Implications Of The Failure Of The National Assembly To Amend The 1999 Constitution

Nigeria’s Senate President Ken Nnamani’s recent outburst before visiting U.S. Election observers including Dr Madeline Albright (former U.S Secretary of State) as well as the call for an interim National Government necessitates this examination of the role of the National Assembly in contemporary Nigerian Politics. The Senate President observed, inter alia, that the 2007 General Elections were rigged by his party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) using the Nigeria Police and the Military. It is a fact that majority of the members of the hallowed Assembly would not return because they failed to secure re-nomination. Prior to these remarks, Senate President and a few Senators had confronted the Party on the ground that their return as candidates in those elections should have been automatic i.e. they should have been fielded by the Party without Primaries and blame was cast at President Olusegun Obasanjo’s feet for the fate that befell them. Unknown to Senator Nnamani, the Party’s position dovetails into the score emanating from an objective evaluation of the performance of the National Assembly by discerning Nigerians. Of a fact, if and when High public Officials are to be held accountable for Nigeria’s current travails the great role of the National Assembly cannot be discounted. With great respect, this National Assembly (1999-2007) has been a disaster to Nigeria and should a Constitutional Crises or impasse occur its members should be held responsible. It is culpable negligence of the highest order tantamount to treason that in eight years, eight good years these high Public Servants received remuneration from taxpayer’s funds but failed to deliver.

It is not as if they lacked time or resources. A formal Bill was presented by the Presidency to amend or re-pass the highly defective 1999 Abdulsalam Constitution but today Nigeria has become a laughing stock of the entire world and risks violent disintegration due to the failure of its National Assembly to amend the constitution. Eight good years down the drain and we are still at the point we were in 1999. By persistently confronting the Presidency and impugning the integrity of the recent elections Senate President probably thought the attention of Nigerians would be diverted from the failings of The National Assembly. Perhaps the seeming scarcity of outrage by the common man gives to the Hon Members a false sense of success performance or even security. Perhaps those who should talk are busy evaluating the Presidency and applauding the judiciary but the lacunae is obvious even to Nnamani’s guests who know that the Senate President of the United States, whose Presidency Nigeria mirrors, is very much a part of the Government including its failures or successes. Could it be that Hon Members felt rivaled by the National political Reform Conference? Is it that Members did not appreciate that Constitutional Amendment was a Major legislative duty? Could it be that they just could care less for the consequences of non-performance on themselves as well as on the polity? This National assembly consisted of some of Nigeria’s best human materials most of them well educated and comfortable in their own right but today what is the impression of the common man of them? They are perceived as a bunch of corrupt hungry and mischievous Politicians.

Perhaps it was the same malaise troubling Nigeria that bogged them – competent leadership. A competent Senate Leadership would have presented Nigeria with a parting gift of a brand new Constitution. That is the least expected of it by the common man and the international community some of whom listened to Nnamani on the fateful day. A competent Senate leadership would not embarrass Nigerians by the display in the open monies allegedly used to bribe Members and carried over the international media. A competent Senate Leadership would not lightly make threats of impeachment with some other the ulterior motive nor have to deal with allegations of bribery and extortion from Ministers (for appropriations) or Ministerial Nominees (for confirmation). A competent leadership would not have to be frequently changed like changing shoes due to what is now popularly referred to as “BANANA PEEL”. (graft) The height of this legislative aggravation were Senators who perceived it to be their role to confront and impede the Executive, work against the directives of the Political Party that sponsored them and some even constituted themselves into a “get-President Obasanjo” gang. A competent leadership would have ensured that this National assembly would not go down in history as one that resisted transparency by refusing to disclose or publish Members remuneration and allowances.

Now, the 1999 Nigerian Constitution was never made to be permanent. It was hurriedly put together by the vacating Military Junta of General Abdulsalam Abubakar. It was never subject to debate and many of its provisions have been faulted by lawyers, judges, political Scientists and other Scholars. In some cases, the said provisions just made no sense. Many hindered rather than promote justice equity fairness and economic development. A host of them were anti-Federalism or just plainly ridiculous. A good example was the provision on Nigeria Police Force that created a Federal Force but went ahead to prohibit any other. Nowhere in the whole wide world is this travesty condoned. Abdulsalam and Nnamani should be held responsible should Nigeria disintegrate violently. This document is just a time-bomb laden with booby-trap of controversy and irresolvable conflicts. But because it is the supreme law of the land only the National assembly is competent to amend its unjust provisions. All other (sensible) laws passed before and after 1999 are deemed void to the extent of their inconsistency. The Courts as interpreters of the Constitution are deeply embarrassed by its provisions which have resulted in many cases in unintended miscarriage of justice. Nigeria was not meant to be administered permanently under such a manifestly defective unjust and irrelevant document but day after day, month after month, our legislators buck-passed, procrastinated, prevaricated or stonewalled until eight good years passed and Nigeria and its courts are still stucked with its crappy provisions. Nnamani’s Senate owes Nigeria an account as well as apology. This National Assembly has been a complete let down to Nigerians and a sell-out to the black race.

