This treatise would be to embark on an historical excursion of our nations political development since the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates till the present time. From the Lugard Constitution of 1914, the nationalists dialogued over the Clifford Constitution of 1922, the Richards Constitution of 1946, the Macpherson Constitution of 1951, the 1954 Lyttletons Constitution, and the Independence Constitution of 1960, that was ratified after seven constitutional talks held between 1953-1960 by Nigerias early nationalists at conferences with the British colonialists in London. The country has also had constitutional reviews in 1963, to usher in its Republican status, and the 1979 Constitution, to usher in the ill-fated second Republic. There were other reviews in 1989, to cater for the Third Republic that was terminated in 1993; the 1995 Constitution ordered by the Gen. Sani Abacha regime, that was never made public. There have been vociferous calls for the wholesale review of the extant 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) which many have declared a document for the thrash-can on account of the fact that it contains serious inconsistencies; and its approval by a military regime.
By Decree no 1 of 1966; the Parliament was abolished; some parts of the constitution were suspended, and the Supreme Military Council became the highest legislative organ, in a polity that was manned without the doctrine of Separation of Powers. By Decree 24 of 1967, the Inspector-General Police or the Chief of Staff (Supreme Headquarters) could detain a citizen indefinitely. What Decree 25 did was to give meaning to the deliberations of the CDC and the Supreme Military Council. The last attempt outside the Legislature, was made through the 2014 National Conference, that made far-reaching recommendations to the Federal Government on some parts of the extant constitution that the conference felt needed to be reviewed or modified. The first constitution ever passed on to civilian regimes was the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, having been deliberated upon first by the Constitution Drafting Committee; (CDC) otherwise known as the 49 wise men headed by legal luminary, late Chief Frederick Rotimi Alade Williams, SAN; and furthermore deliberated upon by the Constituent Assembly, and was later legally approved by the Supreme Military Council through Decree no 25 of 1978; otherwise known as the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Enactment) decree of 1978.
The arrangement of 1914, by Lord Lugard, which gave birth to Nigeria, informed the operation of a unitary government, although the countrys first experiment with a unitary constitution did not come until 1946, with the operation of the Richards Constitution. Independent Nigeria adopted the operation of a Parliamentary system of Government, fashioned after that of Britain. Nigeria has also experimented the Presidential System of Government, imported wholesale from the United States since 1979; and is currently the form of government in operation. In adopting the Parliamentary system, the Colonial Secretary, having considered the deep realities of the situation arising from the Constitutional Conference of 1954, wrote in his diary If Nigeria was to be a nation, it must be a federation with a few subjects reserved for the Central Government as would preserve national unity. (From: Lord Chandos, Memoirs quoted in Mackintosh, op. cit., p.27) Historical accounts indicate that some items were drawn up to be on the Exclusive List of powers exercised by the federal government and a substantial part on the concurrent list was to be administered by the regions.
Subsequent modifications adopted at later constitutional conferences arrogated wide powers to the regions, thus emphasizing the separateness of regional governments, which stood at four in 1963, with the creation of the Mid-Western Region. The 1963 Republican Constitution provided for separate governors, premiers, cabinets and legislatures, separate judiciaries, separate development plans, public service commissions and civil services. It is evident that the arrangement which granted a considerable measure of autonomy to the Regions promoted healthy rivalry among the constituent parts of Nigeria. The North, West and East had greater say in the management of their own affairs than hitherto. The economies of the regions supported their growth to the extent to which managers of resources could harness their human and financial potentials. It was apparent that Nigeria ran a loose federation, which allowed for concentration of powers in the regions, while the Federal Government handled issues such as security, defence and foreign affairs.
THE SUPREMACY OF THE CONSTITUTION
One of the most conspicuous characteristics of the 1979 constitution, after which that of 1999 is patterned, is that by its own legal force, it has made its own provisions supreme. Section 1 (1) of the constitution states most unequivocally that This constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Section 1 (2) introduces a constitutional novelty into our constitution making process. It provides that The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed nor shall any person or group of persons take control of the government of Nigeria or any part thereof except in accordance with the provisions of this constitution. It would appear that the constitution makers having become irritated by the epidemic of coups and counter – coups that befell the political and constitution system, and resolved that the only antidote against such dislocation of the government structure is to declare coups illegal and unconstitutional. The logic of this provision does not appear self convincing but it has been rationalized by no less a person than Sir Udo Udoma, the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly that it could serve an educational purpose for rulers and prospective rulers and that it would at least make clear beyond per adventure; that a coup is an unconstitutional act regardless of its good intentions. Section 3 of the constitution reinforces the supreme character of the constitution by providing that If any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this constitution, this constitution shall prevail and that other law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void.
