Former Deputy President of the Senate, Chief Ike Ekweremadu, has expressed the need for Nigerians to use the opportunity of the constitution review to put a provision in Section 9 on how to amend the constitution and consequently bring about a new one.
Ekweremadu in this interview in Enugu during the Constitution review public hearing spoke on the frustrations of previous constitution reviews, which he headed, why insecurity may persist in the country and other critical national issues. Excerpts:
You were the former Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Review of 1999 Constitution and another process is here, people are wondering if this will not be another fruitless exercise?
It will be unfair to say that the ones we have had were fruitless exercise. On our part as parliamentarians we were able to break the jinx of constitution amendments after all these years, starting from 2010. And from then till now we’ve had about four scenarios. We have a list that include those we were able to pass and consented to by the Houses of Assembly and then accented to by the President, that is one set. Then there’s another set, which include those we passed and then also had concord by State Houses of Assembly and then sent to the President, which he refused accent. There are other set that we passed at the National Assembly that could not succeed at the level of the State Assemblies and, of course, we had the final set which are those we considered at the National Assembly, which we could not get the requisite number in order to send it to the Houses of Assembly. So, it couldn’t have been a waste and I can tell you clearly that if all those ones were successful, we won’t be where we are today because most of the things we are talking about today, including devolution of powers, were fully amended and then we devolve powers from the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List and sent to the President and, of course, we didn’t get the requisite consent. We separated the office of the Attorney General from the Minister of Justice, Commissioner for Justice with that of the Commissioner for Justice, again it was not accented to. We also proposed for compulsory savings for the Federal Government and the nation as done in most countries from our oil revenue, amending Section 162 again it was not accented to. Now, the implication is that we are not saving for the rainy day, which is exactly what we wanted to achieve. Because if you look at Section 162, every money coming to the federation goes into the account called the Federation Account, no mention was made of how to save money. This is not what other countries that produce oil are doing, a place like Norway, they don’t touch their oil revenue, so they call it equity fund, they save them for the future. Saudi Arabia invested their own, they take only the proceeds of those investment and spend them, but here, we spend them before the money comes, so no country survives in that kind of situation. So, those are some of the critical areas we amended, but were not accented to. Then some fail at the level of the State Assemblies, including the issue of local government reform and this is what we are talking about today. Some could pass through in National Assembly including the one that had to do with decentralization of police, that’s why we have our problem today. So, the problem is not our own, we made efforts, but there were some frustrating circumstances. So, I just do hope that those who were behind those frustrating days will be able to learn from what has been going on now. So, I am hoping that this process will be successful and then eventually accented to by the President.
Those bottlenecks which include, for instance, getting two third of the State Houses of Assembly accent to the laws like the local government laws and all that, the bottlenecks are still there. Do you think there will be a rethink by those who kicked against them?
I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) met me last week and I told them, there is no need coming to talk to us, the National Assembly, we passed it. Go to the Governors Forum, have a conversation with them, go to State Assembly and their union or whatever and talk to them. The problem is at the level of the state as long as reform of local government is concerned. The problem of local government in Nigeria is that the makers of our constitution were not sure what they wanted. If you read between Section 7, Section 8 and 162 of the constitution you will see the confusion. Why some are saying oh, the state should be able to ensure that there is elected local governments in various states. That means that it is the responsibility of the states to make sure that local governments exist, therefore, they are talking about the two tier federalism. But if you go to Section 162, it is saying that the resources, money accruing from the federation account to be distributed among the three tiers of government, which is the federal, the state and the local government. So, somehow the constitution is not even sure whether we run a three tier federal system or a two tier. The three tier system one of the finest example is India, and then the two tiers places like Canada, America. So, we need to be able to be sure what we want because if you do three tiers, it means that all the apparatus of government both at the federal and state will also be at the local government, including judicial function and legislative function and then they have all their resources independent and take control whatsoever, which is akin to what we had during the military régime. I was a local government chairman and nobody controlled our resources, we were getting our money straight from the Federal Government but the constitution of 1999 changed all that. Now, we have the joint local government and state account in which the state is supposed to contribute, but I am sure no state contributes to it, so they just get what comes from the Federal Government after some certain deductions at state level; so that is the dilemma we found ourselves in terms of local government.
Is what we are doing now not repetition of the same circle? Why are we now doing this again since we already have the document, is it not better to represent it for signing?
