wpid-nigeria-flag4.jpgAs the Senate Committee on Review of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria works towards its 2013 target date for presenting a new constitution to the country, it is important for the committee to give priority attention to laws that involve contemporary issues critical to the nation?s development. At the moment, issues of insecurity and crime as well as the nation?s political stability and education are paramount.

Recent Studies indicate that the rate of the crime called rape has gone up drastically and this is worrisome as the female gender in all age brackets now feel unsafe. The on-going constitution review should address this crime as part of measures to reduce horrible media reports of cases, which has become a daily affair. The Nigerian constitution needs to make it less hard to prove an allegation of rape. In other words, the rape laws of Nigeria need to be rewritten to match contemporary realities. The requirements of evidence for prosecution for example, is challenging to cultural orientation. The victim is always expected to prove the allegation by reporting to the police immediately after the act, without destroying vital evidence. Considering the African culture of value for the preservation of a woman?s virginity and disrespect for sexual promiscuity, even guardians of victims discourage them from reporting the incident.

Also, the provisions of 1999 constitution focus on punishment of offenders in rape cases without provision for victims. Lawyers who are willing to help rape victims to seek justice have most times, been restrained by insufficient and defective laws. A new rape law should make provision for free counselling of rape victims and confidential healthcare. Free reproductive health services are equally required for victims where pregnancy is involved.

The new constitution should provide for a more effective policing system for the country; a?Nigerian version of state police. Policing will be more effective and efficient if policemen and women are posted to their various states of origin, under a Commissioner who is a non-indigene of the state. Deputy Commissioners under him would also be non-indigenes. Under such system of posting, every police personnel would be compelled to become more responsible. Apart from being forced to get committed to his duties to show good performance before his bosses, the state commissioner would be in a better position to gather more accurate information from his sub-ordinates, arm himself and feed his superiors with same, in the overall interest of the job.

If the law mandates such system of posting, it would drive the passion of the police officer, who now realises that he is no longer just working for government, but also working for the security of his community. He understands that members of his community have his personal profile. So, he cannot afford to compromise security, shirk his responsibilities or under-perform. Otherwise, his job would be on the line.

An officer, who happens to be posted to his hometown, knows the terrain too well and would be able to do a better intelligence job and conduct more result-oriented investigations.

Considering the state of the nation?s prisons administration system and the security risk that most ex-convicts currently pose to the society, an enabling law is required for better administration. Part 1 of the second schedule of the 1999 constitution places management of prisons in the exclusive legislative list. Unfortunately, this has not favoured the system as the nation?s prisons have been badly managed over the years. There is therefore need for a review of Nigeria?s prison-related laws. Also, it will be reasonable to bring the Nigeria Prisons Service under the Ministry of Justice to ensure speedy administration of justice, enhance fairness in the treatment of inmates and increase government?s focus on the system.

The current wave of cybercrime is a huge contributor to the nation?s poor image. The current legal regime is inadequate to regulate e-commerce in Nigeria and there is no sufficient legislation to prosecute offenders. In section 84 (1) of the 1999 constitution, the Evidence Act appears to support the admissibility of computer-generated evidence in court. However, there are too many conditions attached to the section which have made it impossible to strictly enforce it. For instance, it provides that there has to be proper foundation as to the working condition of the computer used in producing the piece of evidence. It equally requests that a certificate must be issued by the person who has the technological know-how about operations of the computer. Of course, it will be difficult for you to know the state of your bank?s computer in a case where your bank is to be a defendant. What the section implies is that if you are suing your bank, your bank has to certify that the computer used in producing the document (e.g. statement of account) was in excellent condition as at the time it was produced. So, you as the plaintiff has to go to the defendant (the bank) to certify the evidence you are presenting in court against the bank. This is ridiculous and calls for a review.

Although, crimes such as stealing-by-trick have been accommodated in the criminal code, there is a need to develop a comprehensive internet legislation to regulate electronic financial transactions and prevent electronic crimes. The Evidence Act as it relates to computer-generated evidence should be amended.

The absence of an existing fire prevention law is contributory to the level of ignorance on fire prevention matters and the wave of fire incidents in recent times. It is equally necessary to review the structure of the nation?s fire service organisations as provided for by the constitution, in order to ensure proper coordination of activities. The prevailing politics, competition and lack of cooperation between the federal and state fire services have been counter-productive.

