Amend­ing the Nige­rian con­sti­tu­tion

Daily Trust - - OPINION -

One is of the opin­ion that we have reached a stage in the demo­cratic his­tory of our na­tion when im­prov­ing on the con­sti­tu­tion, via amend­ments, should be re­served to the good judge­ment of elected politi­cians. This is not to say that they can­not ben­e­fit from im­putes from third par­ties as well as ex­pert opin­ion. In fact, bills can em­anate from pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als seek­ing the in­tro­duc­tion of new laws or the amend­ment of ex­ist­ing ones. The elected politi­cians rep­re­sent var­i­ous con­stituen­cies and carry along with them the sen­ti­ments and as­pi­ra­tions of those they rep­re­sent.

We have had too many con­sti­tu­tions, con­sti­tu­tional con­ven­tions or con­fer­ences in the rel­a­tively short his­tory of our na­tion. Bri­tain does not have a writ­ten con­sti­tu­tion, yet it is one of the best ad­min­is­tered na­tions in the world with a his­tory of hav­ing man­aged colonies of which Nige­ria was one. The Con­necti­cut Con­ven­tion of 1787 her­alded the Amer­i­can Con­sti­tu­tion which came into ef­fect in 1789,and there has hardly been any other con­sti­tu­tional jam­boree ever since. The priv­i­lege to im­prove on their his­toric fed­eral con­sti­tu­tion has been the exclusive pre­serve of Congress and state gov­ern­ments.

In con­ced­ing the right of law­mak­ing and con­sti­tu­tion amend­ment to elected politi­cians, what we must con­tinue to de­mand of them is pa­tri­o­tism and the pri­macy of the na­tional in­ter­est in what­ever they do. Pro­cesses can be slow, es­pe­cially in a na­tion with our type of di­ver­si­ties. Not-too-straight­for­ward is­sues can be con­tro­ver­sial, de­mand­ing bar­gain­ing and com­pro­mise in the col­lec­tive in­ter­est of all.

In the re­cent ex­er­cise at con­sti­tu­tion amend­ment by our fed­eral leg­is­la­tors,one is­sue of great con­tro­versy has been that of the de­vo­lu­tion of power to the states. Un­der­stand­ably, the bill on that im­por­tant sub­ject was not pop­u­lar with leg­is­la­tors who rep­re­sent states that are not so eco­nom­i­cally en­dowed to carry out ad­di­tional re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. The need to di­ver­sify the econ­omy can­not be more ur­gent. Cit­i­zens have a re­cip­ro­cal obli­ga­tion to pay tax to their re­spec­tive state gov­ern­ments, some­thing they have not been do­ing since the emer­gence of oil money. To suc­cess­fully sell the idea of de­vo­lu­tion of more power to the states, im­por­tant as it is if we must have a true fed­eral na­tion, the is­sue of al­lo­ca­tion of re­sources must be neatly sorted out.

In a true fed­eral na­tion, a sem­blance grad­u­ally creep­ing into our sys­tem is that laws may vary from one state to an­other. In Amer­ica, for in­stance, it is not in­con­ceiv­able that even speed limit changes as one ap­proaches one state from an­other. A state may choose to have cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment for a cat­e­gory of of­fences while an­other may not. There is hardly any­thing like a na­tional min­i­mum wage in Amer­ica, as states pay wages that they can af­ford, tak­ing the cost of liv­ing in such states into con­sid­er­a­tion. The min­i­mum wage in New York, as at 2016, was 15 dol­lars per hour, while that of Ge­or­gia was a mere 5 dol­lars per hour.

Not un­re­lated to the de­vo­lu­tion of power, is the idea of lo­cal gov­ern­ment au­ton­omy which was over­whelm­ingly sup­ported by leg­is­la­tors in both the Se­nate and the House. In the Amer­i­can con­sti­tu­tion and prac­tise we bor­rowed from, lo­cal gov­ern­ments are the cre­ations of state gov­ern­ments. The cen­tral gov­ern­ment and the state gov­ern­ments con­sti­tute the fed­er­at­ing units. The mil­i­tary in­tro­duced the idea of lo­cal gov­ern­ment au­ton­omy, not least be­cause of a his­tory of ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity on the part of politi­cians who starved lo­cal coun­cils of funds, but it is one idea state gov­ern­ments must now re­verse in order to assert Nige­ria as a true fed­eral na­tion.

One must con­cede that our fed­eral leg­is­la­tors seemed to have learnt from the ex­pe­ri­ence of former Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan who, in 2010, suc­ceeded a pres­i­dent who was un­able to com­plete his term of of­fice be­cause of death. He won the 2011 elec­tion on his own merit. How­ever, there were those of us who ar­gued that the con­sti­tu­tion did not ad­dress the sit­u­a­tion Jonathan found him­self in and that he could be ex­ceed­ing the 8 years limit stip­u­lated by the con­sti­tu­tion if he were to re­con­test and win the 2015 elec­tion. The leg­is­la­tors have agreed to re­strict a per­son who was sworn in as Pres­i­dent or Gov­er­nor to com­plete the term of the elected Pres­i­dent or Gov­er­nor from con­test­ing for the same of­fice for more than one term, ir­re­spec­tive of the stage at which such a suc­ces­sion had taken place. An­thony Aki­nola, Abuja.

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