The divergent positions being canvassed on the proposed constitution amendment by various ethnic nationalities, political elites and religious groups underscore the increasing gap between the North and the South
When the National Assembly, NASS, resumes from recess in September, they will begin what many people see as their most sensitive assignment – constitutional amendment. It will not be the first time the 1999 Constitution will be amended; indeed it will be the fifth alteration of the 12-year-old Constitution. However, what makes this one volatile is because of the issues that the NASS will attempt to resolve. These are issues that touch the core areas considered to be responsible for the nation’s existence, perpetual disharmony, conflict, corruption and underdevelopment.
Basically, the NASS is targeting 16 broad areas. Ike Ekweremadu, deputy Senate president and chairman, Senate Committee on Constitution Review, disclosed that the committee has received 109 memoranda and 56 requests for state creation.
These memoranda were processed and harmonised into 16 critical areas for consideration: devolution of powers; creation of more states; adoption of the six geo-political structure; role for traditional rulers; local government autonomy; removal from the constitution of Land Use Act, National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, and Code of Conduct Acts; fiscal federalism; boundary adjustments; and the removal of the immunity clause. Others are: state and local government police; independence of the judiciary; tenure of the executive; power rotation; gender equality; mayoral status for Abuja; and residency opportunities.
Before he left office recently, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, immediate past chief justice of Nigeria, CJN, sent in a bill to the NASS for judicial reforms. He has proposed a total of 52 alterations in the Constitution, as it affects the judiciary, to guarantee financial autonomy and remove obsolete provisions. The Justice Alfa Belgore committee set up by President Goodluck Jonathan to harmonise recommendations of different bodies also submitted its report that will inform the executive bill to the NASS.
On their own part, the NASS has been holding retreats on the imminent amendment. They have advertised 16 areas and invited groups and individuals to send memoranda to the Committee on Constitution Review. The major socio-cultural organisations in the country have submitted their memoranda accordingly, stating what they want and how. The whole country is expectant.
However, about five issues may test the will of the legislature in this exercise. These are: fiscal federalism, tenure of the president and governors, rotational presidency, state police and citizenship rights. In 2006 the NASS threw out all the 104 proposed amendments due to the fear of then President Olusegun Obasanjo’s third term agenda. The same scenario might repeat itself because of the increasing insecurity in the country and group fears. The divergent positions of various people and groups across the country show a deepening gulf between the elites in the North and South.
For some people, the report of the 1994/1995 National Constitutional Conference, NCC, midwifed by the Sani Abacha junta, remains the solution to Nigeria’s instability and perennial conflicts. The conference sat for exactly one year, from June 26, 1994 to June 26, 1995, seen as a reasonable time to discuss and ponder over many thorny issues that affect the Nigerian polity.
Alex Ekwueme, a former vice president and leader of the Igbo delegation to the conference, insists that the death of Abacha before that report was promulgated into law robbed Nigeria of a perfect solution to the core issues of nationhood. It was to come into effect on October 1, 1998. For Ndigbo and the South-south people, the way forward is to adopt the report of that conference which is seen by them as the most appropriate response to the problems afflicting Nigeria. However, what marred the report, which was to be enacted as 1995 Constitution, was the boycott of the conference by the South-west because of the June 12 saga.
The document recognised the six geo-political zones now being widely used. It provided for a diffusion of federal executive responsibility. In addition to the offices of president and vice president and ministers, the ill-fated constitution equally provided for the offices of prime minister and deputy prime minister. This was to ensure that each geo-political zone was represented at the presidency. Apart from power rotation, it also provided a five-year single term for governors and presidents.
At the federal level, power was to rotate among the six geo-political zones; while at the state level, the positions of governor, deputy governor and speaker of the House of Assembly would rotate among the three senatorial zones of the state. Though not in the 1999 Constitution, this principle has been practised since the return to civil rule in 1999 until 2011 when the South-west was denied the position of the speaker of the House of Representatives. Today the North produces both the Senate president and the speaker of the House, while the South-east has the deputy Senate president and the deputy speaker, leaving none for the South-west. At the 1994/1995 NCC, all the delegates from the six geopolitical zones endorsed these provisions.
Ekwueme is of the view that the 30-year period within which the rotational presidency principle was to operate would have brought about “national integration at all levels.”
The 1994/1995 NCC, unlike the 1999 Constitution, anticipated and provided for the death of a president in the zoning format. Had the 1995 Constitution been promulgated or later included in the 1999 Constitution, which is the 1979 Constitution, the doctrine of necessity would not have been necessary. Section 147(1) provides: “Subject to the provisions of sub-section (2) of this section, if any vacancy occurs by reason of the death or resignation or the removal of the president from office (impeachment) in accordance with section 144, 145 or 340 of this constitution, the vice president shall hold the office of president for the period of not more than three months during which there shall be an election of a new president from the same zone, who shall hold office for the unexpired term of office of the last holder of the office.”
