Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
OPEN LETTER TO NIGER DELTA ELECTED LEGISLATORS IN
THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY AND THE STATE HOUSES OF ASSEMBLY
May 9, 2006
Distinguished Senators and Members of the House of Representatives representing the Senatorial Districts and Federal Constituencies of the Niger Delta states of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross Rivers, Delta, Edo, and Rivers; and
Honourable Members of the Houses of Assembly of the Niger Delta states of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross Rivers, Delta, Edo, and Rivers:
Like most Nigerians in the Diaspora we, in the South-South Peoples’ Assembly of North America, have been following the constitutional amendment debate in Nigeria with keen interest. We notice that the debate over the proposed amendments to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has generated much controversy in and outside of Nigeria. At the expense of other significant issues in the series of proposed amendments contained in the Bill, the debate has been dominated by only one item - the proposal to extend the term of office for the president and state governors from two terms of four years each to three terms of four years each.
This is a pivotal time in Nigeria’s history and, as members of these legislative chambers, the task of defining the strategic directions of Nigeria lies in your hands. It is a task which we are sure you take with the utmost responsibility. Therefore, we the undersigned, on behalf of the members of the South-South Peoples’ Assembly of North America, seize this opportunity to advise you of our concerns on the Bill, namely that:
The process for amending the constitution of a country is a tedious and methodical one. First, concerted efforts must be made to ensure that the views of all parties are sought and evaluated. This is particularly true in the case of a federal system like Nigeria. From a traditional and historical perspective (excluding the military era), The 1960 Constitution of the Federation of Nigeria and The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1963 were effected following a methodical approach with broad national consensus. It goes without saying that the views of citizens of the federating units - States in Nigeria - must be canvassed. In contrast, the two-day review session hosted by the Senator Mantu-led Joint Committee on the Review of the Constitution in the “capital” of each “zone” in Nigeria failed to meet this imperative. The “zones” are not federating units of Nigeria.
Second, a constitutional amendment is different from crafting a new constitution. The Bill as presented goes beyond the boundaries of an amendment as it is an attempt to re-write the entire constitution, a function which is outside the jurisdiction of the National Assembly. Again, looking at the amendments to the 1960 and 1963 constitutions, we submit that both documents are identical except for two amendments:
The 1963 Republican constitution marked a break from the monarchical one of 1960 where the British monarch was the head of state.
The 1963 variant recognized the four constituent units (regions) of Nigeria, with the successful referendum of August 1963 that established the Midwest Region.
These were the only amendments, and neither was imposed by a legislative fiat.
The proposed amendments fail to recognize the federal system of Nigeria. The Bill reinforces the unitary structure of governance inherent in the 1999 Constitution which has been condemned by all Nigerian federalists, including the South-South Peoples’ Assembly of North America. As you are well aware, the demand for returning Nigeria to its federal roots is a fundamental issue for Niger Deltans and other Nigerians.
When General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd) declared his presidential candidacy under the banner of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) on November 05, 1998, he called for an "open dialogue among the constituents of the Nigerian federation" as he agitated for a "democratic federal structure.”
He also declared:
And, pondering how we can restore federalism in Nigeria, General Obasanjo offered a solution as he declared:
We would like to remind you that when Obasanjo urged Nigerians "to return to true federalism" he was referring to The 1960 Constitution of the Federation of Nigeria and The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1963. In the spirit of "true federalism", which he alluded to in that 1998 declaration, the constituent regions - Eastern Region, Midwest Region, Northern Region, and Western Region - were independent of the centre (federal government) and exercised complete autonomy befitting units in a federation.
Let us consider some examples of this:
The above is a short list of the properties of true federalism that was understandably jettisoned by Nigeria's unitary government under military rule. That these properties were discarded in post military constitutions, particularly in the 1999 Constitution, remains baffling for a supposedly federalism-oriented constitution. Therefore, the 1999 Constitution, though referred to as "federal", is in fact a unitary constitution, as exemplified by the following.
The Bill, which you have been asked to consider, has failed to remedy any of these defects. It has in fact provided reinforcement to an entrenched unitary system on a supposedly federal polity.
