“If we fail in finding a solution to our political and constitutional problem, then anybody can say that Nigeria will soon come to an end. Everybody will go on his own way.”
-Late Chief FRA Williams (SAN).
The rationale behind the above view expressed by the late legal luminary while presenting an amendment bill proposed by a group of eminent Nigerians under the aegis of PATRIOTS in the year 2001 still subsists till today. This is because the 1999 Constitution is fraught with many inadequacies and contains some ambiguities and rough edges which need to be straightened and sharpened.
And since 1999 when the constitution came into operation, it has generated a lot of controversies among Nigerians, especially among the six geo-political zones of the country. But for the judiciary which has helped to illuminate some of the grey areas and dark alleys of the constitution, Nigeria perhaps would have been throw into deep constitutional crisis.
In a book written by Chief Omowale Kuye, former permanent secretary and Director of Budget during the Babangida regime titled “A review of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” Chief Kuye stated that the 1999 Constitution is the strangest federal document ever produced anywhere in the world. It was in realization of this that several attempts have been made to review the 1999 Constitution. The first attempt was in 2001 when former President Olusegun Obasanjo set up the presidential committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution. This exercise was, however aborted.
Another attempt was made in 2006 when the Senator Ibrahim Mantu led Constitution Review Committee gallivanted around the six geo-political zones in the country collating peoples’ views on the areas of amendment in the 1999 Constitution. Sadly, the zonal presentation of what later appeared as an orchestrated amendment turned out to be a grandiloquent deception, while the Mantu led review committee itself was a fool’s errand, or better still a carrot used to keep politicians busy and perpetuate Obasanjo’s government in power under the guise of ‘third term.’
Recently however, another constitution review committee headed by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu was inaugurated by President Umar Musa Yar’Adua. The brief of the committee was to look at the 1999 Constitution, and with a tooth comb, fish out grey areas that require amendment for the good governance of the country.
Two weeks ago, the Ekweremadu led Senate committee embarked on the zonal public hearing on the review of the 1999 Constitution. At the two day South-South public hearing in Port Harcourt on December 14 and 15, some of the issues that generated public concern and discontent include electoral reform, system of government, power succession, inequitable number of States, power and revenue sharing, resource control, Land Use Act and the problem of militancy in the Niger Delta, among others.
In the submission of the government and people of Rivers State, they faulted Nigeria’s system of governance, describing it as unitary. In the submission presented by the Rivers State governor, Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, the Rivers people contended that the present system of governance concentrates enormous power on the federal government to the detriment of the State governments. They hinged the thrust of their position on the need for Nigeria to practice true federalism whereby the federating units would be controlling their resources and pay taxes to the central government. They therefore urged the constitutional review committee to amend section 44 (3) and the proviso to section 162 (3) of the 1999 Constitution which vest the control and management of every resources under or upon any land in Nigeria, or in, under or upon the territorial waters on the federal government.
Delta State in its own submission also argued that the overbearing unitary provisions of the 1999 Constitution diminishes substantially the spirit and letters of the federalism, as envisaged by the founding fathers of the country; and that it has left the States of the Niger Delta prostrate and appendage of the federal government. The State therefore demanded for the radical review of the 1999 constitution, especially sections 4, 5 and 6 and all obnoxious laws such as the Petroleum Act and the Land Use Act, etc to enthrone true federalism and fiscal federalism.
Resource control in particular has been a major source of disagreement between the Niger Delta States and the federal government, and for which many indigenes of the area including the reknown environmentalist, Ken Saro-Wia have paid the supreme price. The 1999 Constitution does not provide enough autonomous for State governments and their people to control their natural resources. There is also insufficient legal framework to promote and sustain the socio-economic aspiration of the people and environment.
Another issue that generated concern of the South-South people is the Land Use Act. Section 315 (5) of the Constitution puts the Land Use Act as well as other laws mentioned therein, on the same level as the Constitution such that they can only be amended in accordance with the provisions of section 9 (2) of the 1999 Constitution.
