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Simon Kolawole: This Thing Called 1999 Constitution

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1999 Constitution

By Simon Kolawole

The most evil document in circulation in the world today, I am told, is the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (amended or not). It is such a bad document that it is only fit for the refuse dump. I am further told that all the problems and troubles with Nigeria can be traced to this vile document which has destroyed the hopes and aspirations of millions of Nigerians. It is such a useless and worthless document that until it is shredded, burnt and its ashes thrown into the sea, Nigeria will never make progress. I am made to understand that the 1999 constitution was written by the military and is, thus, to be disdained and avoided like a plague.

Chief Bisi Akande, former national chairman of the APC, recently summarised the discontent with the 1999 Constitution thus: “The 1999 Constitution is Nigeria’s greatest misadventure since Lugard’s amalgamation of 1914. The Constitution breeds and protects corrupt practices and criminal impunities in governance. All the angels coming from the heavens cannot make that Constitution work for the progress of Nigeria. It should only be scrapped as a bad relic of military mentality… Otherwise, the 1999 Constitution would continue to dwarf Nigeria’s economy and stifle the country’s social structure pending a disastrous and catastrophic bankruptcy.” Wow!

What is the 1999 constitution? Let me tell you a story. In 1998, after the death of the head of state, Gen. Sani Abacha, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar came to power. In an interview with THISDAY in December 1998 (I was a member of the interview team), Abdulsalami said he was so much in a hurry to organise an election and hand over power to civilians that he would have done it within 100 days in office if it were possible. When the election timetable was fixed and the presidential election was slated for February 27, 1999, he said he wanted to hand over by March 1999 but the lawyers advised him to give some time for post-election litigation. So they finally settled for May 29, 1999.

Actually, Abdulsalami had other options before him. One was to use delay tactics by saying he wanted to write a new constitution. To set up a constitutional conference, hold elections into it, allow time for deliberations, recommendation, presentation of report, and then appraisal and approval by the Provisional Ruling Council (PRC) — the country’s highest decision making body at the time — Abdulsalami could buy at least two more years for himself and enjoy power for longer. He could even begin to toy with the idea of transmuting to a civilian president. You know how the devil works. But he was simply in a hurry to see the birth of democracy.

Nevertheless, we needed a constitution. So on November 11, 1998, Abdulsalami inaugurated the Constitution Debate Co-ordinating Committee (CDCC) to “pilot the debate, coordinate and collate views and recommendations canvassed by individuals and groups and submit a report not later than 31 December 1998”. It was not headed by a soldier but by Justice Niki Tobi, with Dr Suleiman Kurmo as deputy chairman. There was no single military man on the committee. They went round the country to collect memoranda from the public through town hall meetings in Benin, Enugu, Jos, Port Harcourt, Kaduna, Kano, Ibadan, Lagos and Sokoto. They excluded military formations.

After all the frenetic debates — up and down, north and south, east and west — the Tobi committee submitted its report to the military government. Tobi said: “In the light of the memoranda and the oral presentation on the 1995 Draft Constitution, it is clear that Nigerians basically opt for the 1979 Constitution with relevant amendments. They want it, and they have copiously given their reasons for their choice in the different memoranda and oral presentations. So we have recommended to the Provisional Ruling Council the adoption of the 1979 Constitution with relevant amendments from the 1995 Draft Constitution.” Abdulsalami accepted the recommendation.

When the 1999 Constitution was finally published, three of us at THISDAY sat down and placed it side by side with the 1979 Constitution. We then did a clause-by-clause analysis. The trio were: Mr Victor Ifijeh (the current MD of The Nation newspaper who was THISDAY editor then), Alhaji Yusuph Olaniyonu (SA to Senate President Bukola Saraki who was THISDAY politics editor at the time) and my not-so-humble self (then THISDAY features editor). We did a word-for-word reading and laughed ourselves to stupor: this is pure plagiarism of the 1979 Constitution! We were not surprised, though: the Tobi committee already told us what to expect.

