Last week, the Senate Ad-hoc Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution was in the news but not exactly for cheery reasons.
The committee announced that it will soon commence public hearings at the national and zonal levels. These public hearings are expected to give citizens who had earlier submitted memoranda to the committee, the opportunity to defend the positions canvassed in their documents.
Chairman of the committee and Deputy President of the Senate, Sen. Ovie Omo-Agege, conveyed this information when he hosted a delegation of the Eminent Elders Forum, who visited the National Assembly.
Ordinarily, public hearings are good platforms for the constitution review process. It creates the much needed atmosphere for constructive engagement between the parliamentarians and the citizens on critical issues. It is a veritable opportunity for dialogue and contest of reformatory ideas.
However, this is not likely going to be the case because the current Constitution Review Committee, like those before it, has a script it is bent on acting.
Like it was programmed many years ago, there are no go areas in this constitution review programme. Perhaps, it was that script to preserve the status quo, that Omo-Agege read from last Thursday when he told the delegation of the Eminent Elders’ Forum that the parliament had no powers to give Nigeria a new constitution.
At that meeting, Omo Agege dashed the hopes of advocates of Nigeria’s return to the parliamentary system of government, when he insisted that lawmakers cannot swap the 1999 Constitution with the 1963 Republican Constitution in the ongoing constitution review process.
According to him, the clamour by various pro-democracy groups, civil society organisation, opposition political parties and other pressure groups to have the 1999 Constitution swapped with 1963 Constitution, was outside the jurisdiction of the National Assembly.
He pointedly said that the lawmakers could only amend the current constitution in piecemeal. By that pronouncement, the loud clamour for a new constitution by the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF), comprising four major sociocultural organisations and political pressure groups are dead on arrival at the public hearing.
SMBLF has as members, the Afenifere, Ohaneze Ndigbo, Pan Niger Delta Forum and the Middle Belt Forum and each of these sociocultural groups articulates the views and aspirations of the people in their respective geopolitical zones.
If the parliament would not listen to such groups, to whom would they listen? From hindsight, there seems to be a conspiracy to keep Nigeria the way it is in order to satisfy the selfish desires of the ruling class.
It appears that no matter the arguments a citizen might present on critical constitutional issues, the parliamentarians attending the public hearings on Constitution review have ready-made defence why it is impossible to bring about the needed robust changes in our system. Indeed, there seem to be a disconnect between the people of Nigeria and those they have elected as their representatives in the National Assembly.
The same scenario would also play out when the decisions of the National Assembly are transmitted to the State Houses of Assembly.
In a country like Nigeria where the centripetal and centrifugal forces are currently in a serious contest for the soul of the nation, one would have been looking forward to serious engagements during the public hearings. Beyond the open fireworks, one would have also been looking forward to a fruitful outcome from those engagements.
However, the signals from the Senate Adhoc Committee indicate that the whole exercise would be conducted as a matter of routine. It will be a mere ritual because those at the driver’s seat are working with an already codified formula which produces already known answers to every constitutional question agitating the mind of the average citizen.
It is an exercise that has been programmed to gulp so much money and keep everybody busy but would deliver nothing tangible at the end of the day. It is an open secret that millions of Nigerians are tired and uncomfortable with the current unitary system of government in the country. Many have expressed their desire to have a restructured Nigeria.
There is no one who is not feeling the pinch of the over centralised system that was bequeathed to us by the military when they retreated to their barracks in 1999. The insecurity, corruption, poverty, unemployment, low quality education, dilapidated roads, poor health care, food insecurity and all other challenges facing us can be directly or indirectly linked with the over concentration of powers at the centre.
When the military seized powers and superintended over our affairs for several years, they found it convenient running a regimental system of government powered by decrees.
Many Nigerians had expected the civilians who came after them to change the system by returning us to the path of democracy and federalism. Unfortunately, the politicians who hold sway today do not see anything wrong with the system as long as they are in charge.
They are supposed to be civilians and democrats but they are more or less soldiers in mufti. Hence, more than twenty years after the military handed over to them, a military constitution, they have, like slaves do, continued to preserve the negative legacies of their oppressors.
They claim to love democracy but are constantly in romance with the doctrines, artifacts and instruments of brutal dictatorship.