Law as a Vehicle for Good Governance and National Integration in Nigeria (Part 9)

Sun, Dec 10, 2023
By editor


By Prof. Mike Ozekhome, SAN


IN our last episode, we dealt with some non-performing government agencies/ functionaries- the National Orientation Agency, the Federal Character Commission, Unity Colleges (Schools) in the context of the National Policy on Tertiary Education. Today, we shall look at some recommendations to remedy these abnormalities. Enjoy. 


Having blazed the crux of this discourse and staggering nature of the integrative mechanism, the following recommendations are made herewith: 

New People – Driven Constitution

Although the issue of Good Governance and National Integration, has been topical before the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the clamour for a more people-driven Constitution has been at the epicentre of national discourse due to the believe that the Constitution is not people – centric, others even labeling same – as a fraud on the people.

I can remember vividly in 2016, I was asked by a correspondent of the Guardian News Paper, on my take, on the proposed Constitutional Review. This was my response: 

“…The Nigerian Constitution is 50 times bigger than the American Constitution; yet the American Constitution has only had very few amendments since 1776, when America became independent. What is therefore wrong with our Constitution is not the content, but more with the way and manner the Constitution came into being as a Decree of the Federal Military Government. The present 1999 Constitution, which has been amended or altered three times, is actually Decree No 24 of 1999; the Constitution was attached to that Decree as an annexure or addendum. So, such a Constitution that is militarily-imposed, which was not made by the people for the people and of the people, suffers credibility problems. It suffers legitimacy and acceptability crisis. That is why the Constitution is not respected, because it is a document that was imposed on the Nigerian people by an unelected military oligarchy; which is why I have always maintained that the Constitution lied about itself when in its preamble, it starts imperiously by saying that we the people of Nigeria made the Constitution. It was not made by the people of Nigeria; it was made by a tiny military cabal of about 28 members of the Provisional Ruling Council; and it was later given to Justice Niki Tobi, then of the Supreme Court, to hammer together, and before we knew what was happening, a Constitution had emerged. So, it was never made for the Nigerian people.”

When asked what should be done, I said: 

“The proper thing, therefore, is to look at the issues from a more fundamental angle, because if you want to uproot a tree, you do not succeed in doing that by cutting off the branches. The branches will sooner than later grow and the tree will stand again. What you do is to go to the taproot of the tree and remove it and then it will be dead forever. What Nigerians need to do is to make a brand new Constitution, a Constitution that is home-grown, made by the people, subjected to popular referendum or plebiscite of the people as was done to the Midwest Region Constitution of August 10, 1963, when Midwest seceded constitutionally and legally from the Western region. The constitution was subjected to a plebiscite of the Midwesterners and they all voted for it to become a constitution that derived its legitimacy from the people of the Midwest Region. So, for us to have a constitution that derives its legitimacy from the Nigerian people, we have to go back to the 2014 National Conference, where I was a member and I was the head of the sub-committee on Constitution drafting, human rights and legal reforms; and that committee made recommendations, which were subjected to the plenary session and were also adopted. Recently, in a lecture I delivered, with the theme, “2023 General Election: The Nigeria Project and the Media,” during the 2022 Media Week of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Cross River State Council in Calabar, I made some recommendations, that is, about six (6) years from the first recommendation – I have not changed. The truth can never change. I used the opportunity to reminisce on the revenue sharing formula under the Constitution of the 1960s. Suffice to say, if we must get it right, we must change the status quo for good – no matter how bitter”. For purposes of completeness, other climes have since utilized the benefits of referendum or plebiscite to develop an autochthonous Constitution for the people. Some of them are Iraq, Iran, South Africa, Tunisia, Egypt, Eritrea, Kenya, etc. 

Worthy of mention is the American Constitution. 

