Professor Ogaga Ifowodo is right in arguing in a recent Premium Times opinion that sovereignty belongs to the people and not the parliament. But what he does not do is to question the logical link through which the said sovereignty of the people could be exercised in a national conference, presumably by representatives of “Ethnic Nationalities” but not in parliament by elected representatives of parliamentary constituencies. In his piece, Ifowodo raised key points that have inspired my reflection in this article. I will dispense with the adjectives “ethnic” and “sovereign” in relation to the name of the conference although it is being theorised as being both.
To me the question of sovereignty over which Ifowodo and like-minds have lost much sleep is altogether moot and irrelevant – the peoples sovereignty is vested in elected representatives in perpetuity and could not for one moment be exercised directly. I question the reasoning that those who allegedly share ethnicity are assumed to share ideologies and could represent each other. It is just folly to imagine that Nigeria’s ‘ethnic nationalities’ have homogenous needs.
I am attracted to Ifowodo’s proposal for a referendum to legitimise the conclusions of the national conference. Away from the national conference, I think that crucial issues such as state creation, constitutional amendments, the size and cost of governance, the age and education limiting franchise among others ought to be routinely endorsed by referendum. According to Ifowodo, “our legislators insist that sovereignty resides not in the people but in them, the mere agents sent on an errand of executing the people’s will”. This sentence presents the weakest link in this argument. The location of sovereignty in Nigeria, is not open to speculation, it is constitutional.
While it is easy to quickly refer (in part) to Section 14(2)(a) and insist that “Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria”; this is not a formless, imaginary and ethnic “people” but a legal person defined in the preface to the constitution where it is stated that “we the people” (not “we the ethnic nationalities”) of Nigeria have enacted for ourselves and agreed to be bounded by the self-same constitution. So then it is right to insist that sovereignty of the Nigerian is located in the Parliament because Nigerians invested same in the parliament in the 1999 Constitution and went on to elect 469 individuals and charged them with law making. What kind of principal would send a messenger on an errand and then proceed to carry out the same errand without first relieving the messenger of his/her duties?
A constitution makes a people and the absence or collapse of a constitution unavoidably implies the absence of a people. What is going on is that people are wanting to be defined as citizens of Nigeria (as per chapter 3 of the Constitution) but insisting to take their own decisions contrary to chapter 5 of the same constitution which has invested our individual claims to sovereign decision-making in the parliament.
It is rather late in the day (night?) to question the constitutionality of the Nigerian Constitution on the one hand while making concerted efforts to amend as well as to obey it and use it to ensure law and order in our society on the other hand – without or outside of the constitution, there is no “people” to gather together in a national conference – there isn’t even a ‘nation’ or ‘citizens’ to speak of. Since a national conference is not envisaged in the constitution it is therefore not constitutional.
It is true that in case of disagreement between the principal (electorate) and the messenger (parliament), the principal supersedes. But those using this analogy must be careful to show that the principal they speak of is the one who sent the messenger on errand; the principal of each Nigerian legislator is only the constituency from which s/he was elected where ‘ethnic nationalities’ religious bodies, young and old, male and female are all subsumed under one parliamentary constituency. This is why we had the opportunity to assemble in our constituencies to debate on constitutional reform not too long ago. Perhaps we need another round of constituency deliberations; but if we create a conference of ethnic nationalities after we already have a parliament, we cannot retroactively argue that the newly created gathering of the tribes (Berlin Conference II) is the principal to our legislature! The parliament was not elected by tribes nor was the constitution drafted for ethnic nationalities!
I have watched the Okurounmu Committee on tour and listened to the views people place before it. I hope I am not the only one sensing the overwhelming similarity between the national conference consultation and the shelved constitutional review process. Some spectators have remarked that indeed the same faces and the same arguments are in both processes; it is a new constitution people really want. I have searched without success for a single demand meant for the national conference which cannot be placed before parliament. It seem to me that the main challenge some advocates of the national conference put forward is the inability of the parliament to listen and act as desired by Nigerians. If this is the situation, then I am waiting to be told why and how “our wishes” are guaranteed from a national conference but not from a national parliament.
In Ifowodo’s conclusion, he points to the “travesty” of “we the people” in the Nigerian constitution. His solution is simple, take out sovereignty from the constitution (including the parliament) and bestow same in the national conference [thereby shredding the constitution]. The question then which emerges is this: by what authority shall the magistrate sit while all sovereignty is bestowed in a room-full of ethnic Nigerians allegedly negotiating our future with greater sincerity than the parliament? Can Nigeria really boast of having more representative structures and individuals outside of its parliament?
Nengak Daniel Gondyi lives in Lagos, he can be reached by email through firstname.lastname@example.org.
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