The latest attempt at reviewing the 1999 Constitution by the National Assembly is being dogged by doubt. The doubt has its root in the perceived failure of the past efforts. The belief of most Nigerians is that the current effort will yield no fruit. They see it as a waste of time and resources.
But not every Nigerian is a doubting Thomas. There are compatriots who are of the opinion that if certain things are done, the current constitution amendment process will be successful. Among these Nigerians is Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu of Ondo state.
In his remarks a couple of days back at the public hearing by the Senate Committee on Constitution Review which was held in Akure, Governor Akeredolu volunteered some prescriptions for the success of the exercise. The governor identified partisanship as a clog that must be avoided by those handing the process of altering the constitution.
He advised the Senate Committee: “The leaders galvanising this course of history must cast aside partisanship, an unprofitable and distracting pastime at the moment of national emergencies, which often serves the purpose of parochialism, selfish considerations and permutations to outwit, beguile with ultimate aim to displace and dispossess perceived opponents.”
Nigeria is a country where every issue of existential and national importance is always seen from the narrow prism of partisan politics. The country’s brand of politics is adversarial and divisive. It is one of the centrifugal forces trying to pull the country apart. People see themselves as APC or PDP or any political party to which they belong. The fidelity of the people to their political parties is stronger than their loyalty to the country. This is one of the tragedies of Nigeria as a nation-state.
So, to achieve the kind of alteration to the 1999 Constitution that will fundamentally address issues confronting the country, members of the National Assembly must pull down all the walls of partisanship. They must not see themselves as members of their political parties. Rather, they must see themselves as Nigerians in search of a new Nigeria. They must see themselves as citizens in search of a new direction for their country. That’s the advice of Governor Akeredolu.
The governor is noted for honesty. He knows the value of the virtue. That’s why he recommended it as a path to follow if the constitution amendment exercise must achieve meaningfulness and relevance. The truth is that Nigeria and Nigerians have swum for too long in the river of self-deceit. Even the 1999 Constitution that the National Assembly seeks to amend tells a lie about itself and the people of the country. It claims to have been a product of the collective agreement of the people, whereas it is a function of a military fiat.
Governor Akeredolu advised the Senate Committee: “This is the time for candour, that rare opportunity which gives vent to processed nuggets of introspection. This is the hour to accept that fundamental errors of judgement have been made and there is the need to correct same.
“This is the moment when brothers and sisters must look at themselves in the eyes, chastise in love and be ready to embrace, warmly, afterwards. The stage must not be set for an unending and needless blame game and acrimony. This is definitely not a contest in sophistry where orators say so much but, in the end, say nothing.
“Providence has ensured our presence on the World Map as Nigerians, a badge which evokes a mixed feeling of approbation and warmth, on one hand, and a general sense of revulsion for attitudes symptomatic of the current crisis of confidence in the country. Our ability to deliberate, dispassionately, on the issues which, ultimately, define us as a nation of peoples bound in the same destiny, will be far reaching in our quest for abiding solutions to the perennial crises.”
In amending the constitution, Governor Akeredolu urged the National Assembly to address all the issues confronting Nigeria as a nation: “The constitution of a country should reflect the aggregate of the realistic expectations of the components parts which form the union. It is the basic law which must define the powers and responsibilities of the offices created to serve the people.
“It must address the possible areas of anxiety. Nothing must be taken as given. All aspects of concern must be looked into with a view to reaching a consensus. All disparate aspirations must be harnessed to evolve a national ethos.
“No section of the country must feel short-changed. The document produced must be a true reflection of collective bargaining and concessions secured in an ambience of frank exchanges among members of the same family.”
He cautioned against jamboree and tokenism: “The current attempt at Constitution amendment should be taken beyond the usual jamboree conceived and executed to arrive at predetermined result.
The governor added: “The current exercise, therefore, must not toe the path of the previous attempts at tokenism. The basic law of any country must not be reduced to frivolities reflecting preferred whimsies. It must not be oppressive of the minorities. Its provisions must indeed give teeth to the primary purpose for which the government exists.”
According to Governor Akeredolu, no provision of the law must not be justiciable as Chapter Two of the current 1999 Constitution seeks to impress on the people of the country. He advised that all the agitations of the peoples of this country must be looked into with a view to improving the economic power of the average citizens.
“The current exercise will derive its legitimacy if taken to the people for revalidation. Nothing must be taken for granted. Everyone must be treated as an equal partner in this whole enterprise of nation-building,” Governor Akeredolu said.
*** Oyewamide is Senior Special Assistant to Governor Akeredolu on Media and Publicity