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Friday, 16 November 2012

BETWEEN CONSTITUTION AMENDMENT AND A NEW CONSTITUTION

                                                                        
Since the country returned to democracy in 1999, Nigerians have been clamouring for a new constitution since the 1999 Constitution was written by the military and does not reflect the wishes and aspirations of Nigerians. Nigerians’ demand for a new constitution have always been resisted by the members of the National Assembly who said the country did not need a new constitution and that the 1999 Constitution only needed amendment.

 Nigerians are not comfortable with this position taken by the National Assembly because they feel the 1999 Constitution is faulty and should be discarded and a new one be written. Nigerians want neutral representatives who would be elected just for the purpose of writing a new constitution since the members of the National Assembly will be bias in amending the 1999 Constitution to their favour as they are benefiting from the faulty constitution. When the foundation of a building is faulty, it is demolished and a new one is laid for a strong building to be erected. The members of the National Assembly claimed that as the elected representatives of the people of this country, they have the power to amend the 1999 Constitution or even write a new constitution for the country but said there was no need for a new constitution. It must be made clear that the members of the National Assembly were not elected to write a new constitution or amend the 1999 Constitution but to make laws for the smooth running of the government. There is a great different between writing a new constitution and amending an existing constitution. A constitution can only be amended if it reflects the wishes and aspirations of the people and only needs minor amendments to reflect changes. But the 1999 Constitution is not fit for amendment because it is not the people’s constitution but a military one. Meanwhile, Nigerians feel the members of the National Assembly cannot amend the 1999 Constitution to expunge certain provisions from the constitution that favour them. For instance, Nigerians want the members of the State Assemblies and the National Assembly to be on part-time since they sit for only 180 days of the 365 days in a year. Thus, the members of the National Assembly observe 180 days as recess yearly! How many workers in this country go on annual leave for 180 days in the various companies or ministries they work with? Our representatives sit for only six months yearly and spend the remaining six months in their private businesses yet earn so much salaries and allowances for doing nothing! Will the members of the National Assembly be willing to amend the 1999 Constitution to place them on part- time? Also, Nigerians want the salaries and allowances of our lawmakers both at the state assemblies and national assembly to equate those of civil servants since governance is not a profit making organization but service to humanity. But our lawmakers will not accept their salaries and allowances to be reduced to reflect those of civil servants because they see governance as an avenue to make quick money and amass wealth. However, in other climes, governance or politics is not an avenue to make money and politicians who want to make money usually resign from government to pursue their private businesses but in Nigeria the reverse is the case as people resign from private businesses and go into polities in order to make quick money. Thus, the members of the national assembly cannot amend the 1999 Constitution or write a new constitution that will meet the wishes and aspirations of Nigerians. This is because the provisions in the proposed new constitution will affect them and they will not be neutral in their decisions if they are allowed to amend the 1999 Constitution or write a constitution. They cannot be a judge in their own case. For instance, one of the recommendations of (rtd) Justice Mohammed Uwais’ committee on electoral reform states that elected politicians should not take the oath of office until election tribunals complete their trials since such people use government funds to pursue their litigations and sometimes offer bribes to sway judgment in their favour. As good as this recommendation, the members of the national assembly didn’t adopt it. Nevertheless, there is need for the review of the revenue sharing formula to reflect resource control. This is so because resource control will encourage healthy competition among the federating states as every state has multiple natural resources to develop and control. But will the members of the national assembly who currently benefit immensely from the present sharing formula amend the 1999 Constitution to reflect resource control that will enable states to control their resources and pay taxes to the central government as federalism is practiced in other countries? For the education and health sectors to function properly, the new constitution should ban elected politicians, senior public officials and their children from attending foreign hospitals and schools. Will the members of the national assembly and other elected politicians who are enjoying these benefits be willing to insert this clause into the 1999 Constitution? The new constitution will empower states to create local government areas without the approval of the national assembly before they become valid. Since the states will control their own resources, they can create as many council areas as they desire because they will be responsible for their sustenance. Since there will be resource control, council areas will not be created as a means of getting huge allocations from the federal government but as a necessity. The new constitution will make provision for independent candidates so that individuals who are not willing to join the available political parties that do not have the kind of manifestoes they want can decide to contest for elections as independent candidates. Also, the provision for independent candidates will enable aspirants contest for elective posts without bearing the financial burden which political parties impose on their members who want to contest for elective posts. The question now is, will our representatives at the national assembly amend the 1999 Constitution to include independent candidates? Will they not want to maintain the status quo so that they can continue to oppress the people through their unfriendly party policies? Independent candidacy is very vital for the growth of democracy because it gives opportunity to poor aspirants who have good manifestoes and followership to contest elections without financial constraints. The new constitution will prohibit the office of the first ladies at the federal, state and council levels. The office of the first lady at the three tiers of government is illegal because the first ladies were not elected but they get allocations from the governments and enjoy largesse as if they were elected. So, the new constitution should prohibit that office of the first lady at the three tiers of government. Also to be prohibited is the security vote that is not accounted for. To discourage corruption, all money allocated to any arm of government must be accounted for. When money is not accounted for, it breeds corruption. Another crucial issue that will be included in the new constitution is the prohibition of cross-carpeting. Many politicians usually abandon the political parties under which they contested and won elections as soon as the elections are over. This is wrong because an elected politician that cross-carpeted has betrayed the electorates that voted them to power because if the manifestoes of the political party under which they were elected promised free education and they defect to other political parties that did not promise free education, what will be the fate of the electorates that voted for them because of the free education in their former party’s manifestoes? The electorates might have voted for them just because they wanted their children to enjoy free education and if they defect to other political parties, how do their children go school since they cannot afford the high school fees being charged by private schools? This is why cross-carpeting is a betrayal of trust and detrimental to democracy. It also leads to voters’ apathy since they know that those voted for could dump the political party under which they were elected for other parties without fulfilling their manifestoes. The envisaged constitution will ensure the appointment of members of the states independent electoral commission are not done by state governors but by a neutral body. The reason why incumbent governors hardly lose elections is because they appoint the members of the state independent electoral commission and members of states electoral tribunals thereby dictating to them as to what they should do instead of playing by the rule. This is because he who pays the piper dictates the tune. State governors often manipulate members of state electoral tribunals for their favour. This is why opposition political parties hardly win election cases in their states except in the Appeal Courts outside their states.

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