It is almost impossible for the eyes not to go rheumy in sympathy with our long and arduous task of birthing a national constitution that meets all our needs and deserves to be called the people’s constitution written by we, the people. Just think of how far we have trekked along this tortuous path. Just think of how elusive the magic document remains just within reach but still out of reach. Just think of how utterly frustrating the whole business is. Then, just think how determined our national assembly members are in continuing the search against all sane and informed advice. The belief that the constitution is our number one national problem has a stronghold on our psyche.
On February 11, I was pleasantly surprised to see a Nigerian politician who has a sense of history and who appreciates the fact that the current work of the National Assembly would greatly benefit from the report of the 2014 constitutional conference convoked by President Goodluck Jonathan and the report of the Nasir El-Rufai committee set up by APC on true federalism.
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This was the first time anyone remembers that in the recent past, concerned, informed and patriotic Nigerians worked hard together to produce reports and recommendations deemed critical to building a new nation from the ashes of our past collective errors of the head and of the heart. Part of our national problem is that we tend to treat our past but historical efforts with contempt in the wholly unrealistic belief that the present crop of politicians has nothing to learn from the past and that to move the nation forward, they must distance themselves from their predecessors. Consequently, we continue to be held hostage to mere motion sans movement.
In moving the motion, Honourable Okechukwu said (I am inclined to quote him at some length): “The House is aware that the Federal Government instituted the National Conference on March 17, 2014, where about 492 delegate drawn from various segments, interest and professional groups of the Nigerian society brain-stormed on how to build Nigeria into a modern, cohesive, viable, prosperous union.
“Aware that the Conference made over 600 recommendations cutting across public service; devolution of powers and political restructuring; national security; trade and investment; energy; public finance and revenue generation; social welfare; politics and governance; electoral reforms, among others..
He went on to talk about the El-Rufai report but was, in my view, rudely interrupted by the deputy speaker of the House, Ahmed Idris Wase, on the grounds that the motion was “procedurally wrong.” I think this was merely a technicality but the motion was stood down. Let us hope it was not an attempt to kill the motion altogether and prevent the House from looking into the two reports to help it make some sense of the nth constitutional review. Okechukwu did what none of our politicians have ever done – acknowledge the great work of compatriots who gave their time to help rebuild our atomistic nation. I hail him.
The conference report has been gathering dust on the shelf since it was submitted to Jonathan in 2014. The former president did nothing about it probably because time was against him. President Buhari would have nothing to do with it either. Thus, consistent with our poor luck as a nation, the wisdom of 492 compatriots is allowed to be wasted by a nation verily in search for solution to its myriads of social, economic, political and religious problems. Some Nigerians are so hostile to the report of the constitutional conference that they are not willing to touch it with a 100-foot pole. I pity them.
The same fate has befallen the El-Rufai committee report. The party that set it up in fulfilment of its manifesto, has ignored it entirely. It is gathering dust too on the shelf while the problems it addressed haunt and hobble the nation. Its reaction to the motion by Hon Okechukwu created the impression that the House of Representatives might merely be walking down the path of motion, not movement, and that this nth attempt is merely cosmetic; it is not intended to radically review the constitution, straighten out all its creases and give us a new constitution generally acceptable by the people.
In reviewing the constitution, I believe the National Assembly would be dealing with some of the problems that have dogged us since independence for which various conferences, panels and committee were set up in the past to help our leaders resolve them. I imagine these would include but certainly not limited to the following: creation of states, devolution of powers, resource control, power rotation, revenue allocation formula or fiscal federalism, state police or what the report calls second tier of policing, electoral reforms and the nature and practice of party system, the vexed issue of local government system, independent candidacy, anti-corruption, religion and the land tenure act.
If so, the honourable members need not crack their heads. These have been amply dealt with by the National Conference. It is not such a productive labour to try and re-invent the wheel. And it is not unwise for the wise to borrow from other people’s wisdom. After all, all wisdom is eclectic. Before they proceed, I urge the honourable members to listen to Okechekwu, get copies of the two reports and read what the El-Rufai committee and the 492 eminent Nigerians proposed as lasting solutions to these and other obviously irritating problems that dog the nation’s path of development. They will enrich their efforts.
I am sure the honourable members would find it amusing that the National Conference recommended an innovation in our form of government called Modified Presidential System, said to be “a home-made model of government that effectively combines the presidential and parliamentary systems of government” with the vice-president picked from the legislature and most of the ministers chosen from among the law-makers.
But they are not likely to be amused by its recommendation that “all elected members of the legislative arms of all tiers of government should serve on part-time basis.” This was the intention of the 1979 constitution but the legislators ensured that it went nowhere. There is no harm in revisiting it although the thought that they would acting against their own interests makes me hold my breath.
The lawmakers would be doing a disservice to themselves, the constitution and the country and its many problems if they insist on not obtaining and making good use of the two reports. It does not make for national progress for our political leaders to rail against our crippling national problems, seek solutions to them only to pretend that the solution might as well be a receptacle for executive and legislative dust.