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Whither Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution?

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Bola Bolawale

By Bola Bolawole

It is becoming increasingly clear that two options await this country: The discarding of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) or the eternal lowering of the green-white-green flag that replaced the Union Jack’s at Independence on October 1, 1960. Some reports have it that Prof. Auwal Yadudu, legal adviser to the vile dictator, Sani Abacha, authored the 1999 Constitution, cashing in on the inclement political weather of the time to favour his own race, religion, and region to the chagrin of other Nigerian stakeholders. Since the authorities dither and procrastinate on the first option stated above, the second, which is fast gathering momentum, may steal in on everyone.

On the 16th of December, 2020, representatives of the Middle Belt, South-west, South-east, and South-south of Nigeria, under the aegis of the Nigerian Indigenous Nationalities Alliance for Self-determination (NINAS), declared a sovereignty dispute with the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Described as “constitutional grievances” and “declaration of constitutional force majeure and demand for transitioning process for an orderly reconfiguration of the constitutional basis of the Federation of Nigeria”, NINAS gave the Federal Government 90 days within which to positively respond to its declaration and call it in to discuss and resolve the issues in contention. Otherwise! The 90-day ultimatum expired by the midnight of Monday, March 15 without any evidence of the government’s response to NINAS; neither has NINAS itself come out with its plan of action in line with its threat to follow up on its constitutional force majeure should the government fail to meet its demand.

NINAS’s grouse, which it said aims at “correcting the mistake of 1914”, can be summed up as the rejection of “Nigeria’s unitary constitutional order, unilaterally imposed and forcefully maintained by a section of the Nigerian country in negation of the federal basis upon which Nigeria became one political union at Independence in 1960 and in brutal subjugation of our collective sovereignties currently being forcefully and fraudulently appropriated by the Nigerian State”. In other words, NINAS rejects the “unitary” constitutions of 1979 and 1999 and wants a return to the 1960 Independence constitution (or the 1963 Republican constitution) seen to be more federal and representative in nature than the latter constitutions that were imposed by military fiat.

NINAS demands a stop to “the further operation of the imposed unity constitutional arrangement of Nigeria” while asserting its “inalienable right to self-determination”. After a review of Nigeria’s pre- and post-colonial history, NINAS asserted that the current 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) fractures the hitherto four regions into 36 helpless and hapless states, and emasculates them in terms of power-sharing with the Federal Government. According to NINAS, the states are “comprehensively” stripped of “all key economic assets and governmental powers, thereby creating a totally dysfunctional, corruption-prone, over-centralized system that has failed in every respect, manifesting in gross insecurity, decayed infrastructure and mass impoverishment such that Nigeria, with its vast human and material resource endowments, has now emerged as the poverty capital of the world as well as the global leading example of a failed state”.

NINAS posits that “there is a country-wide consensus” against the skewed federalism “imposed incrementally on Nigeria by a combination of guile, brute force and impunity between 1966 and 1999 now codified by the 1999 Constitution. This countrywide consensus had manifested in several unilateral regional and joint multi-regional actions in repudiation and rejection of the unitary 1999 Constitution”. Whereas such actions by self-determination groups all over the country may have led to agitations, acts of violence, and increasing awareness of the grievances of the various ethnic nationalities that make up the polity, they have not, in any way, led to the resolution of the grievances.

The first of these grievances as stated by NINAS is “the claim in the preamble to the 1999 Constitution that ‘We the people’” of Nigeria made that constitution for ourselves. This claim or declaration is false since the 1999 Constitution is a military contraption enacted by Decree No. 24 of 1999. Constitutions are the pillars on which an organisation stands; once the pillar is removed, the whole edifice erected on it collapses like a pack of cards. “We the people” had no hand or say in the 1999 Constitution.