In a presentation made by the Ijaw National Congress (INC), it demanded the expurgation of section 315 (5) and the Land Use Act from the 1999 constitution.
According to the INC president, Dr A. W. Obianime (JP), it was undemocratic to dispossess Nigerians of their lands through the instrumentality of what he described as a “wicked Land Use Act.”
The Rivers government in its own views proposed that the saving provisions of section 315 (5) as it relates to the Land Use Act should be amended, by deleting section 315 (5) (d) of the Constitution.
On the local government reforms, the South South contends that since the local government areas (LGAs) fall within the territory and control of the States, the State governments should have powers to create local government areas as they dim fit without recourse to the National Assembly as is presently provided for in the 1999 Constitution. The Rivers State government therefore urged the Constitution Review Committee to amend sections 3 (6) and 162 (3), while section 162 (5 & 7) be deleted.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) anchored its own submission on electoral reform. According to the NLC, the 1999 Constitution should be amended to ensure transparency of the electoral process, right from the composition of the electoral commission, the registration process, voting procedure, custody of the electoral materials after election, among others. It said that because the composition of the electoral commission is “crucial to the conduct of a legitimate, credible, acceptable, free and fair election,” the commission should be genuinely independent and autonomous, while the commission’s financing should be charged to the consolidated revenue fund.
This position was supported by a non-governmental organization, Coalition for Change. The coalition said that the INEC should be made a national body, (and not a federal executive body) that would not be subject to manipulations, whims and caprices of either the president or the political party in power.
The NLC added that because the existing voting procedure is fraught with many inadequacies and open to fraudulent manipulations, the modified open-secret ballot system should be adopted, where voters would be counted to ensure that the number of voters do not exceed the accredited voters.
The Delta State in its own views on the electoral reform, posited that sections 178 and 179 of the constitution be amended such that the election of a governor would be conducted by the Electoral Commission, while electoral disputes relating to the election of State governors would be resolved by State Electoral Tribunal, with the High Court as the appellate and final court to determine electoral disputes.
Other identified shortcomings in the 1999 Constitution include sections 68 (1) (g) and 109 (1) (g) which provide for cross-carpeting to another political party after a person had been elected on the platform of a political party. The Coalition for Change, in its proposal said it is immoral and unconscionable to transfer the mandate given to one political party to another party that was defeated in an election. It contended that the mandate given by the electorates belongs to the political party and not the individuals and therefore cannot be transferred.
According to the coalition, the hopes, ideals and aspirations of the electorates would be dashed when the persons elected on the platform of a particular political party decamp to another party. It therefore sought the amendment of sections 68 (1) (g) and 109 (1) (g) of the 1999 Constitution.
The clamour for the federal legislature to address the shortcomings in the Nigerian constitution has been a growing one dating back to the inception of the current democratic dispensation. And the Deputy Senate President accepted that previous attempts by the National Assembly to amend the 1999 Constitution had been unsuccessful. The just concluded zonal hearings across the six geo-political zones in the country therefore were to give the Nigerian people, especially the people at the grassroot a renewed platform to once again ventilate their views on the 1999 Constitution.
But wouldn’t the Ekweremadu led Senate committee fall into the pitfalls of past exercises? This is a question only time can answer.
Addressing Threat Of EIDs In Africa
Participants at the just-concluded 5th African Conference on Emerging Infection Diseases and Biosecurity, held in Abuja, agreed that African countries must strengthen their National Public Health Institutes (NPHIs).
They said that strengthening the institutes would enable the countries mitigate infectious disease outbreaks caused by climate change and biological weapons.
They noted that the continent had continued to experience increased cases of Emerging Infectious Diseases (EIDs) like Ebola, Lassa Fever , Yellow Fever, Monkey Pox, Cholera, Bird Flu and Meningitis.
They also noted cases of drug-resistant diseases like Malaria, Tuberculosis and Bacterial pneumonias.
Available statistics indicate that infectious diseases are responsible for about one-quarter of deaths worldwide, causing at least 10 million deaths annually, mainly in the tropical countries.