There were only a few notable differences in the two documents, such as the 13% derivation for oil-producing states and the number of states in the federation. While the 1979 Constitution spoke about 19 states, 1999 said 36 states, logically. They were only reflecting the realities on ground. FEDECO in the 1979 document changed to INEC in 1999. I would, therefore, conclude that the 1999 Constitution is a replica of the 1979 Constitution. In fact, Prof. Akin Oyebode, the well-respected legal luminary who recently signed a statement by Southern Leaders of Thought to condemn the 1999 constitution, was a key player in the finalisation of that document in 1999.

I may have to add that the 1995 Draft Constitution referred to by the Tobi committee was produced by the National Constitutional Conference conveyed by Abacha. It was made up of appointed and elected members. One of its recommendations was the six-zone structure which we operate today, although it is not contained in the current constitution. Another proposal is the “minimum 13% derivation payment” to oil-producing states. I am highlighting these points in response to claims that our Constitution was written by the military and not “we the people”. The military did not write any constitution — apart from promulgating the enabling decrees.

The biggest irony for me is the vicious condemnation of the 1999 constitution by Chief Akande. Now you won’t believe this: Akande was a member of the 1977 Constituent Assembly that debated and produced the 1979 Constitution — which, as you would find out, is 99% what we have as the 1999 Constitution today! In 1977, Akande was elected to represent Ila and Odo-otin local governments in the Constituent Assembly. I repeat: the 1999 Constitution is a photocopy of the 1979 Constitution. Factually and logically, Akande has described the document he helped produce as “a bad relic of military mentality”. I am trying to make sense out of this.

Military mentality? Again, let us look at that closely. The constitution drafting committee set up by Gen. Murtala Muhammed in 1975 was headed by Chief FRA Williams. He was not a major general, in my records. (Awo declined to serve on the committee because he wanted to run for president.) The report of the committee formed the basis for discussions at the 1977 Constituent Assembly. Notable CA members were Chief MKO Abiola and core Awoists such as Chief Bola Ige, Chief Abraham Adesanya and Chief Bisi Onabanjo. It was chaired by the eminent jurist, Justice Udo Udoma. This is what Akande, himself an elected member, calls “military mentality”. I just can’t understand.

Under the cloned constitution, Akande was elected governor of Osun state in 1999. Under the same constitution that “promotes corruption”, Akande ruled Osun state without stealing one kobo. He was the epitome of transparency and prudence, never given to materialism. He lost his re-election bid in 2003 partly because he refused to be corrupt. He refused to pillage state resources for electoral gain. He did not buy a private jet or houses in Dubai and America. Yet he believes that the 1999 Constitution “breeds and protects corrupt practices and criminal impunities in governance”.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize one point: I have by no means suggested that the 1999 Constitution is perfect. I am not that daft. My point is that there are too many statements being made by those against the Constitution that are not based on facts. The 1999 Constitution was NOT written by the military. I also hasten to say that nobody can write a perfect constitution. Even if Prof. Ben Nwabueze, a well-respected constitutional expert, writes a new constitution today, loopholes will surface in a matter of time. That is why laws are dynamic. As loopholes appear, you plug them. Meanwhile, is the 1999 constitution that horrible? This we shall discuss in my next article.

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS

HOSTILE OPPOSITION
Some people must be really disappointed and shocked that President Muhammadu Buhari is not dead yet. No matter their wishes, only the Giver and Taker of Life has the final say. The death wishers must be burning with bitterness that the “incapacitated” president has been holding meetings and signing agreements since his return. It felt good to me that he also met with APC and PDP leaders, thereby breaking the ice. But I chuckled at his statement that “opposition does not mean hostility, enmity or antagonism”. Really? APC came to power as one of the most hostile, adversarial and antagonistic opposition parties in our history. Irony.

