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Random Musings Of A Patriot: Constitutional reforms

The criticism of the current constitution and the call for restructuring is widespread and borne out of genuine concern for the stability and future of this country. There have been calls for confederacy and a return to regional government but in my opinion this will only transfer our existing perennial problems to the smaller federating units.

For one, the multi ethnic/ linguistic groups and religions in every region will not disappear along with the attendant tensions which come with such differences. Issues of marginalisation can presently be found in many states were prominent but minority ethnic/religious groups have never held power.

One example is Benue State where the Tiv have held power since 1976 to the exclusion of the Idoma. Another is Kaduna State with a large Christian population but southern Kaduna has never held power. Furthermore, we must not forget that the balkanisation of the regions by the creation of new states has brought development closer to the people, especially with growth of new state capitals.

What is required is a return to the parliamentary system and a major overhaul of the legislative lists along with a reduction of the powers of the central Federal Government. Some prominent elder statesmen including the former Governor of Akwa Ibom State Obong Victor Attah have called for a return to the parliamentary system.

If we operate a cheaper parliamentary system then a good popular candidate who is not wealthy will only have to win a constituency seat and get to Parliament where he can become Prime Minister by negotiation. A candidate will not need elaborate nationwide political structures and a huge campaign war chest.

We have seen that under the current expensive presidential system only people with deep pockets or people with wealthy sponsors can run for the highest office of the land. This way we may never get the leaders we deserve and the leadership problem will continue to haunt this country. We saw how Peter Obi left the PDP because he didn’t stand a chance against the financial muscle of some other candidates.

There are many advantages of the parliamentary system over the presidential system of government. One, it will make elections cheaper and allow better candidates to emerge since they only have to win a constituency seat rather than campaign around an entire state or country. Two, it will make governance cheaper since there is a unicameral legislature, the parliament, rather than the bicameral house of representatives and the senate of the presidential system.

Three, the prime minister holds a constituency seat, attends Parliament and is answerable to the representatives of the people. Four, it will create a strong opposition in parliament; something that is sorely lacking under the current winner takes all the system that we operate. However, one argument against the parliamentary system is borne out of the experience of the First Republic and critics argue that the drawback is instability because the government can be removed by a vote of No Confidence.

In my opinion that is exactly what we need, a government and Prime Minister that is answerable to the representatives of the people. In the presidential system the president is very powerful and even when he is unpopular it is difficult to secure his removal by impeachment.

In our discussions about constitutional reforms, we must not be confined to importation of any particular system of government but must become innovative and be prepared to tweak a known system or design a new system borne out of the Nigerian political experience and our peculiar local circumstances. The current winner takes all systems that generate disharmony and inequity.

I have argued for a return to the parliamentary system but another alternative is to retain but tweak the presidential system. One suggestion is to have one president and five vice presidents to come from the five regions that do not produce the president and the six men will constitute a presidential council. Major decisions and appointments must be taken or made by the President in Council. So for example, if we had operated that system, Buhari would have been president, Tinubu could be VP SW, Peter Obi VP SE, Atiku VP NE and so on.

Imagine such a powerful presidential council where they can all represent their regions and contribute to governance at the centre and diffuse the tension of the winner taking all the system. Such a system would have made it impossible for Buhari to make some of the appointments and decisions we have witnessed in the last seven years. The additional cost of five VPs can be balanced by scrapping the Senate and creating a unicameral House of Representatives which will make law making faster and legislative functions more effective.

In any case the Senate has become irrelevant and is now a retirement home for former governors and ministers. A word must be said about the constitution and the legislative lists and the powers of the federal and state governments. Furthermore, the current document is too unwieldy and contains too many things that belong in Federal Acts and State Laws.

One, the constitutional provisions that restrict police to the Federal Government should be amended. The time for state police is clearly and long overdue. Two, matters like marriages are personal matters and have no business on the Exclusive List but should be left to the states. Three, the provisions on Sharia courts must be excluded and only regulated by State Laws.

The constitution must be a secular document. The provisions on jurisdiction and powers of courts must be removed and can be regulated by a Judicature Act or Laws. The constitution should be restricted to the creation of courts but not their regulation.

Four railways should be deleted from the Exclusive List. The restriction of such matters to the Federal Government inhibits the development of infrastructure by states. Five, local governments should be recognised as the third tier of government but the creation and regulation of local governments should be left to the states.

The argument that state governors will abuse their powers, which has also been used to deny state police, is no longer tenable if we want to create a weaker Federal Government and stronger states. One thing is clear. The next President in 2023 should urgently convene another constitutional conference and start the process of constitutional amendment which will submit a new constitution to the people for a referendum in order to produce a popular constitution made by “We the people”.

Bodede, a lawyer, writes from Lagos

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