By Romanus Okoye, Lagos
Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Dr Olisa Agbakoba has said that changing of the 1999 constitution will not guarantee a perfect country, observing that the current constitution, in spite of its imperfections, is not being complied with.
Agbakoba, who made the observation at the inaugural #FixPoliticsDialogues, a platform which convenes debates on national issues, pointed out that the process of amending the constitution and obeying its provisions are more vital.
The event, tagged “1999 Constitution: To change or amend?”, was organised by FixPolitics, a non-profit organisation, on Monday.
Speaking at the event, the senior advocate said there was no guarantee that a new constitution, no matter how perfect, will be complied with by Nigerians and those in power, adding that the process of birthing a new constitution requires strategic engagements.
‘To force a change of constitution outside the legal framework will be considered a revolution. Let’s not assume that a perfect constitution that we all strive for means that by a flick of the switch everything is good. Currently, the constitution, imperfect as it is, is not obeyed. So, what is to say that the constitution we envisage will be obeyed? The answer to it is something we should reflect on carefully,’ he said.
‘Part of the problems we face today is the process. Because the process is faulty, Nigerians cannot claim ownership of the constitution. If there is a way to reverse that problem by overhauling the constitution and bringing in a new one, that, I think, is the ideal.’
Agbakoba said Nigerians and civil society organisations (CSOs) have the option of pushing for either an amendment or a change of the constitution. He noted that the process of changing the constitution may be difficult because traditional and religious institutions may not key into such a strategy.
‘Tactically, the space to engage in amendment is there, let’s take it. Strategically, the space to overturn the constitution, if it is there, we can generate civil society momentum then let’s take it. But to be quite honest with you, I don’t see it,’ he said.
‘There is no way to expect that the present political class, whether it is APC or PDP, will surrender any iota of power unless we fight and wrestle them to the ground to get it. But my point is that is there the energy for that?
‘So as we plan towards strategic intervention in changing the dynamics of the Nigerian states and in placing a new constitution, let’s not overlook the small advantages that we can get by critical engagement.’
According to Agbakoba, the constitution has 98 items of power out of which 68 items are exclusive to the federal government while the remaining 30 are shared between the federal and state governments.
He said the challenge is the redistribution of power by reducing exclusive privileges granted to the federal government.
The SAN asked CSOs to operate tactically and unite to pressure the national assembly in amending the constitution for better distribution of powers. ‘The constitution does not permit a change so if we are looking for a change then let’s be prepared for a revolution,’he said.
‘A revolution means altering the constitution in a way not envisaged by the constitution. That is the strategic direction we are looking for which I will be happy with. But as we look for that strategic direction to occur, we can occupy the space by looking at those critical amendments that we can make for us to have a more balanced federation.’