CAT AND MOUSE
So President Buhari came back to Nigeria after a 103-day medical leave in the UK and the rats prevented him from entering his office. Okay, they said it was not rats that did it — that the office only needed renovation after being in a state of disuse for over three months. I’m not in a position to make an informed comment since I have not seen the office, but I was out of Nigeria for nearly one year from 2014 to 2015 and my office was as fresh as I left it. Why? In my absence, it was being cleaned every day. Which is why I don’t buy the cat-and-mouse game from Aso Rock. There is something they are not telling us but, as an African, I suspect something too. Theories.

QUIT NOTICE
The so-called Arewa youth coalition has withdrawn the quit notice given to Igbo to leave northern Nigeria by October 1. We are supposed to be dancing, right? Do we know the danger we are plunging this country into when a clearly idiotic and illegal quit notice is given by some people from one part of the country to another because others are expressing their fundamental rights to free expression? I insist that NOBODY has any right to ask a Nigerian to quit a state or region. We are playing with fire. Those who issued the quit notice should be behind bars by now. Everybody has a right to agitate but nobody has a right to threaten genocide. Insane.

CUT OFF
A lot of hell has been raised over the fixing of an all-time low baseline for entry into tertiary institutions. The minimum cut-off mark for a university degree is now 120 out of 400 (it was a minimum of 200/400 in my time). For Polytechnic, it is 100, colleges of education 100, and national innovative enterprise institution 110. Are we “going down low” to reflect the declining standards of education in Nigeria? In any case, I am one of those critics saying JAMB should stop handling admissions into higher institutions. JAMB could remain as a compulsory qualification test (like Toefl), but schools should determine their admission criteria and produce their own lists. Reform.


Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Oriental Times

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Oscar

    August 27, 2017 at 9:33 am

    Mr, kolawole, you said it all by hitting the nail at the head. I wonder if those law makers in Nigeria ever think of the future. Look at you referring to history of over 30 years ago, and some of those people you mentioned are still alive today fighting with their conscience. What will the members of the current senate and national assembly have as legacy in the next 20_30 years? Buying new cars for themselves? Or hiding the truth under their carpet? Nigeria we hail thee.

  2. BiafraNow

    August 27, 2017 at 9:30 am

    Intelligently, well written. Thanks for all the insight.

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Opinion

Let Me Shine!

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Nigeria

By Odunayo Oluwatimilehin

I am a little creature,
created to fulfill a special purpose on earth.
I am a product of human consummation.

I developed first as a foetus, and progressed gradually,
into a living being composed of a spirit, soul, and a body.

I am the long awaited bundle of joy,
A symbol of conjugal completeness,
A magical color that beautifies Marital vows.

I brought joy, happiness, and change of status to the family I was delivered to.
I was the reason behind the bright moon smiles on faces.
I was cherished, loved, and cared for at my arrival.

Now that my parents desire to have me has been granted.
I have just “One wish”.
Just one wish and I’ll be fine.

One wish to express my inert dreams.
One wish to be ‘Me’.
One wish to leave an indelible mark on the sand of time.

One wish to dazzle like Diamond.
One wish to shine forth as Gold.

Please, strengthen me when I’m weak.
Counsel me when I’m discouraged.
Hold my hands often, and affirm your love to me.

Just like houseplants,
Nurture me to grow on the right path.
Do not spare the rod when I’m wrong.

Release me like an Eagle when the time is right.
No matter the heights I’ll reach,
I will forever remain your little child.
Let me Shine!

Dedicated to Children all over the world, in celebration of May 27th, 2020 Children’s Day

HAPPY CHILDREN’S DAY!

Odunayo Oluwatimilehin, OYEWOLE.

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Opinion

An Open Letter To Governor Ifeanyi Okowa

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Your Excellency Sir,

This open letter is a direct response to the official press statement that was made by the secretary to the state Government, Mr Chiedu Ebie on the 19th of May. In the press release, he announced that the government of Delta State is putting measures in place in other to establish a security organization which will be positioned to combat the rising insecurity in the State. I agree with your decision considering the porous security situation in the country and coupled with the covert moves of the powers that be to export hundreds of Almajiri folks to states that are unconnected to their political and economic misery.

