Spokesperson of the Northern Elders Forum, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, has called for caution over the Constitution amendment exercise at the National Assembly, warning that governors may selfishly alter the process.
The elder statesman spoke about the ongoing exercise on Wednesday on a monitored Channels Television programme, a day after lawmakers voted on more than 60 proposed amendments to the 1999 Constitution.
Tuesday’s vote has generated controversy and debates with some praising some of the endorsed amendments including local government autonomy and others blasting the lawmakers for rejecting some proposed proposed amendments especially all those aimed at improving the lot of women in politics and governance.
“We need to be careful,” Dr Baba-Ahmed said. “This is a process that we haven’t seen the end of. I am afraid, particularly going by recent experience in the 8th Senate, it is too early to even pass a verdict on even those things that you might think represent progress, retrogression or indifference or just pure crass selfishness.”
He expects that this ‘crass selfishness’ will be on full display when the amendments are sent to state assemblies for ratification and some of the amendments okayed by the National Assembly, which have been praised, can get rejected, further reducing the positives from the exercise.
“These amendments have to go to state assemblies and that is when you see just how powerful governors are,” Dr Baba-Ahmed said. “That’s where you see some of the defects in the Constitution; not so much in the Constitution, but in the way the political process works against the wish of the Constitution.
“Because governors have literally pocketed legislators at state level, what is likely to come out is that 95% of what the legislators will agree will be what governors want.”
Baba-Ahmed is cautious because he has seen a similar process before and it did not yield the result he expected.
“This is what we saw in the last Senate. A lot of the amendments that you’ve seen debated yesterday, assented to yesterday (Tuesday) or rejected, we saw in the last Senate,” he said.
Baba-Ahmed traced the problem to the Nigerian Constitution and the democratic system being used in the country.
“We are running a democracy that is working for those who wield power rather than the people who put them in place,” he said.
In trying to consolidate their grip in power, there have been instances where amendments widely expected to strenghten the country’s democracy and governance have been rejected.
Baba-Ahmed shared an instance of such a scenario.
He said, “The bottom line is that the people who will have the final say, if it is the state assemblies, are likely to say what the governors want to see, including rejecting clauses that give them powers.
“This is the most ridiculous thing. In the 8th Senate, an amendment went through the two chambers of the National Assembly, an amendment that would have given them direct access to their resources, and what came back from the state assemblies was rejection.
“So, the flaw in our Constitution is that it designs a democratic system that is actually the hostage of a political process that works only for the led. Our democracy is a government of the powerful for the powerful by the powerful. Nigerians have very little say.”