Let's Talk About It

LET’S HAVE A FULL BLOWN CONSTITUTIONAL CONFERENCE by Nnamdi Nwigwe

This piece would have been more appropriately entitled “Let’s have a civilian Constitution” as a contradistinction from what we have now which is actually a “military” constitution.

Never mind that quite a lot of panel beating in the name of amendment, has been done on the document handed down by the military regime to the civilians by General Abdusalam Abubakar, on May 29, 1999, it still remains a “military” charter.

A true constitution of a nation, going by a dictionary definition is “a system of laws and customs established by the sovereign power of a state for its own guidance (Chambers English Dictionary).

The key words in the description above are “sovereign” and “power” though they are used together as an adjective qualifying “a state”

In other words, when the military intervened in the governance of this country and overthrew the nation’s basic law, the Generals ruled by Decrees and Edicts.

They required no bills, motions or prayer in the hallowed chambers of parliament to rule.

The great fun by elected law makers was lost. No “eyes” or “nose” had it!

This preamble is intended to prepare the stage for the contention that we indeed have to draw up a pure civilian Constitution.

This Constitution will be an aggregation of “laws and customs” to be established by the “sovereign power” of Nigeria for her own guidance.

Invariably, the convocation of the constitutional conference will have to be by the civilian authority which is the Presidency, in close collaboration with the National Assembly.

Nigerians from all spheres of life and occupation, including the military, should be enabled to participate through memoranda, whose processing by a Constitution Drafting Committee will yield a Draft Constitution.

This will now be thoroughly debated by delegates at a Constitutional Conference.

The result of the conference would be presented to Nigerians a large to sanction in a referendum or plebiscite.

At all material times, the objective and purpose of the constitution will be to work out a “system of laws and customs” to guide our rulers.

We, as responsible citizens, are expected to contribute ideas to assist the drafting committee and the conference delegates to produce a national basic guide that would not be tinkered with whimsically and almost annually to satisfy personal or narrow group ambitions.

Let’s begin with election into political offices.

Our constitution must have fixed dates for national elections.

This will do away with speculations and distractions.

The electoral body would then know how and when to prepare for elections and save the nation the flip flops that attend practically all our elections.

Post election petitions should be so patterned that frivolities are eliminated or, at best, left with the normal courts as pre-election complaints.

Such charges as certificate forgery, non-qualification by way of education deficiency, or tax default, etc, against a candidate ought to be concluded before an election.

The only reasonable ground for a complaint after an election should be a tampering of the votes cast or a manifest act of violence or intimidation that affected the casting of votes by a substantial section of the prospective voters.

These are matters that can be quickly disposed of by a special court, or tribunal, to enable a winner to be sworn in within a specified time.

Both election and installation into office by winners should be so provided for in the constitution that no defendant uses public funds to fight a fellow citizen in search of justice.

Another contentious issue is tenure of office by elected politicians.

In a democracy, in which the people, or rather the majority of those voting, determines who rules. There really ought not to be a bar to the number of times one is freely elected by his or her constituents.

That is the theory. But in practice, we can place limits to enable an incumbent to sit up and justify his or her mandate.

The president or governor should serve for a specified tenure of, say, four or five years and quit.

They must be constitutionally prevented from succeeding themselves by going for a second term.

Any former president or governor who so desires, can vie for election again after the completion of the term of the one who succeeded him.

Self succession has always produced rancour within the polity and we can prevent this by eliminating a successive second term.

What is your take on zoning? I hear my readers asking. Zoning, for those who believe in it, should be left with the political parties.

Let them determine who should win a particular election for them and zone the particular office to that area. But because of the advantage of hindsight and the experience of Nigerians so far, the constitution should insist that the president and the vice president, as well as the governor of a state and his deputy, must emerge from one zone.

Finally, a future re-writing of a Constitution of Nigeria, to be done by the civilian administration, should be started now and completed for inauguration on October 1, 2014, to mark 100 years of the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Protectorates of Nigeria as well as the Lagos Colony by which we became a Federation of Nigeria.”

A National Constitution that has been approved by a majority of the citizenry in a plebiscite, and adopted on October 1, 2014 as a new president takes office, will put paid to any future threats or advocacy for a “re-negotiation” of the status of the country, a euphemism for a break-up.

Nigeria’s unity and strive for oneness should not be negotiable. This country has gone to war over her unity. United we shall remain.

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