Economy General

Undermining the Supremacy of the Nigeria’s Constitution

Nigeria's Constitution

To me as a young man, the prevailing democratic dispensation has been a nightmarish adventure, whose direction is yet to be fully deciphered. My only surviving memories of a democratic government had been seeing the designer caps of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Solomon Lar, Akanbi Oniyangi and others on TV. I was yet to understand the political game since I was in the junior secondary school then. I was, therefore, among the teeming young Nigerians who prayed vehemently for the dawn of a new democracy as was to be put in place by General Abdulsalam`s transitional regime. We have repeatedly reminded that the worst democratic government is better than good military dictatorship.

Even though I am not a lawyer, I strongly believe that success at this period is attainable through the knowledge of the constitution. Therefore, since the emergence of this new administration, I have armed myself with a copy of the new constitution. But my dream of democracy as practised in other countries seems to have been dashed with the regular wrangling of the political class and the parties, which have refused to abide by the law guiding their interaction. The unwholesome melodrama unfolding daily is quite shameful and ridiculous. When the legislature and the executive are not feuding over financial responsibilities, they are flexing muscles over impeachment. When the religious leaders are not trading words over the constitutionality of the Sharia implementation, the restive youths are at daggers drawn with the law enforcement agencies over some sorts of rights. The rift has been exacerbated by sharp disagreements over what is presumably a perfect constitution.

The constitution is the system of law and principles by which a state is governed. Therefore, its sanctity must be respected and obeyed at all times. It is on this basis that the citizenry needs to acquaint themselves with its provisions, know their limitations, rights and expectations from the government. It is an undeniable fact that the Holy Qur’an and the Bible are divine and sacred books that guide the spiritual conduct of their respective followers to attain spiritual and social uplift. In the same vein, a constitution is a unifying factor binding on the entire citizenry where executive, legislative, and judicial influences should not be seen as breaching it without undergoing the most tedious and cumbersome of processes.

While browsing through the 1999 constitution, my handy companion, I was shocked to the marrow to discover that the claim by some sections of the Niger-Delta that the 13 per cent derivation as enshrined in the constitution is intended for the benefit of oil communities alone, is baseless. There is no place where oil or oil communities are ever mentioned. Section 162 (2) clearly states that the principle of derivation, which shall be constantly reflected in any approved revenue allocation formula, was not less than 13% of revenue accruing to the Federation Account directly from any natural resource. This is vividly understood to include other resource outside oil exploration.

While going further though the green book, It is appalling to note that before such an approval for the implementation of the derivation principle, the President must have received pieces of advice from the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), which he would then table before the National Assembly for passage. All these processes have not been met, but some states in the Niger-Delta region are already enjoying this with some even asking that the derivation principle be increased to 50 per cent. I wonder why the constitution is being flagrantly discountenanced.

To my greatest surprise, just recently after the announcement of the new minimum wage for civil servants, another bone of contention between the executive and legislature was a circular recommending the remuneration of President and all other political office holders proposed by the Salaries and Wages Commission. Checking the constitution again, the Salaries and Wages Commission, by its recommendation grossly contravened the constitutional provision which empowers the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission to recommend appropriate remunerations for the public officers at the federal and state levels. It seems the President and other senior officers too are misinformed on this contravention based on their comments on the issue. This can be seen in section 84 and 124 of the constitution. In fact, it even added that such remuneration will not exceed the amount as shall be determined by the recently constituted Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission. As a young man with the desire to always abide by the constitution, the rate at which our elders, political class and some respected institutions, treat the constitution with levity and reckless abandon, as if no law exists, portends a great threat to good governance, national unity and is capable of creating lawlessness and loss of confidence in our law.

Even though I had expected those whose rights have been unconstitutionally usurped to enlighten the public, I realized that some are passive due to the sensitive nature of their assignments. But an organization like the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, with a constitutional mandate which is being encroached upon, should not hesitate to rise up to the challenge by informing us adequately on its constitutional mandate, so as to block intruders.

The Hamman Tukur-led Commission, like other sensitive institutions that have an autonomy which is not subject to direct control of any other authority or person, should discharge its duties honourably without fear or favour and regularly keep us, the ordinary citizens, in the picture of their activities. In exercising its power, it should expedite action on its duties by advising the federal and state governments on fiscal efficiency and methods by which revenue can be increased. It should recommend in earnest appropriate salaries for political office holders for quick implementation, to minimize the persistent quest for more furniture allowance, foreign medical checkups, solidarity tours and other flimsy expenditure that should not be substituted with proper remuneration, the rightful entitlements of public officers.

The supremacy of the constitution is not in doubt; it is the binding force on all authorities and persons, throughout the federation. Any contrary action or inaction should be subjected to public condemnation and thrown into the dustbin as a nonentity.

This article by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in Nigerian Tribune May 26, New Nigerian June 6 and The Pyramid September 2000


About the author

Yushau Shuaib