Another example. The 1999 Constitution recognizes dual Nationality but bars Nigerians with it from contesting high National Offices. The Draftsman should have benefited from the Indian example. Indians reside all over the world. Mahatma Ghandi the great Indian Leader lived the first 28 years of his life in South Africa yet he rose in Indian Politics to become its greatest and most revered leader. It is not the intention of Nigerians that children of Nigerians born in the diaspora be ineligible to contest the highest offices in their fatherland.

Today, the Lagos State Government and the Federal Government of Nigeria are at logger-heads in court over creation and finance of Local Governments because a strict interpretation of the ambiguous provisions of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution resulted in a judgement each party (Plaintiff and Defendant) claims, is in its favour. The Military left Nigeria a Constitution that institutes its unitary command structure and practice in national democratic governance. It is sad that the grumbling State Governors themselves failed to push the National Assembly Members from their States to action. Because of their selfish desire to take advantage of and obtain refuge under it IMMUNITY provisions from imminent prosecution by the EFCC for corruption abuse of office and unconstitutional and anti-democratic activities. The loud silence of the legal community was obvious when the ICPC, a body established to combat corruption by the National Assembly, as well as the Code of Conduct Tribunal were enjoined by Court orders from performing their Constitutional duties. In a society

that has identified massive corruption as the greatest impediment to our developmental efforts legislators and others should have spoken. Lawyers and Journalists were helpless save to hail these court orders under understandable duress. Attempts by outspoken Chief Gani Fawehinmi to caution sanity by evaluating the logic of these decisions were condemned by some other lawyers known to carry questionable democratic credentials but out to pay eye and lip service to the judiciary for selfish professional ends at the expence of national development. The vocal local press, focused on criticism of the Presidents war against corruption abandoning their traditional role of exposing it. Some of the write-ups and criticisms were no more than paid advertisements by those under investigation.

The Vice President Alhaji Abubakar Atiku obtained a court order making him virtually irremovable just because “the constitution says so”. Is it in consonance with the desire and conception of Nigerians and their democracy that the Presidency be operated by a President from one Party and a Vice President from the opposing Political Party? But that is what the Hon Court decreed, yet the authority established to right these wrongs stood askance unmoved by the outcry of the Judiciary for constitutional and Statutory Amendments as contained in Court Judgements.

The Nation’s Electoral Authority, the Independent Electoral Commission has been inundated by numerous abusive litigation brought by citizens claiming “rights” under the defective constitution. The body’s performance of its lawful constitutional duties has been hindered by vexatious litigation and orders of doubtful validity. It is not the wishes of Nigeria’s democracy that its candidates for electoral offices be screened by Courts of Law (and courts alone) while its Electoral Commissions transforms into a mere rubber stamp.

Nigeria Governors who are fugitives from justice in overseas jurisdictions find easy sanctuary in the provisions of Section 308 of the said Constitution and have obtained court orders re-instating them to the very offices they had abused. In one case, the Governor’s accomplices had been convicted and the Governor declared wanted by INTERPOL for jumping bail. Nigeria Police and Law Enforcement community including the EFCC are considerably hindered while the International Law Enforcement Community watches with a mixture of ridicule and disgust. They just wonder as we neutralize each other’s efforts and later complain of victimization in the comity of nations. A National Security issue is gradually brewing but the Honourable Members have not been jolted into urgent patriotic duty. Their attitude as well as the Court orders pursuant to these defective provisions debilitate public morality, impede standards affect norms and dilute the Common Man’s notion of right and wrong. Even the Supreme Court observed that it was immoral for a Vice President to cross-carpet to a different Political Party from the President’s but the Court interpretation was that this is permissible under the provisions of the 1999 constitution. Impeachment of High Public Officials, a Political Process under the U.S. Presidential system has been turned into a legal proceeding wherein the criminal standard of proof beyond reasonable doubts is required under the said Constitution.