Experts say that public health plays a leading role in the areas of preparedness and planning to check outbreak of diseases.
In most situations, the public health system would be the first to detect cases and raise alarm, it would also be at the front line throughout the response.
The Director-General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, echoed the need for African countries to combat emerging infectious diseases, through strong NPHIs.
Ihekweazu, who spoke at the conference with the theme: “Climate Change and Conflict: Implication for Emerging Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity in Africa,’’ stressed that Africa must mitigate the infectious disease outbreaks caused by climate change and biological weapons.
He stressed the need for a strong surveillance and response system managed by skilled public health experts.
Ihekweazu emphasised that African countries must demonstrate high level of preparedness to check disease outbreaks.
“Early detection through a sensitive surveillance system is required to know when and where the outbreak occurs to limit its spread.
“ Most importantly, a coordinated and rapid investigation is required to describe the outbreak and identify interventions,” Ihekweazu said.
Prof. Morenike Ukpong-Folayan, in her contribution, noted that Africa had continued to witness devastating consequences of infectious disease transmission such as the Ebola crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ukpong-Folayan, who is of the College of Health Sciences, Obafemi Awolowo University, said to understand and respond to infectious disease transmission dynamics, it would require collective efforts and deployment of technological advances at Africa’s disposal.
She said the transmission patterns were needed for continuous investigation of those complex relationships so that the continent could effectively predict future disease outbreaks.
“The rapid degradation of our environment in the form of deforestation, climate change and accumulation of toxins in water tables and the atmosphere, coupled with rapidly expanding megacities is creating opportunities for EIDs and biosecurity threats in Africa,” she added.
Ukpong-Folayan noted that shrinking natural resources was creating human competition for water and grazing, leading to demographic conflicts.
Akin Abayomi, a professor of Medicine and Health Science said that “ poor management of waste and unchecked use of chemicals have contributed to the rise of infectious diseases.’’
Abayomi who is the principal investigator for Global Emerging Pathogens Treatment Consortium, said: “Whatever we do on the surface of the earth is reflected in the water table that ends up carrying pathogens and heavy metals that are harmful to the body.
“The pressure on water is enormous, when we look at the drying up of the Lake Chad, a source of livelihood for 350 million people in four countries – Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad, it has increased tension in the region.
“Wherever you have conflicts and insecurity, there is always the opportunity for biosecurity threats.”
Making reference to why Ebola spread rapidly in three countries– Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, he listed the reasons to include: “Lack of human resources, economic and financial resources to cope.
“The inaccessibility of remote locations where the disease was on the rise.
“The inexperience of staff to handle the strange disease and the lack of specialised infrastructure for dangerous pathogens.’’
An environmentalist, Mr Sunday Ishaku,said that infectious disease was a serious global health problem.
Ishaku said that epidemiological figures have shown that the burden of infectious disease was highest in Africa, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
He said preparedness was a subset of epidemic management, adding that epidemic preparedness constitutes all the activities that have to be undertaken from the national to the health facility levels to be ready to respond effectively to disease outbreaks.
Ishaku noted: “When all the activities are put together in a plan, then we have an epidemic preparedness and response plan.”
Dr Dotun Bobadoye, the chief operating officer, Global Emerging Pathogens Treatment Consortium, said the impact of climate change and conflict in some parts of Africa should not be overlooked because of its huge impact on human beings, animals, crops and the environment.
“We should focus on combine impact of climate change and serious conflict that we are having in different parts of Africa on EIDs and biosecurity.
“Climate change is becoming a big challenge to Africa, especially with an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather event.
“We are experiencing drought in parts of the continent ; in Nigeria, desertification is moving southwards with 350 hectares lost to desertification annually.
“Lake Chad, which used to be a source of water supply to about 30 million people, is drying up and we have lost 90 per cent of its water content within the last three decades. “This is having a serious impact on biosecurity.
“With the loss of such huge water volume, we have rebel groups rising up and killing thousands of people.’’
