HomeWorld NewsShould constitution make provision for referendum?

Should constitution make provision for referendum?

  • Justice Mustapha Akanbi (retd.) (A former Chairman of the ICPC)

If it is for people to know whether they should remain as part of Nigeria. My view owing to my background is clear. I was born and bred in Accra, Ghana.  I was a trade unionist.

I was the secretary of the boxers’ welfare association. I came home because of the inspiration I drew from Kwameh Nkrumah. I have always believed in a united Nigeria. Our greatness lies in Nigeria.

Any attempt to divide Nigeria is not good.  (Nnamdi) Azikiwe was known as Zik of Africa.  When we were in Ghana, they used to refer to Zik as an Onitsha man who has known all the books in the world. He played politics in Ghana.  He was an editor. He came back to Nigeria and he won an election in the western region.

Each of the regional leaders did very well for their regions, but there was no concerted effort to unite Nigeria. That is why we are where we are today.  I am cosmopolitan in outlook and I brought up my children to be so. I want to see an Igbo as a brother and a Gusau man as a brother.

I have lived in every part of the country. Whatever I have been able to achieve is due to the unity I built up with my friends. I do not believe in splitting up Nigeria. When the Arewa Consultative Assembly invited me to deliver a lecture, I warned that they should never think of breaking Nigeria and it is on record.

The day we split, Nigeria is finished. For all those agitating for the breakup of Nigeria, did they see the Nigerian-Biafran War?  I was prosecuting in Funtua, Sokoto and almost lost my life. For me, I believe in the unity of this country and I believe I will not leave to see Nigeria break up. I will die an unhappy man if Nigeria breaks up in my lifetime.

  • Mr. Olaniyi Ajibola (Director, Advocacy for Advancement of Peace and Harmony in Africa Initiative)

The need to strengthen our democracy makes the inclusion of referendum in our constitution inevitable. It is a viable instrument for liberty and actualisation of self determination.

To us, referendum remains the only democratic instrument to measure the position of people on issue that dwells on their survival and continuity in a corporate entity, among other pertinent issues.

Despite the level of development and sophistication of United Kingdom and its people, the Irish were given the opportunity to have clear position on the issue of their continuity with that entity; the same thing could be replicated here in Nigeria, a former British colony for that matter, for the purpose of peace.

The concept of indivisibility of a nation state like Nigeria should be predicated on choice, and not coercion. The only way such freedom could be exercised to the fullest is through the concept of referendum, where people freely decide their fate on topical issues.

  • Tajudeen Ahmed (An Ekiti-based legal practitioner)

The simple answer to this poser is yes. The constitution should make provisions for referendum.

Making provisions for referendum in the constitution will further legalise the popular participation of the citizenry in the governance of the country and in the formulation of policies.

It will not leave the issues of governance and decision making on very sensible, tactile and cogent issues to the elected representatives alone.

From experience, the legislators and even members of the executive arm have had cause to project issues that are more for their personal aggrandisement than the will of the people.

Referendum, which is the practice of subjecting proposed government decisions or measures to the electorate for their approval or rejection, will make governance people-friendly.

That is the situation in advanced climes. It was done recently during Great Britain’s bid to exit the European Union. People were asked to vote; it even led to the resignation of the then British Prime Minister, David Cameron, because he did not support the idea.

That is what is now popularly regarded to as Brexit. As such, I endorse the inclusion of a referendum clause in our constitution.

  • Prof. Femi Otubanjo, (A Lagos-based Public Affairs analyst)

Yes, there should be a clause for referendum. We must remember that Nigeria is a multi-national state. The country was brought together artificially as a product of political selection, and not naturally. Because of that, what we have is an uneasy coexistence of different nationalities. Some of these nationalities are bigger than many of the states in Africa. If you, for instance, separate the Igbo, they are bigger than Benin Republic, Mauritania and other countries. Same goes for the Yoruba, Hausa/Fulani and others in the geo-political zones. So, we are talking about nationalities that are big enough to be independent states of their own.

As a result of the nature of our initial creation, the country should have some provision for people who want to opt out of the nation. Indeed, some nationalities in Nigeria desire that right and that is exactly what we are experiencing now with the Biafran agitation. The right to self determination is a cardinal principle in modern international law. The United Nations charter, for example, expressly states that nations have the right to choose their sovereignty. A nation is a group of people who have the same culture, speak the same language and occupy the same geographical location. Once you have that and you desire to have your own sovereignty, then there ought to be a provision in the constitution for referendum.

If you do not do so, you might have a situation which may lead to violence.  We are having agitations now because we do not have provision for separation. We should have a provision that any nationality that desires to opt out of Nigeria can do so and a referendum to be decided by simple majority should suffice. What we are doing now is just shouting at each other. Pakistan came out of India and Bangladesh came out of Pakistan.

  • Habeeb Whyte (An Osogbo-based legal practitioner)

Referendum is a process that allows direct participation of all citizens in decision making. It is an elective process wherein a particular law, opinion, policy or issue can either be accepted or rejected. This process makes political participation easy for the masses because it allows them to have a full say about issues concerning them.

Referendum is not in Nigeria’s constitution as of now; I would not want to opine that it was a deliberate attempt by the drafters of the law, but I would say emphatically that the omission is not only dubious, but also an attempt to erase direct participation of the masses in the policy making of a country.

It can be well argued that we have elected representatives in our legislative arm of government; but the question is, do their decisions reflect the mind or the general opinion of the masses in all instances? The answer is no.

The only process that can allow the direct check of laws and policies is the referendum.

We need the referendum clause in our constitution; the process should be included. It allows public participation and raises the consciousness of the masses with regard to the law-making process. It does not accommodate excesses that slow down the machinery of good governance, especially when the provisions of Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) are concerned.

If the people have the right to reject, approve or disapprove, then it would keep the legislators on their toes and make the legislative business a priority.

If we had referendum in our laws, the issue of Biafra or Niger Delta would have long been settled. Everyone’s opinion would have been sorted and the majority decision would stand.

There are lots of challenges facing our country that a simple referendum would have easily solved. These issues include oil spillages and environmental degradation, federal allocation, herdsmen and farmers, state police and local government autonomy.

The non-inclusion of the clause in the constitution is a deliberate attempt and until it is rectified, the real change would not come. Our constitution itself derives its legitimacy from the people.

The provision of Section 14(2) of the 1999 constitution (as amended) is clear. If the constitution derives its legitimacy from the masses, why can’t decisions that are very important to our growth and development be settled by the people through direct participation?

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