Constitution Review: Can We Ever Get It Right? By Zainab Suleiman Okino

The amendment of the constitution which earnestly began last week is being trailed by acrimony, although the main debate is yet to start. The importance of a review of a constitution hastily “midwifed” and “packaged” by the military government of General Abdulsalami Abubakar that lasted for nine months, is not in doubt. However, going by the previous unpalatable experience of the Obasanjo era, the current effort calls for introspection and caution. Not to mention the bad image that had underlined constitution amendments. One had taught that the National Assembly would try to minimise the areas of disputes and concentrate on matters of nation-building, development and citizenship, but I doubt if they are ready to avoid the banana peel, as it were.
Some of the areas of disputes, the unsettled issues, as opposed to General Babangida’s prescribed-settled and non-negotiable issue of the nation’s unity, this time, are state creation, devolution of power and specifically their proposal to grant the South-east one more state, besides the 56 states creation requests for consideration. The other contentious issue is the proposal to rotate the presidency among the six geo-political zones of the country. Until the 1995 Abacha Constitution, when the six geo-political zones found their way into our political

arrangement, it was, before then, antithetical to our political landscape. It was Professor Ekwueme’s ingenious political coinage, perhaps to satisfy the yearnings of his people. Since then, although it has become a convenient political arrangement, it is still not legitimate and constitutional. Entrenching it in the constitution has been a daunting task. This is an issue that the proponents of the idea hope will materialise this time around.
Now, talking about rotation between any groups/regions, especially between the North and South often degenerates into name-calling and heated debates, but talking about rotation among the six-geopolitical zones is an abuse of the platform the South currently enjoys. It is the height of political demagogue and won’t do the nation any good. It’s even more so, coming from the vociferous Igbo group, who only last year, practically buried zoning, with their overwhelming support for Jonathan to become president. Therefore, it will not be out of place for other federating units to view this current agitation with suspicion. It’s an unconscionable political hara-kiri that no conscious group would want to be trapped in.

Lately, the former governor of Abia state, Orji Uzor Kalu, reiterated the propriety of an Igbo presidency in 2015. With due respect to Orji, my former publisher, himself a true son of Igbo race, who I am happy to say did not participate in the race by his kinsmen to endorse Jonathan in 2011, it is a ludicrous and outrageous call. To all intents and purposes, the Igbos lost the moral right to ever talk about rotation after their volte-face in 2011. Definitely, not after they lined up behind Jonathan, and castigated everyone who stood against him. They sold their ‘birth right’ to a man named Azikiwe or Ebele, supposedly one of their own against ‘the rest of us’

I hate to pride myself as being prophetic, or to say ‘you see I told you so’, but when back then as a staff/columnist with The Sun, I wrote that the Igbos would recant and regret their action, they almost harried me out of town with floodgate of criticisms, insults and threats for being a power-addicted Hausa/ Fulani, their stooge or agent. That was when the Ohanaeze Ndigbo led by Ambassador Ralph Nwuche ordered his people to throw their weight behind Jonathan after his claim of assurance of his (Jonathan’s) reciprocal support for the Igbo presidency in 2015. Infantile hallucination and laughable, won’t you say?

As someone from a minority ethnic group from a back water state, I believed in zoning not because it was synonymous with democracy, but because I thought it was a home-grown mechanism to address the question of access to power. And if it would reduce the battle for power, so be it. But after Jonathan’s emergence, this argument, unfortunately, is no longer tenable.

The question of state creation may just end up like the six geo-political zoning issue, which by now, is almost dead on arrival because the lawmakers have put the wrong foot forward again, just like the third term. I really hope not because of the more important matter of state police, devolution of power and citizenship that are equally embedded in the constitution amendment proposals. Mr. Dan Agbese, one of the founders of Newswatch and our new columnist explored this view masterly in his piece: “Why we need state police” two weeks ago. At this stage, instead of concentrating on divisive subject matter, we should rather focus on national requisites and beam the search-light on things that can guarantee functional federation and political stability.

The search for a visionary leadership should know no boundary, and no group should play the victim, least of all the Igbo. The reason why we must find the best man for the job should be obvious to us all now. Poverty ravages, anger rages in the land, and the ship of the Nigerian state is sinking. When floods came, it swept away everything in its course. The problems of Nigeria are no respecter of anybody, just as the floods did not spare the president’s state, because it is his state. The danger in bad leadership and bad governance is that everybody is eventually done-in.

For those in the constitution review team, this is no haggling and fighting time; this is the time to make laws for the survival of the country; laws that put the nation first and self-interest last, if ever.