We must look back and take stock: How did we get into this legal and Constitutional mess? Having presented a DRAFT CONSTITUTION to the National Assembly, the Executive has done its part. The judiciary also interpretes rather than change or make the law, so, it too, is blameless. Wholesale blame for the mess lies at the door of the National Assembly – for doing nothing when the situation DEMANDED urgent Constitutional Amendment. Honourable Members better go to prayers because responsibility for the mess is likely to go beyond blames should a constitutional Crises occur. Now it is too late and the job of giving Nigeria a brand new CIVILIAN as opposed to a Military-imposed Constitution will be passed on to the in-coming National Assembly 2007-2011. The job is unlikely to finish in two years hence it can be safely observed that it has taken Nigeria 10 years to amend or replace a Military-imposed but defective constitution. It took the U.S congress just a couple of weeks after September 11, 2001 to pass the Patriots Acts – the most comprehensive homeland security legislation known to man. If only to stave off Military Coup, and foster democracy, it was incumbent upon this National Assembly to amend or re-pass the constitution. The fact that the Presidency’s Draft contained a tenure elongation provision is no excuse. “Third Term” was merely a fixation and obsession of the “get-Obasanjo” clique. Nigerians expect their representatives to be circumspect enough to sieve the wheat from the chaff and apply discretion to exclude provision deemed unacceptable. But in this case, the National Assembly threw away the baby with the birth-water. Nigerians waited in vain for its own version or just any member’s draft but alas NO ALTERNATIVE was ever proposed. The opportunity was missed but the tide in the affairs of Nigeria hopefully is not gone. This is inexplicable nay unacceptable. Abdulsalam the maker and Ken Nnamani the negligent guardian must be held accountable if the seething disgust and silent resentment of the Nigerian masses over the lacunae transforms into violent demonstration or constitutional impasse. Then, any steps taken while the mob is hot would only be tantamount to medicine after death. The silence of the common man over the non-performance of the National Assembly must not be mistaken for approval or endorsement. Nigerian masses appreciate the implications of a tacit endorsement by their representatives of the unacceptable behaviour of Governors and the Vice President.
True, we cannot go back to the days of Military Dictatorship makers of Decrees also executed but this non-performance forces a questioning of the utility of a bi-cameral legislature. It was also exasperating for Senate President Ken Nnamani to call for a two-party system when he was there in the Senate for eight good years and did nothing about it. Those hoping to profit at this late hour from this legislative failure better have a re-think. There is no provision for Interim Government under the 1999 Constitution. President Obasanjo has shown irrevocable commitment to vacate power come May 29, 2007. The Senate President cannot legally transform into an Interim President and thereby profit from his own wrong. If the elections failed, he too, is a part of that failure. (He cannot also benefit from notorious “set up” defence if he consents or endorses such plans and the Newspaper counseling him to take over the Federal Government will be the first sell news of consequences to its readers) The Vice President steps down with the President come May 29, 2007. The two-term Governors are already getting ready to go into retirement or to face trial where allegations of corruption are pending. The Newly elected Governors cannot be stopped from taking office nor can the incumbents refuse to vacate even where cases seeking “tenure elongation” are pending in court. The law is very clear, once elections have held NO COURT has jurisdiction to vacate elections except a duly constituted Election Tribunal upon clearly defined statutory grounds. Tribunal Proceedings are Statutory. There cannot be a vacuum. President Obasanjo can only be succeeded by a President elected pursuant to the Constitution and anything short of that is invitation to anarchy, chaos and violent disintegration. Ditto State Governors. Whichever way it is perceived, any take-over of the Federal or State Government or any organ thereof other than as provided under the constitution is treason. But somebody provided the opportunity (set this trap) and Nigerians know now who to hold, to put it in popular parlance.

For the sake of posterity, Nigerians must say NEVER AGAIN to this type of legislative dereliction of duty and impunity. Nigerians must maintain a pro-active surveill

ance of legislative and executive activity as well as evaluate judicial performance. In the meantime, Nigeria needs a brand new National Assembly. One that will act with speed and commitment upon our legislative concerns and work in harmony with the executive and the judiciary. One that will demonstrate patriotic zeal, uphold propagate values. One that will not just demand but demonstrate probity and transparency. One that will make a visible difference and above all – a National Assembly that will amend, re-pass or legislate a brand new civilian Constitution.

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