Among the usual mixed reactions this column gets, that from one, Mike Oyeleke, to last week’s piece on what I obviously considered our wrong-headed belief that the sure-fire solution to the country’s problems is to fix its Constitution, looked like a most logical rebuttal of my thesis. For Oyeleke, whose reaction is reproduced below, I was obviously wrong to blame Nigerian politicians for quarrelling with our Constitution. They are, he says, right to do so because the country’s Constitution as the principal tool for its development is defective and in dire need of fixing.
The gentleman’s point of view is likely to resonate well with advocates of Sovereign National Conference; they seem to believe convoking an SNC to fix our Constitution is the panacea to our problems. It is hard, I believe, to find a more simplistic thinking on how to solve Nigeria’s problems.
True, our Constitution is defective and in need of fixing; it is a wrong reading of my piece last week to assume I did not think it is defective. After all, nothing man-made is, by definition, perfect because Man himself is imperfect.
My argument was simple; warts and all, if Nigerians had kept faith with their Constitution their country would never have been in the terrible mess in which it is. To quote one of the respondents to my article in question whose response I did not reproduce here, one, Ogbuba Gabriel who said he is an engineer, “A good worker can mend a crack with a bad tool to some extent.” I, for one, couldn’t agree more.
By the same token, even with the best tool available, no positive result can ever be achieved with the kind of bad faith Nigerian politicians have demonstrated in upholding the country’s Constitution in their politics.
The monumental corruption and waste that have been exposed in the country’s oil subsidy regime is, for example, not the fault of the country’s Constitution. Neither is the Constitution to blame for the monumental “mismanagement and misapplication” of the country’s ecological fund – to use the words of the Senate Public Accounts Committee which recently said it has discovered 400 billion Naira of the fund had been used in the last 10 years to buy such creature comforts like presumably expensive vehicles for public officials rather than for protecting and improving our environment. No doubt if half, or even less, of this huge amount – and chances are the corruption and waste was understated – had been spent on dredging our rivers and streams and generally on safeguarding our environment, the flood disaster we have witnessed this year all over the country, which has claimed hundreds of lives and thousands of livelihoods, would have been avoided.
Again, it is not the fault of the Constitution that, as one of my respondents said, our presidential system has proved prohibitively expensive. The Constitution is not to blame, for instance, for the decision by our federal legislators to fix their own wages and allowances and keep us totally in the dark about the size of those wages and allowances. On the contrary, the Constitution couldn’t have been more explicit than it was about the conflict of interest in allowing public servants to fix their own remuneration.
In these and all other cases of corruption and waste, there are sufficient Constitutional guidelines to stop abuse. There are also sufficient guidelines on how to punish abuse – and reward compliance. The problem for our country is that these guidelines have mostly been observed only in the breach. The problem is also that hardly does anyone get punished when the guidelines are breached. Instead our reward and punishment system seems to put a high premium on wrong doing and on self-service, as has been glaringly demonstrated by the country’s thoroughly discredited National Honours awards.
By all means let us correct the flaws in our Constitution. But if we truly want our country to develop we must approach its amendment with the full knowledge of, and respect for, the fact that a rule is not worth the paper it is written on if, as is obviously the case in Nigeria, it can be disregarded with impunity, especially by those entrusted with the power and authority to ensure compliance with it.
Talking about the importance of our politicians leading by example as the way out of our national decay, I witnessed a small but symbolically mighty example of it last week in Ekiti State when, on a visit to its governor, the youthful John Kayode Fayemi with my publisher friend, Chief Ikechi Emenike, he asked us to join his convoy on a trip from Ado-Ekiti, the state capital, to Ekiti East Local Government for a town square meeting with its people on next year’s budget.
The first thing that struck me was that his convoy was a short five or six vehicle long, with himself and his commissioners and aides that accompanied him in a bus. That was a far cry from your typical governor’s convoy.
However, what struck me even more was that the convoy actually obeyed traffic lights within the town, had no siren and did not disrupt the traffic on the highway all the way to its destination.
It is small examples of leadership by example like this, much more than our proclivity in amending our Constitution at the drop of the hat, that will make the big difference in our struggle to become a peaceful, stable and prosperous nation.
Re Constitutional amendment: a bad workman…
THE TOOLS THE NIGERIAN POLICIANS WORK WITH ARE NOT ORIGINAL TOOLS. RATHER THEY ARE WORKING WITH CORRUPTED TOOLS. WHEREAS IN AMERICA THE SENATE PRESIDENT IS THE VICE PRESIDENT, IN NIGERIA WE HAVE A VICE PRESIDENT SEPARATE FROM THE SENATE PRESIDENT. SINCE THE TOOL IS CORRUPTED SO WILL THERE BE COMPLAINTS BY THOSE WHO USE THE TOOLS. SHOULDN’T THE OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BE REPARATED FROM THAT OF THE MINISTER OF JUSTICE? SHOULD’NT EACH FEDERATING STATE HAVE ITS OWN CONSTITUTION AND ITS OWN POLICE? SHOULD THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY MEMBERS DETERMINE THEIR PAY? BAD WORKMEN, BAD TOOLS.
Thank you for your very interesting article: Constitutional amendments: A bad workman… This is just to correct a small mistake. You stated that Major-General Aguiyi Ironsi abolished the Independence Constitution. That assertion is factually incorrect. The Independence Constitution is the 1960 constitution. But there was another constitution in 1963. It is called the Republican constitution. It was the one abolished by Major-General Ironsi.
Hon Samaila Mohammed Jos
I agree with you that the constitution do not constitute far greater problem in Nigerian affairs than the behaviour of our politicians. However, there is no doubting the fact that some sections of the present constitution need to be amended. And while the paramount condition for our national progress is change in attitude and behaviour, I also think that there is need to jettison this costly presidential system for a more cost effective parliamentary one. Unfortunately our legislators won’t support such move because they are only interested in feathering their nests with our collective wealth.
Amend the constitution of Nigeria one million times it will not solve our problems. This is because those who are to protect and enforce will be ones that will work against it.
Dr. John Ogbadu
You will no doubt support that the present constitutional status quo be maintained given that your part of the world is unfairly favoured by the document. Yoruba speaking people of Kogi State, for instance, are treated like slaves by Igala colonialists who believe the state was a gift to them by (General) Ibrahim B. Babangida! Are you saying in all honesty and sincerity that they should continue to groan under such constitutional bondage? It is definitely going to be costlier in the long run to perpetuate such constitutional injustice, cheating and unfairness which may breed new militants and boko haramites.
As usual, you got your dates mixed up. Murtala was assassinated in 1976, not 1975.
I stand corrected. MKH