Sunday, 25 July 2004
What Are The Functions Of Nigeria’s National Assembly? Why Do Many Nigerians Believe Sovereign National Conference Is A Panacea? Does The Nigerian Constitution Provide For National Conference Or SNC? Are Some Nigerians Averse To Due Process And The Rule Of Law? Perhaps Nigerians Should Make Constitutional Amendment A Campaign Issue In 2007? Is The Economy Really Not The Source of ALL our tensions?
The above questions are some that I have been asking compatriots and myself repeatedly, these questions must be answered by advocates of NC or the ultimate, SNC, regarding this willful ignorance displayed by so many intelligent people, who are adamant in their fallacious belief that a National Conference or Sovereign National Conference, hereinafter NC and SNC, are the cure-all and be-all for every challenges facing Nigeria.
Clearly, there are inequalities, imbalances and even injustices in the past and current political arrangements in Nigeria, there is an urgent need to address these inequalities, imbalances and injustices, but, the way forward, is not NC or SNC, it is constitutional amendments, through our elected representatives, elections are unfairly rigged, yes, I know, let us reform the electoral law and process, Nigerians should not accept bags of rice or bags of money next time there are elections, they should instead, report anyone who does accept bribes to affect election outcomes, so we have pristine election, we then have elected representatives that truly reflect our wishes? Then we demand constitutional amendment! Perhaps Nigerians should make constitutional amendments a campaign issue in 2007! Nigerians should trust democracy to deliver dividends, we should make our elected representatives accountable, make them pursue law reforms, that enhances the system of government and better life for all citizens.
If it is true, that Nigerians have wholeheartedly accepted democracy, why then, are too many Nigerians averse to rules and tenets of democracy? Why are some unwilling to let the process work and fine-tune progressively? I have written in the past, that constitutional amendments are much better and preferable to NC or SNC, and, I am compelled to repeat this basic idea again.
If the function of the national assembly is to make laws, including authority amend the Nigerian constitution, why are so many people clamoring for NC or SNC? Why wouldn’t these persons, lobby or cajole their National Assembly member, to sponsor constitutional amendment bills? All these Nigerians, well-meaning and all, should learn the very basic or elementary rule of democracy, for democracy to succeed in Nigeria, we must all learn these very rudimentary rules of electing the finest amongst ourselves, no bags of salt or bags of money as substitute, and then, put the fine men and women that we elect to work, by lobbying them or letting them know, that they will not be re-elected, when and if they fail to make constitutional amendment a reality or if and when the fail election agenda.
I myself have concerns about how focused our current governments at all levels, formed by the various political parties, are. But I think it is beyond questions, whether Nigerians are willing to live together, the cause of the present crises are purely the end-result of the comatose state of the Nigerian economy; We have always been willing to live together, and my prediction is that, as soon as our country’s shattered economy recovers from the doldrums, these present crises, that appear intractable, will dissipate and fizzle out naturally. It is my position, that petty age-old disagreements, have become exacerbate and pronounced, only because of joblessness and hunger in our land, which have affected the majority of our citizens adversely for several decades.
I would have been in favor of a national conference or the more portent legalese Sovereign National Conference, if it was about how to make the different strata and levels of government in Nigeria more responsive to the yearnings and aspirations of all Nigerian citizens, in efforts to achieve the general welfare and greater god of all. The current federal government of Nigeria has a program, called NEEDS, as one of its efforts at poverty eradication and the alleviation of mass sufferings and hardships of our citizens, but we have heard all these before, so, I can understand that most of our citizens seems to think and say to themselves, well, we have heard all these before…. And there is these justified skepticisms and even cynicisms, coming from our weather-beaten citizens, who are at this time, battle-wary and worn-out, by scorching poverty and hardships.
