ll political parties appear to agree on the importance and inevitability of substantial governance reform. It is also widely acknowledged that the 1979 and 1999 editions of our constitution are profoundly flawed in terms of this most basic necessity for Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities to exercise consensual self-government.
Simple adjustments, such as those made by the National Assembly since 1999 at a cost of roughly 10 billion naira per iteration, do not appear to have quenched the call for Nigerian polity restructuring. Almost all civil society organizations from the six geopolitical zones have been vocal in recent months on the need to restructure the country.
Surprisingly, what we are seeing in Nigeria is the same problem that Chile is facing in Latin America. Augusto Pinochet’s military regime ratified their constitution in 1980. It was enacted in stages beginning in 1981 and has been completely operational since 1990. In 1989 (by vote), 1991, 1994, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010, it was amended.
However, it is a significant step forward, as the Chilean people decisively opted to design a new constitution in a National Referendum on October 25, 2020. Another referendum, set for 2022, will decide whether the new constitution should be adopted or rejected.
If we truly want to improve the lives of current and future generations of Nigerians, we must face our problems head on and try a new approach that is free of fear of the unknown, as Chile has recently done.
The current 1999 Constitution has flaws on which practically everyone agrees. When the way to solutions is discussed outside of the mode of piecemeal modifications, however, the consensus breaks down.
However, if we take the time to think outside the box, the practical answer may be very straightforward to consider and implement by the National Assembly. Several significant imperatives make major change via the construction of a new Constitution based on the 1963 Constitution far more expeditious than endlessly amending the existing 1999 Constitution.
To begin with, it is true that a copy of the 1963 Constitution has been seen by many Nigerians. Those who saw it are unlikely to have given it a thorough examination. The fact that most of them were not even alive or old enough to remember the period prior to 1966 is much more significant. As a result, many people’s fear of the unknown predominates in their minds.
Second, it goes without saying that the 1963 Constitution was the result of extensive deliberations here in Nigeria and repeated Lancaster House, London seminars attended by the founding leaders of most Nigerian ethnic nationalities.
In 1960, a flavour of federalism that suited us was devised, and the 1963 version embodied it. As a result, there is no need to waste time looking for a new Nigerian Federation framework.
Third, unlike the 1999 version, the 1963 Constitution has a strong federal component. It contains provisions for the coexistence of regional constitutions. Regions and its constituent peoples live organic lives with complete sovereignty and self-determination.
So, it goes without saying that our drive for better administration should be based on what was properly stated over years of consultative negotiations preceding up to independence in 1960.
Fourth, the 1963 Constitution focuses primarily on the Federal-State relationship and practical modalities. All remaining issues are totally in the hands of the regional entities. As a result, it is not an omnibus text like the 1999 edition, which purports to define every possible scenario of political management of such a vast territory as Nigeria.
Fifth, a unicameral parliamentary system, in whatever modified form, as enshrined in the 1963 Constitution, is presently the most appropriate structure for our circumstances. The political leadership of the 1975–1979 period was swayed by a false sense of riches, which led them to experiment with the Presidential system. We were swept away by the then-Head-of-State’s unintentional declaration that the only issue we had was how quickly we spent Petro-dollars.
Given the preceding, it is only natural that we wake up to the reality of being insolvent and debt-ridden. The current necessity for candidates for political office to traverse the Nigerian territory to campaign should be abolished.
Money’s influence on political campaigns will be substantially tempered by the parliamentary election system. To be elected to parliament, all it takes is a campaign and a win in a localized constituency, and the Prime Minister will be first among equals of elected lawmakers.
Aside from the aforementioned political imperatives, the reality of the current economy is the scarcity of resources upon which Nigeria’s political structure was based. It is reasonable to conclude that our polity can no longer withstand the magnitude of public expenditure on recurrent (about 80%) versus capital (approximately 20%) infrastructural development. Maintaining the trappings of bureaucracy at the expense of the Nigerian people is no longer viable.
At the Federal level, there are examples of wasteful spending on 109 senators, 360 members of the House of Representatives, 42 ministries, and nearly 700 departments and agencies (Oronsaye Report), all of which have headquarters in Abuja, but most of which have administrative offices led by Grade Level 16 to 17 officers in each of the 36 state capitals and some other cities across the country.
The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is a good example of what most Federal Ministries are like. In Area 11, Abuja, there are 11 technical departments. There are offices in 36 states for nine of these departments. In total, there are more than 300 offices. Despite this, the Ministry owns no farmland. It has no fish ponds and does not rear poultry anywhere in Nigeria. The bloated bureaucracy slurps money solely to advise the state government on farming.