Thirteen years of democracy also appears to have created more conflicts. Consequently, the political demography of the country is now amorphous due to security challenges which have thrown up other fears of ethnic nationalities and groups across the country. This also appears to have modified attitude of groups and individuals to various constitutional issues.
Ohaneze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, and Afenifere, the Yoruba socio-political group, agree that the present six geopolitical zones should become autonomous federating units, which Ndigbo wants to “be headed by elected governors-general.” They also want the revenue formula to be based on 30 per cent derivation principle. The Ijaw National Congress, IJC, though supports the regional idea, proposes a 10-regional structure. Robertson Esitei, national secretary of the congress, recommended: “The regions should have control of their resources and pay taxes to the federal government.” Reuben Fasoranti, leader of Afenifere, said resource control by the regions would engender “simultaneous development in all the geo-political zones.”
Ohaneze proposes the adoption of a six-year single term for the executive, and they believe that the office of the president should rotate among the six zones. Ralph Uwechue, president-general of the group, explained that, “apart from stopping the inevitable distraction from the time and attention of the office holder in the quest for a second term, a single tenure eliminates the crucial and unfair advantage enjoyed by an incumbent with access to vast official facilities, which are not available to his or her co-contestants in the conduct of electoral campaigns.”
The position taken by Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, on most of the issues run counter to that of their southern counterparts. For instance, on state creation, which the Belgore committee adopted in the 1995 and 2005 conferences report that an additional state be created for the South-east, Anthony Sani, its spokesman, told TELL last week, “While we agree that state creation would bring government and development closer to the people, our position is that it is not desirable at this time.
State creation in this country has reached a stage where it can be said that diminishing return has set in. There are already concerns that the existing states are becoming unviable, and any additional state now will compound the problem.” To the South-east, this might be an indication that the North is against their interest. But to him, it is not just about Ndigbo: “If you create one additional state for the Igbo, others will also ask for more. That is the history of state creation in this country.”
On tenure of president/governors, ACF’s position is at the other side of the position of the southern states. While the South states are canvassing for a single term, the North wants the status quo maintained. “Our position is that there is no management principle that ignores motivation. In single-term tenure, there is no motivation for performance. Those who perform and those who didn’t are grouped together. A politician would want to be rewarded for performing as governor or president with a second term. But if you say it is single term, you have not motivated him to perform. Single-term tenure ignores the principle of motivation.” Perhaps, to avoid controversy, the Belgore report is silent on this issue. The Northern Governors’ Forum, NGF, is one with ACF on the issue of tenure. They also withdrew from an earlier consensus with their brothers in the South in what is believed to have been a result of blackmail from the ACF. The North is said to be apprehensive about the prospects of the South developing what could easily be turned into regional armies under the guise of state police. “We believe that we are not yet politically mature enough to operate state police. Our political development as a nation has not reached the level where a governor should be allowed to control the police in his state. There will be chaos, and it is a recipe for disintegration,” says Sani. Ibrahim Coomassie, a former inspector general, IG, of police and now the Sardauna of Katsina, agrees with this point of view. To him and other ex-police chiefs, state police are an invitation to chaos. Sunday Ehindero, a former IG, also agrees with northern position. He feels strongly that state police will surely lead to the disintegration of Nigeria. Abubakar Tsav, a former police commissioner of Lagos State, supports the former IGPs. He says state police will lead to a loss of control by the federal government and worsen the security situation in the country, as it would be abused by “power-drunk governors.”
Yinka Odumakin, a convener of Save Nigeria Group, SNG, does not share that view. He told the magazine last week, “I look at the concept of state police from the point of view of federalism... I do not think state police can be used to break up the country. We are just afraid of our own shadow. There is clause in the constitution of Eritrea that any part of the country that wants to opt out is free to do so, but no part has done that simply because of that clause.”
The Action Congress of Nigeria says that state police will solve the problem of insecurity. Likewise, Alfred Martins, the archbishop of Lagos, appeared to have spoken the mind of the Catholic Congregation in Nigeria when he stated that Nigeria needs state police. While acknowledging the abuse of state police by the old regions, he affirmed: “If we remove those shortcomings, we might be able to have a police that will serve our purpose better.”
This is one of the emotive issues that the NASS will put on the table for debate. Enyinnaya Abaribe, Senate’s spokesman, told journalists in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, during the recent Senate retreat: “All options to enhance the security of Nigeria, including state police, are to be considered in the constitution amendment.”
On the federal character principle, Obasanjo’s 2005 National Political Conference recommended that it be applied “on elective and appointive positions on the basis of equitable representation.” But the Belgore committee recommends its amplification through transformation into Equal Opportunities Commission, which would “focus on the needs of not only geopolitical zones but also affirmative action for gender, minorities and persons with disabilities.”
Put together, fireworks are expected in the chambers of the NASS when the debate opens. Even more will come from the geo-political zones when the public hearing begins. It is expected that the wide gulf between the northern and southern leaders will not manifest in the NASS. If it does, then in the end, emotions, rather than reason, like in 2006, may determine the fate of the impending fifth amendment of the 1999 Constitution.
Additional report by Tajudeen Suleiman