Indeed, your decision is commendable but there is an observable error in it. This error is not telling good about us. Gains will not be made if what was mentioned in that press statement should come to be. People who are fighting for survival must apply common sense when it comes to their security. This letter is simply designed to remind you that the idea to include some Northerners into the yet to be established Office of Special Adviser on Peace Building and Conflict Resolution calls for a serious concern.

Your Excellency Sir, there won’t be any need for me to start schooling you again about insecurity in the country. You are the chief security officer of your state and moreover you duly understand the security situation in the whole of Nigeria. I still don’t understand the rationale behind the planned inclusion of some Northern extraction into the Office of Special Adviser on Peace Building and Conflict Resolution. After examining the decision, I can prognosticate dark days ahead. Things are not done that way. The decision of your government is somewhat misplaced and makes us to look like people who can’t do things on their own.

Dark days are truly ahead. We the Easterners should stop acting to love Nigeria more than others when at the end the people whom we are trying to align ourselves to doesn’t care about our ‘one Nigerianness’. Damning this mentality of ‘let’s do it this way so that nobody will see us as divisive people’ is one necessary thing that must be done. We owe no one apology or explanation on how we can go about our security in as much as it’s done according to the extant laws. Perhaps, it’s a matter of survival and not a cry for political correctness!

There is hisbah police in the North and Amotekun in the Southwest, how many Easterner can we see both in Hisbah and Amotekun security formations or any of their affiliated committees? Can they even conceive such dastardly idea? These people for a minute don’t trust us but we easily trust and unnecessarily engage them into sensitive issues about us. This is a country that thrive on suspicion. No oneness! No trust! So I wonder what your government is planning to achieve by getting these Northerners involved in the so called committee. Don’t quote me wrong. I’m not trying to say that your government shouldn’t engage the stakeholders in consultation when it comes to matters like this. But the main point is that limitations should be defined in sensitive issues like the one at hand. Some people are meant to stand outside while certain problems about us are being discussed.

We know the solution to farmers and herders clashes in the region. Open grazing should be completely banned in the state. A defined space should be made available for grazing of cows. 24 hours surveillance should be mounted in the place. Any herder caught with firearms should be arrested and prosecuted without minding who is infuriated or not. As the chief security of your state, you are constitutionally responsible for the security of your constituents. Adequate security decisions and actions should be made to work in consonance with the present security reality.

On several occasions, the marauding herders have killed and displaced hundreds of farmers in the Eastern region with little or no actions by the governors to arrest the escalating tension. Without minding the damage the activities of the herders have caused on the region, you unfortunately fell to the trick of wanting to involve a total stranger into the Office of Special Adviser on Peace Building and Conflict Resolution. It is unacceptable Sir! That decision can blatantly result to self sabotage.

However, when Hisbah was formed, no Easterner was there. And when Amotekun was constituted, they never invited an Easterner to be a member of any committee so why are we inviting strangers into important issues about us? Remember, he who sups with the devil should have a long spoon. The purported plan of involving some Northern elements into the Office of Special Adviser on Peace Building and Conflict Resolution is a slap on us. The plan should be revised. There is no benefit in it. It will only complicate matters and magnify the arrogance of these tormentors. Don’t make the mistake of buying a baby lion that will grow and turn around to devour our flesh.

In conclusion Sir, I will suggest you reassemble your security tink tanks. All of you should sit and do a deep brainstorming on your decision. Weigh the future implications and make proper amendments. Let’s avoid the issue of had I known.

