Redesigning the Nigerian Constitution for national development and inclusiveness

The history of this country is known fairly by many members of the elite class. Anyone in this audience should have no difficulty following the historical trajectory as I attempt to lay the foundation for my argument for a recourse to a true constitutional order in a multi-ethnic and religious political space. There can be no meaningful progress achieved with the current situation. There has to be a fundamental shift in service delivery to the people of this country.

The onus to bring to bear on the polity a qualitative difference lies on members of this class. The alternative is anarchy which, inexorably, leads to disaster, as we are beginning to witness in the country at present. The silence of those who should know is disquieting. There appears to be an agreement among the truly educated to yield the public space entirely to the rabble and their minders. The speed at which the country slides into a state of hopelessness and helplessness is confounding.  We must not feign ignorance of the reasons for the self-inflicted socio-economic challenges currently facing the country. Applying cosmetic remedies to a chronic malady can only give momentary relief. We must resist the attempt to reduce all issues arising from gross mismanagement of human and material resources over the years to struggles among the ethnic nationalities and religious organisations. Let no one be deluded into embracing the fantasy of a “Republic” existing only on the social media or the likelihood of having a “Nation”, which takes pride in fabled homogeneity and commonalty of interests and aspirations, contrary to the stark realities, so glaring, to admit any room for any doubt or denial, without appearing funny. The current secessionist agitations are, at best, products of simple minds, fed constantly with malcontents in the polity. These are mere symptoms of a disease of a most virulent strain.

This country must pause and take a deep breath to analyse the current issues which threaten her very existence. There is the need for introspection. We must endeavour to ask questions about the evolution of the Nigerian state as a geo-political fact. We must proceed to resolve the conundrum which has turned the facts of heterogeneity and diversity, veritable sources of strength and wealth, to an albatross. We must be able to determine the best way to attain nationhood from the present amalgam, rancor free.

Beyond the observance of mere processes which, necessarily, aid the nascence of a nation-state, there must be the resolve to deepen the understanding between and among the ethnic nationalities and other sub groups, which make up the country, for amity, through the creation of abiding institutions. There must be an agreement ad idem, unforced and devoid of all trappings of coercion or suborned compromises. We cannot continue to uphold a manifestly unstainable system, which threatens to tear us apart. The Constitution, the grundnorm in any country, must be the aggregate reflection of the expectations and aspirations of a country. The offices and institutions designed to make this happen must be captured in its provisions. All interests must be accommodated in the document for general acceptability. No part of the union must feel inferior or be made to have justifications which excite deep suspicion. Since development is not an event but a long, arduous process, there will be the need to permit each of these units to determine the best way possible to achieve it. Creating wealth must not be uniform in a federation. The central authority must only be willing and able to guide and protect at all times.

 

Beginning of constitutional order 

Lagos Colony came under the influence of the British in 1861. The other parts of what later became Nigeria were still autonomous to a great extent. There had been intra and inter-tribal and ethnic wars which lasted till the late 19th Century. There was little cooperation among the divergent and disparate ethnic conglomeration in both the Northern and Southern parts of the vast lands which became Nigeria by colonial fiat in 1914. Presenting this simple fact becomes necessary for the mischievous and simple-minded who make fallacious claims to mobilise to achieve a parochial end. The pacification of the colonial territories in both the Northern and Southern parts was complete by the end of the 19th Century. By the Southern Nigeria Order-in-Council and the Northern Nigeria Order-in-Council, both of 1899, which became operative on the 1st January, 1900, Nigeria became a political reality.  Lagos still enjoyed the status of the Colony until it was merged with the Southern Protectorate in 1906. A Supreme Court was established for Southern Nigeria. Commissioners’ and Native Courts were also established. A Supreme Court, Cantonment Courts and Native Courts were established in the Northern Protectorate. All of these reforms ended in 1914. The two Protectorates were merged with the Lagos Colony to become one geo-political entity on the 1st January, 1914. The Colonial Administration had as its head Sir Frederick Lord Lugard, who acted as the Governor General. His Administration established a National Supreme Court which was headed by a Chief Judge. There were also Provincial and Native Courts to attend to the indigenous people of the North. The Indirect Rule system was adopted to give a semblance of freedom to administer their territories in accordance with their traditional belief system. The primary consideration was British interest and it was of no moment whether a potentate oppressed his people or not. There was no serious judicial reform to reflect the facts of existence. The British colonial administration administered the country, mainly, through the traditional rulers and the warrant chiefs, created by them. There was an advisory Council of 36 which was ineffectual. It wielded no real authority to do anything or effect any change. The buck stopped on Lord Lugard’s table. The only higher authority to which he deferred was the Colonial Secretary. He was in the saddle until 1922 when Sir Clifford became the governor-general.

 

 1922 Clifford’s constitution   

This constitution was not of general application. It was not applicable to the Northern part of the country. This was the Constitution which introduced an electoral system in Nigeria. The Constitution established a Legislative Council had 46 members. 19 of these members were Ex-officio and white. The Executive committee had 14 members. 12 members were British while 2 Nigerians were Ex-officio members of the Council. It was still, essentially, a British affair.

 

 The 1946 Richard’s Constitution

This Constitution came into force on January 1st, 1946. This was the first time when a legal instrument would be applied to the whole country as against what obtained before. The Northern part of the country had representatives for the first time. The Legislative Council had 18 members of which there were 17 foreigners and 1 Nigerian. This Constitution can be said to be the document which laid the foundation for the pre-independence advancement of Nigeria. Regionalism was established as a system of government for the first time and many Nigerians were permitted to participate in the affairs of their country. Three Regions were created from the two Protectorates. There were the West, North and the East Regions. Each Region was permitted to have a Regional Council. The Laws of these regions were made by the Legislative Council sitting in Lagos. Representatives were sent from the Regions to participate in legislative deliberations in the Council. If there was any conflict between the legislation of the Regional and National Councils, the British Colonial Secretary resolved same. Regional Councils were still not free to legislate on most matters of concern to the people of the nascent country.