THE WAY FORWARD & THE NEED FOR INTROSPECTION
Politics could be described as an inclination that allows the citizenry to govern a society in accordance with established norms and values. Politics is about power and leadership. Very fundamental is the reaction of an eminent statesman, politician and legal luminary, According to Chief Richard Osuolale Akinjide, SAN, amendment to the constitution is not Nigerias real problem. Inviting attention to these comments is a way of getting the appropriate officials to act over the issues highlighted and also sensitize Nigerians on the importance of conducting themselves lawfully and patriotically in public and national interest for our nation to be able to further entrench democratic ideals. And this piece is considered auspicious at a period when signals indicate that elites and political leaders are already up in arms against one another to the detriment of the masses, as a result of upcoming contests for political offices. One of the issues is about elections, with former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Muhammadu Lawal Uwais asserting that the mindsets of Nigerians are not only largely negative; they are also largely irrational. The second observation by a legal luminary and elder statesman, Chief Richard Akinjide SAN states that: You will see that the problem of Nigeria is not the constitution, it is just the people.
The elder statesman continues: What we are practicing in Nigeria is neither unitary nor federalism. What we are practicing is meaningless. No amount of amendments of the constitution can help us. We’ve already had about five constitutions and the problem has not been solved. When America had its constitution about 225 years ago, the population of America then was about three million people. Now, they are over 250 million and they are still using the same constitution. So, you will see that the problem is not the constitution, it is just the people. Britain has no written constitution; yet the management of the system is working very well. Look at China with a population of 1.4 billion people. Look at the size of the constitution; it is less than that of Nigeria. So, the problem here is that we have got a country not a nation. The Igbos see themselves as Igbos, not Nigerians. The same goes for the Yorubas and Hausas. The Deltans also see themselves as Deltans. Lord Lugard did this deliberately, Lugard said: Amalgamate the country but not the people. That is the cradle of the problem of Nigeria till today. (Nigerian Guardian newspaper of November 11, 2008)
Chief Akinjides submission is in tandem with the position of an expert in International Relations, Prof. Akinjide Osuntokun, who has posited that: Democracy means the Rule of Law. Laws must therefore be ultimately sovereign, apart from the people. It is apparent that there is too much of regional tendencies with shouts of marginalization here and there, leading to centrifugal forces. On his part, a scholarly political scientist, Prof. Tunde Adeniran argues that: The irreducible minimum elements of a democratic culture must be accepted, institutionalized and sustained. And if democracy must be of necessity feature, the prevalence of opportunities for political choice and self-actualization, there must be increased efforts of capacity building and the necessary framework for free and effective participation of every sane person in the political process. He continues The constitution should ensure a sincere balance of the interests of all citizens, apart from separating the powers of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary This implies that Nigerians should adopt whatever political system that is most suitable to our peculiar circumstances. Beyond this, it is important for the nation and its people to embrace a system that throws up the best in the society for leadership roles, if our society must experience the desired development.
GOOD GOVERNANCE AS THE SOLUTION
There can be no alternative to good governance. For a meaningful growth of good governance and democracy, there is evidently the need to develop and strengthen the institutions of democracy; including the legislature, executive, judiciary, political parties, security agencies, civil society organizations and the press. We have to ponder and reflect on both our successes and failures from time to time. President Joaquim Alberto Chissano, the first recipient of the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Good Governance, who served as the second president of Mozambique from 19862005, has argued that there is no alternative to good governance, if any African nation is to grow, Good governance is our best hope against these challenges. Governance entails choices. It demands a visionary leadership that will set enlightened priorities and redeploy resources and retain skilled talent. Compassionate and committed leaders can, and must create the policies and invest the necessary resources in infrastructure and services, empowering people to improve their conditions and safeguard their childrens lives, thus accelerating progress towards the MDGs. (Chisano, Joaquium, former President of Mozambique, in a paper titled: The State of Africas Children: Why Good Governance Means Much to Africas Children, 2008)
Politics could be described as a vocation that allows the citizenry to govern a society in accordance with established norms and values. These differ from one society to the other, because political culture also varies from one nation to another. Former American president, Richard Nixon, on his part, has asserted that Power is the opportunity to build, to create, to nudge history in a different direction. Kotter (1985) The father of modern corporate management, Peter F. Drucker once asserted that Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes. Beyond the resolution of the major issues confronting us, particularly, the leadership question, I am of the conviction that there is the supreme test of our commitment to what we individually and collective preach. From this point of view, it is imperative for the general citizenry, indeed all of us, to therefore, imbibe positive values and attitudes which are required for attaining the desirable goals that are set out in the Nigerian constitution. And of course, one of these steps must be our ability to rise above situations in our growing democracy.
