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Random musings on constitutional amendments

By News Express on 22/06/2016

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As the intellectual head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria

(HURIWA), I’m hereby writing on behalf of the nearly 10,000 registered members of the

organisation. For almost 10 years of registration, HURIWA has been actively engaged in carrying out advocacy programmes, with the fundamental aims and objectives of promoting, protecting and nurturing respect for human rights of the citizenry, and for the enthronement of a law-based democracy in Nigeria.

We write randomly to appreciate the renewed but seemingly unending effort by the National Assembly to strengthen the constitution through fundamental amendments. We say your

constitutional amendment enterprise has seemingly become a regular feature of all the sessions of the National Assembly. We shall start by asking the 8th National Assembly to take greater time to ensure that this would be the last time in many decades to come that the Nigerian Constitution would be tinkered with particularly, because the tax payers are made to cough out humongous amount of money that is usually frittered in the processes leading to the

constitutional amendments.

We have watched with considerable trepidation the attempt by some of the members of the

Constitutional Amendment Committee of the National Assembly who met at a retreat in Lagos at the weekend to reduce the process of amending the nation’s grund norm to a season of

redistribution of our commonwealth to the elite. The suggestion, whether remotely or otherwise, of the introduction of life pension for principal leaders of the National Assembly is not only selfish, self-serving and irrational, but goes a long way in painting the graphic picture of a committee that may turn out to be just as bad and pecuniary-inclined as all the other previous committees that unsuccessfully attempted to amend the 1999 Constitution.

What are the germane and/or key questions that must be answered logically by those privileged to amend our national constitution?

The issue of insecurity and police reforms are as critical as the need to consolidate provisions that clothes the anti-graft agencies with more powers to wage law-based war against corruption, which remains a hydra-headed monster. The policing institution in Nigeria is weak and compromised so a lot of places in Nigeria are left without security, which brings us to the imperative of creating a state police. The current Nigeria Police Force has a notorious origin: the  colonialists who set it up made it primarily to serve as defenders and protectors of the few ruling class. There is, therefore, the need to properly situate the Nigeria Police in such a way that national security and not personal security of executive officials of government would be their focus. The current police force is farcical and rotten from top to bottom, thereby making it imperative that the entire institution be overhauled through the constitutional amendment process. That armed hoodlums unleash violence on innocent people is precipitated by a weak and inefficient policing institution. Corollary, the judiciary must be reformed to weed out unprincipled judges with ethical challenges.

As our humble contribution to the success of the constitutional amendment process, we shall undertake to carry out massive enlightenment campaigns to sensitise Nigerians on the imperative of supporting the ongoing amendments so as to make it the very last for many decades to come. Also, we charge the National Assembly's constitutional amendments committee to introduce provisions that would institutionalise anti-graft fight as a truly pan-Nigerian project and stop the agencies from playing politics of he who pays the piper should dictate the tune. As a starting point, the immunity clause in Section 308 (1) should be deleted, so that certain Nigerians are not clothed by the Constitution to be lawless. A situation whereby the President, Vice-President, Governors and their Deputies are treated as sacred cows throughout their tenures is unsustainable and amount to the promotion of impunity. This section 308 has created monsters out of these set of executive officials of the Nigerian state excluded from criminal prosecution.

Section 308 is similar to what the North Korean dictator enjoys. This immunity clause breeds

corruption, which breeds poor governance and mass poverty on an unpardonable scale.

We are of the firm belief that corruption among politically exposed persons is the root cause of

all human rights violations. That thousands of Nigerians die from seemingly curable ailments,

such as malaria fever and typhoid, due to collapsed health infrastructures, is a product of Section 308 of the Constitution, which makes these benefitting executives of the state as persons who are above the law.

As a human rights group, we called on the previous constitution amendment committees of the National Assembly to wipe out the immunity clause. But our pleas fell on deaf ears. Besides, our platforms made up basically of committed patriots who work on voluntary basis have often engaged in the advocacy activities that promote good governance. We commend President Muhammadu Buhari for the recently published manifesto for waging law-based war against corruption, which was presented in London recently at a global anti-graft forum hosted by the government of Great Britain. We make haste to however observe that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has yet to show sufficient respect for the constitutional provisions that speak to the issue of respect for the fundamental rights of the accused as expounded in Section 36(5) thus: “Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty. Provided that nothing in this section shall invalidate any law by reason only that the law imposes upon any such person the burden of proving particular facts.”

The resort to sensationalism and media trial of suspects by the EFCC is painting a graphic

picture of a failed state, because a functional democracy is rule based and the functionaries are

obliged to respect the provisions of the law, especially chapter four of the constitution.

