Back to the Ekwueme Constitution while on search for birth of Nation

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One of the most perplexing paradoxes in today’s Nigeria is the strident campaign for the adoption of the report of the 2014 national dialogue on the Nigerian condition organized by the Goodluck Jonathan administration as the basis of a new constitution. Even people who should know better have joined the bandwagon, showing that many Nigerians just go with the flow. Mental rigour remains a commodity in awfully short supply in the Nigerian public space.

The most critical objective for the campaign for Nigeria’s structural redesign since the mid-1990s is to reduce the number of states from 36 to about 6, so as to, among other factors, free the economy from perennial paralysis arising out of the humungous annual recurrent expenditure at all levels. But the 2014 Conference agreed that the number of states should, in fact, balloon from 36 to 54.
The delegates believed that Nigeria, whose 28 out of the 36 states cannot pay workers’ salary, should have the highest number of states throughout the globe, four more than the United States, the world’s wealthiest nation which has 50 states and a population of 300m. This recommendation highlights the emptiness of the Nigerian political class. Still, some people who delight in being called social critics and statesmen have of late been trumpeting the 2014 Conference Report as Nigeria’s only hope for survival whereas it actually sounds the country’s death knell. Pray, how can Nigeria survive for up to six months with some 54 states?

High-minded people recognize the enormity of power conferred on Nigeria’s centre, observing it is a principal cause of the country’s socioeconomic underdevelopment. And a major reason for the concentration of power at the centre is the large number of states. In other words, the more states are balkanized to create other states, the more they become dependent on the federal government. And yet the people who complain that the centre is too powerful are the same individuals and groups pushing for the 2014 Conference Report which advocates as many as 18 more states to be created in one fell swoop! The truth is that the death of the report iwas foretold ab initio. Besides the fact that there is no law creating the 2014 Conference, it never had legitimacy or moral authority. All the almost 500 delegates were appointed by one single individual. This is not tenable in a democracy in the 21st century. And those asking President Muhammadu Buhari to adopt and implement the report should know the Constitution does not vest such power in the president. Interestingly, those who advocate Buhari’s implementation of the report frequently accuse the president of dictatorial tendencies.

Nigeria needs to be redesigned. Much of the work has mercifully already been caught out, as can be gleaned from the 1995 Constitution which is sometimes called the Ekwueme Constitution because its key differentiating features were canvassed by former Vice President Alex Ekwueme at the 1994/5 Constitutional Conference in Abuja. The major differentiating contents of the 1995 Constitution are the division of the country into geopolitical zones, the adoption of the zones as the federating units, rotational presidency, one term of five or six years for the president and each state governor which is not renewable, increase in the use of the derivation principle from 3 to 13%, etc. Sani Abacha had begun to implement the 1995 Constitution, as shown by his creation of six states in 1996, with each zone getting one new state. One good thing about the zones is that it makes for equity and stability. It divides the South into three zones and the North into another three zones. Nigeria began as an amalgamation between the North and the South.

It is regrettable that Afenifere leaders coerced Abdulsalami Abubakar into jettisoning the 1995 Constitution and replacing it with the 1979 Constitution. Afenifere leaders felt that since the 1995 Constitution was drawn up under Abacha who was justifiably considered an enemy, it must be rejected, even though Abacha had practically no input in it. It was a case of throwing away both the baby and the bad water. Abubakar was desperate to have the Yoruba participate in his transition to civil rule programme, and so capitulated to the Afeniferi demand. He acquiesced to the demand that the 1979 Constitution be brought back. This is why there are almost no differences between the 1979 and 1999 constitutions. The few differences lie in such matters as the establishment of the National Judicial Commission and the increase in the use of the derivation principle from 3to 13% in the revenue allocation formula because the chairman of the committee set up by Abdulsalami to look into the adoption of the 1979 Constitution, Justice Niki Tobi, an indigene of oil-rich Delta State, insisted on its retention from the Ekwueme Constitution.

Ironically, the Afenifere leaders who made jettisoning the 1995 Constitution and its replacement with the 1979 Constitution their condition for participation in the transition programme are the same people now accusing the Abubakar military junta of imposing the 1999 constitution on Nigerians—and many otherwise perceptive Nigerians believe the propaganda stunt!

Nigeria needs a new constitution to meet its new challenges. Only people directly elected by the citizens can have the mandate to undertake such a sacred enterprise as designing or reforming a constitution in a fundamental sense. Though some critical national issues have been addressed by the 1995 Constitution, one matter which should not be overlooked is the imperative for multiple vice presidency. It was about the only issue which Ekwueme spiritedly but unsuccessfully fought to include in the 1995 Constitution. Ekwueme argued that there should be six vice presidents, with each zone, including the home zone of the president, supplying one. In the event of the president dying in office or resigning or removal from office, the vice president from his zone will complete the term of the president.

If the term is not completed, the people from the president’s zone are most likely to feel cheated, as we have seen in the case of President Umaru Yar’Adua when he died in 2010, in the third year of national leadership; the North felt shortchanged. To reduce costs and make things easier, the people who may be regarded as vice presidents can be the Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, secretary to the federal government, head of civil service, and a person who may be designated as Vice President 1 and working daily with the president in State House. This means that people coming from these offices mentioned above will perforce hail from different geopolitical zones.

Nigeria needs a new constitution or a comprehensively reformed one. The states as currently constituted and local government areas cannot have a place in the new constitution. The idea of a so-called third or fourth tier of government is a misnomer. The 1995 Constitution, otherwise known as the Ekwueme Constitution, provides the starting point for a new Nigeria.

• Adinuba is head of Discovery Public Affairs Consulting.

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