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Constitutional amendment, a diversion – Hon

Sebastine Hon (SAN) is a renowned constitutional lawyer and author, well known for his numerous law books. In this interview, he speaks on the ongoing…

Sebastine Hon (SAN) is a renowned constitutional lawyer and author, well known for his numerous law books. In this interview, he speaks on the ongoing amendment to the 1999 Constitution and sundry issues.

 

What is your take on the ongoing constitutional amendment by the National Assembly?

Ordinarily, I know that the Constitution needs to be amended in several areas but I do not trust the present 9th National Assembly from what they have been doing so far. I also do not trust the motives for what they have been doing so far. My suspicion is that they want to divert attention from the clear failures and at the end of the day, Nigerians will forget their sorrows. Why didn’t they embark on constitutional amendment since they came into power six years ago? Why is it that they have two years to go and now they want to do a Constitutional amendment? So, I don’t trust them. Be that as it may, if they are honest about it, I support the amendment of the Constitution.

Do you see this process ending as a jamboree like previous attempts?

It is suspicious and I have serious doubt about the whole process because they did not start on time and now, Nigeria is on fire; the NASS has taken sides with the Executive and they have refused to address the issues that affect the common man. As a matter of fact, security is above the Constitution; if Nigeria is not secured, you can amend the Constitution, but it will become a dormant or sleeping document. The NASS to some extent has made some statements about the dwindling security fortunes of Nigeria but they are not firm. We see the Senate President also taking a side; the House of Representatives is pretending to be serious but not so serious. There are a lot of lapses. So, for me, the amendment of the Constitution at this time is a distraction.

They should tell us how secured we are; take steps to secure us well, or tell the Executives that they should secure us well and be firm. It is not a political or partisan issue. Lives are being lost on daily basis; people are being kidnapped and raped; farms pillaged, cattle rustled and I must admit that students and women are being abducted or kidnapped; ransoms are paid here and there as if there is no government in place and then somebody sits there and say ‘I want to amend the Constitution’.

The Constitution remains a mere paper if the enforcers are not honest or serious.

Part of the growing agitations in the country is that people want Yoruba and Biafra nations. Will the amendment help address the growing agitations in the country?

If you look at our Constitutional history, we started with regions – the Northern region, the Western, the Eastern region and later we had a Mid-western region and then in 1967, we had 12 states created by Gen. Yakubu Gowon. In 1991, Gen Babangida created more states and so we have had a history of state creations. When the 1979 Constitution was enacted, it recognized the states. The 1999 Constitution as Amended also recognized the states and then by virtue of the provisions of the Constitution, Nigeria remains one indivisible federal entity and then the First Schedule has listed the states and local governments. So far, it is a federal structure, based on states, not regions. Again, the agitation for regions has reared its head again because of insecurity and insensitivity to the plight of the people by successive governments especially this government. The agitations are heightened because the government is insensitive to the suffering of Nigerians. So, people are beginning to say that if we cannot live together, let’s go our separate ways.

If this level of injustice continues, who will raise objections to people going their separate ways, not even me. I would like Nigeria to be united but not under this condition, no, not at all.

Having said all these, how can Nigerians participate in the process to ensure a people-driven constitution?

They have invited memorandum from states or state governments have submitted memorandum; they have held their public hearings – a form of a centralized public hearing. What I expect from NASS if they are serious and honest is to also conduct town hall meetings, where people will be able to express their opinions. It does not take too much. Then they should also involve experts in Constitutional law; lawyers, good and objective historians and politicians who are not occupying political seats should be involved. Historians and politicians know the political history of this country and they have also studied the political history of other countries. They would be able to contribute something. It is not every lawyer that is a constitutional lawyer who can contribute to the development of the country. So, you need the core constitutional lawyers who will now tell you exactly what a good constitution is or should be, drawing from experience and other constitutions from other countries; drawing from case-law, the decisions of courts even in this country.

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