The Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, has advocated for legislative review along with citizen-driven litigation as a way of resolving problematic, imprecise and oppressive provisions of the 1999 constitution (as amended).
He also recommended that for the review to achieve its aim, governors across the 35 states must also contribute their quota to the constitution amendment been the stakeholders at the regional levels and know the laws that would advance their developmental drive.
Bello also advised that chipping off contested provisions and replacing them with more appropriate wording would help shore up the acceptable aspects of the nation’s current constitution. This, according to Bello, is the only way to start making steady progress towards the constitutional Republic of our dreams and a more robust nationhood.
Bello made the call yesterday in Abuja at the 5th Edition of the Osasu Show Symposium with the theme ‘State of the Nation; The People’s Constitution.
According to him, if you ask me, I will urge that we Governors get more involved in the ongoing process of amending the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).
He added, “let us mobilise the hottest issues agitating our respective domains which our people desire the Constitution to tackle and submit to National Assembly and follow up”.
“Let us litigate problematic, imprecise or oppressive provisions and get the courts to clarify them. That way we can chip away at contested provisions, while shoring up the acceptable aspects of the 1999 Constitution.
“I believe this lack of direct origins in the people or their elected representatives is why some citizens and sections of civil society insist that none of the various Nigerian Constitutions qualify to be called a People’s Constitution.
“They advocate for the total abrogation of the present one while calling for a process to midwife the emergence of a new Constitution which, they claim, will be the lodestone for a more egalitarian Nigerian society driven by the Rule of Law. I understand their argument, and how I wish I could buy into their optimism!
“Sadly, given our socio-political realities as a nation, I think calls to dump the present Constitution wholesale and make a new one from scratch are not realistic at this time”, Bello said.
He said that for the immediate, especially with 2023 in view, the country must continue to make progress in the best ways possible. He added that a more viable and practical approach would be to subject the existing Constitution as often as necessary to review and upgrade.
The governor used older democracies like America and India whose constitutions have undergone several amendments as examples. He explained that a Constitution might not be perfect at the beginning but it can be brought to reflect the hopes and aspirations of the people through legislative or judicial review.
Bello said that he would support a new constitution made from scratch if there were guarantees that the process would be supported by all Nigerians and not become mired in delays and bad blood. He therefore urged the use of the twin mechanisms of legislative panel-beating by amendments and judicial reconstruction through litigation on the constitution.
“It is my contention that by relying on provisions already embedded in its bowels, we can get the present Constitution to become the Constitution we want for each stage of our national development. My proposition is supported by the experiences of older and more successful democracies. Their examples, two of which we shall examine presently, prove that a working Constitution, like hot soup, is best cooked slowly and steadily.
“Legislative amendments and judicial decision-making may seem reactionary and slow, especially when each interest group is in a hurry to input her own demands, but they have helped others and they can help us. A Constitution is expected to be a living organism like the society it seeks to guide, able to grow and adapt to prevailing realities.
“In fact, irrespective of provenance or origins, a perfect Constitution, like a perfect spouse, is a mirage simply because it is alive and growing. It does not have to be perfect all at once, it just has to be open to evolution.
“Even if it is made by a non-representative process or even by unsavoury characters, as long as it is not outrightly prescribing the unlawful or obnoxious, it can and will get better with time as long as it can be interpreted and amended as the need arises. It may take time, but nothing good comes easy. If along the way we find the right circumstances, then we can attempt a wholesale overhaul”, Bello noted.