Attempts to review Nigeria constitution has always been a recurring decimal since the return to democracy in 1999. Unfortunately, all efforts to review or amend the military imposed constitution have not yielded the desired result despite consuming billions in public hearings, committee meetings and joint sessions of both chambers of the federal legislature. Apart from these, some aspects of the constitutional amendments like local government autonomy that scaled through at the national level had encountered anti- people obstacles at the state assemblies.
There is no gain saying that the present constitution of Nigeria cannot meet the progressive and developmental need of the country without a wholesome review. Apart from not making attempts to institutionalize the country’s much needed fight against corruption, the constitutional amendment processes themselves have always been riddled by corruption thereby falling short of people’s expectation.
The present fight against corruption in Nigeria is aimed at punishing looters and recovering stolen assets. Frankly speaking, this is a bad policy. Nigeria should develop a policy that prevents greedy politicians, civil servants and other public officers from stealing public funds. Presently, our laws looks at the other way at the time crimes are being committed just to attempt sanctioning and recovering of looted assets. The process of prosecution and recovering of stolen assets is time consuming, expensive, unrealistic and wasteful. The ongoing constitution review should make efforts to study constitutional loopholes that create avenues for embezzlement and looting. Mitigating against crime will safe Nigerians time and money spent on investigation, litigation, prosecution and recovery of stolen assets.
Corruption is like an epidemic in Nigeria, it is well known that it has become a norm rather than aberration in government. My sincere believe is that things may change for better if Nigeria constitution reduces the power of state governors in appointing some core commissioners as being practiced in most states in the USA. The constitution that is about to be amended should make provision for elected federal ministers or state commissioners who will operate based on their personal integrity, professional ethics and independence of their offices. There is no way corruption and embezzlement at the state level can be curbed unless some core commissioners have a relative independence of mind and operational freedom from their ever domineering and dictatorial appointers. In this instance, I will like to make use of the Florida constitution as an example (Yes. Florida and each USA state have their own constitutions which exist and operate in pari pasu with the USA constitution). In Nigeria, I will suggest that ministers or commissioners holding the following portfolios should be elected.
Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice of the Federation or State
Federal Minister or State Commissioner for Finance
Federal Minister or State Commissioner for Works
Federal Minister of Petroleum Resources ( Only at the National Level)
Article IV Section 5 of Florida constitution makes provision for a five member executive cabinet consisting of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Commissioner for Agriculture and The State’s Chief Financial Officer. These commissioners are to be elected for five years tenure while the governor spends four year tenure. They are elected based on their relevant professional qualifications. Hence, they cannot be removed, transferred or suspended by the governor except by the same constitutional provision with the governor. i.e., impeachment. They can disagree and call the bluff of their governors without being reprimanded or victimized.
The cabinet commissioners are a level higher than other commissioners who are the governors’ direct appointees. The other appointees can be moved, suspended or removed by the governor at will. The possible merits of having elected ministers or commissioners in Nigeria cannot be emphasized in curbing corruption. It will reduce the governors “military like abusive command” of the finance commissioners on public fund, reduce over interference, manipulation and abuse of justice ministries. Finally, Works ministry is one of the places where inflation of contracts and embezzlement peaks at all tiers of government in Nigeria. These ministries deserve some degrees of freedom.
In Nigeria’s context, professionals who meet the constitutionally set conditions will apply for the positions and they will be voted for by the National Assembly (at national level) or the State Assembly (at the State Level). In each state, each senatorial district will have one of the cabinet commissioners by zoning and rotation. Eligibility to contest for Attorney General shall be NBA membership and active legal practice of 10 years. For Commissioner for Works, it shall be 10 years post degree in Engineering, Quantity Survey, Land Survey etc and membership of relevant profession. For Finance commissioner, 10 years post graduate degree in Economics, Finance, Accountancy, Business Administration, Banking, Insurance and other relevant fields. These are in addition to other basic qualifications like citizenship, age and integrity test.
Hon Akinyemi Akinlabi
Ibarapa Central Local Government
Igboora, Oyo State