…re-emphasis on the Supremacy of the Nigerian Constitution as a legal rule
Mindful of its vision of a renascent Africa that is peaceful, democratic, prosperous, and a major player in the global economy, the African Heritage Institution (AfriHeritage) and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) are strategically determined to work for a national constitution that will foster transformative development and countrywide integration in Nigeria. The 12 August, 2021 Big Ideas Podium was a collaborative effort between AfriHeritage and the NBA, Ikeja. The event, which was themed: “Reworking the Nigerian Constitution for National Transformation and Integration,” allowed for both in-person and virtual participations.
The 1999 Constitution failed tests of acceptability: first, through the process by which it was imposed (not negotiated); and second, through specific provisions on several highly contentious issues. For instance, problematic issues have ranged from citizenship, fiscal federalism, and regional autonomy to the distribution of powers between federal, state and local governments or between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of national government.
In order to achieve a more sustainable solution to such critical issues, the Big Ideas Podium sought contributions from key stakeholders -– including experts in public and constitutional laws, academics, and policymakers – with the brief to reflect critically and identify useful ideas on how best to rework our national constitution into an instrument for social change and inclusion, sustainable peace, economic growth, and development. The objective was to harvest practicable recommendations and feedbacks to inform the ongoing efforts aimed at constitutional reform.
During his welcome address, Professor Ufo Okeke-Uzodike (Executive Director, African Heritage Institution) stated that the current Nigerian constitution does not command the loyalty it should from its governments and peoples. “Nigeria remains on the brink of becoming an ungovernable state due to incessant disregard of existing laws and statutes guiding official policies and actions within the country. Nigerians are often faced with leaders who wrongfully position themselves above the law by ignoring or blatantly breaking them. It needs to be underscored that no nation can achieve sustained economic growth and transformative change and development without adhering to the rule of law. Clearly, Nigeria is now at crossroads since a continuous neglect for the rule of law will invariably trigger or breed anarchy and socioeconomic decay –- precursors for a plunge into an environment of impunity, crime without consequence, and survival of the fittest. In essence, for Nigeria, a meaningful and forward looking constitutional reform is not only an imperative, it is the right thing to do for social transformation, integration and lasting peace, and for human and national security”.
The Keynote address was delivered by Barr Justice C. Uhuegbu, Esq, principal head, (Justice Chambers) and the national president, Association for Good Governance. He noted succinctly that for national integration and transformation, there is an urgent need for critical constitutional amendment. “Transformation and Integration of Nigeria depends on a working constitution like in other nations around the world where the constitution is supreme. Taking a holistic look of the 1999 constitution of Nigeria as amended in 2018, we would agree that the said constitution still needs critical amendments. However, it must be underscored that the major challenge posed by the existing constitution in Nigeria is the non-implementation of useful provisions of the said constitution. For instance, there is a high level of impunity by members of the government, especially in the executive arm, who are sworn to protect, maintain, and defend the constitution. Currently, what we are experiencing as a nation and people is the aftermath of continuous and consistent abuse of constitutional tenets by people in authority. Nevertheless, the 1999 Nigeria Constitution needs constructive reworking that goes well beyond a mere amendment. Therefore, it is vital that all stakeholders involved in the reworking process must understand and take into cognizance the supremacy of the constitution as this cannot be over-emphasized”.
The discussants — Barr Adeyemi Abijo, Esq., co-founder of LegalHub Partnership, and Marvin Ibem, Esq., founding partner of Marvin Ibem & Co — and many notable stakeholders present, strongly buttressed the views expressed by the keynote speaker during their addresses and commentaries.