The American constitution emanated from popular referendum and plebiscite of the people. It was as a result of the dismal failure of the Article of Confederation, comprising 55 representatives of the 13 colonies which later turned states (that is, the different Confederates of America who had already gained independence from the British in 1776). They gathered together in a Constitutional Convention on May 14, 1786 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with the primal goal of amending the Article of Confederation, in order to have an American constitution (or a new people’s driven Constitution), with federating units not too weak to be trampled upon and not too strong to overpower the federal government. After so much deliberation, the delegates to the conference or the constitutional convention concluded that the Article of Confederation was beyond repairs, they therefore, proceeded to change the entire form of government by making a draft Constitution. The draft Constitution was subsequently ratified on September 17, 1788. On March 4, 1789 a new Constitution was enacted and came into effect. This was how the United States developed a new people’s driven Constitution.

In Australia referendum is a part of the country’s constitutional and democratic process as it is employed for constitutional amendment. By virtue of section 128 of the Common Wealth Constitution of Australia, constitutional amendment must be by way of a Referendum. 

In Britain where parliamentary sovereignty is practised, referendum has been considered for the purpose of granting more autonomy to Scotland and Wales, such that Scotland and Wales were expected to vote for or against the granting of increased rules. Recently, Britain was allowed to decide by means of referendum whether or not they should continue to be part of the European Union. In Africa, the 1960 Constitution of Ghana was enacted by a Constituent Assembly but, this was after it had been submitted to the people in a referendum. The constitution expressly incorporated the people as part of the legislative process. Note that, powers not delegated to the regular organs of the state remained with the people who could exercised them by means of a referendum.  Again, out of the 55 articles of the Constitution no less than 17 were made alterable only by the people, exclusive of the legislature. (Art. 31 Constitution of Ghana, 1960). 

Similarly in Kenya, which had colonial government’ imposed Constitution, they were able to initiate a process of constitution making process centred on the Kenya populace. The proposed constitution was exposed to public debate through various fora and finally subjected to a referendum. The Constitution stands ratified with a 50 percent votes at referendum and 25 percent of voters in at least 5 Provinces. To this end, Nigeria is ripe and overdue for a home grown, people’s Constitution.

Ideological Shift

One of the lacunas that was left unattended to during the early years of birthing this great nation was the consensus as to ideology. The nation lacks a consensual ideological drive towards it’s existence. All we have are artificial precepts applicable to statehood generally and not innate to our bound.

The motto alone does not suffice and drives a national spirit. It is not uncommon in Nigeria to see a citizen walking while the National Anthem is playing, it is not uncommon to see rebukes of the community. This is not the way it should be. A Nigerian citizen should be willing and ready to defend the flag and integrity of the nation; should be willing to die for nation. All this would be possible when the citizens start gaining confidence and trust in the government of the day. The citizens often feels neglected, cheated and helpless; after all, what can they do in the face of government apathy?.

Socio-Economic Opportunities

Since the nation is largely diversified; provision for socio-economic opportunities would help cure the ills and heavy hearts if the people caused by bad governance and national disintegration. The stability of a nation largely depends on it’s economic state and welfare. Where the state allows a section of people to feel marginalized and economically defeated, it calls for anarchy and disintegration. The federal government should tinker more beneficial programmes that would extend the benefits of the economy to the nooks and crannies of the nation.

Equality, Justice and Fairness for All

A nation strives by the equality for all. By the way, if you feel subsumed and neglected in an environment, will you still be comfortable?. The answer is a big – NO. The concept of Social Justice is too important for the cohesion of an entity. It is Justice for all and not justice for some. It is justice for the Northerner, the Southerner, the Eastern and Westerner. Justice must never be left to see anyone’s face – it respects no man or woman. Therefore, ‘Fiat Justicia Ruat Caelum’ (‘let justice be done though the world perish’) should be the mantra. Where the rights of a tribe or group of people are institutionally and religiously trampled upon without any remedy or interference, a nation cannot stand steadily. Lack of this virtue has resulted to variants of agitations and claims in the polity. 

Propagation of National Loyalty Anchored on Firm Statehood

Loyalty does not just fall from the blues or skies. Something ignites loyalty. The citizens can only be loyal to a state that has guaranteed their means livelihood and coexistence. If any failure of same is indicated, disloyalty becomes the order of the day. Therefore, firmness of the state is crucial and a necessary condition to national loyalty. Nigeria must go back to the drawing board and address a plethora of issues threatening her stability. (To be concluded next week).


-December 10, 2023 @ 06:42 GMT|