III. LOCAL GOVERNMENT
As noted above, it is our position that local government areas should be of state instead of federal jurisdiction. The constitution has no jurisdiction to regulate the conduct of a state House of Assembly, to determine the language of business of a state House of Assembly, or to determine the salary scale of state officials - governors, deputy governors, members of the House of Assembly, much less that of local government chairmen. The constitution has no jurisdiction to determine the capital of a state or of a local government council. In a federal political system, the constitution does not have jurisdiction to determine the schedule of elections for the offices of state governors, deputy governors, members of a state House of Assembly, and local government chairmen; therefore INEC has no jurisdiction to conduct elections for the offices of state governors, deputy governors, members of a state House of Assembly, and local government chairmen.
The placement of the affairs of the state in the hands of the federal government is an unnecessary intrusion into the affairs of states, and is consistent with the unitary system of government, instead of the federal system that Nigeria is supposed to be operating. The creation of local government areas and the establishment of the number of local governments, under the jurisdiction of a federal body, the federal House of Assembly, contradict the spirit and letter of true federalism. In our view, a local government council should be under the jurisdiction of a given state. A state can create any number of local government councils depending on its internal resources, without seeking additional revenue for this purpose from the central government. The creation of local government councils remains the exclusive jurisdiction of a state.
IV. RESOURCE OWNERSHIP
Each state should exercise exclusive jurisdiction over agriculture and natural resources (oil, gas, mining, etc) within its respective territories. Each state shall pay appropriate tax to the federal government from the proceeds of the natural resources and other economic activities carried out in the state. As defined in both the 1960 and 1963 constitutions, the continental shelf of a State shall be deemed to be part of that State.
V. POWER SHIFT
The Bill proposes the rotation of the presidency between the North and South of Nigeria, and the rotation of governorship among senatorial districts in each State. By legislating the choice of a president, state governor, senator or local government chairman, etc, the Bill is denying the electorates their fundamental rights to elect candidates of their choice. This is an undemocratic method, and is tantamount to selecting (instead of electing) political officials in a supposedly democratic polity. The intent of this clause is to impose a choice on the population, and calls into question the basis for an election.
In a democracy, power shift is not decreed or legislated. It is a function of the correlation of forces in a vibrant democratic political system where candidates and political parties are free to canvass for votes in a free and fair election to elect the best candidate for the given office. Furthermore, power shift is not a synonym for good governance which is the main problem paralysing the Nigerian society. What Nigeria needs, therefore, is a dedicated and an incorruptible leadership at all levels of government to manage the economy in a sustainable way and to provide for the basic necessities of the population under a democratic dispensation.
VI. TERM ELONGATION (THIRD TERM)
The proposal to extend the tenure of the president (and state governors) beyond the two-four year term as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution is immoral if it is designed to benefit those elected under the terms of the 1999 Constitution. While we recognize that a two-third majority of the Senate and the House of Representatives could amend the constitution to reflect this term elongation, such an amendment must exclude the current president and the state governors elected in 1999.
Nigeria has been vocal against other Africa leaders who had amended the constitutions of their respective countries to permit them to "sit tight" in office. To amend the constitution in this fashion is a tyranny of the elected representatives against the population. It is an abuse of democracy.
The constitution of a nation is a sacred document, and the process of its amendment must reflect the broad consensus of the population. In our view, the Bill under consideration in the National Assembly transcends the boundaries of constitutional amendments, as it proposes a "new" constitution.
It is noteworthy that the chief proponents of the term elongation were also the promoters of "Abacha Forever" whom General Obasanjo (rtd) had severely condemned for their anti-democratic practices. We are, therefore, troubled that President Obasanjo has (or appears to have) sought an alliance with this group in a scheme to subvert the term limit as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution which he swore to uphold and defend.
In view of the above, we respectfully urge you to vote against the entire Bill to amend the constitution. The Bill under consideration reinforces the unitary characteristics of the 1999 military constitution. We join other Nigerians in demanding the convocation of a constituent assembly to draft a new federal constitution that will replace the 1999 constitution bequeathed by the military government. Such a constitution would accord due consideration to the jurisdictions of the federating units, as well as to the ethnic nationalities that constitute the basis of a federal Nigeria.
Signed for and on behalf of the South-South Peoples' Assembly of North America:
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