I agree with you entirely, in fact, that was my own position because there is no issue that is new in all of this, we have had bills in respect of all of them, in respect of all these issues. So, we need to find out which of course we tried to do, what happened in each of these items and at what level? In fact, the committee got me to do a report in respect of all these items for them to show what happened in each of them and at what point they have the document. So, I believe that we would have saved ourselves all these time by just getting these things. But you see it is important to sensitize Nigerians in respect of this because most of you do not even know which was passed and which did not pass, you did not know which was accented and which was not accented, but with this exposure, I believe that we can now all push through the ones that we are mindful of that will help our country.
Please can you tell Nigerians if open grazing is in our constitution as it is generating serious controversy now?
Well, if you look at the constitution, the issue of grazing essentially should be matters for the state because it has to do with land and under the Land Use Act, which is part of our constitution; land belongs only to the states and not to the Federal Government. So, when the states met and said look we don’t want grazing, it is within the purview of their powers. I think that is what we need to do, we need to have a meeting at some point between the federal and state officials instead of talking from both sides of their mouth as if they don’t read anything. We can’t be insulting ourselves on pages of the newspapers. We need to sit down and make sure that reasons will prevail in resolving our crisis as a nation. It doesn’t make any sense to me calling ourselves names and we don’t achieve anything. The laws are straight forward and I believe that superior argument should be better than all these things we are doing.
Some are talking about new constitution, how can we bring new constitution to bear?
Yes, I’ve heard that argument, some say bring back the 1960 constitution, some say bring the 1963 constitution, some say okay why don’t we just throw away this constitution and bring a new one. The question is how do you do that? Because there is no such provision in our constitution, unless you are calling for anarchy. So, if you are going to bring a new constitution, how? The answer is simple, we’ve seen countries with a similar challenge like Kenya and Brazil. What they did simply was to amend the original constitution to make a provision on how that constitution can be amended. We tried to do it, we did it last time, but it was even not accented to. So, unless you lay the proper foundation you cannot, otherwise you are creating anarchy. So, you need to amend Section 9 of the constitution to create a provision for how to amend the constitution itself especially the issue of referendum. So, we want to settle that which I believe is where we should be now, we’ve done a whole lot of amendments most of which Nigerians don’t even know, so there is confusion already and when we do more it gets to a point that you don’t know which one is the original text and the one that has been amended. You may be a lawyer and you come to court and be quoting the provisions of the constitution as if they are amended and you look stupid. It happens in ordinary legislations, after so many amendments of act of the National Assembly, the proper thing to do is to repeal it and re-enact it. So, I think at this point we must save ourselves all these trouble and make a provision in Section 9 on how to amend this constitution, how to bring about a new constitution, that has to be clearly spelt out, whether we are doing today, tomorrow or next year, we need to take advantage of this exercise to provide on how a new constitution can come into being. So that at the appropriate time, we can now trigger that provision and be able to have a conversation, draft a new constitution and go through constitutional provision and have it approved at the requisite level and with requisite number so that we can have a clean constitution we can call our own that encompasses all these amendments and probably deal with some of the other challenges that we are still having problems to amend.
You are talking about constitution amendment when insecurity is the worst problem of Nigeria now?
Yes, I agree with you, you know some of us have been on this issue of insecurity for many years and if they had listened to people like us we won’t be where we are today. Let me give you a scenario, if all of us live in an estate and all of us have generator in that estate and I am the person living at the mansion and I have a big generator that can take care of the estate. You are telling me that you need the generators in your houses and I say no you don’t need them, don’t bother yourselves keeping any generator I will supply you light. So, the idea may be on my part to make sure I control when you have light and when you don’t have light. So, it may be good for me, but you forget that one day that my generator, the big one, may breakdown and all of you will be in darkness. So, if I allow you to have your generators even if that big one breaks down, there will be light in most places, so that is the problem we have in Nigeria. No federal nation in the world is doing what we are doing; every federal country is identified with multiple police system. Even the unitary countries like the UK, they also decentralize their police. So, what has happened now is that if we had decentralized police in Nigeria, we would have had 774 different police systems in 774 local governments. We would have 36 different police network in 36 states and have one in Abuja, then have the big elephant in the house, the federal police. So, what would have happened is if there is problem in any of these states others will survive, but because we have one, that one had died and collapsed completely. The federal police have collapsed which is the only one and that is why we are having all these problems. So, if we have multiple like what they do in America, America has about 2,000 police system, such thing can never happen in America never in this world, it can never happen in Canada, it can’t happen in Australia, never, it can’t even happen in South Africa. So, that is the problem we have, until we decide to decentralize our police so that we have a backup at each time, we are going to continue to have this problem and many years ago I warned that if you don’t listen to what we are saying things are going to get worse and as I speak to you now if they don’t do it right now it’s going to get worse. Because nobody does what we are doing, no country does it, so we need to wake up and do what the rest of the world are doing.