‘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:

Daily Trust - - INSIDE POLITICS - From Vin­cent Egun­yanga, Benin Pro­fes­sor Oser­heimen Osun­bor

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.

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