The seventh Beko Memorial Anniversary Symposium held in honour of the late human rights activist, Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti, has afforded prominent Nigerians the opportunity to call for the rejection of the country’s 1999 Constitution and the attempt by members of the National Assembly to amend it.
Prof. Itse Sagay These prominent Nigerians including constitutional lawyer, Prof. Itse Sagay, former Vice Chancellor, international law consultant, Prof. Akin Oyebode, former military governor of Lagos state, Ndubisi Kanu, founder of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Dr. Frederick Fasehun, and several others who spoke at the event with the theme 'Constitutional Gridlock: The Way Out,' said nothing good would come out of the current amendment exercise being carried out by members of the National Assembly.
Their verdict is based on their argument that the National Assembly, like the presidency, is filled with people who are more concerned with lining their pockets rather than for the good governance of the country.
Also they claimed that the constitution being operated in the country was prepared in 1999 by just 25 people appointed by the military to do the latter’s bidding.
They said members elected into the National Assembly in 1999 only got to see the constitution that purportedly brought them to office weeks after they were elected.
They said the only way the country could get out of its present predicament is for the people to produce a new constitution through a constituent assembly and referendum unlike the "charade carried out by members of the House of Representatives and Senate recently."
Wondering why the constitution should be binding on the people that do not even know its contents, Prof Oyebode disclosed that one of the drafters of the constituion had confessed that 25 hand-picked Nigerians wrote it.
He said rather than call it the Nigerian constitution, it should better be referred to as the Abdulsalam or Olusegun Obasanjo constitution because it was prepared by Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar to make it easy to install Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as the president then.
He lamented that former President Obasanjo had the opportunity to redress the situation but refused. He asked Nigerians not to be optimisitc about the current review by the legislators, describing it as an exercise in futility.
Describing the members of the National Assembly as the least qualified to create a constitution for the country on behalf of the people, he said the best way to go should have been for the ethnic groups in the country to make presentations which should then be articulated by those versed in constitution drafting after which a referendum is done.
He said the constitution had undergone over 200 amendments since 1999 because it is a flawed document foisted on the people.
"The National Assembly must not make itself the one to write the constitution for Nigeria. There are those who are specialists in the act.
"The National Assembly is not the constituent assembly and its members should stop telling us they have a mandate to re-write the constitution for us.
"They are to make laws for the good governance of the country. Legality is different from legitimacy.
"The constitution is fraudulent. And the earlier we begin to think of a constitution from the people, the better for us," he said.
He added that Nigeria is taking care of a "suffocating federalism", lamenting that the country’s federal government had become very powerful. He said as a result, the people must make the federal government shed some of its weight.
For Prof. Sagay, the country must not expect a federal constitution from these set of federal legislators who he described as part of the problems plaguing the country.
Prof. Sagay who said Nigerians know what they want about the constitution, listed the President, the Vice President and members of the National Assembly as habouring anti-federalist tendencies.
"They feel they are they ones benefiting from the federalist system and therefore would never support any move to reduce the concentrations at the centre.
"They want an autonomous local government even though they know that the local governments are part of a state and the state could determine how many it wants to create."
Another set of anti-federalist tendencies, according to him, are the northern politicians who think the presidency is their birthright.
"Before independence, the north had been suspicious of the entire Nigeria. So from the beginning, it was the belief that for us to live as one, the country should be federalised.
"In 1966, the north wanted a confederal system. Then oil was discovered and the north made a volte face.
"I just read in the papers that the north is currently looking at the new All Progressives Congress (APC) to know if it could be possible to come up with a northern president, the Igbos are saying they are to produce the president in 2015 and the south-south is saying they are most qualified. In all these, none of them thinks about good governance.
"We should begin to rid our minds from the debris that the presidency must be from our side. It amounts to political immaturity.
"The APC must not begin to look at negotiating with some sections of the country. Look among yourselves, pick the best choice and damn the rest," he advised.
All the other participants at the symposium agreed that the country needed a brand new constitution as they all agreed that their position be conveyed to the National Assembly.
Other Nigerians at the event included Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti state, representatives of Babatunde Fashola of Lagos and Rauf Aregbesola of Osun of Ogun, Senator Babafemi Ojudu.
Others included civil rights activists, Moshood Erubami, Olasupo Ojo, Debo Adeniran, Tony Nnadi, Femi Falana, Bamidele Aturu, the Ransome-Kuti family members, Prof. Bayo Okunade, Commissioner for Transportation, Lagos state, Kayode Opeifa, and a host of others.