The American Constitution came into being on September 17, 1787 when 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed and endorsed the constitution created during the convention. It was ratified on June 21 1788 and became effective on March 4 1789.
The American Constitution comprises 7 Articles.
Since the Constitution came into force in 1789, it has been amended twenty-seven times (27) times to meet the changing needs of a nation now profoundly different from the eighteenth-century world in which its creators lived.
The Nigerian Experience- Since 1922, initially as the amalgamated Southern and Northern Protectorates of Nigeria, and later as the modern Federal Republic of Nigeria have had at least 7 Constitutions, that is, ranging from Clifford’s to Richard’s to Macpherson’s to Lyttleton’s to Independence’s to Republican’s to the botched 1989’s and the extant 1999’s with 318 sections and 7 schedules, and 3 amendments (which the Constitution has deliberately referred to as alterations) to date.
In 2004, the laws in force as of the 31st day of January 1990, that is, the several enactments and subsidiary legislations were published in 471 Chapters and bound in 24 Volumes. These laws are styled “Acts”- Laws of the Federation of Nigeria.
The Real Thoughts:
As can be gleaned from the above-stated, the issue with Nigeria is not the absence of laws or rules. The essence of the analogy between Nigeria and America is to without prejudice, demonstrate that Nigeria even has more laws than America. Nigeria has laws, subsidiary legislations, regulations, rules and bye-Laws on virtually every subject under the sun.
What then is the issue with Nigeria? In my view, I think the issue lies with ‘our attitude’ and enforcement of the laws.
When a citizen for instance, is driving on the highway and a law enforcement officer halts his car and demands for his vehicle papers (usually in an unprofessional and ‘impolite’ manner), the citizen jumps out and starts ranting, ‘do you know who I am!’. When a citizen breaks a law and the law catches up with him, what does he do? He begins to pull strings, he calls the Divisional Police Officer (DPO), Commissioner of Police, Inspector General of Police, Governor or Mr President and ‘orders’ flow ‘from above’ in those familiar and rehearsed lines- ‘I am interested in that case’ and pronto, he or she is off the hook! ‘POWER PASS POWER’.
It is the duty of the Executive to enforce the law, no doubt. The Executive acts through its agencies, to wit, the Police, the DSS, the ICPC, the EFCC, NDLEA, etc.
The questions for me are as follows:
(i) how motivated are these officers, in terms of remuneration, welfare, security, physical condition of service, etc?;
(ii) do citizens even ‘respect’ these officers?;
(iii) do these officers also ‘respect’ themselves and citizens?;
(iv) does the system even allow these officers to discharge their Constitutional roles independently, without orders and counter-orders from above?;
(v) how equipped are these officers? that is, are they armed with today’s tools for facing the challenges of today?;
(vi) the way an American officer or any European officer would be willing to pay the supreme price for his or her nation, knowing full well that the future of his or her dependants is guaranteed, how many officers, back here would be willing to ‘use Panadol for Nigeria’s headache’ when he or she knows what is to follow. Should he or she lose his or her life in the line of duty?
(vii) how would citizens respect officers when citizens are not unaware of the fact that if they engage in acts of criminality and amass massive wealth, they can ‘hire’ officers to do the oddest jobs for them while they persist in their odious activities?
Still on attitude.
The Judiciary is the organ of government that is saddled with the function of interpreting the law. When an average litigant has a matter in court, the first question he asks his or her counsel is: ‘do you know the Judge’? I will say no more.
I have deliberately left out ‘corruption’. It takes a giver to know a taker, and even to ‘make’ a taker. EFCC will surely catch you, even though it may tarry.
Do we not build strong individuals rather than strong institutions? We have less than 5 individuals who determine who gets what in the Land, from Presidency to Councillorship and even Oba or Baale. They are laws unto themselves. If and when Mother Luck smiles at you and you come in contact with any of these people, the Biblical story of Simeon, to whom it was revealed by the Holy Spirit that he would not not die unless and until he sees Jesus the Christ is similar to yours.
Going forward, our attitude, as a nation, and as a people must change.
The law enforcement agencies and agents must be respected by citizens.
Law enforcement agencies and agents must be trained and enjoined to respect citizens. Take a cue from the advanced nations, where a law enforcement agent will address you as ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’ up till the moment he or she will send you to the gallows.
Law enforcement agents must be allowed to do their job without interference from family and friends and ‘oga’s’.
The Judiciary must be left to discharge its constitutional role of interpreting the law without any form of interference.
We must build strong institutions and not strong personalities.
Olakunle Tayo Fapohunda
He practises law in Lagos, Nigeria