By YEMI OSANYIN
There is no doubt that your committee has an uphill task to midwife the birth of a “new” constitution that will meet and surpass the expectations of all Nigerians. Ours is a nation at a crossroads with drums of balkanization sounding so loud, an indication of general suspicion and distrust among the various groups that make up Nigeria.
Today, we hardly see ourselves as Nigerians but as ethnic and religious bigots, even when our hearts are so far from God. We whip up ethnic and religious sentiments to the extent that we take up arms against one another.
The poor become ready-made tools in the hands of powerbrokers that the rich and the religious use to foment trouble and settle political and religious differences. Why are we reviewing and amending our constitution?
May be because it is deficient and ambiguous in many areas; however, I hear experts say that there is no perfect constitution in the world, but with good leaders, any constitution is good enough, concluding that a constitution is bad because the operators are bad. However, I want to keep hope alive by lending my voice to the following issues as your committee makes another attempt to right the wrongs in our constitution.
On tenure of the President and Governors, I will like to advocate for a single term of between five and six years without opportunity for a second term. Though this option has its challenges, however, if accepted, we will all be better for it. In the first place, those elected will come to term with the reality of not coming back and therefore, they will face the business of governance seriously.
In the past, what we have seen is a situation where campaigns for a second term start immediately after the first term is won. In this case, such Governors operated with caution, avoided stepping on toes, diverted money meant for development to campaigns, became pawns in the hands of sponsors and godfathers, faced distractions and adopted a pleasing all attitude without pleasing anyone.
The quest for second term is always responsible for intra-party squabbles, violence and do or die politics. With a single term provision in the constitution, it will hopefully bring out the best in elected officials since it is the only chance they have. On creation of states and LGAs, I strongly feel that no new State and LGAs should be created considering the fact that most of the existing ones are not viable.
We have not seen the states and LGAs proving that they can hold their own as they always wait on or rush to Abuja for handouts when they are faced with challenging situations. We recall the minimum wage imbroglio which is yet to settle since states are claiming inability to pay except the revenue allocation formula is reviewed upwards.
There are a few states where the dusts have not settled as they have been plunged into endless strikes by civil servants at the state and LGA levels. Most states have not made significant efforts to develop their internal sources; a significant few have limited sources they could turn to, while corruption has robbed them of revenue that should have been used for development. It is not enough to satisfy political exigencies, but considerations should be given to viability.
As a matter of fact, we should be looking at the option of merging states and LGAs. On recall of elected lawmakers at both the national and state levels, I canvass for a more realistic and less cumbersome recall system.
What we have in the current constitution can be likened to a camel going through the eye of a needle than an elected representative to be recalled. This is why a lot of our lawmakers are arrogant and unaccountable to their constituencies. The current provision may be designed to prevent any form of abuse, however, it is too anti-people. On the National Assembly, I canvass for a unicameral legislature at the centre.
There is no doubt that there are a lot of duplications in the work of both the Senate and House of Representatives. This is in addition to the fact that our economy is too fragile to carry the burden of two legislative houses as it has been since 1999. I feel strongly that only one house can do the work of law making and do it efficiently.
In many instances, I have observed empty seats in both chambers, an indication that a number of lawmakers do not attend legislative sessions. On the offices of Vice President and Deputy Governors, the time is ripe to have well defined roles and responsibilities for them instead of leaving them at the mercy of their bosses. Since 1999, different scenarios have played out in the various states, with some Governors giving their Deputies responsibilities while some made theirs redundant.
Some were ejected from their offices to make way for the office of the Wives of Governors. We heard of Wives of Governors that are more powerful than their husbands’ deputies with some being the bonafide Deputy Governors while the deputies have become errand boys.
It is evident that Deputy Governors in our dispensation operate from weak positions and that is why it is easy for Governors with the connivance of the House of Assembly to easily remove (impeach) them on trumped up and flimsy charges.
There is, therefore, the need for the positions of the Vice President and Deputy Governors to be strengthened. On the issue of re-election, I strongly recommend that any President or Governor seeking re-election should resign six months before another election.
In order not to create any lacuna, the Chief Justice and Chief Judge should be sworn in an interim capacity at the national and state levels respectively until new elections are held. With this, an undue advantage is removed paving way for level playing ground for all contestants while incumbents will be prevented from using state resources to prosecute re-election.
On cross carpeting, I strongly recommend that the new constitution should make it impossible for anyone elected on the platform of one political party as a Governor or lawmaker to cross carpet to another party. It has been proven that most of our politicians are opportunists who are ready to exploit the holes in our laws to decamp to other parties at the slightest opportunity.
All such persons should be made to lose their seats while a by-election should be conducted and, if they so wish, they could stand for the election as candidates On the office of the First Lady and Wives of Governors, it is time for us to put an end to this aberration and illegality.
The offices do not have any place in our laws; however, the successive civilian administrations at national and state levels continue to perpetrate this illegality such that they have become the unofficial Vice President, Deputy Governors, Ministers, Vice Chairmen and Supervisory Councilors.
The only way out of this malady is to outlaw it through the new constitution. On the issue of appointment of political aides, the constitution should limit the number of aides to be appointed by the President and Governors.
We have seen over the years how offices and responsibilities are duplicated at all levels and numerous aides appointed to perform similar functions. What is the sense in having special advisers or senior special assistants etc for youth development, women affairs, economic affairs etc when there are substantive Ministries to deal with these issues. As a matter of fact, some of these aides are without defined responsibilities or offices and there are no criteria to measure their performance.
It is laughable when the President and Vice President appoint numerous aides just to provide jobs for the boys. It is more ridiculous when Governors appoint between 750 and 1000 political aides as we have seen in Bauchi and Adamawa states in the last four years. I recommend that the Constitution be amended to recognize key strategic areas of operations (not more than 15 at the centre and 5 at the state level) that special appointments (Advisers) can be made.
Similarly, the provision in the constitution providing for at least one Minister per state and 6 Ministers for the geo-political zones should be amended to streamline appointments and reduce the cost of governance.
On the secularity of Nigeria, the constitution should be amended to uphold this status without any loophole that the centre and states can exploit. No government (Federal, State and LG) should promote any religion including funding holy pilgrimage trips to Mecca and Jerusalem. I wish you and your committee all the best on this assignment. Osanyin writes from Ibadan, Oyo State