“And what is the magic about 6? Why not 4? Why must Nigerians have to cope with an underperforming official for 6 years and then with immunity he/she strides off, whistling into the next government position after doing absolutely nothing but plundering the state?”
Growing up on a staple of cowboy movies might be the perfect condition for raising idealists instead of realists. Regardless of the twists and angles, there is a basic common theme in cowboy movies built on the simple notion that good will always triumph over bad. No matter how many times those representing good are shot at, wounded, incarcerated and tortured, the ‘baddies’ will get their right desserts…at the end. So if the bad people are still running wild, it is not the end. Of the many spaghetti westerns, few have achieved the cult status of The Good the Bad and the Ugly. The Internet is sprinkled with articles on everything from football to trademarks where this movie title is the framework for analyzing the ‘upsides, downsides and the parts that could or should have been done better but were not’.
Following in this tradition and in homage to western movie lovers and simple themes, what is ‘the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the Senate Report on the review of the 1999 Constitution?
It is absolutely fantastic that the desire for more states was not indulged considering that most states are not economically viable and state creation has still not yielded the development its proponents say it will. This is because the costs of managing a state and its governor far outweigh the amount reserved for building infrastructure and providing residents with goods and services. The provision supporting the ‘right of a Nigerian citizen irrespective of class, religion, tribe, political belief etc. to become an indigene of any locality in Nigeria’ is also a step in the right direction. It makes a mockery of the spirit of unity within our Constitution when our naturalization laws allow for foreigners to become Nigerians from a particular state after they have lived in Nigeria for at least 10 years and a Nigerian who has lived 20 years in a place cannot legitimately claim that place as home because his/her parents were from someplace else. It would have been perfect to add local government financial autonomy to the list of ‘good’ but the ambiguity in the section makes it difficult to determine at this point if expunging State-LG Joint Account from the Constitution alone is cause for celebration. Where will the revenue go? Will it remain with the FG or go directly to the States to do away with the pretense that LGs have any revenue of their own? Other encouraging provisions include delaying State Police (let governors start acting more responsibly and accountably) and providing a first line charge for certain State bodies such as the State Independent Electoral Commissions.
It is a bad idea to establish Traditional Rulers Council both at the national and state levels to ‘advice government on issues of religion, culture, resolution of boundary disputes, and maintenance of peace, corporate unity and development of the country’. It is poor because these councils will further eat into the miserable resources set aside for actual capital expenses and it is terrible because it perpetuates the freeloading syndrome of the entitlement which comes from the accident of birth (or deliberation of war). Is the terrible state of security, the deteriorating communal bonds between citizens and the chronic underdevelopment because the traditional rulers are not recognized in the Constitution? Is there anything preventing them from meeting on their own accord without this Constitutional provision? In a country where being in ‘office’ has become a license to plunder and amass, there is little justification for this. Splitting the role of attorney general from minister/commissioner of justice is also a bad idea – again an unnecessary financial burden on recurrent expenditure with little value for Nigerians.
Single tenure is the ugliest part of the report – all five lines of the text have the nuclear ability to completely overshadow what is good within the report. It is foul for its intent, the unacknowledged negative repercussions and for its sly inclusion. The Senate alludes to the financial expenses and distractions associated with re-election as if these two things are not the marks of the shallow democracy Nigeria currently practices. In a system where there is accountability and getting into office is based on merit and a proven track record of performance, then governors and presidents (why not legislators as well?) would not start campaigning for office 1 year into their terms. What single term tenure of 6 years does is continue to doom our politics to the control of vested interests and self-indulgent individuals. As things currently run, what incentive is there for a governor/president to perform when they know that no matter what they do, they cannot be re-elected or made to face the scorn of being voted out by citizens who feel hard done by? And what is the magic about 6? Why not 4? Why must Nigerians have to cope with an underperforming official for 6 years and then with immunity he/she strides off, whistling into the next government position after doing absolutely nothing but plundering the state? This provision is a clear statement that the Senate thinks our democracy is not going to develop beyond what we suffer now. Competing strongly with this for first place in the ugly pageant is the recommendation that past presiding officers of the National Assembly e.g., the Senate President and Deputy be remunerated ‘as is the case with certain past judicial and executive officers’. Such unattractive and unrepentant greed. Nigerian legislators are already the highest paid in the world and they want to keep earning even when they are no longer legislators.
In all, the general quality of the report is disappointing. The analysis behind the recommendations and rejections is lacking and out of the 43-paged document, 27 are wasted on listing all the 61 requests for states with not a page spared to explain why the submissions on gender equity, youth empowerment and improving the lives of people living with disabilities were ignored. It is an irony how poor the quality is considering all the resources spent on creating and developing it. The fact-finding trips to Washington, India and the UK must not have included exposure to any written material from which the Senate and their technical staff could have learned. The double irony is that in the preamble to the report, the Senate tells us that one reason they had to review the Constitution was to remove ambiguity, yet we have a report full of crevices for interpreters to fall into.
It remains to be seen what will come of the consolidation effort with the House Report and if, after the review process, the Nigerian Constitution will emerge better and stronger the better to ensure that good will triumph over bad…one day soon.