Whereas we applaud government for going after suspected corrupt politicians, we however urge government to extend the searchlights to all the political parties that ran for elections in 2015, because we are living witnesses of how money played dominant role in the various campaigns by all the parties. Regrettably, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was complicit in the fraudulent deployment of heavy financial muscles by major political parties, which engaged in the bonanza of distributing freebies such as branded essential commodities. All the parties spent hugely in advertisements which can easily be audited to determine their levels of breaches to the rules on campaign funding, but as I highlighted above, INEC has constituted itself into a monumental obstacle to the enthronement of accountability and transparency. May we commend the EFCC for recently going after top level INEC officials who colluded with corrupt politicians of all parties to betray the trust of Nigerians by demanding and obtaining heavy bribes to manipulate the outcome of elections in Nigeria. We call for the wholesale reform of the INEC, and for the appointment of chairman and commissioners of INEC to be advertised and selected by independent panel of international management consultants.

Let the Constitution amendments reflect ways and means of keeping critical institutions that

fight corruption from the overwhelming control of the Presidency, with a view to finding a generic mechanism of reflecting in the constitution a provision: that all the institutions created to fight corruption must be fundamentally independent, in such a way that the appointment and removal of the heads of such institutions does not reside exclusively in either the Presidency or the National Assembly. This should serve as safeguard for insulating them from executive or legislative whims and caprice. Also, the staffing of such anti-corruption institutions must be liberalised, to bring in only competent experts in criminology, and not the status quo whereby members of the Police form major segments of the staff.

We also call on the Constitution Amendment Committee to, among other functions of the

Attorney-General of the Federation, compel the holder of such office to regularly publish

acceptable guidelines on how stakeholders and credible Civil Society groups could gain access

to all detention facilities run by the EFCC, ICPC, DSS, NPF and the military, because of the

notorious fact that grave crime of human rights violations, such as torture, take place in the

secrecy of these cells. Recently, a suspect died in EFCC cell. The reason is the need to consolidate chapter two with chapter four of the Constitution, to make the salient provisions in chapter two as enforceable as those of chapter four. Such basic provisions that speak to the issue of Federal Character principles, rights to quality healthcare, and housing must be made enforceable, to stop governors from siphoning public funds meant for such critical sectors. If this is achieved, the era of governors coming cap-in-hand to beg for bail-outs would be over since there would be provisions making it punishable for governors to divert state resources meant for those critical sectors.

We also invite the Senate Constitution Amendment Committee to work transparently with state governments on flashpoints of extra-legal killings, such as the sad incident of killing of civilian demonstrators by armed security forces in Onitsha, Anambra State to find ways and means to mount constitutional bulwarks against the use of lethal weapons against civilians.

There are widespread disappearances of suspected members of the Indigenous People of Biafra

and MASSOB. The office of AGF must by law be compelled to wade into these sad events to

stop the ongoing massive migration of Igbo youth to foreign countries, because of well-grounded fears of political persecutions, extra-judicial legal killings, and forced disappearances of persons suspected to be sympathetic to IPoB and Nnamdi Kanu.

Dear National Assembly members, we believe that these phenomena of extra-legal executions of innocent citizens are grave and disturbing; so the coming Constitution must specifically create an ombudsman to monitor how armed security forces deploy their weapons during the periods they exercise their duties. Every act of use of weapons by law enforcement authorities must be subjected to forensic audits.

We invite you to look at the report prepared by Amnesty International on the Onitsha genocide

and build in a strong provision to compel the attorney-general to prosecute the specific security

officials on ground in the South-east or anywhere else, who authorise the operatives to open fire with live bullets on protesters. The current Constitution Amendment Committee must protect the right of citizens to protest lawfully, because free speech and freedom of peaceful assembly are the bedrocks of democracy.

We call on you to create provisions whereby the Attorney-General of the Federation can be

compelled to prosecute all arrested terrorists who have killed over 25,000 Nigerians. We reject

any policy that would grant amnesty to mass-murderers. So, those amending the constitution can make or mar history by introducing constitutional provisions to use other lawful means to

compel the Attorney-General of the Federation to competently prosecute terrorists whenever they are caught. We endorse the decision to separate the Offices of Federal Attorney-General from that of Minister of Justice, to make it imperative for non-partisan professional to head the Office of Federal Attorney-General. Appointments of politically-tainted lawyers as Attorneys-General of the Federation and Ministers of Justice since 1999 is responsible for the level of impunity in Nigeria.

A stitch in time saves nine.

RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). He can be reached via 08033327672 (sms only) or via doziebiko@yahoo.com

Source News Express

Posted 22/06/2016 8:15:19 PM

 

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