But perhaps we ought not to, judge every government in Nigeria or anywhere, with our pre-conceived notions of low expectations of policy formulations and implementations? And perhaps Nigerians ought not, to pre-judge NEEDS? We need to summon the courage to imbibe the ideals and tenets of democracy, and this requires some elements of trust, but with a caveat, of a sort of enlightened suspicions of our governments, suspicions that would not stifle governments’ efforts from its conceptions or cradle.
The Nigerian National Assembly members, are the representatives of all ethnic groups from all facets and works of life in Nigeria’s nooks and crannies, they therefore, represent, the best and perhaps, the worst amongst us Nigerian citizens? And it will essentially be the same samplings, of the good, the bad and the ugly of Nigerians, I bet, if the National or Sovereign National Conference nominees and or attendees,(just like previous Constitution Drafting Committees/Constituent Assemblies in the past) were to be selected, nothing would be different, we will be Nigerians. Or are we selecting the participants from the moon or mars? Who are the apparently pristine persons that would attend the NC or SNC? What will be the nominating or selection processes that would markedly different, from the current process for nominations to elective offices? The current processes that is presumably irredeemably flawed and imperfect?
Nigerians need to emphasize selfless service and stop perceiving public service as an opportunity for self-enrichments and self-aggrandizements.
The truth must be told, that we have had excellent body of laws in the past, Nigeria had good constitutions at various times in the past, what we have lacked, and perhaps still lack, have been rigorous and vigorous enforcements of the laws that we already have. We have lacked effective implementations of our previous constitutions, our laws, statutes and rules or regulations that Nigeria already have in the books! Unless, Nigerians believe that the reasons for some our filthy streets, are because, there are no laws in Nigeria regulating public hygiene and hygienic living, and in that case, we must be reminded, of how, the War Against Indiscipline, at least, the Environmental Sanitation aspects, compelled Nigerians to suddenly clean their neighborhoods!
I did not like the compulsion, but we like the clean! There has always been laws against corruption in Nigeria for example, but, just like the laws stipulating public hygiene standard have been observed in the breach, the law against corruption and greed, have not been aggressively enforced.
Senator Kuta endeared himself to me, when he made anti corruption comments during the Senate investigation of the late Senator Okadigbo and others, who at the time were facing a probe, and since then, I have watched Senator Kuta with admiration. He is certainly, a man of courage who speaks his mind undeterred by the political expediencies of the current dispensation, expediencies that tend to inhibit actions on the part of Nigeria’s political class. Senator Kuta has logic and incredibly good sense.
In a recent interview with The Guardian’s Abiodun Beckley in Jos, he clearly stated the argument against national conference and or the now notorious clamor for Sovereign national conference. He restated the correctly, Nigeria is not a failed state/country!
The Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Austin Opara, spoke in the same vein, against the clamor for NC and SNC, Nigerians will do well to listen to these persons
National Conference or Sovereign National Conference is not authorized or provided for in the Constitution of Nigeria, the activities for which some Nigeria advocate these conferences by whatever names, are the exact functions of the national assembly, which is already empanelled in Abuja since May 29, 1999.
Nigerians deserving law reforms, including constitutional amendments, must therefore channel their demands and proposals through their Senators and House of Representatives members…. I am the first to concede that, Nigeria does have a need for all manners of law reform, prison reforms, land law reform, agricultural law reform, police law reform, environmental law reform, military law reforms… etc and all these are the duties/functions of the Nigerian national assembly! Shall we have national conferences for police reform, agric reform and pollutions curbing laws?
Some Nigerians must first decide whether they prefer democracy to dictatorship (I thought that was without question, resolved already!) But with these agitations and propaganda, some Nigerians are seemingly asking for military-style conduct of policies by fiat of the executive, instead of procedural due process of the law making-type of national assemblies! If we have all accepted democracy (as I now wonder whether we all have?) Why would some Nigerians want to operate outside of the Nigerian Constitution?
Well again, I will be the first to concede that our current constitution is not perfect, after all, the current constitution was drafted by those nominated or selected by a military regime and worse, their final product and draft constitution was said to have been amended by the then military ruling council… but even at that, it our constitution! It is our duty to curb its imperfections, we can radically alter our present constitution or just fine-tune it as we go along the democratic process and all of these are within the ambit and purview of Nigeria’s national assembly.
If some Nigerians have argued that the present constitution was imposed on us by a military and undemocratic leaders, and therefore necessarily devoid of inputs from the electorate, then further argue that the recent elections in April 2003 were flawed, all these lead me to wonder, what the difference really will be with a national conference or opiate laden one, SNC! First, NC or SNC is unconstitutional… even by currently adjudged imperfect Nigerian constitution standard;
Further and more, were we to agree, to actually have an NC or an SNC, who would qualify in my hometown and your hometown? What will be the parameter for nominations, selections or elections and who and how do we decides these? Who further decides whether these processes will be fair or flawed? Again, would nominations be by the local government, state or federal governments? Would it be by the various political parties? If the April 2003 were flawed for whatever reasons, what has changed since then? The present Constitution of Nigeria? The present Electoral Law? The Political Parties or the attitude of the citizens or governments at all levels? Nothing has changed! Where then is the guarantee that elections, selections or nominations to NC and SNC would be flawless and incorruptible?
Which of the so-called ethnic nationalities trust any of the current political parties completely? What political party represents the Niger Delta or the Tiv or the Urhobos, what political party ensures that the marginalized minorities or the Middle Belt are now well looked after…at the end of the NC or SNC? Have many written that Nigeria is now more or less a one party state run by the PDP dominatrix?
Amazingly, some very smart and intelligent Nigerians continue to advocate and agitate, these empty propaganda laden NC and SNC as panacea for all Nigeria’s ills! Most of these agitators seem not to bother to contend with ground rules for the conferences for which they are drum so loudly! What are the modalities for selecting conference attendees or representatives? Who represents me at the conferences? And what will be the apparatus for implementing the resulting cumulative deliberations? The present Nigerian government and her machineries at all levels that were arguably derived from a flawed process; And the prevailing logic is, how can the government be trusted with anything else after the imperfect elections? Hence the agitators do not trust the local, state, and federal government and national assembly to be in any position to undertake constitutional and law reforms, and so, the reason the prefer NC or SNC, but why will they at some point, trust the current elected office holders (elected from flawed/tainted elections, untrustworthy hence?) to implement NC and SNC recommendations or outcome? Since those who distrust the current government believe that, the part always reliably represent the whole, and a government derived from a flawed election, will lie about anything and will never do anything right! What an endless process?
In order to arrive at true democracy, we must view democracy as we would cooking a meal with firewood, we must stoke the fire and constantly manipulate the woods for the best embers or the food will be undercook if the fire fizzles for lack of attention and care on our part, democracy like good fire, requires attention and care and patience too.
Some Nigerians are currently behaving like persons cooking with firewood fire, but seeking and expecting the results of microwave speed-cooking! Or put differently, those agitating for NC or SNC are unwittingly seeking the arbitrariness of the erstwhile military regimes, where one man appoint everybody, and the ruling council rubber stamps such appointments, regimes that executed public policies by personal fiat on the helmsman and his henchmen. Nigerians who overwhelmingly accepted democracy when it re-arrived or was re-ordained five years ago, now appears journey-wary already?
Democracy may be too slow for some, law reform through lobbying and presentations of paper positions may to complicated for some, and constitutional amendments are probably too much debate and arduous work for some, but, these are the tenets and ideals of democracy, a perfect constitution, if there ever was one, is like a house, it is constructed, brick-by-brick. If Nigerian yearns for a good/perfect constitution, we must construct/create one, brick-by-brick or amendment-by-amendment, we must put the era of ad hoc public policy modes behind us, we must initiate procedures and processes that endures the test of time… as good as most Nigerians think American Constitution to be, it still is, for Americans, a work in progress, good but not perfect.