Yours sincerely

Kalu Nwokoro Idika

Kalu Nwokoro Idika is a political analyst, investigative and freelance journalist. He can be reached via email: Kalunwokoroidika@yahoo.com

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Opinion

‘If You Can’t Take Blows, Don’t Throw Blows’

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femi adesina

By Femi Adesina

Let me start by giving due credit for this headline, which is not original to me. I lifted it from the 1983 song by reggae star, Peter Tosh, in the album titled Mama Africa. The song is Glass House, and it goes thus:

“If you live in a glasshouse

Don’t throw stones

And if you can’t take blows brother

Don’t throw blows.”

I’ve recently found out that it’s the opposite that some Nigerians want. They want to use foul language, harangue their President, abuse him, and then, nobody must respond to defend the President. They want to dish out blows, and they don’t want to take any.

But it doesn’t work that way. If you can’t take blows brother don’t throw blows. That’s the way life goes.

For about five years, some people have made it a pastime to talk about President Muhammadu Buhari anyhow. They attempt to lead him by the nose, order him around, and call him names. The man just ignores them, and continues to work calmly for the country. And he’s making the difference in different spheres of national life. Steadily.

Last week, I chose to give out some light blows. Very light ones. That was when I realized that those who had been dealing out the blows for years have nothing but glass jaws. They collapsed, and saw stars.

I had got a request to appear on the breakfast show of Naija Info FM. There were initial scheduling difficulties, but eventually, we found a mutually acceptable time.

It was like the station was the bastion for some angry Nigerians, the type that saw nothing good in government, and who took delight in negative criticisms. No problem. We have learnt to deal with all sorts.

I responded to questions from the show presenter, the relevant and the not so relevant ones. And then the phone lines were thrown open.

One man first charged that the interview session was a waste of time, as I had parried all the questions thrown at me. Oh ho. What did he want? Dabble into issues that do not involve a presidential spokesman, and then make a mess of eating an egg? I simply referred the interviewer to those who could answer his questions in government. As spokesman to the President, you were not Jack of all trade, otherwise you would end up being master of none. Whatever was outside your purview, just refer to the right quarters.

Another man came on the line. When would the President talk to us, he charged. At least we voted him into office, so he has a moral duty to talk to us. He said he was a school principal, and he talks to his students every morning at the assembly hall.

Wrong premise. Wrong conclusion. You can’t parallel a President leading 200 million diverse people with a principal superintending over less than 500 or 1,000 students, who were even half paying attention, or giggling, and poking fun at the shoes or shirt, or tummy of the man talking to them.

Now, this narrative of ‘he must talk to us’ is a common one in the country. I’d responded to it more times than I could remember. But what made it a bit irksome last week was the fact that the President had just made three major national broadcasts over the previous four weeks. And here was a man commanding him to ‘come and talk to us’ once again.

I threw my own jab. Why was the man sounding like a broken record, repeating itself endlessly? Before the series of national broadcasts started, you said President Buhari was not talking on the COVID-19 pandemic, when he had set up a team of experts and professionals, who were handling the emergency adequately, and briefing Nigerians daily. Then he makes three broadcasts, and you still say he’s not talking. He must do a media chat. You want a talkative President? Soon, you would say again that he talks too much.

I explained that it was not the President’s style to chirrup like a cockatoo. He is a man of few words, who preferred action to words. I even pleaded that we should understand the nature of the man we have elected to lead us, and let him do the work.

You know what? If it was former President Olusegun Obasanjo that had come under the ‘you must talk to us’ barrage like that, and on live television, he would have first cleared his throat noisily, adjusted himself in his seat, and then bellowed:

“And who are you, that I must talk to you? I say who the hell are you? Who is your father? Who is your father’s father, that you are commanding me to talk to you? Were you born when we fought a Civil War to keep this country together? Where was your father when I received the instrument of surrender from the Biafra Forces? Don’t come here and tell me nonsense. Talk to us, my foot!”

But President Buhari would not upbraid anyone like that. He rather keeps his peace. And some people have now taken liberty for license, till they begin to sound like broken records. Yes, no apologies. That’s how they sound.

The fact that you have voted a man into office is not carte blanche for you to lead the man around by the nose. A leader worth his salt would not even submit himself to such cavalier treatment. Definitely not President Buhari. I made that point clear on the program.

