Nigerians have another opportunity to review the federal constitution. The administration of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua set the tone late last year. The exercise is expected to begin January 2009. As always, the stakes are high for the people(s), the future of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s government, the economy and, in particular, the future of the country.
The move can be viewed as another gamble but, on the face of it, it looks like another opportunity to restore value to the federal constitution.
Specifically, the 1999 constitution will be the constitution under review and it will be the third attempt since it was first drafted by the military and put into use shortly after the third republic was inaugurated with Olusegun Obasanjo as president.
Interestingly, the president’s choice as starting point-the revisit of the immunity clause, is like taking a risky gambit but it does touch on one of the most vexed issues from the 1999 constitution and at the same time, an indication to what is expected from the actors that will be doing the review.
But, irrespective of what their choice areas of reviews are or where they will start to look to review from, the outcome will depend, in part, on whether there will be sincerity of purpose and commitment to achieving a goal; that of at least, minimising or even eliminating the conflict areas from the constitution. The process itself must be credible, something, if not totally transparent that will lay out a credible path for transparent, governance in the country, from the centre to the states and to the local government level.
Indeed, for immediacy of impact, the reviews could opt to concentrate first on the critical contentious areas identified from earlier reviews. Thus, besides the question of the immunity clause, there are five other identifiable areas that require serious make-over.
First is the status of the local governments. Its characteristics must now be put into proper perspective. The 1999 constitution made clear its status but that has never been respected. For instance, no state in the federation would say it has truly supported the structure, composition, financing and functions of the councils. There are often deep running misgivings, denial of funding and other strange acrimonies against the organ of government established to compliment the efforts of states towards sustainable economic self sufficiency.
Again, in the 1999 constitution, a key role of the National Assembly is to make provisions for the allocation of public revenue to the local government councils. The channeling of the allocation has always been viewed as phony. Some local government councils are often frequently starved of their legitimate allocations.
The constitution did make it clear that the local government must have specified powers to perform a range of functions. In other words, it must enjoy some level of autonomy. Local government autonomy means that the local government is elected at the local level and operates independently of the state and federal government.
We urge that this issue be seriously looked into and process of funding reviewed.
Of course there are the questions on resource control, a review and consequent amendment to accommodate land reforms, state police, state creation and the tenure of the president, state governors and other key democratic offices.
Nigerians are desperate not just for another constitution but a document that is all inclusive, representative and one which accommodates diversity within the federation.