have a people's constitution. From all indications, their prediction has come to pass. In fact, this was a venture that was carefully designed to achieve a premeditated end, and fail the populace. Understandably, Nigerians are paying little or no attention to the highpoints of the recommendations being reeled out recently.

One can easily recall the wise saying that you cannot give what you don't have. From the preliminary report already submitted to the National Assembly, there is no doubt that the committees did not do the necessary hard work required in an exercise as important as constitution review. Their report is watery and lacking of any substance, as it failed to address the fundamental structural and systematic problems which are presently threatening to undermine the very foundation on which the nation stands.

Yet, there is a flicker of hope that both chambers of the legislature have another chance to rectify the mistakes of their constitution review committees by refusing to adopt the recommendations hook, line and sinker. I take this position considering the fact that the reason for their mandate is to do good to the greatest number of people, no matter where they come from. And in the case of state creation, the question is: have some zones being cheated in the exercise under the military? If the answer is in the affirmative, as we all agree, then efforts ought to be made immediately to redress it. In this case, there may be need to adopt the doctrine of necessity to give the south-east an additional state to bring the zone to parity with other states. This indeed will be the utmost test of statesmanship by the National Assembly, and there is no way this grave injustice can be wished away.

Lest we forget, the nation will continue to be on a roller-coaster ride until all those who have assumed rulership over us become sober enough to guarantee justice to all the sections of the country. Any constitution review that fails to address the fundamental problems besetting the country is, to all intents and purposes, a futile effort and a nullity. Since the constitution empowers the National Assembly to make laws for the good governance of Nigeria, any new constitution should be seen to protect all sections of the country in word and deed.

As far as I know, there are sufficient and enabling powers under our laws to enable the National Assembly do what is right, and they cannot afford to abdicate this responsibility. History and indeed posterity beckons on all men of goodwill to immediately rise to the challenge and elevate the country to enviable heights.

Enekwechi is an Abuja-based journalist and politician

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