On May 16th 2006 the senate in Nigeria voted to reject 116 proposed amendments. These 116 amendments however, included the controversial and vexed third term. Since the vote of rejection by the upper house of the Nigerian legislature of these constitutional amendments, there has been emotional outbursts, sense of unalloyed elations, outright euphoria and gloating in Nigeria and even beyond.
But it must be noted that these amendments were more than just about term elongation.
Some of us are left wondering whether there is any cause for celebration, particularly given the high value of all the other amendments that were dumped in the process.
Even as we wonder about any merits or benefits in the very uncritical rejection or dumping of sundry amendments without meticulous or careful examination. There are also concerns regarding the intensity of the goading, glee and gloating that has since followed.
We are also left to wonder about the inflammatory, provocative, insensitive and offensive remarks that have been made by some politicians in parts of Nigeria.
The more that I examine the debate, the vote and the aftermath of the third term, the term extension or term elongation issues, the more I have arrived the same conclusions, and my conclusion is that the issue at stake was not about Nigerians well being or Nigeria’s enduring national interests. It was merely about the interests of some opportunistic individuals who are adamant in their insistence on being president of Nigeria in 2007!
On a careful examination, it is clear that the senate, in a hurry to make a point, literarily threw out the baby, the bathwater and the basin, by all accounts. This is the sum of what a renowned lawyer, Afe Babalola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria declared recently and I am in complete agreement with him and others with this as yet, unpopular view.
First, I will like to state for the record, that I am a fervent and staunch believer in the sanctity of our constitution (subject to amendments of course)! And further, that I subscribe to all the ideals and tenets of the rule of law, democracy, separation of powers between the different arms of Nigerian government etc. I believe that the best cure for imperfect democracy is more democracy. Democracy must be seen therefore, as work in progress.
I will state additionally, that I am clearly and thoroughly familiar with the excellent constitutional arguments that have been made against term extension by the current or even future governments in Nigeria. I worry about the process, even as I worry about the results. I worry about the means as I worry about ends. We should all be worried as much about every phase and every stage or steps in the democratic process.
It must be stated as well, that some of us are keenly aware of the fact that, some of those who sponsored and led the movement against third term or term extension/elongation, were no democrats and they were no dispassionate or disinterested third parties! Some characters and players in the debates, voting and gloating, have clearly seen, weighed measured everything from a different prism and perspectives that were concealed.
It must be clear to many Nigerians by now, (assuming that it was at any time unclear), that those who led the campaign against third term, were self-centered opportunists, who merely exploited the term elongation brouhaha to further their personal and parochial political ambitions, which does not have Nigeria as its central or only focus. Those who truly care about Nigeria should have Nigeria’s national interests as their sole focus.
In doing so, these selfish individual inflamed emotions and heated the polity to a boiling point. This they did, in complete disregard for Nigeria’s short term or long term national interests. Their only interests were in such things that diminished Nigeria’s unity and diversity, and in effect, they were seeking to promote parochial interests that are contrary to our national interests. Nigerians should be alarmed by the utterances of some political gladiators of late. Nigerians should be concerned with those with contempt for fellow Nigerian citizens.
Constitutional tenets and ideals were used and exploited as camouflages and proxies by political opportunists to wrap themselves and shield their nefarious intentions and evil motives. The veils are now being lifted from their chicaneries and shenanigans which had nothing to do with Nigeria.
All Nigerians citizens should have real equality in aspirations and expectation. All Nigerians must have the inalienable constitutional right to aspire to the highest office in our land. Nigerians citizens should have the equality of aspirations and expectations, whether such is economic, social, political etc. The upward mobility of every Nigerian citizen must be measured by efforts, qualifications, experience and passion.
Region of birth, place of birth, or parental origins, religion, ethnicity, region or indigene and settler statuses, must be no factors in determining reasonable aspirations and expectations of any Nigerian citizen. Including the aspiration to be president of Nigeria!
Unmentioned ulterior motives seemed to have motivated and influenced the debate and rejection of the constitutional amendment bill that was before Nigeria’s National Assembly. The rejection of 115 proposed amendments because of one is callous.
How else would anyone explain away, the blunder committed by the national assembly, the senate in particular, as Senator Ken Nnamani had sought to explain away the calamity in the dumping of numerous valuable constitutional amendments?
The senate president engaged in that hubris recently, as he tried to excuse the senate by stating that parliamentary procedures required that the abandonment of the rest of a litany of other 115 proposed amendments to the Constitution of Nigeria 1999. Senator Nnamani actually vowed or stated conclusively, that the 115 proposed amendments that were dumped along with the vexed and ultra controversial term elongation would not be revisited during the term of this senate! Even though this current senate has more than a year in its hands! There is a lot of time to consider and vote on these 115 amendments!
The 115 sundry amendments were guaranteed to produce monumental paradigm shift in a fundamental constitutional scheme of things in Nigeria. But these other 115 amendments were dumped in an emotional or illogical reaction to the term elongation item!
It is impossible to analyze item by item, the contents and meanings or impacts of these now rejected or dumped 115 proposed amendments. But just take one of them for instance. Imagine if the immunity clause was successfully expunged! That would have meant that public officials, especially the governors and their deputy and the president of Nigeria would no longer conduct themselves with impunity, while seeking cover under the immunity clause as currently provided by section 308 of the 1999 constitution.
Another valuable sample from the dumped 115 proposed amendments, was voting process and rules. What constitute credible elections, controls elections commission or election board. Who appoint chairman and members etc and all these impacts, in very fundamental ways, whether elections are free and fair, legitimate, and trustworthy etc.
Behaving with impunity, without accountability and transparency, in my view encapsulates everything that has always been wrong with Nigerian public officials from the messenger to the president. Expunging the immunity clause would have made it an imperative for Nigerian public officials to be more deliberative and contemplative in their private and public actions.
The removal of the present immunity clause would have made it possible for governors, their deputies, presidents and vice presidents to think of consequences of their actions and inactions that impact Nigerian citizens negatively. This would have been the beginning of wisdom for Nigerian public offic
Resource Control was another item in the proposed 115 amendments. What reasonably sane Nigerian is against a constitutional resolution of this age old resource control issue? What Nigeria is in favor of injustice and neglect of the chickens that lays golden eggs?
I predict that Nigeria would remain the same, so long as the electorate believes, truly or falsely, that its vote does not count or that its votes are meaningless.
I predict as well that Nigeria will remain in perpetual motion without movements, so long as all strata of public officials conduct themselves with impunity and without fear of consequences. And public officials will remain without worries about accountability and transparency, which what the removal of the immunity clause from the constitution would have engendered or even compelled.
It must be clear therefore, that the carte blanche rejection of the other 115 proposed amendments to the constitution of Nigeria 1999 was a monumental blunder by, and on the part of the Nigerian National Assembly. Nigerians ought to urge the senator to reconsider! Nigeria’s national assembly has a whole year from now the elections in 2007 to debate and enact those 115 proposed amendments. If the senators are wary of benefiting current politicos, these amendments’ effective dates can be enshrined in their passage.
Dumping those 115 proposed amendments amounted to guaranteeing safe passage to those public officials who are crooks by any other name, who have pillaged and may continue to pillage resources that rightly belong to all Nigerian citizens.
It also ensures that elections may continue to be seen by the electorate as a farcical process from which the electorate is discounted and disvalued. What is democracy then, if the electorate thinks elections lack credibility? Voter apathy is not good for democracy.
Nigerians ought to encourage all to trust and participate in all aspect of the democratic process.