From Noah Ebije, Kaduna
Former Secretary General of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Anthony Sani has described talks by Middle Belt and Southern leaders about the possibility of Nigeria breaking up if the 1999 constitution is not changed and the country restructured as empty threats.
The ACF chieftain said “I have heard the hyperbole by some people who say the country may break up if the current constitution is not replaced by people’s constitution that contains restructured Nigeria. And they say this in blithe disregard for the fact of history that 1999 constitution is a clone of that of 1979 that was sired democratically by an elected constituent assembly. What is more, the 1999 constitution has undergone amendments by each of the National Assembly. In fact, the 9th National Assembly is on the process of amending the constitution.
“On this issue of the forecast that Nigeria will break up if the country is not restructured, please note this is not the first time we are hearing such threats.
America once predicted the country would fail by 2015, a forecast that never came onto its own. Earlier Col. Gaddafi had suggested the country be split along religious or ethnic lines. But there are so many families with members who are of different faiths, while there are over 250 ethnic groups. It is not possible for families to be of different countries on the basis of differences in faith, and this country cannot split on the basis of ethnicity.
“That is why some of us are sanguine that relative pluralism that comes with urbanization and interethnic marriages will soon supplant the sense of cloistered communities with strong historical ties to places. But society is dynamic and given the fact that this country has been restructured several times, be it geopolitical, form of government and economic model; and the fact that the term restructuring of Nigeria means different things to different groups as well as the fact that we practise multiparty democracy which allows political parties to represent distinct methods of addressing national challenges as reflected in the party manifesto which the political parties use and canvass for electoral mandate needed for execution, let the political parties which want to restructure the country include their own version of restructuring in their manifesto.That way,the campaigns will enlighten Nigerians to understand what the political parties mean by their own version of restructuring for informed judgement during elections.
“That is how multiparty democracy works. It is not for any unelected groups of individuals who profess to be jaunty face of democratic values to try to force their preferences on the rest of the country undemocratically” Sani challenged Middle Belt and Southern groups over the 1999 Constitution, saying that they should be fair enough to tell Nigerians how the nation’s 1999 Constitution was produced since they are honest enough to say that it was an adoption of 1979 Constitution. He said if the groups didn’t know how the 1999 constitution was produced, they should keep quiet, adding that it is absurd for anyone to assert that the 1999 constitution was put together by the military in favour of the North.
“Since the the southern and middle belt groups have been honest enough to admit that the 1999 constitution is a whole sale adoption of that of 1979 constitution,it is fair for them to let Nigerians know how that of 1999 constitution was produced.
“And given the democratic processes that sired the 1979 constitution that is akin to how the American constitution was produced,it is morally preposterous of anybody or group to assert that the 1999 constitution was put together by the military in favour of the North.
“If the opponents of the 1999 constitution have facts in support of any position that it is not a clone of that of 1979 that was democratically produced,let them lay bare for Nigerians to see. And if they have reasons in support of any amendments of the 1999 constitution,they are at liberty to canvass for such amendments in the National Assembly.
“So while the clamor for new constitution by some vested interests may be understood,it is morally preposterous for them to submit that the constitution has not been produced democratically”.
The ex-ACF scribe explained how the 1999 constitution was produced. “The “49 Wise Men” put together in 1978 by General Obasanjo to bring a new constitution under the Chairman of Justice Udo Udoma did not have military personnel as members or any inputs by the military. “The Draft Constitution which the 49 wise men produced was debated by an Elected Constituent Assembly under the chairmanship of Chief Rotimi Williams. Here again there were no military members who participated in the deliberations of the elected constituent assembly.
“It was the outcome of the debates that were promulgated into the 1979 constitution under which those who profess to be jaunty face of democratic values contested for elected positions in 1979.They included Chiefs Awolowo, Dr Zik, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Mallam Aminu Kano and Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim.Others who contested in 1979 were Chiefs Bola Ige,Chief Ajasin and Chief Mbakwe.
When General Abacha died, General Abubakar Abdulsalami put up the Justice Nikki Tobi’s Committee to look at the two constitutions, to wit, of 1979 and 1995 to see the possibility of bringing about one constitution for the incoming democratic dispensation from the two constitutions.
“The Nikki Tobi Committee went round and consulted Stakeholders across the country and brought a verdict that most Nigerians preferred the wholesale adoption of the 1979 to be that of 1999.The only additions were the number of states and local governments that were created after 1979.That explains why the 1999 constitution is often tagged as the clone of that of 1979 constitution”, Sani explained.