Most well-meaning Nigerians are of the opinion that for Nigeria to progress, she needs a New Constitution that we can call our own. A “We-The-People” Constitution.
I most respectfully disagree.
As radical as it may sound, very mindful of the multiplicity of our Ethnic Nationalities with the attendant sensibilities, we don’t really need a new we-the-people constitution to progress if we can reboot our National Assembly through a well-conceived Constitutional Amendment that is much easier to get than a New Constitution via a Constitutional Conference in a country where we cannot even agree to agree. And, neither can we agree to disagree. At least for now, because time is of the essence.
A wise man will not try to make up lost ground in one fell swoop; rather, he gets what he can get and goes for more like Oliver Twist. If we get our National Assembly right, it becomes part of the we-the-people Constitution that most Nigerians want.
And here is my take.
We borrowed a Bicameral Legislature that we don’t need and cannot afford from the United States when only one Chamber will do. And, as if that’s not bad enough, our Constitution bloated our National Assembly to a mindless share-the-loot level.
In comparison, the United States, the World’s Biggest Economy with a GDP of over US$23 Trillion, population of about 330 million, and 50 States, has 100 Senators (2 per State) and 435 House Members. But Nigeria, ranked 30th of the major world economies with a GDP of US$441 Billion, a Population of 208 million, and 36 States, has 109 Senators (3 per State) and 360 House Members.
After over 20 years of Presidential System, now is the time to clean our act. And, what we MUST do is three-fold:
First, we must prune down our National Assembly by reducing it to just one (1) Chamber of two (2) Representatives per state and one (1) Representative for FCT for a total of 73 National Representatives or Senators. What we call them is irrelevant. For sure, this will greatly reduce our cost of governance.
Second, our National Assembly must be unattractive for political merchants who kill their brothers and sisters just to get elected or selected. Being unattractive, the huge amount spent on INEC and Security Agencies will no longer make sense. But more importantly, an unattractive National Assembly will invariably attract only “Distinguished” professionals and business persons genuinely interested in Public Service. Remember, a Senator is NOT distinguished just because he is in the Senate; rather, he is in the Senate because he is distinguished. Sadly enough, I must say monetary rewards and plenty of money have reduced our National Assembly to an all-comers game.
Last but not least, selecting National Assembly Candidates must not be left to corrupt party officials and hapless victims of Weaponized Poverty. The current Party Screening is grossly inadequate for such a position of public trust. We must do more as a society. A standardised Public Notice to people with knowledge, of why a person may not be qualified to contest National Assembly Election will help if Petitions received in this regard from members of the general public and interest groups are verifiable to avoid faceless personal vendetta. And the Security Clearance of potential Reps must be deepened because what we have now is too weak.
If the truth must be told, when we complain bitterly about Corrupt INEC and Fake 2023 Presidential Election, we forget and most often absolve our National Assembly, which is actually the Enabler-in-chief that fraudulently crafted an insidious 2022 Electoral Act that made in possible for INEC and APC to do what they did. The Act, which is supposed to be a gatekeeper, gave a free pass to a president-elect and exempted him from defending his INEC Declaration in court before being sworn in as Commander-in-chief. What a travesty!!!
In every “democracy” of the world, political officeholders must “win” the popular vote and defend their mandate in Court, if necessary. This did NOT happen. INEC knew the 2022 Electoral Act loophole but lied to the voting public that their voting results would be uploaded in real-time from their various Pooling Centers. This did NOT happen either. INEC also knew that its declared candidate would be sworn in as the Commander-in-chief without completing court litigation. And that was why INEC Chairman, with utter impunity, told aggrieved candidates to “go to Court”. Which Court? A Court with public approval way below that of a Used Car Salesman or a Motor Park Tout. For good reasons, most ordinary Nigerians, including those in APC, do not have confidence in our Court System.
However, The bottom line is that all these shenanigans were brewed and bottled by the Inept National Assembly, which didn’t understand the critical importance of Election Timetable. I am pretty sure that most of them were mesmerised by sweet-talking INEC officials and were equally persuaded by Executive incentives that they never cared to scrutinise said Electoral Bill the way they should. It is very difficult to understand how a National Assembly, with a retinue of Legislative Aids and Consultants, could sign off on such a fatal Election Timetable.
The Presidential Election was scheduled for February 25th with May 29th swearing-in date. But, the Election Timetable provided 180 days for adjudication of disputes, well beyond the swearing-in date. This singular legislative error is so ludicrous that even a caveman could have done better. The ideal thing would have been to peg litigation to 90 days which would have been tight but fairly reasonable. The United States Presidential Election that we blindly borrowed is usually conducted the first week in November with about January 20th swearing-in date. That gives about 60 days for litigation because a competent Presidential Election Tribunal needs only 30 days to deliver a sound judgment. Alternatively, the election date could have been reduced to November 25th, 2022 to allow 180 days to complete litigation before swearing in a new Commander-in-chief. This way, irreparable damage would have been avoided, and aggrieved Litigants and the general public would have found a better place to hang their hats if the tribunal verdict didn’t go their way.
What has played out or played out is a classic blueprint for Civil Disobedience, underscoring the importance of distinguished characters at the National Assembly. Those that are experienced enough to look at issues dispassionately. Those who are mature and disciplined enough to resist the rascality of the Executive and Judiciary. Those who can look out for Nigeria’s “interest” instead of their own interests. This is the Legislature’s primary purpose via law-making and oversight functions.
If we get our National Assembly right through Constitutional Amendment, a lot will fall in place while we work on a “We the People Constitution”. But make no mistake about what went wrong in this election cycle: our National Assembly dropped the ball, and our Judiciary, already in the bad books of most Nigerians, is on trial.
Okey (Oduma) Chidolue, Esq.
Nnewi, May 29, 2023.
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