By Taiwo Adisa
The Patriots, an advocacy group peopled by eminent Nigerians, came to life in the year 2,000, when it held its maiden meeting at the Ilupeju home of the foremost legal icon and nationalist, Chief FRA Williams. The platform again came alive last week as frontline members including former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku; foremost nationalist and Acting leader of the Pan Yoruba Socio-political Organisation, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo; former Minister of Finance, Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu; a representative of the Williams family, Chief Tokunbo Williams and the wife of another foremost nationalist, Professor Ben Nwabueze, Madam Nene Nwabueze, who represented the Nwabueze family, met at the Lagos home of the Williams, to once again discuss Nigeria.
Since its inception, the platform has kept its focus on the promotion of Nigerian nationhood and federalism. Its meeting in Lagos last Thursday was not different from the established tradition. The elders called on President Bola Tinubu to seize the historic opportunity and responsibility already placed upon his shoulders to fix Nigeria by restructuring the country along the line of (true) federalism.
According to the statesmen, Tinubu should not shy away from convening a constituent assembly that will draft a new constitution. One that they believe will capture the wishes and aspirations of the people. The Patriots and many other pro-democracy advocacy groups have always insisted that the 1999 Constitution (as amended) currently in use was fraudulently imposed on the polity. Thus, it can not be regarded as a peoples’ constitution.
Yes, it is true that Nigerians were practically blindfolded into adopting the 1999 Constitution. General Abdusalami Abubakar had taken over the reins of power on the demise of General Sani Abacha in 1998. He immediately set an 11-month transition programme for the return of the country to democratic rule. But the groundnum that would operationalise the democratic rule was not ready. In view of the urgency of the situation, no one could demand a stop to the process until the promulgation of a constituent assembly. To do that would truncate the plans by the military and consume Abdusalami’s 11-month transition programme.
When General Abdusalami unveiled the document his military ruling council had cooked on the eve of the handing over in May 1999, the gaps inherent in the document were pretty obvious. And that has taken the attention of The Patriots and other progressive elements in the polity ever since the dawn of the current democratic era.
Notwithstanding a series of amendments, the 1999 Constitution has continued to exhibit tendencies to confuse even the operators. For instance, no one knows to date what type of local government system we run in this polity. The Federal Government and the states fish in the same pond, but the feeding bottle situation of the states is only being expanded by the day. A document that can allow the states to run like proper entities rather than spoon-fed spoil brats is fervently needed here.
At their meeting in Lagos, The Patriots warned against the“current dangerous decline” and expressed the fear that if the incumbent President won’t take bold steps, the slide into insecurity and other vices may just continue.
Chairman of the Patriots, Chief Anyaoku said: “We want President Bola Tinubu to take the initiative to convene constituent assembly on a non-partisan basis.
“The Constituent Assembly should draft the new constitution, and once the majority of our citizens approve of it, the president should sign it.
“The 1999 Constitution, it must be admitted, is not a people’s constitution. It was imposed on Nigerians by the military. It is not of federal nature but a unitary concept of the Constitution. The federal has power and the state runs to Abuja for allocation. We believe a constitution that is truly Federal will devolve power.
“We are not asking for a review of the 1999 constitution because it is fraudulent and not a people’s constitution. We are advocating the making of a truly Nigerian people’s constitution.”
In the same vein, the leader of Afenifere, Pa Adebanjo said: “Our leader, the founding father of the Patriots, had said the 1999 Constitution is a fraudulent constitution. It says we the people but the people didn’t make the constitution. He explained it to us at the time. The constitution says, we the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria but, are we Federal when all powers are concentrated at the centre? I just want to say that we are only repeating what has been said repeatedly over the years by the people who know and used to know. Chief Rotimi Williams, our founding father, drafted the 1960 Constitution.”
When elders raise concerns about today, some would think that they are only worried about their vulnerability, in case a survival of the fittest situation unfolds. However, that cannot be said when historical antecedents justify their consistency. But when they talk about tomorrow, everyone would, in unison, agree that they are concerned about the legacy the upcoming generations will inherit. It is true The Patriots have been consistent in their convictions.
And such submissions have now become a huge challenge for the politicians who have been branded “progressives” in this clime. In the beginning, the “progressives” were on the same page with The Patriots, Afenifere, NADECO, and others on the push for federalism and restructuring.
In the build-up to the 2015 election that brought in President Muhammadu Buhari, the progressive tendency inserted restructuring into the constitution of the political agglomeration called All Progressives Congress. But the eight years of Buhari only saw a reverse of the constitutional provision.
A rigmarole in the name of the Nasir el-Rufai Committee on constitutional reforms was put in place, while the erudite Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi pontificated at zonal conferences on the sure route towards restructuring. All that came to nothing.
And since President Tinubu assumed office in May, mute has been the word about restructuring from the progressives.
I think it is time to walk the talk about this restructuring of a thing. And if we must answer those who always want to hide behind one finger to feign ignorance of the intent of restructuring, we can ask them to support the adoption of the 1963 Constitution, especially its guarantee of fiscal federalism, resource control, and autonomy of constituent states.
Such a development can only ensure competition among the federating states and encourage development at an individual’s preferred pace.
Some would also say how can the National Assembly which derives its powers from the 1999 Constitution, jettisoned that same source of strength and probably legislate its own demise?
There is nothing further from the truth than this. The 1999 Constitution already empowers the National Assembly not only to modify its own procedure but to change the legal document, subject to necessary approvals by the relevant number of states. So if the assembly is willing, it can promulgate a constituent assembly to either take the place of its own constitution amendment committee or infuse the constituent assembly into its own constitution committee arrangement. That committee can then come up with a new law that can truly say ‘We the people…’