“Members of the National Assembly cannot legitimately argue that the same people who voted them into office cannot be heard in a referendum on a matter of primary importance including those affecting their pecuniary interest such as (a) membership of both national and state assembly on part-time basis, (b) creation of 8 add
itional states, (c) modification of presidential system of government, (d) rotation of presidency among six geopolitical zones of the country, (e) scrapping of local government and (f) revenue allocation etc.”
A S I stated last week, it is not enough that the last Constitutional Conference was able to complete its work. The recommendations of the Conference are overdue for implementation. What is the point of having over 500 recommendations if they are never examined nor evaluated? It is disheartening that most of all these recommendations are yet to receive any attention. Whilst I acknowledge that the National Assembly has made attempts to incorporate some of the recommendations in the form of amendments to the Constitution, I continue to hold the conviction that only a referendum can bring about wholesale consideration and implementation of the vast majority of the recommendations. It is my view that such recommendations must be subjected to a referendum in which Nigerians will be able to indicate whether or not the recommendations should form the bedrock of any amendment to the current Constitution or even an entirely new Constitution. It is not a matter that should be left to the National Assembly. I state this for the following reasons:
(i) The Conference of over 500 members was more representative of the diversity that exists in Nigeria today than the National Assembly. Members of the Conference were drawn from the various ethnic groups in Nigeria including minorities. What is more, the Conference ensured representations amongst even interests and professional groups. This ensured that the debates leading up to the recommendations were thorough and all encompassing. Representation in the National Assembly on the other hand is based on geographical and political party considerations.
(ii) The reason stated in (i) above is further strengthened by the fact all the recommendations were passed unanimously. So what is the point in making the recommendations subject to the approval of members of the National Assembly who as stated earlier owe their said membership mainly to political affiliations?
(iii) The nature of some of the recommendations may in reality make a non-partisan appraisal of the report by members of the National Assembly a difficulty. Members of the National Assembly have always been openly criticical of the recommendation for the creation of additional states. Whilst this criticism may in some instances have been genuinely made, it is difficult to set aside the thought that the fact that the creation of new states will affect the political fortunes of some members may also have played a part.
(iv) In all parts of the world decisions on proposed crucial changes to the political structure of a country such as those forming the basis of the recommendations of the Conference or important policy decisions such as the recent referendum in the United kingdom on continued membership of the European Union (EU) are ultimately taken to the citizenry in the form of a referendum. Another example was the vote on the proposed breakaway of Scotland from the United Kingdom. Teenagers as young as sixteen (16) were be permitted to vote in the referendum. This is despite the fact that Scotland has since 1998 had its own Parliament by virtue of the Scotland Act 1998. As a matter of fact the decision to have a Parliament was taken after the people voted in favour of the idea in a referendum conducted in 1997. I have no doubt that if it were to be Nigeria, proponents of the so called supremacy of the legislature would have argued, as they have always argued in relation to the recommendations of the Conference, that the vote on the proposed independence of Scotland should have been limited only to the Scottish Parliament and not the people. However sovereignty belongs to the people. This much is provided in Section 14(2) of the Constitution which reads as follows:
“Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority”
(v) It is thus clear that what the Nigerian people have done in electing members of the National Assembly to their positions can be likened to the relationship between a donor of a power of Attorney and a donee. The authority of the done is to do any act which the donor may have done himself. Such authority can never preclude the donor from taking steps or actions which he conceives to be in his self-interest. So even members of the National Assembly cannot legitimately argue that the same people who voted them into office cannot be heard in a referendum on a matter of primary importance including those affecting their pecuniary interest such as (a) membership of both national and state assembly on part-time basis, (b) creation of 8 additional states, (c) modification of presidential system of government, (d) rotation of presidency among six geopolitical zones of the country, (e) scrapping of local government and (f) revenue allocation etc.
The referendum which I propose should also contain a question as to whether the recommendations if passed should form the basis of further amendments to the current 1999 Constitution or an entirely new Constitution. I am of the view that it would be far better to simply adopt a new Constitution. However in doing so, some workable portions of the current Constitution should not be jettisoned. Happily the Conference did not itself recommend a wholesale abandonment of the 1999 Constitution. So in effect some parts of the current Constitution should be merged with the approved recommendations to form a new Constitution. However if the decision is taken to make amendments to the 1999 Constitution, the National Assembly must realize that their duty would be limited only to incorporating the approved recommendations by means of amendments to the Constitution. They should not see it as an opportunity to examine or reject the recommendations of the Conference which at that time would have received the approval of the people of Nigeria
Next week I will consider in some detail the reasons why the majority of the recommendations of the National Conference should be subjected to referendum.
(To be continued)