Another caller came. Why are you talking to us like used toilet paper? You are too arrogant.

Oh, really? Well, if you see yourself like used toilet paper, then, I can’t help you. ‘If you don’t say you are, nobody would say thou art,’ goes a popular saying. If you see yourself like grasshoppers beside the giants in Canaan, just like 10 of the 12 sons of Israel sent to spy the Promised Land, then you can’t be helped. You will end up like grasshoppers. Like used tissue paper.

Then came another angry man. Things are not going well in this country. We are even tired of this government.

We? Does a single man use that collective pronoun for himself? The man could only talk for himself, but why was he talking for other people, without a power of attorney? I calmly told him: another election is due in 2023. Who says you can’t be President? You should simply run for office.

The Good Book says by the measure with which you mete to others, so shall it be meted back to you. The callers chose to be pugnacious, unruly, and I didn’t go back home to fetch replies for them. That was what they asked for. Part of the duties of being a presidential spokesman is that you must defend your principal, particularly if you had calmly explained for years, and some people chose not to listen. If they throw blows, then they must be ready to also receive. Once in a while.

Some people revel in trying to bring down those in government. The moment you choose to serve your country, they try to position you as enemy of the public. They try to dress you in borrowed robes. Oh, he’s a liar. He is in government to feather his own nest. He has become pompous and arrogant. He talks to us anyhow. He will end badly. Didn’t the ones before him end in oblivion?

Hateful people. Envious souls. In vain do you wish some people reversals in life. And let me tell you: my destiny does not rest in the hand of any man. Yes, not you, evil wishers. You missed it this time. My case is different, because God has got my back. He brought me into government at a time I didn’t aspire for it, didn’t even want it. He is the master of my fate. The Master Mariner will land me on halcyon shores, however stormy the voyage could be. And President Buhari will succeed.

My friend, Kurtis Adigba, a dyed-in-the-wool Buharist, not like some fair weather supporters we have known, was the first person to call my attention to an attempt to demonize me on social media, arising from the interview.

“They want to bring you down, smear your reputation,” he told me on phone. He said they were already sharing video clips of where I spoke sharply to people, and saying I was rude and arrogant. I laughed, and thanked him. Adigba went ahead to mount a robust defence of me on his Facebook wall, as did many others. I thank them. There are friends that stick closer than brothers.

My family, relations, acquaintances, all got the video clips home and abroad. They called, asking if I was allowing some nasty people to get under my skin. I explained to each one. I was firmly in control of my emotions, and what I did was deliberate. The President has been insulted enough, and it was time we fought back. He that throws blows must be ready to receive. It’s only pathetic that they have glass jaws.

I remember a story I heard in the late 1970s.I actually knew the couple, and the woman was like four times the size of the man. But the husband was always rough-handling his wife, beating her up at will.

One day, the woman was said to have purchased Indian hemp worth sisi (five kobo). She smoked it. And there came the husband to beat her up again. The woman simply packed the man, spun him round and round on her head, and threw him against the wall. The man saw stars, but he thought it was a fluke. He got up, attempted to lay his hands on the wife again, and the woman gave him a bear hug. After almost choking him to death, she threw the man against the wall again. When the man managed to get up, he took to his heels.

That was the last day he ever raised his hands against the woman.

You Tarka me, I Dabo you, God no go vex (the younger generation may not understand this. A story for another day). What am I saying in summary? Those who run down our President on every platform for inexplicable reasons should not think they will always get away with it. If you live in a glasshouse, don’t throw stones. And if you can’t take blows brother don’t throw stones.

United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, recently warned against what he called the “virus of hate.” His words: “We must act now to strengthen the immunity of our societies against the virus of hate.”

Yes, that virus is well and alive in Nigeria. It is even deadlier than Coronavirus. But those who harbor it will not always get away with it. There will always be a fight back.

~ Adesina is Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Buhari

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