SENIOR lawyers on Wednesday asked promoters of the ongoing review of the 1999 Constitution to reconsider their stance, saying the supposed legal instrument for the country is irreparably unworkable.
Reacting to the position of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State that a return to the 1963 Republican Constitution would be more desirable, former Attorney-General of the old Ondo State, Chief Wole Olanipekun, said the 1999 Constitution cannot be cured through a review or an amendment of some of its provisions.
Olanipekun noted that any book without a known author is conventionally not reviewable, deeming the current constitution one of such author-less documents.
He said, “The 1999 Constitution is not amendable, because you can’t put something on nothing. Let’s ask the National Assembly members who are handling the exercise, how they want to start the amendment. Are they going to start with the false and faulty preamble which says, “We the people”?
“People don’t want to be honest. Section 1(2) of the Nigerian Constitution Order-in-Council of 1960 that brought about the Independence Constitution recognised the Northern Region Constitution, Western Region Constitution and Eastern Region Constitution, to be the grundnorm in the country.
“1963 Constitution only developed the 1960 Constitution by adding some sections, including naming Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe as the first ceremonial President of Nigeria. Let them go and dust the 1960 Constitution. They don’t need any amendment. If we continue to amend the current constitution, we will continue to be thrown into crisis and chaos.”
For constitutional lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, the 1963 Constitution is a perfect panacea for the chaos in the country, demanding that each geopolitical zone should have distinct constitution as is was during the regional system of government. Like Olanipekun, he tagged the ongoing review exercise a futility.
Quoting him, “The entire review exercise to me, is an exercise in futility, a wasteful exercise. It is a journey to no destination because we have maintained again and again over the years that a constitution that is bad is bad for all purposes. You cannot confer legitimacy on a bad document and suddenly make it legitimate.
“The 1999 Constitution is a bad document because it was militarily imposed by the Abdulsalami Abubakar military junta which gave the document to the Justice Nikki Tobi panel that barely had one month to knock it together and call it the 1999 Constitution.
“Whatever we do with the constitution isn’t going to take us anywhere. We have to return to the 1963 Constitution which was preceded by a popular plebiscite.”
Former General Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Deacon Dele Adesina, practically called for a new constitution, while alluding to the 1963 Republican Constitution as a great benchmark.
In an Op-Ed, he said, “The process of making the 1999 Constitution falls short of guaranteeing its popular legitimacy and acceptability. No amendments, no matter how many times can in a retroactive manner, cure this foundational defect in the making of the 1999 Constitution. It remains a military-donated constitution.
“A deliberate effort to embark on the making of a new constitution will offer an opportunity to Nigerians for popular participation in the constitution making process of their country.
“A new constitution will translate: ‘we the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, having firmly and solemnly resolved,…do hereby make, enact and give to ourselves the following constitution’ from hypothesis into reality.”
Leading rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, noted the attraction of the 1963 Constitution, but expressed strong conviction that what is needed is a brand new people-made constitution. He told Nigerian Tribune that impunity of the political class would make nonsense of the 1963 Republican Constitution, if returned as the grundnorm.
According to him, “I strongly believe that the country needs a new and popular constitution prepared by the accredited representatives of workers, women, youths, physically challenged people and politicians. If the process is manipulated by the political class that constitutes a microscopic minority of the population, the constitution will not work.”