Another grievance of NINAS is that “the 1999 Constitution fundamentally distorts the pre-1966 four-region Federation, especially the power relations between the ‘Federating units’ and the Federal Government (which is supposed to be a creation of the federating units – and not the other way round), rendering the Nigerian Union a unitary State away from the federal basis upon which the autonomous regions of the diverse peoples of Nigeria agreed to become one political union at Independence”.

Arising from these is another grievance – “the 68-item Federal Exclusive Legislative List (which) is the mechanism by which the Federal Government (has) hijacked, confiscated and sequestered the key economic assets as well as the most important governmental powers and authority of the federating units”. The FG, thus, becomes an octopus while the so-called federating units become minnows; the FG controls the resources of the entire federation while the states are reduced to begging bowls going cap-in-hand to Abuja for hand-outs and in supplication for approvals and licences that should rightly have been theirs in the first place. Little wonder, then, that the Nigerian presidency is said to be the most powerful –and most pampered – in the whole world while the states lack the power to organise even the security of their own backyard.

Said NINAS: “More than any other single cause, the disastrous consequences of this over-centralization of control over a large range of subject matters has been at the heart of Nigeria’s arrested development and total system dysfunction, especially when viewed against the backdrop of the rapid socio-economic development in pre-1966 (where the) regions owned, controlled and worked their respective economic assets to the benefit of their own people; and exercised most of the powers now sequestered from them by the so-called Federal Government”.

While NINAS’s analysis is true to some extent, it must be said that a gulf separates Nigeria’s pre-1966 leaders from those of today. Leaders like Awo in the South-west, for example, delivered a lot of “firsts” with meagre resources while those of today, despite the humongous resources at their disposal, have allowed all of Awo’s legacies, including education, to rot. So, skewed federalism is one side of the coin; the other side is leadership failure. Both must be addressed pari-passu if we are to meaningfully assail the myriad problems that plague every part of the country today.

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So, having beautifully analysed the problems, what are the solutions? First, NINAS repudiates and rejects “the imposed 1999 Constitution”; calls the attention of the international community to its declared sovereignty dispute with the Nigerian State; demands that it acknowledges the constitutional force majeure as well as take steps to take down the 1999 Constitution, suspend future elections, and enter into discussions and negotiations with NINAS with a view to resolving these and other issues that have dogged the steps of Nigeria’s federalism.

NINAS’s leadership caucus is drawn from its four-member zones and is led by Prof. Banji Akintoye who, in 2019, was elected president of the Yoruba World Congress at Ibadan. Akintoye is currently the president of Ilana Omo Oodua, a Yoruba self-determination group with tentacles all over the world. He posits that self-determination is an inalienable right recognised by international conventions. He also regrets that the State governments are emasculated because of the immense powers given to the Federal Government by the 1999 Constitution, alluding to this as the reason why Amotekun, the South-west security network, had been crippled by Federal opposition. The constitutional force majeure declared by NINAS, he said, has brought previous strange bed-fellows together, producing the oft-touted “handshake across the Niger”.

As a signatory to the NINAS document, I hold the strong view that the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) is defective and must be brought down. It is not “federal” but “unitary” in content, scope, and operation. That constitution is the bedrock of Nigeria’s problems. No amendment can cure it of its terminal disease; previous amendments being only more of the same ineffective and ineffectual medicine.

Akintoye’s insistence on non-violent struggle to achieve the goals of NINAS imitates India’s Mahatma Gandhi and his policy of non-violent struggle as well as Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black struggle in the United States of America. But the Nigerian Government’s style is contempt for opponents it perceives as weak and feeble. It is, therefore, not a surprise that it has treated NINAS and its ultimatum with scorn. But what a mistake! NINAS’s silent campaign has gained a lot of ground. The coming together of hitherto sworn foes – such as the handshake across the Niger, weaning the Middle Belt from the North’s tutelage, and establishing a dichotomy between the Hausa and Fulani – is a phenomenon that will shake the feudal oligarchy to its very foundation – if not now, then, certainly in the nearest future.

Bola Bolawole
[email protected] 0807 552 5533

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