Bobadoye disclosed that the consortium, through the help of the Canadian Government and the Lagos State Government, had begun the construction of a biological laboratory in Lagos, where sensitive biological materials would be kept from getting into the wrong hands.
“We are collaborating with Lagos State Government to build a biosecurity laboratory, where highly pathogenic biological materials will be kept so that they do not get to the wrong hands.
“ It is sited in Lagos State and donated by the Canadian Government, it will start operation soon,” Bobadoye said.
As suggested by experts, African countries should strengthen their public health institutes in order to beef up their preparedness to check outbreak of diseases.
Abujah writes for the News Agency of Nigeria.
Towards Improved Children Protection Services
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), abuse or violence in all its forms is a daily reality for many Nigerian children and only a fraction ever receive help.
The National Child Welfare Policy of 1989 defines a child in Nigeria as anybody who is 12 years or below; however, a draft decree put into law now sets the age of the child in Nigeria as 18 years or below.
Violence Against Children (VAC) is defined as constituting all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, negligence, exploitation or for commercial purposes of which result poses harm to a child’s health, survival or development.
It takes different forms, including physical, psychological and sexual; often times, it also takes the shape of disciplinary measures. In recent times, children are even used as human bombs and in any combat or non-combat roles in the conflict in north-east Nigeria.
Studies also show that six out of every 10 children experience some form of violence, one in four girls and 10 per cent of boys have been victims of sexual violence. Often times, the children who reported violence receive little or no form of support. In all of these, the physical, mental, social and even economic burden of VAC is enormous.
Identifying the huge consequences of VAC, world leaders in 2015 made a commitment to end all forms of violence against children by 2030, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari launched the same campaign tagged “End Violence Against Children by 2030,’’ on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016.
Following the launch and with increasing incidence of different forms of VAC, including rape, trafficking, Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), there have also been various clamours to end VAC in the country, of which requires a holistic approach.
A study by UNICEF, the first of its kind in Nigeria, shows that about half of Nigerian children reported some form of physical violence by a parent, adult relative, community member or intimate partner prior to attaining the age of 18.
The studies, “A Financial Benchmark for Child Protection, Nigeria Study, Volume 1’’ and “The Economic Burden of Violence Against Children’’ were based on data gathered from 2014 to 2016 and the survey done in 2018.
The study on the Economic burden of VAC, reveals the cumulative loss of earnings as a result of productivity losses across diûerent types of violence against children to be N967 billion ($6.1 billion), accounting for 1.07 per cent of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
This amplifies the urgency to act on reducing or outright stopping of VAC. However, achieving this will involve increasing efforts on Child Protection Services; efforts that will include awareness on prevention strategies, the implications of VAC and the consequent penalties as even cheaper options.
Ms Juliane Koenlg of UNICEF, Abuja, said that the most important thing is still to increase the awareness on the prevalence of violence against children in Nigeria which is high.
“It is a huge problem, especially on its impact on health and economy in Nigeria; the child needs protection. “If we look at child protection services, we are looking at preventive.’’
“It also has consequences on the educational attainment which we have seen in economic growth productivity loss due this consequence.
“Nearly N1 billion is lost due to creativity loss, while N1.4 trillion is lost to VAC.’’
A child rights advocate, Ms Ifeoma Ibe, says governments must be committed to reducing VAC in Nigeria.
According to her, at the economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) First Ladies Forum in October 2017, the 15 member states, of which Nigeria is among, agreed to adopt a range of measures to protect children from violence, abuse and exploitation.
“We must strengthen our national child protection systems to prevent and respond to violence, abuse and exploitation against children.”
Lending her voice, Rachel Harvey, Regional Adviser of Child Protection, UNICEF, had at the launch of the campaign to end VAC by 2030 in 2016, said that the Federal Government must adopt proactive measures against violence through quality services.
According to her, child protection services must be staffed by trained professionals to help children recover from their experiences.
“Also, perpetrators should be held accountable for their actions by strengthening the capacity of the justice sector. Children and the general public must know that violence against children is unacceptable and know where to seek help when they become victims,’’ she said.
