Prince Richard Ozobu, a chieftain of All Progressives Congress (APC) in Enugu state, in this interview with MIKE UBANI, thinks the recently concluded public hearings on the review of the 1999 constitution put together by the two Chambers of the National Assembly, is an exercise in futility. He strongly suggests that the present constitution should be jettisoned, and a new constitution that would serve the interests of Nigerians put in place.
Why were you not present at either the Senate or House of Representatives South-East Zonal Public Hearing of the Special Committees on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, held in Enugu?
Certainly I wasn’t there. And the reason is that we don’t really need a review of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). That constitution has simply not worked in the interest of Nigerians. And as a matter of fact, we have not implemented that constitution up to 30%. The question we should ask ourselves is: Do we really need another type of constitution? I will say yes. We don’t need a review of the present 1999 constitution.
About 80 percent of the provisions of the current constitution have not been implemented. You talk about the independence of the three tiers of government – the Executive, Legislature, and the Judiciary. Judiciary workers have been on strike for about three months, yet the independence of the judiciary is guaranteed in the present constitution? Why not give the judiciary that independence? Do we need a review of the 1999 constitution before the judiciary enjoys its independence from the executive and legislature? For three months now, justice has been denied to so many people because the courts are under lock and key. A good number of prison inmates who could have been granted bail are languishing in prisons spread across the country. This is unfair. Ask yourself if the Local Government system is working under the presidential constitution we have in place. My position is that there is a conspiracy among the Nigerian ruling elite at the federal and state levels to undermine the presidential system of government. Sincerely speaking, the present constitution is not working.
I went to school in the United States of America, and I lived there for several years, so I know how the US Presidential system works.
Why do you think the present constitution is not working?
Let me give you an example of why this constitution is not working. The National Assembly members have not denied the fact that they are consuming one quarter of the national wealth. If you ask them why, they will tell you that they are on their own and, therefore, can dictate what should be their salaries and income. I say they consume one quarter of all the wealth of this country. If you come to the states, you hear about security funds when they are not paying the police. And you ask: What is the security fund arbitrarily fixed by the state legislature and given to the governors used for? It is only in Nigeria that you can see such a thing.
Don’t you think the salaries of members of the National Assembly were fixed by a legitimate body outside the legislature?
No. The legislators imposed salaries on themselves. They said they had the right to do so. And my question is: Why not extend the same benefits to say the judges? And you know that these jumbo salaries are not tied to productivity on the part of the lawmakers in the first place. The greatest problem we have is massive unemployment and corruption in the system, and the legislators are not addressing these major problems.
Don’t you think a reviewed constitution can sort out the issue of unemployment and corruption in the system?
No. I am for an entirely new constitution, and not a review of the current one. And we may have to go back to the parliamentary system of government because under that constitution, a vote of no confidence can be passed on any party in government, and when that happens, that party will step down, and another election will be conducted.
Some National Assembly members argue that the current constitution did not make provision on how it should be set aside, and, therefore, doing so can lead to a vacuum, and anarchy. How do you react to that?
What we need is a state of emergency that will make the legislators to step down, and thereafter, we start another process of writing a new constitution, and that should be a parliamentary constitution. That was what we had before the military coup of January 1966 that overthrew the First Republic.
What form do you think the new Nigerian constitution which you are suggesting should take?
First of all, we should have another National Constitutional Conference whose membership should be made up delegates from the ethnic nationalities etc. Essentially, that constitution should reflect the principles of true federalism – fiscal federalism – devolution of power,
Will the new constitution make provision for the creation of more states?
Why should anybody create more states? Do you know the huge amount of money the state governments are spending to run their states? And this is happening when there is massive unemployment.
Some people argue that since we copied the presidential system from the US, we should also raise the number of states here to 50 which is what obtains in the US. Do you agree?
Remember that the size of Nigeria is small relative to that of the US, and their population size is bigger than that of Nigeria, yet they have only 50 states. In the US you have colonies coming together to form a state. It was not a question of dividing one state to produce another state as is the case in Nigeria. You recall that only thirteen colonies decided to form a nation. However, in the beginning, only about five colonies met in the dark to begin the process of forming a nation, as well as writing a constitution. They asked James Madison, a lawyer, to write the model document that formed the US constitution. And after doing so, he brought the document for them to look at. I mean, he wrote the initial clauses of the US constitution which they later expanded by amendments Today, there are about 25 amendments to that constitution. And they started by saying: “Be it known by all that every human being is born with certain inalienable rights – right to freedom, liberty and justice. And not one aspect of what he put down in his own handwriting was removed. At the end of the American Civil War other colonies joined, and for you to join, you have to give up your own independence. And after one hundred years, a part wanted to break up, but it was not an easy thing for a part to break up because some concessions/investments had already been made in the area that wanted to break up. It is something you do by negotiation.
Are you referring to the agitations for secession by the proscribed IPOB?
Yes. But there is no sincerity in the whole thing. Do they want to overthrow the federal government, and even governments of the area you call Biafra through the destruction of police stations?. That’s not what it should be. Those talking about emancipation and self-rule cannot get that by the demolition of security structures within their area. Some people want to use the present security challenges to negotiate something different for themselves. But those causing the crisis have not read history. They should go and read about the Bolshevik revolution of 1919. Every day, I feel the wound I had and what we went through during the Nigeria/Biafra war. We went through a lot of agonizing moments during the civil war, yet some people are looking for another one.