Professor Auwalu H. Yadudu is a constitutional lawyer and a former Legal Adviser to the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha. He also served as the Deputy Chairman of the 2014 Confab’s Committee on Law, Judiciary, Human Rights and Law Reform. In this exclusive interview, he shares his thoughts on the desirability of the ongoing constitution review exercise, among others.
What is the desirability of this constitution review exercise?
If you are going to alter the constitution or any of its section or to attend to any problem, there is no other way of doing it than the process we are used to engaging the National Assembly and the public.
Now, I can understand the frustration that it has become endless and often not result-oriented, or at the end of the day, everything that has been worked on is thrown away like what they say ‘throwing away the bathwater with the baby’. It has happened, so I can understand the public frustration.
But I think it (the exercise) is unavoidable. If you want to change the constitution, there is no other way than through engaging the National Assembly and the public.
There has been an argument that the members of the National Assembly were elected to represent the people and to put across the position of their people at the National Assembly. Could it not be that they are just wasting money if they have to gather people at the zonal level? Is it not better to just go back to their constituencies and hear from constituents directly?
You see, this issue about expenses being incurred in conducting this exercise, I personally think it would have been better if an exercise is conducted and the expenses are justified. But the fact that so much is being spent and no result is achieved makes people feel despondent.
Now, you cannot say because the representatives are elected, they should go and change the constitution. It is the same people that will complain. I don’t think the lawmakers can on their own just decide to change the constitution anyhow. In any event, the constitution itself under which they operate does not give them that power because not only are they involved, the public must be involved, state assemblies are involved. So, it is a process that is not unique to Nigeria.
In all written constitutions, there may be differences, but I think if any of its parts is being altered, there has to be a process that engages the public.
I am not in the position to determine whether what they spend is way out of proportion.
The National Assembly has listed 17 items as areas that they want to focus on. As a constitutional lawyer, what areas do you think should be focused on in this exercise?
My view has always been that a constitution of any kind cannot completely be cured of its defects all at once. It is best that we borrow the experience of America. What America did was that the first few years of their democracy, they started to review their constitution and they numbered them; first amendment, second amendment, etc. So, I think we should be able to choose a few areas.
For example, electoral reform can be one key area. We have a problem with elections. There are very many issues that need to be addressed, we can focus on that. Maybe, the issue of state or community police; these are few areas I think we should be able to emerge on a consensus on, but not to seek to change the entire document at once.
So, the items are too many, it’s not even going to be easy for them to amend those areas.
Obviously, what is going to happen from past experience is, if they are able to come with any amendment, it will be treated as an independent or standalone bill. So, if it fails, then it is dropped. If it is accepted, then it becomes part of the constitutional amendment.
Without pre-empting the exercise itself, do you think it will address the agitations in the country?
Well, I think they should be able to come up with a few things that perhaps people will see. You have to consider not just the National Assembly. You will also have to consider that any proposal they adopt, will require the acceptance of not less than 24 states of the federation and will require the assent of the president. So, there is so much in the midst of the thing that you can say the action of the National Assembly will succeed without taking into account the role played by other actors and the public, the Presidency and state assemblies in the past. They were able to send about 21 items to state assemblies, I think in about first or third alterations. Some did not scale through the adoption in the required number in states, for one reason or another.
Do you the agitations for restructuring can be addressed through this amendment?
It depends on what your idea of restructuring is. If you want to go back to the Parliamentary system of 1963 which some are agitating for, I doubt it. I don’t see that happening through the constitutional amendment.
If you want to say secede as some are agitating or you want to dismember the country, that cannot be accomplished under this redress.
If your idea of restructuring is that there are defects in the institution of government that you need to correct, why not? You can bring them up, subject them to the consensus of the general public and get the majority of the National and State Assemblies, but there are no other ways. I don’t see some of the separatist or divisive ideas of restructuring being attained under the constitutional amendment.