Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Lessons on Constitutional Amendment

According to President Babaginda's doctrine of settled issues some aspects of Nigerian politics are no-go areas for discussion. They are: Nigerian unity, Republican constitution, federalism and capitalism. The contention and outrage that followed the re-inclusion of Section 29 subsection 4b in the ongoing constitutional amendment by the Senate shows that some issues are not settled after all. 
First, It  shows that if the Twitter and Facebook loving Nigerians want to take up a cause, they can. Whilst people have agreed to disagree on whether or not the section supports child marriage, the incident  is another example of our fault lines as a people and the use of religion and ethnicity as tools of manipulation. A question that this constitutional amendment should answer is whether we are a multi religious or secular state. If we are a secular State, are the tenets of any religion superior to the Constitution? If we are a multi-religious State, how would the Constitution capture the essence of all recognized religions? This segues to what religions would be recognized and on what basis?
Second,the Child marriage outrage also reveals how we sometimes focus on the minor as a nation. The quote on the  National Archives building, DC reads "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty". The ongoing constitutional review gives us the chance to have a truly "we the people"constitution and we are not  fully taking that chance.
Along with the sub section 4b that was re-inserted, the Senate also
1) refused autonomy for local government finances: the impact of this refusal is  important because if the funds go to LGs directly, there is no excuse for non- performance and our attempts at Citizen-led democracy and Federalism is further solidified
2) refused to separate the office of the Attorney General from that of the Commissioner for Justice and give the AG increased powers- powers similar to that of a Special Prosecutor
3) refused six year single term for the President, governors and their deputies
4) passed life pensions for the National Assembly leadership.
5) passed the motion that allows a bill become law if the presidents fails to assent within 30 days  (this section is interesting in the light of  yearly budget politics between the Executive and National Assembly)
On the bright side, some items for amendments passed in the House of Representatives i.e the Reps passed LG autonomy, allowed for independent candidates, removed immunity clauses for the President, Governors and their deputies. However, the House retained life pensions for the National Assembly leadership.
The above issues reveal the need for active citizen involvement in the on-going constitutional review process. Both houses have to reconcile the amendments that they passed, and the 36 State Houses of Assembly also have to pass these amendments before there can be any changes. We need to be involved at all stages.  We need to treat all issues with great importance as loopholes give room for ambiguous interpretations - re the controversial section 29. We also have to ensure that important fiscal issues (the life pensions for NASS leadership and budgeting) are addressed the way WE want it to.

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. 

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