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bicameral legislature

By Eric Teniola

This piece, last week, highlighted the difference between bicameral and unicameral systems of governance. Today, it traces the history of Nigeria’s bicameral constitution

CERTAINLY the presidential system of government is not the major cause of our problems, but it has worsened our crises. No consultation with the people on the new adventure, no mandate of the people. The House has fallen but we can pretend that it has not. But we can still do something about it if we are determined. For example, since 1978 all countries in Latin America have either changed or replaced their constitutions. Why should our own be different.

On March 19, 2011, a constitution referendum was held in Egypt. In April 1993, a referendum was held in Eritrea. Even Kenya has held three referendums on their constitution. There have been several referendums in Morocco, most of which were related to the Moroccan constitution. A constitution referendum was held in Bangladesh on September 15, 1991. The current constitution of Iraq was approved by referendum on October 15, 2005. The present constitution of the Philippines was approved via a plebiscite in 1987. We can quote many countries where there have been many constitutional referendums.

Let’s take Chile as an example. There were jubilant scenes in Chile on October 26 last year according to a BBC report, after an overwhelming majority voted in support of rewriting Chile’s constitution, which dates to the military rule of Gen Augusto Pinochet. With almost all the ballots counted, 78 per cent had voted “yes” in a referendum that was called after mass protests against inequality. President Sebastián Piñera praised the peaceful vote. He said it was “the beginning of a path that we must all walk together”.

Right-wing President Piñera agreed in November 2019 to hold the referendum after a month of huge and almost daily protests across Chile which saw more than a million people take to the streets in the capital, Santiago. The protests, which had originally been triggered by a fare hike on the Santiago metro, drew a wide variety of Chileans who shared an anger about the high levels of inequality in Chile onto the streets.

One of their key demands was to reform the old dictatorship-era constitution, which they argued entrenched inequalities by putting the private sector in control of health, education, housing and pensions. The referendum, which was originally due to be held in April, was postponed to October due to the corona virus pandemic. The referendum asked Chileans two questions: firstly, if they wanted a new constitution, and secondly, what kind of body they would want to draw it up.

With almost all the votes counted, more than 78 per cent voted in favour of a new constitution. An overwhelming majority of 79 per cent also voted in favour of the new constitution being drawn up by a body which will be 100 per cent elected by a popular vote rather than one which would have been made up by 50 per cent of members of Congress. President Piñera acknowledged that the current constitution had been “divisive” and urged Chileans to “work together so that the new constitution is the great framework of unity, stability and the future”.

He also praised the democratic nature of the vote: “Today citizens and democracy have triumphed; today unity has prevailed over division and peace over violence. And this is a triumph for all Chileans who love democracy, unity and peace, without a doubt.” As the results came in, the word rebirth was projected onto a building in downtown Santiago. The new constitution will then be put to the Chilean people in another referendum in 2022.

Let’s go back to how we adopted the Presidential system of government. After overthrowing General Yakubu Gowon, GCFR, in a military coup, the then Head of State, Brigadier Murtala Muhammed, GCFR, on July 30, 1975, announced that his government will come out with a political programme. On October 1, 1975, Brigadier Murtala Muhammed in a broadcast to the nation declared “One important subject before us is, of course, the question of a political programme. I promised in my last address to announce a programme, and the government has since then given considerable thought to this matter.

The ultimate aim is to forge a viable political system, which will be stable and responsive enough to needs and realities of this country. This is not an exercise that begins and ends in the mere drafting of a constitution. Viable political institutions only emerge from hard experience and practice and the corporate experience of all is what matters. It is, therefore, my belief that our immediate task is to set the stage for this corporate effort to work on a new constitution.

Whatever the outcome, the decision has to be made democratically, openly and by all. With this in mind, the Supreme Military Council has approved a five-point programme designed to ensure a smooth transition to civil rule by those elected by the people of the country”.

A few days later, the central government named a 50-man constitutional drafting committee headed by Chief Rotimi Alade Williams. Other members included, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. C.S. Abashiya, Dr. K. Abayomi, Alhaji Abdul-Rasaq, Dr. I. D. Ahmed, Chief R.O.A. Akinjide, Dr. S.C. