‘We can amend, not throw away 1999 Constitution’
Former governor of Edo State, Professor Oserheimen Osunbor, currently chairman of Nigeria Law Reform Commission, talks about the recent happenings on the polity and why he believes the ongoing national conference is necessary. Excerpts:
How has it been since you left the Edo government house?
Life has been very good. As you can see I am not idle; I am here now as the chairman of the Nigeria Law Reform Commission. I thank God for the opportunities He has given me in the past, I pray that he will continue to show favour to me in the years ahead, so life has been good.
Have you been giving advice to Governor Oshiomhole or you have been shut out of government?
Well, your reference to the governor suggests my contributions towards governance of Edo State. You know that the governor in March of 2012 extended the olive branch to me by visiting me in Iruekpen and since then our relationship has been quite cordial and I have not spared any opportunity in expressing my views on the fact that Adams Oshiomhole has done well and I believe that irrespective of political differences , if an elected official is doing well we must set political differences aside to commend him and I believe Edo State governor has done well and the state has been the better for it . I want to see other opposition people being able to commend when there is reason to commend and of course to condemn when things don’t appear to be going well, so I have used the opportunity to meet with the governor , commend him for the good work he is doing and also to suggest to him other areas I think his intervention is needed particularly in some ongoing projects across the state with specific reference to projects which he committed himself to do in my Senatorial district and in particular in Ekpoma which is where I come from. There were lots of projects that we had penciled down for implementation before my exit , he has publicly indicated his willingness to continue to execute those projects , I want to encourage him to honour his words so that before his exit he will be able to deliver those projects to the people of Edo . To the leadership of my party the PDP, I have let them know what the problem of the PDP in Edo is and now every Nigerian knows what the problem of PDP is in Edo State, so I do hope that the political leadership will have the courage and the will to tackle what the problem of PDP is in
If we are going to have another constitution it means we are going to have a 5th Republic , you can only change from one Republic to the other through a revolution or military coup de tat which no Nigerian is praying for now , so I do hope that people know what they are talking about when they say abrogate the 1999 constitution because that will mean abrogating the 4th Republic
Edo State and by extension the problem of governance in Edo state
Is the PDP in Edo State moving in the right direction so far.
As I said there is a big impediment to the progress of PDP in Edo State and until that impediment is removed or something is done to overcome that impediment, I am afraid the PDP in Edo State will continue to suffer electoral misfortune.
Do you still have an eye on the governorship seat?
We don’t know, 2016 is still far, all eyes now are on 2015 Presidential election, that is what matters at the moment, after 2015 we can begin to talk about 2016.
Do you think PDP can win Edo state in the presidential election?
As I said earlier, deep down in the minds of many people in Edo State including many people in APC now, they would love to be in PDP. You will remember that in 2003 PDP controlled the state house of assembly, PDP had 8 out of nine members of the House of Representatives , PDP had all the three Senators , PDP controlled all the local government councils of Edo State. Now the story is different, seriously speaking I think that this misfortune of PDP in Edo State is attributable to one person, people know who has caused this misfortune of PDP in Edo State, I don’t want to mention names, until something is done about this person to ensure that PDP is rescued from his hands am afraid the future doesn’t look very bright for the PDP in the state speaking in terms of electoral victory
People have often talked of corruption, do you think we have enough laws in the country to tackle corruption?
I believe there are lots of provisions in our law to tackle corruption. I am not saying that those laws are hundred percent adequate but I think that the legal framework for tackling corruption in Nigeria exists and can work; what is lacking is the political will, but some other persons may want to describe it as the value system in Nigeria, perhaps within our culture , what I mean by this is why many Nigerians are quick to condemn acts of corruption perpetrated by other communities or other sections of the country they are less vocal about corruption perpetrated by one of their own , the tendency is for communities or for people within certain areas to try to shield their own; they will always use ethnicity or place of origin as a defence, whip up sentiments make sure that their own does not get justice even when they have been apprehended and prosecuted or indicted because of allegations of corruption, so I hope the ongoing national conference will find time to dwell on this issue. The big question is; are Nigerians actually ready to fight corruption? How do we intend to eradicate corruption in our country? Corruption within the law enforcement agencies is one issue, corruption within the judiciary is another issue, so even if the corrupt officer has been apprehended, is being prosecuted , if there is corruption on the part of the judge then no result will be achieved instead you will find that corruption will be self perpetuating, so I think we should look at corruption in all its entire spectrum of the problem. People try to sermonize about corruption in this country, I want us to look at the issues holistically and not to sermonize. Talking about the legal framework you recall that the very first bill that President Obasanjo introduced to the National Assembly in 1999 was this anti corruption bill which led to the passage of the ICPC Act . We now have the ICPC and the EFCC Act, the National Assembly has amended the EFCC Act many times in order to tighten the loose ends.
