Nigeria needs referendum, not election | NN NEWS


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By Malcolm Omirhobo

The constitution of a country is a contract that legally binds a people and their government. Like every other contract, a constitution is valid only if it is consensual among the people of a country and essentially devoid of misrepresentation, mistake, duress, undue influence and illegality. 

Looking at the Nigerian 1999 Constitution, can we soberly and honestly say that it has the consensus of the Nigerian people? Can we honestly say that it is not vitiated by misrepresentation, mistake, duress, undue influence and illegality?  The answers to these questions are in the negative 

It is regrettable and unfortunate that many Nigerians do not know that the 1999 Nigerian Constitution is a military decree,  fraudulently and deceitfully foisted on us by a bunch of self-centred military men and their cohorts, with clauses protecting them and their loots of our commonwealth before handing over power to civilians. 

22 years later, successive unscrupulous civilian governments have shamelessly and for selfish gains refused to question the validity of the 1999 Constitution. They have continued to benefit from it while running Nigeria on a defective and faulty foundation. 

Nigeria as presently constituted is built on a pack of lies that is bound to collapse at any time if we fail to make amends. 

What Nigeria needs right now is a referendum, not an election. It is imperative that we, the people of Nigeria, renegotiate the unity of Nigeria and not have it imposed on us as it is now. The issues of the centralisation of powers and resource control must be addressed before we think of any future elections in Nigeria. 

Conducting an election in 2023 without putting aside the military decree called the 1999 Constitution amounts to Nigerians living in a fool’s paradise, which ultimately will lead to the eventual collapse of Nigeria. 

I am, therefore, advising our politicians to stop the conjecture on who will be the next president and what part of Nigeria he will come from. We must shelve the 2023 election and conduct a referendum on the structure and framework of a new Nigeria. With a people’s constitution in place, it will not matter who the next president of Nigeria is or where he comes from. 

I will suggest that we return to the four regions: East, West, North and Midwest, as we had in the First Republic; pulling down all the state boundaries created by the military. Better still, the current 36 states plus Abuja can, with the consensus of the people, be merged into fewer viable, formidable and competitive states. 

I am doubtful if any component part of Nigeria genuinely wants to secede because we need one another to prosper as a great country once the necessary assurances are given. I believe that the Igbo can be great in technology, even greater than Japan and China put together, in this same Nigeria if given autonomy. During the Nigeria/Biafra war, they refined their oil, produced armoured tanks, bombs and fabricated spare parts for their vehicles and machines,  managed their telecommunications and operated the busiest airport in Africa and without electricity. Apart from technology, the East is a tourist destination and home of hospitality. It is blessed with oil and coal deposits, which can be tapped for its benefit. In the First Republic, the defunct Eastern region competed with its Western counterpart, establishing the  University of Nigeria, providing quality education, building good roads and infrastructures, and running its government with internally generated funds without help from the Federal Government. 

The West can be a very highly commercialised, agricultural-cum-tourist destination in the world, given its advantage of the Lagos seaport, coastal land and boundary with other West African countries. The West has done it before and can still do it again.  With proceeds from cocoa, the West built good roads that have stood the test of time; provided free education; built the Cocoa House in the 60s, which is still solidly and beautifully adorning the biggest city in West Africa, Ibadan; established the University of Ibadan, which is the first university in Nigeria; set up teaching hospitals and research centres; and built the first television and radio stations in Africa. It may interest many of us to know that defunct Western Nigeria got her TV station before most European countries like France. 

The people of the Niger Delta can go back to their palm oil and rubber plantations. The oil deposit in their land will be an added advantage to their development. 

The North can be a very rich region with agriculture, tourism and proceeds from gold deposits and other solid minerals. I am sure we can remember the groundnut pyramid and how defunct Northern Nigeria established the Ahmadu Bello University, built roads, hospitals and ran its government without help from the centre. 

The Federal Government will have to revert to only taking care of defence, immigration, customs, diplomacy and currency while allowing the states to take off their shoulders those many items on the exclusive list that are currently overburdening it.  With this outlook,  there will be devolution of powers and consequently, power will return to the grassroots as the local and state governments will become powerful once again.

We have nothing to lose if we renegotiate the unity of Nigeria and a lot to lose if we don’t. We must lay to rest this lazy style of governance, wherein states collect monthly allocations from Abuja without contributing anything to the system. With a renegotiated Nigeria, every state will have to fend for itself with proceeds of what they generate and will not have to look up to Abuja for funds to run their states. 

I would like to end this write up by stating categorically that there is no poor state in Nigeria. All states in Nigeria are endowed with both human and natural resources, so there should be no fear of my call for a referendum. 

Malcolm Omirhobo, a lawyer and activist, writes from Lagos.

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