Nigeria: Nine Constitutions in 24 Years of Democracy: If President Goodluck Jonathan Is to Be Believed, Nigerians Are about to Write Yet Another Constitution. It Will Be Their Ninth in the 24 Years That They Have Had Democracy out of the 53 Years of Independence from Britain. but, as Peter Jazzy Ezeh Reports, the Idea of the Ninth Constitution Is Raising Dust in Africa's Most Populous Country

Article excerpt

SEVEN + ONE = ZERO IS A WRONG equation in mathematics. But it appears to be the curious maths of constitution-making in Nigeria, the country that holds the world record for the highest turnover of national constitutions. Since attaining independence from Britain in 1960, Nigeria has had a period of 24 years of democracy and 29 years of military rule.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

During those 19 years, various military juntas simply dispensed with the national constitutions at work at the time and ruled by diktat. Curiously, the civilian politicians who ruled during the 24 years of democracy did not do any better--the number of constitutions that they either used or tried to write has broken the world record, an average of one constitution for every three years in government. Which means all the eight constitutions the nation has had have been rejected as inadequate, hence the need for yet another one.

The latest attempt at constitution making was announced by President Goodluck Jonathan during the celebration of Nigeria's 53rd independence anniversary on i October. The decision is the result of vigorous campaigns by pressure groups which believe that the problems currently overwhelming Nigeria are the direct consequence of the lack of adequate participation by civil society before the current constitution was imposed in 1999 by the military government in power at the time.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In all, half of the attempts at constitution making in the country have resulted in actual constitutions, in 1960,1963, 1979, and 1999. Conferences in London also produced three other constitutions between 1946 and 1959. Thus, the mere mention of writing another one has drawn protestations that seem just as fervent as the criticism of the 1999 constitution.

While some people see a new constitution as an effective means to address the many problems facing the country, others see it as a diversionary tactic to provide the government with a breather from those problems.

Those who oppose the writing of a new constitution are mainly from the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC), the biggest rival to President Jonathan's People's Democratic Party (PDP).

The APC leader and former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu, used a powerful metaphor in driving home his opposition to the project in a press statement the other day. "This government is sinking in a pool of political and economic hot water of its own making [and] it seizes hold of the national conference idea as if it were a life jacket," he said.

Those who support the project do so on the grounds that the 1999 constitution is the most arbitrary of all the previous ones. No constitutional conference was held to produce it. The last of the nation's military heads of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, simply instructed a committee handpicked by himself to write the constitution. At the time, Abubakar was under pressure to end military rule and hand over to an elected government.

His problem was created riot by himself but by the two military presidents before him. General Ibrahim Babangida and General Sani Abacha each schemed for a long stay in office, with the result that although each convened a constitutional conference, none of them seemed ready to use the resultant document.

Babangida even annulled the election of the civilian Moshood Abiola, who would have succeeded him as president in 1993. The trouble that his act precipitated, culminated in the abrupt end of Babangida's government.

Ernest Shonekan, a civilian and businessman, was appointed to take over from Babangida, but Shonekan was overthrown by General Sani Abacha. In no time it became clear that Abacha had his own plans to overstay. After appointing a constitutional conference, Abacha never used the resultant constitution until he died suddenly in office in 1998.

General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who succeeded Abacha, was determined to round off as quickly as he could and hand over to an elected government in less than one year. …