The law reform commission is also embarking on the reform of the ICPC Act and also the reform of the penal code and the criminal code with respect to this issue of corruption and other matters. So we have quite a lot on the ground in terms of the legal mechanism for addressing corruption, I think for me the most important thing that is lacking is the culture or value system among the people which must be corrected if we are to succeed in this war on corruption.
Do we really need the National Conference?
To answer your question directly, any conference at all can take place in a democracy. There are so many conferences taking place all the time even international conferences take place in Nigeria, law conferences , economic conferences, so if there is national conference to discuss issues about Nigeria for me it’s not a senseless exercise and as they say it is better to jaw jaw than to war war . If people say they are interested in discussing the future of Nigeria, fine let them discuss it. It is not an aberration to have a national conference where there is a legislature. There
has been conferences in the past since 1950 right before Nigeria’s independence and I do believe that even after this one in future may be after 20 or 30 years from now there will still be another conference, there can be no end to people talking to one another on the issue of its relevance with respect to the amendment of the constitution making in Nigeria. I feel that we already have a constitution in place . There is a valid and a subsisting constitution in Nigeria, until that constitution is overthrown, and God forbid that this constitution should be overthrown, unless this Republic is overthrown and God forbid that this Republic should be overthrown, the 1999 Constitution will remain the legal valid constitution in Nigeria , the constitution itself in section 9 envisages that it is not perfect and therefore prescribes how it can be improved upon by way of alterations or amendments. We’ve seen that this is possible because amendments had been made to the Nigerian Constitution , so I think that maybe at the end of the day, the National Assembly and Houses of Assembly of the states will now see from whatever views Nigerians have offered what they think will be valuable for the purpose of amending the constitution. Even the American constitution which has been in existence since about the 1780 or there about has been amended 27 times. The South African Constitution was adopted on the 8th of May 1996 but it’s been amended 17 times. Nobody has called for the abrogation of the South African Constitution, there is already a proposal which has been accepted for an amendment for the 18th times to the South African Constitution. Nigeria’s constitution came into effect in 1999; we’ve amended it only about three or four times and people are already saying throw it away, you can’t throw it away, you can amend it, as a lawyer, I know that only a revolution or a military coup can throw away the Constitution, because the judiciary has taken an oath to defend the Constitution , Mr. President swore an oath to uphold and defend the 1999 Constitution, members of the National Assembly have sworn to uphold and defend the constitution including the Houses of Assembly. I find it difficult to see how you can go round all this legal position , people are talking of a brand new constitution, I was listening to a debate in the National Assembly some days ago where some people were saying any Nigerian can propose a new constitution, I shuddered when I hear those kinds of remarks , a constitution is different from a bill or an Act of the National Assembly which anybody can present . The Constitution is the basic and fundamental law , it is the legal thing that hold the fabrics of the society together, once those fabrics that hold the society together are removed or eroded, the society will collapse. Talking of a brand new constitution is recipe to destroy the 4th Republic. The abrogation of the 1999 constitution in my view as a lawyer is the end of the 4th Republic because Republic is based on the Constitution. The 1963 constitution ushered in the first Republic, the 1979 constitution ushered in the 2nd Republic , the 1989 constitution ushered in what I called the aborted 3rd Republic while the 1999 constitution ushered in the 4th Republic. If we are going to have another constitution it means we are going to have a 5th Republic , you can only change from one Republic to the other through a revolution or military coup de tat which no Nigerian is praying for now , so I do hope that people know what they are talking about when they say abrogate the 1999 constitution because that will mean abrogating the 4th Republic, so these are some of the issues which I think those involved in such debate will consider before they put us in unintended crisis.
As chairman of Nigeria Law Reform Commission, what aspect of our laws do you think need urgent reforms?
Those are the things we are doing at the Law Reform Commission. Right now we are looking at Public Order Act, we are looking at the issue of torture, the issue of rights of people who are detained vis-a-vis the powers of the police and law enforcement agencies , because the issue of human rights is very current now . We are looking at the Federal Road Safety Act [FRSC] because there has been lots of questions as to the extent of their powers , what they do and what they cannot do recently there was a court ruling that even this number plates they are coming out with is illegal , we want to revisit the Act and see what we can do about it , there is the issue of the dishonored cheques Acts which is also one of the projects we have for this year etc.