Prospects For A People's Constitution


Calix Agwu 

The ultimate aim of good governance is the socio-economic and political well-being of the people. Therefore, all policies, plans, programmes and activities of government should be geared towards the welfare of the citizenry. In a developing, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious country as Nigeria, there is always the need to have a widely accepted framework (such as a constitution) within which the constituent parts and diverse elements can relate to each other satisfactorily.

A constitution is a body of rules in accordance with which the powers of government are distributed and exercised. This would be the ground on which the citizens of a country will stand. This is what a people's constitution is all about. Since the attainment of independence, Nigerians have not experienced the operations of a constitution that truly reflected their wishes and formed the basis of democratic governance. When the last military interregnum ended in mid-1999, the civilian administration headed by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo inherited a constitution which like its forerunners does not reflect the aspirations of the majority of Nigerians.

However, the need to effect acceptable amendments to the document was not lost on the administration hence the government consciously began to create an enabling environment to afford the generality of the citizenry opportunities to contribute to the making of their own constitution.  Efforts made and still being in this regard are legion, and they include the All-Party Presidential Committee on the Review of the Nigerian Constitution, the National Assembly Committee on the Review of the Nigerian Constitution and the National Political Reform Conference.  Even as reports and recommendations have been made at various fora, the National Assembly recently received memoranda and presentations from individuals, groups, communities, corporate bodies and others on their views on the proposed amendments to the constitution.

Included among the issues for review, are the structure of the federation, federal-state-local government relations, devolution of power, gender issues, human [including children's and women's] rights, indigeneship, revenue allocation & resource control, judicial reforms, secularity and religion, state security and public order, federal character, rotational presidency and tenure of the executive. These and others that have been put forward for consideration and are indeed critical to the survival of our democracy but the bottom line, is to address the aspirations of majority of Nigerians.

However, despite the historic opportunities the present administration has offered to the citizens of this great country, it is sad to observe that cynics and dye-in-the-wool critics are at work again. Of all the areas proposed for amendment, cynics and mischief makers have identified tenure of office as the real motive behind the constitution review. They alluded to a third term agenda as the real reason for reworking the constitution. In the vanguard of this campaign of calumny and scare tactics is a respected federal legislator who has continued to disparage the integrity of most of his colleagues in the national assembly as if he has an antecedent worthy of showcasing. His persistence in this regard has attracted wide publicity, accusing most of his colleagues as collaborators and beneficiaries of the third term plot. Every other day, he holds court with the press and other audiences, dazzling them with his gift of the garb and making such serious and wild allegations which smacks of propaganda to discredit the present administration and divert its attention from its commitment to the meaningful transformation of the Nigerian society. But fact is, more than any other dispensation, Nigerians are being enabled to contribute to the making of their own constitution. Properly utilised, this opportunity will go a long way to fashioning out widely-acceptable ground rules for the development, nurture and sustenance of mutual respect, peaceful co-existence, unity and progress among the people of the federal republic of Nigeria.

The spoilers -- who have long benefited from the deliberate distortions and pillage of the Nigerian economy, polity and society - must be exposed and resisted.  There is no time like the present to forge ahead and strengthen the foundation for the promotion of good government and welfare of all persons in Nigeria on the principles of democracy, freedom, equality and justice for the purpose of consolidating the unity and progress of our people. May God continue to watch over our country and its people.

Calix Agwu

Lecturer, College of Education Obudu, Cross River State.