The expected constitution should insist on the practice of true federalism as the federal government is currently too powerful. The revenue derivation formula has rendered several state governors intellectually lazy as they simply collect the revenues and squander them while poverty level keeps increasing across the states. As part of efforts to reduce current outrageous cost of governance,?there has to be a downsizing template for all tiers of government and this move has to begin with the constitution.

The federal character principle has to be reviewed because it accounts for the over bloated staff lists at various government establishments.??The federal character principle equally informs the indiscriminate award of contracts, some of which are aimed at merely pacifying people, thereby encouraging corruption. To reduce the cost of governance therefore, the issue of duplication of government agencies and the federal character principle that places state of origin above merit should be addressed by the on-going constitution review.

Another reason to review the federal character clause in Nigeria?s 1999 constitution is the fact that it is one of the factors working against the quality of the nation?s education system. For instance, the federal character principle makes it difficult for most of the tertiary institutions to recruit fresh quality PHD holders as lecturers. Qualified applicants are rejected for some factor like state of origin. Professors and other categories of lecturers are also constantly retiring without replacements. Various legislations on the education sector require review.

To achieve food security and sufficiency, a law should make it compulsory for each state Governor, Local Government Chairman and other key public office holders to own very large acres of farmland, producing crops in commercial quantities. This will drive interest in agriculture, create employment, increase local food production and push down prices of food items for the good of the entire residents of Nigeria.

Section 7 (1) of the 1999 constitution allows for an elected administration in the local government councils. But in practice, most of the councils in Nigeria are administered by state governors through their appointed chairmen of caretaker committees. This has resulted in what could be described as an abysmal appeasement and patronage of underdevelopment at most of the local governments while some state chief executives add local government allocations from the federal government to their loot. Local government autonomy should not stop at finances. Rather, the autonomy should cover elections into the councils while this grassroots government should be allowed to originate and execute infrastructure development projects without external interference to enhance efficiency in governance and achieve people oriented results.

Section?308 of the 1999 Constitution provides immunity for the President, Vice-President, State Governors and their deputies.?The argument for removal of the immunity clause has been based on the fact that it encourages corrupt practices by those it seeks to protect. However, there are some former state Governors who are now serving federal legislators. There are also some current Local Government Chairmen and Chief Executives of federal agencies. These are not protected by Section 308. They have allegedly committed, and are still committing several criminal offences, including looting of public funds. Yet, they walk freely on the Nigerian streets without any citizen or organisation pressing charges against them. Therefore, the challenge we have lies somewhere else other than the immunity clause. The major challenge is enforcement. The immunity clause should therefore, remain in the Nigerian constitution to achieve its objectives.

There are men and women of integrity who have what it takes to effect veritable positive changes in our political landscape but they are being shut out by party structures and politics. The major encumbrance is within the 1999 Constitution. The ongoing constitution review should break the monopoly of political parties. The amended constitution should make provision for independent candidates, who are not members of political parties to contest elections at all levels. This will brighten the hope for improvement of the political landscape while minimizing god-fatherism. Other good characters outside party structures would be free from the tyrannical grip of party leaders who are only interested in building empires that would serve their personal needs and make everyone else subservient. Independent candidates when they win elections, will take responsibilities for their successes or failures rather than blame their failures on some party bigwigs.

The Senate?s approved amendment to Section 65 of the constitution prior to 2011 elections reads: Section 65(2):??A person shall be qualified for election under subsection 1 of this section if:

(A) he has been educated up to tertiary institution level of its equivalent

(B)? and he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that party or he is an independent candidate.?

However, the provision that ?a person standing for election as an independent candidate shall be qualified for election having been nominated by no fewer than 10 registered voters in each of at least two thirds of the wards in the senatorial district in the case of a senator? needs to be reconsidered to remove further stumbling blocks to independent candidacy at elections.

As for the issue of state creation, creating more states in Nigeria without reducing the current level of corruption would simply mean creating more problems for the country.

 

Albinus Chiedu, CEO, Output Communications, 29, Adeniyi Jones Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos

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