National Consensus in Constitution Making

@DrJoeAbah inspired this attempt at articulating my ideas with his series of tweets earlier this week on some of his concerns on the Nigerian constitution. I am not a lawyer therefore its not my intention to delve into areas where I am not competent however as the Dr’s intervention has shown, this is an attempt to inspire others articulate their ideas on which we can then attempt to come to a consensus.

Dr Abah’s tweets are difficult to question as they are usually well thought out (did I mention relentlessly polite and upbeat). My immediate reaction was to direct him to Napoleon Bonaparte maxim; “ a constitution should be short and obtuse” for it to be timeless.

Now does our constitution meets this criteria; it is 119 pages; with issues requiring vagueness, inflexibly explicit (listing of LGAs), and where explicitness is needed maddening vague (the whole State of Origin/ settler/indigene issue) and issues that have no reasons at all to be in the constitution i.e Land use Act which makes nonsense of all the urban planning and housing laws not to talk about holding hostage an entire factor of production; are included.

His intervention would however be a missed opportunity if limited to this direct reply and not expanded to encompass the breadth of issues that makes this constitution self contradiction inevitable; The absence of a “National Consensus”. (Please don't roll your eyes with the thought that a ‘True Federation’ fanatic is on the prowl).

But the absolute truth is no nation can experience genuine progress without a consensus. This can evolve unconsciously, formally through conferences or even by force imposed on all by a wining party after a civil war, period of dictatorship etc.

China is a good example; Growth and external force projection only started accelerating after the crushing of the Tainanmen Square protest of 1989, this laid to rest once and for all the nature of political system and social direction debate that have raged at times quietly or vociferously since the 1970s.

An even better example is the United Kingdom which has a yet to be fully deciphered system of thinking up and implementing peaceful drastic changes only possible by violent revolutions in other countries. Their present welfare state, which the applauded NHS was an offshot off, was implemented by the labour party in 1948 but the consensus for this obviously socialist policies was arrived out and articulated by the 1942 report Social Insurance and Allied Services (known as the Beveridge Report). Debates in favour of which, had already taken place and agreed upon by all the ideological hues of British society hence it was easy for the Labour party to give it life by enacting the necessary legislations without obvious obstruction by the conservative party on ideological grounds.

Closer home a single issue we all believe (rightly or wrongly) is holding us back; corruption, is being waged in an apparent shambolic manner because there’s no consensus on its definition, roles of various arms of government in the fight and expected sanctions/outcomes, despite close unanimity on its negative impact on the society.

A national consensus will also automatically create a cohort of multi-ethnic, multi-creed and multi-gender class of true believers, that will advance the course of governance as most of government programs stops being party/ethnic /class based but national agendas.

So back to @DrJoeAbah; there’s a need for a consensus before a constitution, for a constitution only codifies what has been agreed upon otherwise the result will be a document as contradictory as our current foreign exchange policy.