There are 36 governors at the State level, as well as full complements of Ministries, Departments, and Agencies. There are around 1,000 State Assembly members, each with constituencies based on the LGA’s statistics, which are clearly illegitimate in the eyes of the areas and people they are supposed to serve. These State Assembly members also have all the trappings of office. In a reconstructed Nigerian polity, these wasteful devices must be rolled back.
The 773 LGAs (Bakassi LGA has been transferred to Cameroon) at the Local Government Level are unsustainable structures for simply disbursing funds from centralised crude oil sales inflows. Few will deny that the LGAs, in their current form, have benefited Nigeria’s citizens in terms of development.
Cities like Ibadan (Ibadan North, North East, North-West, South-West, and Ibadan South-East) and Kaduna (Kaduna North I, North II, Kaduna South I, South II, and South III) that are better run as organic development centers were carved out into 5 or more LGAs purely to proliferate political positions for Chairmen and Councillors, with LGA Legislative houses to boot. The Ibrahim Dasuki Committee for the Review of Local Government Administration in Nigeria has left an economic legacy that can no longer be sustained.
After comparing and contrasting the 1999 Constitution with the 1963 Constitution, which our nation abruptly, albeit prematurely, abandoned in 1966, it appears prudent for the Nigerian people, through the National Assembly, to immediately return to the 1963 Constitution as a reference point, and then use it as the standard for navigation to the future from now on.
After the untimely death of President Yar’Adua, this country adopted the philosophy of necessity as a way out of what was thought to be an impossible leadership transition. Another occasion has arisen that necessitates the mobilization of all Nigerians’ collective will in order to achieve the necessity to restructure Nigeria’s socio-polity.
The path forward now appears to be a one-page bill for an Act to replace the 1999 Constitution with the 1963 Constitution. It will be sent to the different State Houses of Assembly for approval after it has been approved by the National Assembly.
The following will be included in the Act once it has been approved:
- document that specifies the processes and procedures for holding the Referendum within 3 to 6 months,
- the method for updating the 1963 Constitution’s provisions to current realities within 18 to 24 months, and
- the effective date of coming into effect, which is prior to the next election.
The idea of reverting to the 1963 Constitution, as proposed in this document, may alarm some in our midst if it is not given careful thought. It does not have to be this this. First, the new modality would go into force in the future, say in 18 to 24 months.
The 1999 Constitution will remain in effect, and current political office holders will complete their terms. Various steps and acts would be detailed during this time to bring the contents of the 1963 Constitution up to date.
It is also not as though Nigeria will be bound indefinitely to the four zones of 1963. Rather, returning to the pre-1963 status quo involves resuming the process of bottom-up reconfiguration, based on how the Mid-West Region was democratically constituted in 1963.
All that is required is the creation of a set of criteria that will prequalify ethnic nationalities in a contiguous territory for membership in a regional body.
To qualify as a federating entity, an ethnic nationality in a contiguous area must demonstrate a verifiable potential to generate internal revenue sufficient to cover recurring expenditures while leaving enough excess to contribute to Federal administration. Another element to consider is allocating at least 50% of revenue to capital investment and regional development.
New regions will be articulated and admitted as Federating Units as a result of the aforesaid over time. There is no such thing as a time restriction. Those who come together will be the topic of elections in 2023. Mid-wifing new regions does not have to come to a halt at any point. We could end up with seven, eight, or even more regions, all of which are the result of the constituent peoples’ voluntary decisions to exist as a viable political unit.
The regional constitutions will essentially have a Federal flavour to them, allowing every sub-ethnic nationality unrestricted flexibility to aggregate or disaggregate as Provinces, Divisions, and Districts, while maintaining complete sovereignty over their affairs at all levels of government.
After adequate notice and referendum, it is intended that sub-ethnic nationalities of persons will be able to switch between regions. As a result, no one would be bound indefinitely to a region based on their original decision to do so.
The proposed strategy will, in essence, address numerous fundamental issues that have plagued Nigeria for years. Nigerians will begin to have a say in how their communities choose to interact with their neighbors. The formation and maintenance of political bodies will now be based on freely stated choices that are ratified by referendum.
Once the imposition of military authority, from the top, yields to a coherent mechanism for self-determination from the bottom up, the Nigerian nation’s energy and soul will be focused on development, and the forging of positive identity for the world’s biggest concentration of black peoples.