Shedding more light on the problem, Harvey said: “The Nigeria Violence Against Children Survey found that adults who have suffered violence as children, are much more likely to perpetrate intimate partner violence.
“Failure to end VAC also impacts the country as a whole; it leads to substantial economic losses and constrains development. Ending VAC has been linked to sustainable growth not only by the international community, but through the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals.
According to her, it involves religious leaders, NGOs and the media as they have fundamental role in breaking the culture of silence on violence that children suffered.
Aside from the efforts of governments and what the laws stipulate, many stakeholders believe that VAC can be stemmed right from the homes.
This is especially as the National Child Welfare Policy of 1989 specifies that “parents and the society at large, are under an obligation to provide their children with proper education and to protect them from exploitation arising from early marriage, employment and their negative influence that infringe on their rights’’.
A child protection specialist with UNICEF, Mrs Sharon Oladiji, agrees that Nigeria has many laws protecting children in the country, but the laws are not adequately implemented.
She calls for the creation of family courts vested with jurisdiction to hear cases that would help protect the child and prevent trafficking.
“We have good laws, but what we have suffered is implementation; government should also provide the establishment of voluntary homes to take care of children that are suffering,’’ she said.
She tasked parents on their responsibilities of proper upbringing of children in order to reduce the rate of child rights violation in Nigeria.
“If a child is well brought up, issues of molestation and abuse will not occur. “When you raise a child well he goes out to become a good person, when a child has problems in the home he goes out and demonstrates it,’’ she says.
Also, Mrs Eliana Martins, of the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Nigeria, Lagos State branch, believes that parents have critical roles in reducing VAC through the proper upbringing of their children and wards.
“Instilling good morals in the upbringing of children will help to mould a child’s personality for a more responsible adulthood. If you teach your children good values, definitely they will imbibe these values as they grow up and the women, especially have to rise up to this task.
Mr Denis Onoise, a child protection specialist, UNICEF, reiterated the need for “Call to Action’’ by governments and stakeholders to add child protection budget line to national chart of accounts.
He said that based on studies, currently, only 14 per cent of child protection expenditure in Nigeria was devoted to critical prevention services.
According to him, there is also need to formalise an End VAC National Act Plan and establish VAC helpline.
“These will improve the delivery of child protection services across the country,’’ Onoise said.
Ihechu is of the News Agency of Nigeria.
Insecurity, Traditional Rulers And Community Policing
The hue and cry about insecurity in Nigeria reached an alarming crescendo when the daughter of Afenifere’s leader, Reuben Fasoranti, Olufunke Olakunrin was killed by suspected herdsmen at Ore junction, Ondo State on July 12.
The ensuing reactions were charged, emotional and combustible.
President Muhammadu Buhari swiftly offered a soothing response; he directly commiserated with Fasoranti and reassured Nigerians of Federal Government’s commitment to the protection of lives and property.
In the aftermath of Olakunrin’s death, alongside other incidents of killings, the Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, ordered killer herdsmen to leave South-West now or face serious confrontation. The organisation said that a lot of people had been killed due to the activities of killer herdsmen between 2015 and 2019.
An Afenifere chieftain, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, said the quit order was because of the killing of Olakunrin.
Determined to assuage feelings and find lasting solutions to the reoccurring security challenges, Buhari directed the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, to confer with traditional rulers and get their input vis- a-vis adopting community policing.
Consequently, on July 20, Osinbajo held separate consultations with the Akarigbo of Remoland, Oba Babatunde Ajayi, and the Awujale of Ijebu Kingdom, Oba Sikiru Adetona, all Ogun monarchs.
Osinbajo was accompanied to Ajayi’s palace by Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun.
“As you know, there are many significant security concerns all over the country, and there are concerns also in the South-West. So, I am here on the instruction of the president to consult with the traditional ruler, the governor and others on what to do to beef up security and to generally improve the security architecture.
“Of course, you know that Kabiyesi is not just a traditional ruler, but a very important part of the government. That is why we are here; to talk to him and agree on few modalities for beefing up security; and ensuring that we are fully conscious of all that is going on, just to be sure that peace and security reigns here and across the country.’’
