Constitution review and land swap: Talking about a revolution . . .

Posted by Emmanuel Onwubiko | 1 May 2013 | 3,042 times

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Emeka Ihedioha, the urbane-looking gentleman politician from a humble but deeply religious Mbaise, Imo State background, has carved a niche for himself as one young patriotic Nigerian that believes in using his innate talents to serve the public good of Nigeria and the citizenry.

The Deputy Speaker of Nigeria’s Federal House of Representatives has on more than one occasion proven his mettle as a man in a hurry to etch his good name on the political landscape of Nigeria. The latest evidence is the completion of a national assignment given to him alongside his legislative colleagues to collate the report of Nigerians’ views on critical areas that require fundamental amendments in the 1999 Constitution in conformity with section 9[1] of the constitution and in keeping with the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians.

I have decided to make brief comment on the outcome of this national exercise supervised by Deputy Speaker Emeka Ihedioha which is adjudged as one of the best executed national assignments by the political class in the last two decades.

In this same piece, the move by the professional journalist-turned-politician, Senator Bala Mohammed, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), to introduce an innovative approach to radical infrastructural development known as land swap would also be featured in very brief terms.

The thread that binds the two events together is the fact that they passed the test of international democratic best practices of seeking the opinion of the citizens who own the process.

Writing in the book Democratic Governance And International Law edited by the duo of Gregory H, Fox and Brad R. Roth, Mr. Thomas M. Franck who did a chapter titled “Legitimacy and the democratic entitlement” stated clearly thus: “Democracy, as etymology suggests, concerns the role of the people in governance. The right to democracy is the right of the people to be consulted and participate in the process by which political values are reconciled and choices made...”

On the specific issue of constitution amendments which on Thursday, April 18, 2013 witnessed the epochal public presentation of the outcome of the nationwide public debate on areas of amendments. A particular revolutionary idea which sailed through the series of national debate conducted in each of the over 364 federal constituencies was the collective decision of Nigerians to upgrade chapter two of the constitution which is the fundamental directive principles of state policies to the exalted status of justiciability just like the chapter four of the constitution. 

By this decision, which in itself constitutes a revolution by Nigerians, the people have loudly told the Federal House of Representatives to include safeguards which will compel public office holders to become legally accountable and responsible to the yearnings and aspirations of the citizenry in the area of democracy dividends and/or delivery of developmental projects to the various constituencies equitably to positively transform the living standards of Nigerians.

Another good decision by Nigerians is the amendment of the draconian and undemocratic immunity clause of section 308 which according to Nigerians should only apply to civil proceedings while the elected governors/deputy governors, president and vice president serve out their respective terms. Now if the decision reached by Nigerians at the public debates by the Federal House is concurred by the Senate, then public office holders hitherto covered by the immunity clause can be brought to justice for any crime of corruption committed.

Sadly, Nigerians reportedly were too slow to permit the creation of state police which in my thinking is one of the best solutions to the unprecedented rise in social crime which the current federal policing institution has failed to keep in check. Since the Nigeria Police Force has failed why not try state and local policing institution?

Now we move briefly to the important issue of land swap in the Federal Capital Territory which is currently buffeted by a groundswell of opposition by the indigenous ethnic groups who are seeking for inclusion in the ownership of the newly worked out memorandum of understanding between the government – which will have 40% – and prospective investors for the land swap who would have 60%.

My first reaction when I was told by Mr. Nosike Ogbuenyi, the hardworking and forward-looking media aide of the FCT Minister, about a public event planned by his principal was to say that land is a spirit and so it is not a very easy thing to deal with.

My take is that the indigenous owners of Abuja lands which are to be swapped must be adequately carried along by the ministry even as I support any reasonably humane move to bring about radical infrastructural development in the territory.

The FCT Minister said land swap is being introduced because resources for infrastructure are dwindling and that government won’t remain “Father Christmas” forever. But I ask, what is inherently evil in being ‘Father Christmas’ as long as the very poor who have no sustainable livelihood are given social housing to promote their constitutionally protected fundamental human right to dignity of the human person? Happily, though, Bala Mohammed should know that the human rights of the weak ought to be protected in every government policy.    

At the recently held town hall meeting, we were told the following facts concerning the concept of land swap:

“The policy of land swap which is a development initiative recently introduced by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) involves the granting of land to competent real estate developers who will in turn provide infrastructure, such as good roads, electricity, portable water, storm water drainage, sewer lines and communication ducts to the residents, without any financial or technical demand to the government.”

Further, we were told: “The land swap approach to infrastructure funding is not new in the world. It is a land-based financing of infrastructure, which the World Bank has endorsed as suitable for any country that is experiencing budget crisis. Many developed and developing countries like France, Japan, the United States, China, Denmark, Egypt and India found it necessary to adopt land-based financing techniques during periods of rapid urban growth like we are experiencing now in Abuja. The underlying basic philosophy is infrastructure development to keep pace with urban growth.”

Even the most hardened doubting Thomas will agree that any initiative aimed at bringing about development in any human community is acceptable. Some questions, however, arise, such as: At what cost to the ecosystem and the original inhabitants who would be dispossessed of their ancestral landed property to be awarded to private sector investors whose primary goal is profit? Will the FCT administrators introduce legal framework to protect the ecosystem and stop these private sector investors from destroying some economic trees that promote green environment?

Another question is what has become of the Justice Akinola Aguda report on the FCT which stated that Abuja is not a “no-man’s-land” but a land for all Nigerians? Why did the past administrations fail to complete the compensation and resettlement agenda built into the original plan for the Federal Capital Territory? Did government officials embezzle these compensation packages meant for Gwaris? If the answer is yes, who are the culprits and why are they (the thieves who stole the compensation money) still not in Kuje Prison?

Importantly, there is a political fact that the six area councils are led by indigenous tribal persons. Why have they failed to empower their people with quality primary and post-primary education and why are the original Abuja inhabitants so educationally disadvantaged inspite of the fact that their sons and daughters have over the past decade run the six area councils in Abuja?

•Onwubiko, whose photo appears alongside this piece, is Head, Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria. He blogs at www.huriwa.blogspot.com


Source: News Express

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