 

 McPherson’s Constitution of 1951 

Nigerian nationalists joined issues with the Governor General on the 1946 Constitution. They were of the firm view that this law was too exclusive and there was no pretence to involve the people, especially the elites in the running of the British Colony. It failed to grant Legislative status to the Regional Councils. A delegation was sent to London to meet the Colonial Secretary on it. The result was the McPherson’s Constitution of 1951 which came into existence after the call for memoranda from members of the public.  Thus, for the first time, Nigerians were availed of the opportunity to participate in the political affair of their country. As limiting as the scope of participation appeared, it was very significant. Any constitution-making process must involve the people for whom it is meant to serve and on whom its provisions must be applied. It is anomalous, if not treasonable, to exclude the people while pretending to be making laws for them in a democratic political system. This Constitution established the Central House of Representatives as against the so called National Legislative council. There were 136 members. There was also the Executive Council which had 19 members. 12 of these members were British. This was the constitution which heralded the federal structure upon which subsequent political arrangements were built. The three Regions were granted limited legislative powers and control over fiscal matters. Each region also had the power to appoint ministers.  The Regional Legislative Council was bicameral, each had two Houses-the House of Chiefs and the House of Assembly. The Regional Governors were chosen from the House of Chiefs. These Governors headed the Executive Councils of the Regions which implemented the policies of the Government. The fundamental defect of the McPherson Constitution was the fusion of legislative and executive functions in the office of the Governor of the Region, as it used to be in the repealed 1946 Richard’s constitution. This led to serious agitations in the Eastern and Northern Regions culminating in the enactment of a new Constitution in 1954.

 

 Lyttleton’s Constitution of 1954

The agitations of Nigerian politicians prompted the Colonial Secretary, Oliver Lyttleton, to summon the notable ones in the three Regions to a meeting in London with a view to harmonizing the opposing views to reflect the areas of concern which elicited protests from the conscious layer of the society. A truly federal Constitution was enacted after the London and Lagos Conferences. The new Constitution, which came into force on 1st October, 1954, granted autonomy to the Regional Courts, regionalized civil service, qualified regional financial autonomy and the grant of independence to Southern Cameroon. Making some quick comments at this point becomes imperative, considering the current multi-faceted discontents in the polity. Any keen follower of the history of this country cannot miss the deplorable fact of retrogression, with respect to many issues. The most striking of the decisions of the two Conferences held before the enactment of the Lyttleton’s Constitution had to do with the decision of the people of Southern Cameroon to leave Nigeria to join Cameroon. The process was seamless and devoid of rancor as against the current cacophonous outpourings of threats and counter recriminations.  The unmistakable impression created by the on-going rabble-rousing indicts the elites in the land. Secession is not an issue to be left in the hands of the uneducated and impetuous. Self-determination is political, no doubt. Politicking requires deep reasoning. It should not be about hate. It concerns socio-economic interests of a group of people which must be protected and defended. It does not permit of infantile zest, the quick, unthinking recourse to anarchy to make a point. Any given people should enjoy an inalienable right to choose its association with other groups and should also be at liberty to opt out of a relationship considered exploitative and oppressive. Let no one assert, with condescending arrogance, that staying together in a political arrangement, heavily skewed against some people, or designed to promote and protect the interests of a section of the country, is not negotiable. The dynamism inherent in human affairs exposes the lie in the position which holds that some groups are, inexorably, glued together till eternity even in an existence of dominance and subjugation. Any superstructure erected on a faulty foundation is doomed to collapse.

The other regrettable issue concerns the civil service rendered moribund, unproductive and, largely, parasitic. The regional civil service was very efficient, productive and patriotic. The Western Region Civil Service was rated as the best in the whole of the country as well as the whole West African sub-region in terms of service delivery at this period. It is painful to note the progressive slide into infamy and mediocrity of the entire structure designed to serve the people. It has become largely redundant, incompetent, downright corrupt and destructive. This Constitution built on the foundation laid by the McPherson’s Constitution of 1951 on the federal system of government. It brought into existence the Federal House of Representatives consisting of 188 members including the Speaker. Of this number, 185 members were elected while there were 3 Ex-officio members. It was from this House of Representatives that members of the Council of Ministers were appointed. The Governor-General headed the Ministerial Council.

There was an unambiguous delineation in the functions and scope of authorities of the Federal and Regional Governments. The Federal Government made laws on all matters on the Exclusive Legislative List, while the Regional Governments were permitted to legislate on matters which fell within the purview of the Residual List. Both Governments made laws on the Concurrent List. The major feature of this Constitution was that the adoption of the parliamentary system of Government. It, however, failed to create the office of the Prime Minister.  One can conclude, safely, that the foundation of the remarkable progress recorded during the pre-independence era and immediately after the grant of independence in 1960, was laid with the courageous steps taken by the nationalists to ensure full participation of Nigerians in their own affairs via the enactment of the 1954 Constitution. All the achievements of the defunct Western Region could not have been realised if it were to be under the current socio-political cum legal dispensation in Nigeria. The current 1999 Constitution, as amended, pretends to accommodate and promote some federalist tendencies. This is patently false in reality.

Excerpts of an address delivered by the governor of Ondo State, Mr Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), at the annual general meeting of Loyola College, Ibadan with the theme: redesigning the Nigerian Constitution for National Development and Inclusiveness, on August 7, 2021

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