Osinbajo expressed optimism that by God’s grace, Nigeria would overcome all its problems and set itself on the path of peace and prosperity. The vice president, who also visited the palace of the Awujale of Sagamu, said the monarch was one of the most important voices in the South-West.
He said they had discussed on the important steps to take in order to improve the security architecture generally. According to him, the monarch has given a lot of insight; his own views, on what needs to be done, how to go about it, and what has been done already.
“But very importantly, he showed his commitment to ensure that there is peace and security, and that everybody lives in peace with one another and maintains the highest level of security.
“We are consulting with many of the traditional rulers across the country, but there are concerns in the South-West now. The president has spoken about the role of traditional rulers in maintaining peace and security in their own localities. As we know, they are the closest to the grassroots; the closest to their communities.
“One of the critical things we expect from our community policing efforts is some integration between the traditional rulers, the community and the police; and efforts they are making to improve intelligence; and we need to understand what is going on.
“We need to know who is where, and what exactly is happening all around, so they can be transmitted to the more formal security agencies, such as the police and the army, depending on where and what the situation is,” he said.
In the same vein, Osinbajo, on July 23, met with Osun monarchs at Osun Government House, Osogbo. The vice president, after the meeting, said that community policing was one of the methods that may be adopted to improve security.
In his contribution, Osun Governor, Gboyega Oyetola, who was represented by his Deputy, Mr Benedict Alabi, applauded the Federal Government’s efforts in nipping the security challenges in the state in the bud.
“On behalf of the government and people of the state, we appreciate President Buhari’s administration for being pro-active and for showing interest in the security of our people in the state and in the South-West,’’ he said.
Buhari also held a consultative meeting with South-West Obas on July 31 at the Presidential Villa. Buhari said that the vice president had already begun consultations with some Obas and he had been receiving feedbacks and observations.
He said that the consultations were important because traditional rulers formed a critical part of governance structures, especially in their respective communities, where they felt the pulse of the people being the closest to the populace.
The president said that the dynamics for safeguarding security kept changing and stressed the need to adopt modern, technological and people-centred methods in achieving the goals. Buhari said that as the traditional authorities in their communities, government and the security agencies would be relying on them to monitor the communities. The president also announced other measures government intended to adopt to tackle security challenges.
“Some of these interventions include an expedited commencement of community policing, a robust revamping of police intelligence gathering capacity and the significant boosting of the number of security personnel in our local communities.
“This, in specific terms, will include recruiting a lot more police officers and doing so right from their local government areas, where they would then be stationed in the best practice of community policing.
“Working with the state governments also, we intend to beef up the equipping of the police force with advanced technology and equipment that can facilitate the work of the security agencies.
“I will be issuing directives to the appropriate federal authorities to speedily approve licensing for states requesting the use of drones to monitor forests and other criminal hideouts.
“We also intend to install CCTVs on highways and other strategic locations, so that activities in some of these hidden places can be exposed, more effectively monitored and open to actionable review.
“ We will equally continue to bring in our military when needed to complement the work of the police, including possible deployment of troops on certain highways on a temporary basis, and the use of the Air Force assets to bomb hideouts where criminals are located,’’ he said.
On his part, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, who spoke on behalf of the Obas, said that the president had agreed to fast-track the monitoring of the forests in the region with the use of technology such as drones. He said that policemen and officers would be recruited among people born and living in the various communities in the region.
“We can use that strategy to avert tension going on now in the South-West,” he said.
Deserving no less attention was the recent kidnap of a pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) and four others, along Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, and the killing of a Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Paul Offu along Ihe-Agbudu Road in Awgu Local Government Area of Enugu State. The incidences, among others, buttress the call for drastic and effective measures to be adopted to tackle insecurity across the country.
Undoubtedly, bringing traditional rulers into the security architecture will enhance intelligence gathering and effective community policing that will reasonably address the nation’s security concerns.
Okoronkwo, writes for the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
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