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Michael NnebeSunday, February 9, 2014
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NATIONAL CONFERENCE …ALL ADO ABOUT NOTHING

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resident Jonathan should be commended for advocating and constituting a National Conference. Contrary to the opinions of many in the opposition, I believe that the president is sincere in his motives for doing this, and as far as I am concerned we should rather be talking than fighting. The problem, however, lies in the expectation of Nigerians on what this national conference will achieve. I have taken time to examine the law, the Constitution, and the practicality of all these, and concluded that at the end of the day it will achieve practically nothing. Even the president had acknowledged that recommendations of the national conference would be sent to the National Assembly, the only organ empowered to make national laws in this country, to either enact them or make constitutional amendments to accommodate those recommendations.

People have yearned for a Sovereign National Conference, citing section 14 (2) (A) of our Constitution, which states that "Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority." Section 14 in general deals with the relationship between the government and the people, and the people's right to participate in government at all levels. The more problematic of this argument, which made it impossible for the president or anybody to establish a Sovereign National Conference, is the fact that we already have a National Assembly, which is solely mandated by our Constitution to be the only body that can amend our Constitution under any circumstance. And most of all the Supremacy of our Constitution is enshrined in the first article of the first chapter in section 1 (1) of our Constitution, which states that "This Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria."

In the next month or so, about 492 Nigerians will emerge from all sections of the country to sit somewhere in Abuja for approximately three months, discussing and deliberating serious issues concerning Nigeria. They are expected to present their decisions to the president, and from there anything can happen. We have had several of these national conferences or dialogues before, and none of them have produced any recommendations that were implemented into our Constitution or even into our body of laws. Some presidents have used them in the past to serve personal needs, others have used them to divert attention away from the pressing issues of that moment, but collectively what they have in common is the none implementation of their recommendations. I suspect that the outcome of this conference would not be any different. For example, I can foresee the Igbos at this conference arguing that the Southeast deserves another state to bring it in line with all the other five zones in Nigeria. Even if the conference adopts this request, it can never be made possible without a Constitutional amendment on state creation which under our existing requirement is just impossible to accomplish today.

In my opinion, our Constitution is actually a good document. Our Constitution is not our problem, the implementations or lack of implementations of its words and intentions are the problem. It is also a more comprehensive document than that of many other countries. I had the privilege of examining several countries Constitutions and found that Nigeria's Constitution provided a solid basis for a serious minded legislature and country to build a more perfect union. The original Constitution of the United States was drafted by 55 men (who attended out of 65) all appointed from different parts of the colonies in 1787. Only 39 men signed the original draft. It was finally ratified and approved by congress in 1791. This original document was only a couple of pages long, with seven articles. The ten articles of the Bill of Rights would follow later in 1791, and the subsequent twenty-seven amendments followed over the next two hundred years until 1992. Nigeria Constitution as it stands today is far more comprehensive than everything in the American Constitution. I have a copy which I bought while at Nigeria Law School Victoria Island 2000/2001 which has 160 pages. The latest copy with the amendments has even more pages. The US Constitution in total (The Bill of Rights and all the amendments included) is still less than twenty pages in the boldest of prints.

The bottom line is that we can work with what we have, and amend as needed, but unfortunately Nigerians want everything to be perfect overnight. The US Constitution did not provide for the people to vote directly for the presidents or senators. It took until an amendment in 1913 to allow for direct election by popular votes to go to the senate. Term limit on the presidency did not occur until 1951, lowering of voting age to 18 did not happen until 1971 etc. Even today, US presidency is still not elected by popular votes despite all the charades you watch on television. It is all done in the Electoral College. Thomas Jefferson was the first to become president even without majority of votes in the Electoral College. And if you think that these were ancient events, perhaps I need to remind you that in the year 2000 Al Gore scored about 600,000 more votes than George Bush yet he did not become president because the people's votes just didn't matter as Bush was elected president at the Electoral College. Today, Americans are agitating for an amendment in their Constitution to make presidential election strictly by popular votes. If this agitation continues, it may well happen, but it could easily take another 50 years. Good and important stuff may sometimes take a while to accomplish.

We need to learn to work with what we have, and amend this comprehensive Constitution as and when needed. Our problem is that Nigerians are often not interested in taking charge of our affairs and pursuing it to fruition. Our public servants and our politicians do not care to apply the words of our Constitution in their daily practice, and as a result nothing is done properly in this country. For example, this morning I was watching a show on Channels television where the Managing Director of NNPC said categorically that no one has communicated directly to the NNPC that the kerosene subsidy had been abolished by Yar'adua's government since 2009. So five years after the presidential directive NNPC is still buying kerosene at #150 and selling to marketers at #40. Isn't that amazing that these agencies are not even communicating. The United Kingdom has no written Constitution and they have done rather well democratically dating back to the Magna Carta in 1215. They have operated on parliamentary laws and case laws without any problem. The truth is that we can convey one of these conferences every other year and talk all we want, our problem, really, is not the Constitution, but rather our inability to operate according to the words and the meanings of our Constitution, and to remain patient and amend as we go along. It will not happen overnight, and this National Conference is simply all ado about nothing. It will not solve our numerous problems though I wish it could.

Michael Nnebe is a former Wall Street Investment Banker and the Author of several novels, including; Every Dream Has A Price, Riverside Park, Blood Covenant, Gloomy Shadows, Passing wishes, Prime Suspect, and others.

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