We must of course recognize the fact that the people themselves, perhaps form the strongest point and that for our nation to properly chart an enviable course of development, we must thoroughly educate our people on their rights and obligations to the State while also ensuring the delivery of sound education to the growing ones in our institutions. In addition, those who lead and govern must be ready to be transparent in their actions, while also demonstrating commitment and dedication to the growth and sustenance of our dear nation. The case of Tony Momoh vs Serrate is the first case that tests and supports the supremacy of the constitution. (Caveat warning not to proceed with an action). By supremacy of the constitution, we mean that the laws of the constitution create all the organs of government and rests various shade of powers to in them. They are not allowed to exceed their powers.
THE RULE OF LAW
For example, Federal Legislature can only enact laws in respect of subject under the exclusive legislature lists outside these lists, it has no constitutional competence. Also, laws passed must not violate any of the provisions of the constitution. Provision relating to fundamental human rights. Any law which violates these provisions shall be declared null and void by the court. In the case of Rotimi Williams vs Dr Adekoyejo Majekodunmi; the Supreme Court declared null and void an Order by the Defendant, who was an Administrator under the emergency government of the old Western-Region detaining the Plaintiff, Chief Rotimi Williams; on the ground that this was a violation of his freedom of movement of the federal parliament setting up a commission of an inquiry over the banking affairs of the Plaintiff Doherty.
The court held that it wars ultra-vires of parliament to give such a tribunal of enquiry power to sentence a person to imprisonment; such a body not being a court of law within the constitution. In the case of Tony Momoh vs Senate, (1980) erudite judge, the Hon. Justice Ademola Candido Johnson ruled that the Legislative Houses Power and Privileges Act which prohibits a service of court process within the precincts of Parliament was in conflict with the section 1 of the constitution; and was therefore ultra-vires the powers of the Parliament array; and, therefore null and void. Tony Momoh, as Editor of the then flourishing Daily-Times newspaper, it will be recalled, successfully challenged the then Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by going to court to enforce his fundamental human rights that was about to be infringed upon by the senates order inviting Momoh to appear before it to disclose his source of information.
All these issues boil down to only one point: We must return to the discussions table and continue to dialogue and dialogue in the interest of our dear nation until we attain a near-perfect status. No society will ever be perfect because they are managed by human beings. We cannot afford to go to war or take any steps that would jeopardize the peace of this nation. Each time we make mistakes, let us be honest, bold and humble enough to admit our errors individually and collectively, since no human being is infallible. Corrections that ensue are best done through love and brotherliness, and in accordance with the rule of law. It is imperative we consider the opinion of Chief Richard Akinjide, SAN, who has canvassed the view that there is nothing wrong with the two political systems that Nigeria has adopted since independence. Both systems work in Britain and the United States from where they were imported. It goes without saying, therefore, that if these political systems work abroad, but are not performing here, we, the operators of the systems have been responsible for their seeming failures in Nigeria, as a result of our not too impressive attainments with regard to developing and sustaining a viable political culture.
Finally, another opinion worth evaluating is adduced by a British historian, AHM Kirk-Greene, in his book: Crisis and Conflict in Nigeria, published by the Oxford University Press. From a cursory look, he submits, and rightly too, that The Nigerian tragedy has been bedevilled by a set of oppositions, generalized, stereotyped, not necessarily of the same order, and may be imaginary, yet each widening the wound and reducing the hope of healing it: north vs south, Islam vs Christianity, alleged feudalism vs assumed socialism, Federal vs unitary preferences, traditional authority vs achieved elitism, haves vs have-nots, each with sinister undertones of tension, irreconcilability and threatened withdrawal. He continues: Each opposing set of these forces had sufficient seed of truth within it to permit, and even fertilize, the growth of feared fact from the semi-fiction of its existence. The search for the roots of the disaster of 1966, through the first military incursion into Nigerian politics, and subsequent destabilization of the political scene could be directed at the aforementioned factors, each sufficient to erupt into a political volcano.
May the good Lord heal our land and lead us to the greatest heights possible within the shortest possible time.