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1999 Constitution does not serve Nigeria well – Ononiba



JUSTICE G. U. Ononiba , one-time Chief Judge of Anambra State High Court of Justice and current traditional prime minister of Nimo, Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State, spoke to MATHEW ONWUASOANYA.

WELL, at 60, any assessment on Nigeria would be deemed as hasty, because a nation celebrating its 60th birthday is no longer a kid or even a youth. The country has come a long way, going through epochs, from civilian to military to civilian and yet, to military and yet to civilian and yet, again, to military before finally berthing on another civilian.

Not many nations went through coups and counter-coups, leading to civil war, and still remain one. So for Nigeria to have gone through all these travails and remain a single entity is a huge plus or credit. Both the leaders and followers will share in this credit.

Many things were done well; many others yet were not done properly. That is why we got them right in some aspects and got them wrong in some other respects. In all, it just throws a learning curve. For instance, allowing the military or rather bringing about the situation – that led to military incursion into politics was one of the ways Nigeria failed to get its act right. But doing all the political arithmetic that returned the nation to democracy is one of the things we got right.

This is because no matter how benevolent, despite all the imperfections in democracy, military dictatorship is an aberration. Nigeria also got it right in mass mobilisation by political parties to extent that you see people from different tribes and religions rooting for one common cause, for instance, the victory of their party.  But the constitution on which the nation returned to civilian dispensation is not only anti-people but also at variance with democratic tenets.

And the reason is not far-fetched. There was no consultation before the draft bill was forced on the few that were selected for the so-called 1995 constitutional conference. It should not be so, because right from its preamble, the constitution says, “we the people of Nigeria…” to show that it was made by and for the people. But how can we say in all honesty that the 1999 Constitution was made by Nigerians when their consent was neither sought nor got?

Therefore, from here, we should start by making a people-inspired constitution that all will see and accept as their grundnum. By then it becomes easy for other subsidiary legislations to take good root from this organic and apex law. No nation develops ahead of its laws, for the law as ultimate arbiter moderates every competing ends for a harmonious whole.

Once you get it right as many developed countries do, you have everything going on seamless. But if you get it wrong as we see here and elsewhere in Africa and other third worlds, socio-economic growth and development remains a mirage.

In the next 10 years, I expect the foundation for this to be put in place so that by 20-30years and beyond, Nigeria must be deepening its legal system.

On the opportunities for Nigeria in the new normal created by COVID-19, I want the leaders to get their acts together by going for better priorities. It should not stop with just sensitisation on coronaries prevention protocols, wearing face mask, regular handwashing and sanitising or what have you. All these are important, no doubt, but we should begin to invest in alternative reality and artificial intelligence.

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