by Tola Sarumi
I read ThisDayLive, mainly for Simon Kolawole and Segun Adeniyi’s columns; the former especially mirrors my own thoughts on the myriad of issues that affect Nigeria.
I read his latest piece, ‘Constitution is not the problem’, with some consternation; at the risk of sounding dramatic, as far as I am concerned, the constitution is supposed to be an equitable document, from where any Nigerian can rest assured that his rights are guaranteed, or something along those lines, right?
I feel Simon, who I also had the pleasure of listening to at a gathering on Channels TV, set up his own straw man only to knock it down. I’m yet to hear anyone suggest that a fairer constitution will be the panacea that the nation needs .Instead, most people accept that it’ll be the platform to forging a better, more stable union. Right now, the Nigerian constitution is far too imperfect; the constitution accords men rights it doesn’t to women, that is a problem, the constitution stresses ethnicity over nationality, that is a problem. The constitution empowers the center to the detriment of the states that is a massive problem.
No, you know what, Simon is right; the constitution is not the problem, in that it did not write itself. He posits four questions that are worth considering and I’d like to have a try at answering them.
- The decision of any National Conference should not automatically become law, it will provide the parameters for amendments to be made by the National Assembly. What is most important is a televised gathering of (s)elected Nigerians discussing the issues that make the current constitution more representative. The legislature is notoriously parochial and if the people decide that the current size of the National Assembly is a problem, I don’t see them allowing such a proposal to carry the day but democracy is a journey, not a destination. The American system which we laud is subject to review every so often, if the population of a state decreases, so does the number of the Congressmen and the reverse is the case in the event of an increase. Our own lawmakers (yes, this sounds idealistic) will hopefully sense the zeitgeist, if the entire process is open and your average Nigerian is engaged with ensuring the outcome, the National Assembly would be wise to follow through.
- As flawed as it is, the current Local Government system will be the method by which a class of representatives will be s(elected) to such a conference. Another class of representatives will be sent in by NANS, another by the biggest Labour Unions, Women’s Groups and (even) Religious groups ( Though I am really grappling with this idea, the collective Nigerian moral conscience has been infantilised by the various religions thus far and their presence may prove disruptive. We wouldn’t want anyone threatening to curse anyone, anyway, their presence is up for debate). Each state will send a rep from each LG, NANs, Labour Unions will send 6 delegates each and some ‘elder states people’, (Two from each state, one of which MUST be a woman), on the condition that have never been previously elected into office.
- The process of the conference will be, there are to be over arching issues which will be agreed on in the 1st week of meeting, these are biggest issue i.e. State Police, Local Governments, Federal Character, Resource, Land Reforms, FG v States allocation National Census, State Boundaries etc. Under these issues will be the ‘interest issues’ such as women’s rights, religious freedoms, state vs. federal tariff, the preservation of local languages, culture and customs.
- There is no silver bullet, the group will break up into several mini groups, each made up of one person from the various groups present, will discuss previously agreed issues and take a vote on each until a consensus is reached. The groups will each choose a spokesperson who will present the decisions, it is crucial that this is done in the presence of the entire delegation.
Simon presented a list of reasons why this won’t work, well, I beg to differ. In this age of the internet, the whole country can get involved and monitor the performance of the delegates. Except for when the groups break off into sub groups to discuss the issues, the entire process should be televised, with a Twitter hash tag so as keep the citizenry engaged.
I’m excited at the thought of a National Conference, I feel one is sorely needed, the chances are slim though, the powers that be know that should one happen, the privileges which they enjoy unchecked may come to an abrupt end. In any case, the constitution is not THE problem that plagues the country but it is undoubtedly A problem.
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