Ben Nwabueze Dialogue: Anyaoku, Adebanjo, Sanwo-Olu, Bode George, others canvass for new Constitution

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Former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, says Nigeria is  still struggling to fulfil  its potential  as a  nation owing to lack of true federalism.
Anyaoku spoke at the “National Dialogue on  the Constitutional Future of Nigeria” in honour of  the late renowned constitutional lawyer, Prof. Ben Nwabueze (SAN).

The dialogue was organised by The Patriots, a pan-Nigerian group of eminent national leaders of thought.

The programme had the theme, “Lawful Procedures for Actualising a People’s Constitution for Nigeria.”

Anyaoku, who is the Chairman of the Patriots, said Nigeria  had failed to develop like other pluralistic countries in the world because of its inability to devolve powers to federating units.

According to him, other pluralistic countries are far ahead of Nigeria in terms of development  because they have implemented true federalism.

“First, Nigeria is a pluralistic country that is still struggling to become a nation with assured political stability and progressive socio-economic development.

“The fact from across the world is that some pluralistic countries have succeeded in becoming developed nations while other pluralistic countries have failed and disintegrated.

“The lesson from this is that pluralistic countries, which have succeeded in becoming nations, have generally practised true federalism with considerable power devolved to the federating units.

“This fact was acknowledged by our founding fathers who negotiated painstakingly and agreed on the Independence Constitution of 1960-1963,” Anyaoku said.

He said that Nigeria’s present constitution  lacked the legitimacy that should flow from a democratically-made constitution.

The diplomat added  that the constitution had proven to be unsuitable for tackling many of the serious challenges confronting our country.

He said: “It is a widely recognised fact that the crucial areas of the country have significantly deteriorated and continue to deteriorate.”

Anyaoku said Nigeria had suffered deterioration in many fronts in  security, healthcare, education, economic well-being of the citizens and infrastructure.

He said that the country had equally suffered  in the area of social cohesion,  social values and the sense of national unity.

He said that Nigeria had the option of getting a truly federal constitution by  adopting the recommendations of the 2014 National Confab organised by President Goodluck Jonathan.

“Or we go for a relatively inexpensive directly elected constituent assembly on non-party basis for producing such widely desired constitution,” he said.

Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, also joined Anyaoku to demand for a new Nigerian Constitution that would reflect true federalism and address the problems of the country.

The event, held at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Victoria Island, Lagos was attended by Pa Ayo Adebanjo, former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George, the Secretary to the Lagos State Government; Senators Aminu Tambuwal and Gbenga Daniel; former Governors Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers), Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun), Donald Duke (Cross River), James Ibori (Delta), Victor Attah (Akwa Ibom) and Rauf Aregbesola (Osun).

Others were constitutional lawyers Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) and Mr. Tunji Abayomi; President of Arewa Youths Consultative Forum, Alhaji Yerima Shettima; and other eminent leaders and pro-democracy activists, Prof. Anthony Kila, Dr. Idika Kalu, Elder Solomon Asemota and Comrade Wale Okunniyi, among others.

Speaking at the event, Sanwo-Olu backed the agitation for a true federal constitution for Nigeria to devolve power to states and charged the National Assembly to put a legal framework in place for the birth of a new constitution that would be determined by the Nigerian people.

He said the conversation around the making of a new constitution should be driven further. “If eminent Nigerians; people who have used better parts of their time serving this country have a conversation and we cannot take it forward and make sure that we have a complete solution, then we are wasting our time. Given the number of people that are here, we should make this conversation very effective. Many speakers have said that it is not the National Assembly that will make those amendments and it makes a lot of logical sense. It is for the National Assembly to constitute a law where people will come together and make those amendments themselves.

“I stand here as a leader of the largest state. How well do we see the anomalies that we have in our country? Why would a federal agency come to control the water in front of Ozumba Mbadiwe? Why would a federal agency of 1,000 kilometers away come to see the needs of my people in Ozumba Mbadiwe? Those are some of the things that we need to take forward and say that indeed we need to have a true federating state and be able to amend this constitution.

“I am a willing convert. Whatever we need to do now, there are so many serving and former governors here, let us make the changes that we desire and let the soul of Prof. Ben Nwabueze rest in peace because this is something that he fought for over 60 years of his life. And we are still here talking about it. We have the opportunity to make those changes now and I stand here to say to you that we are willing to work with you to make those changes.”

Elder statesman and Afenifere chieftain, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, called for the implementation of the 2014 National Conference, which, according to him, represented how the people of Nigeria want to be governed considering the representation of the people from different parts of the country that attended the national conference.

He said what Nigeria needs is a brand new constitution and not the amendment of the current constitution, which the National Assembly wants to embark on.

Guest Speaker, Mike Ozekhome, tasked the National Assembly to set up a National Referendum Commission that would collate all recommendations towards driving a new constitution.

He said: “We must take this conversation and make it very effective. It’s for the National Assembly to constitute a law where these people would come together. It’s something very simple. Why do we have a federal agency controlling waterways in Lagos?

“You would see state officials fighting the same course, the moment they get to federal, they change 360 degrees. I’m wondering what is going on, what’s happening. I don’t know what’s happening.”

According to him, there is a mystery about the central government which must be unravelled.

“There’s something about the federal that shocks everybody, we need to be bold to unravel this. Let us be able to make the change we desire. Let the soul of Prof. Ben Nwabueze rest in peace.”

Senator Aminu Tambuwal said “it is unfortunate that we have lost a learned elder when we need him most in the country.

“The scholar wrote a lot of books related to constitutional matters, even on the present one we all gathered here for today, we can find it. It showed we have lost someone great in person of Ben Nwabueze. I pray God gives us such personality in Nigeria again.

“I have participated in several constitution amendments, some succeeded, some failed. I must confess that I have been enriched particularly on the way forward. If you say the Constitution lacks legitimacy and beyond repair, a gathering like this is making a ray of light.

“We are going to collaborate with well-meaning Nigerians to have a better constitution for the future of Nigerian people”.

Chief Olabode George also advocated a total restructuring of the country, politically, economically and in the areas of policing and security.

“I am not a lawyer but, Babajide Sanwo-Olu has won my heart today. You are here today. If by tomorrow, you leave the office, what would you tell the people? For the governor to volunteer himself to champion the course of new constitution, I want to urge whoever has the president’s contact to visit him. Call Akpabio along, he will answer you. There is no job, food and people have been coming to my office to do something for them.
“I can’t say this country has given me the fulfilment, I am close to 80 years. Whatever it’s you want us to do, we should do on time. I want to commend the organisers of the event in remembrance of the constitutional lawyer.”
Prof.  Nwabueze, the pioneer Secretary-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, died on October 28, 2023 at 92.

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