Nigeria has been facing a constitutional crisis since its independence in 1960. The 1999 Constitution is also the reason for the call for secession, disintegration, restructuring and true federalism by some ethnic and interest groups. Evidently the over 350 ethnic nationalities in Nigeria are not happy with the progress made so far. This necessitates the production of a new constitution that will reflect the character of Nigeria and its spirit and thought.
Although Nigeria is a federation in name what presently obtains is a unitary system of government where the federal government is too powerful and the federating states have been weakened leading to underdevelopment, inequitable distribution of resources, abuse of political power, corruption, high level of insecurity and power imbalance.
It is no longer news that the 1999 Constitution was promulgated into force by military decree. The military introduced the present unitary system of government through their decree which eventually became the 1999 Constitution. Nigeria has since been suffering from a military era hang-over arising from over-centralization of power and resources, weakened unit states, and non-performance of local governments. No thanks to the writers of the 1999 Constitution who laid a faulty foundation for modern-day Nigeria. Also, shame on members of the political class who are opposed to the production of a new constitution for the country. This group of politicians is bent on upholding a faulty constitution due to their selfish interest. They have also disregarded the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference constituted by former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan which many sane minds agree is capable of addressing some of the national questions. Consequently, most of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory continue to depend on the federal government for survival despite dwindling oil revenues and the numerous resources in each federating states. States are unable to explore their natural resources due to poor governance structure which the present crop of political leaders is unwilling to address. We cannot continue to confine ourselves to the 1999 Constitution (as amended) in our quest to find answers to the national questions.
Since 1999, Nigerian democracy has been unsuccessful. Nigeria is classified as a hybrid regime rather than a full democracy. This is according to the 2019 Democracy Index by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The people are not allowed to choose their preferred officials and representatives due to electoral fraud. The courts have now been delegated with the responsibility of determining the winner of an election. Politicians do not want any electoral reform that will affect the status quo. The recommendations of the Uwais electoral reform committee have not been fully implemented. Major General Buhari also thwarted efforts to reform the electoral system by the 8th National Assembly. He declined assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill on four occasions. It is obvious that nothing much will change with respect to the electoral system in the 2023 general elections. Elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states shows what the chain of events would be in 2023. Politicians have perfected the art of rigging and are unlikely to change their ways.
The living standard of Nigerians is also very poor. Nigeria is presently the poverty capital of the world overtaking India. While the present government says they are going to lift 100 million people out of poverty in 10 years, their policy direction says otherwise. Furthermore, any attempt by the Nigerian masses to express their displeasure over the lack of accountability and transparency, high level of corruption, lack of respect for the rule of law, human right abuses, high level of insecurity and mismanagement of the economy within the present government is seen as an affront. The freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly are no longer respected. Nigerian laws do not apply equally to all citizens.
The National Assembly and the Judiciary have become the appendages of the Executive rather than being independent. This is evident in the willingness of the 9th National Assembly to become a rubber stamp of the Executive and the inability of the Judiciary to challenge the Executive’s lack of respect for the rule of law. For the Judiciary, the invasion of the homes of judicial officers by security operatives and the removal of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen—all on the orders of Major General Buhari may have informed their silence in the face of tyranny.
Corruption remains a major challenge affecting economic development and threatening the fabric of the Nigerian State. According to Transparency International, Nigeria ranked 146 out of 180 countries on the global corruption index in 2019. This is in spite of the fact that the fight against corruption is one of the key priorities of the Buhari regime. The fight against corruption is perceived by many people as selective and a witch-hunt of political opponents. The present government is also neck-deep in corruption. Contrary to the federal government’s defense, the corruption perception index by Transparency International is reflective of the current situation in Nigeria. Corruption is the source of many public officer’s stupendous wealth and the consequence is the high level of poverty and inequality seen in our society.
According to the 1999 Constitution (as amended), sovereignty belongs to the Nigerian people but when the foundation of the Nigerian State is faulty, what can the poor masses do? The political leaders are the ones saddled with the responsibility of laying a strong foundation for the Nigerian State. Unfortunately, those who derive their powers and authorities from the people have now become more powerful than the people who gave them the power. The Nigerian masses have lost the power to oust bad leaders.
Those who claim that Nigeria’s unity is sacrosanct and are opposed to both constitutional and non-constitutional solutions to Nigeria’s problems are the enemies of the country. They are only interested in using the resources from Southern Nigeria to develop North Nigeria as well as line their private pockets and achieve their selfish ambition. The amendment of some sections of the 1999 Constitution by the political class does not go far enough and cannot ensure true federalism or restructuring. Furthermore, those who are opposed to restructuring of the Nigerian State will not provide the needed votes required for a constitutional amended to bring restructuring into effect.
The unity of Nigeria is not guaranteed without laying a new foundation for the Nigerian State. Nigeria’s political leaders are only postponing the evil day by maintaining the status quo and dismissing agitations for secession, disintegration, restructuring and true federalism. There is a need to produce a new constitution that addresses the issues of restructuring and true federalism. The collapse of African countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and South Sudan should tell us something.
Bolaji Samson Aregbeshola is an Op-Ed Contributor and the author of “Nigerian Political Parties and Politicians: Winding Road from Country to Nation.”