1999 Constitution of Nigeria
1999 Constitution

Again the National Assembly has embarked on another process of amending the 1999 constitution in view of emerging issues and contingencies confronting the nation. This would be the fourth attempt by the NASS at trying to adapt to new realities the constitution that was bequeathed to the new civil government by the Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar regime, which has received much flak from Nigerians over its inadequacies and patent contradictions.
Unlike the previous exercises, the current one seems to attract a more general consensus among the different groups and regions of the country, perhaps as a result of the existential threats facing the country. Without exception, all the previous constitution amendment exercises were largely unsuccessful as some contentious issues, such as devolution of powers and fiscal federalism, divided members that the matter did not even reach the state Assemblies for concurrence.
Although many people, judging from past experience have expressed opposition to the present move, we as a newspaper believe that much could be achieved with the amendment process if the members of NASS can rise up to the challenges of the occasion to save the country from looming danger. It is also our considered view that given the depth of issues that required change in the constitution, there may still be need for a new constitution, as mere amendment has its inherent limitations.
While the amendment will address the urgent situations that affect the corporate existence and unity of the country, as well as provide the parameters and modalities for producing a new constitution, and also buys us time; the new constitution, on the other hand, will look at Nigeria holistically and develop a new template and paradigm for the future. There is an incongruity between present Nigeria and its future aspirations, and only a new vision captured in a new constitution can deliver on this.
Apart from the contradictions in the constitution, such as federalism, secularity, and democracy, the 1999 constitution suffers legitimacy problems as many Nigerians still regard it as a military product devoid of popular participation and contributions. Compared to the amendment which sought the input of Nigerians across the country, the current constitution was drafted by a handful of people (six) appointed by the military, and was neither seen nor subjected to public review before promulgation.
So, it is a misnomer for the constitution to declare in the Preamble, “We, the people…” because the people were never involved in making it; and as long as this legitimacy question hangs over it, we will continue to have problems with its acceptance and enforcement. However, there are urgent issues that make amendment not only desirable but unavoidable in the current circumstance.
For the amendment to succeed, it must address some basic issues that threaten the peace and unity of Nigeria and also have made governance practically impossible. Government does not exist for the sake of it – as an end; but as a means to improve the lives of people and save them and their property from harm. A situation, like we have now, where both security and livelihood can no longer be guaranteed defeats the purpose of government.
Nigerians no longer have any expectations of their government and democracy dividends are only mentioned during elections. This is not coincidental; the cost of governance is killing the country and this amendment must address it by removing the constitutional requirement of having a minister from each state, and commissioner from each local government as in states before the economy collapses. The U.S., where we borrowed this has less than a dozen ministry/departments.
The amendment must also address the issue of debt by putting a cap in relation to revenue, not GDP, because the country is slipping into a debt trap that will be difficult to resolve in the near future. A major impediment to diversification into agriculture is the Land Use Act, which is in the constitution. To boost agriculture, access to land must be liberalized, and the Land Use Act is a disincentive to investment by small commercial farmers, especially the young graduates, in going into farming.
Resource control is a major economic incentive for productivity. But our only attention is focused on oil which is a captive or enclave economy and has little trickle-down effect in its contribution to GDP. States should be allowed at least 25-30 percent of whatever resources generated in their domain. This will create competition and self reliance rather the current feeding bottle federal system that is killing productivity.
Importantly, the Exclusive List must be drastically reduced from 68 items to not more than 40 items, with corresponding adjustment in revenue allocation formula to relieve the federal government of its omnibus and excessive bureaucracy to allow governance which is at the local level function properly. The current unwieldy federal structure is antithetical to good governance.
A critical aspect of this adjustment of the Legislative List is the issue of state police. Nigeria can no longer shy away from it. The main argument against it is the question of abuse by the state governors. Evidence before us justifies such fears. But it is a practical necessity now as a result of rising insecurity. The truth is that every issue is local and the attempt by the constitution to take away solutions to local problems is misguided and counter-productive. The menacing insecurity we have today would not have arisen if we had local policing that could respond speedily to such situations.
We believe these are some of the urgent areas the amendment must affect to be of any viability. However, they are by no means the only issues of concern: The entire federal system has to be reviewed; the presidential system is too expensive for a poor third world country and should be modified like the French system with a Prime Minister; elections have become a major political challenge and should be addressed.
The economy can no longer cope with too frequent elections because of its disruptive and expensive burden. So Nigeria should settle for a single term of six years for elective offices as canvassed in the past by the Patriots, a group of eminent Nigerians led then by Late Chief FRA Williams. Only in a new constitution can some of these issues be fully addressed, and it may take a longer time to achieve because of the regional differences that may have to be negotiated.
It is therefore, our considered opinion that both the amendment and a new constitution are necessary to deal with the problems we face as a nation in a bid to remain united and also achieve needed progress and development.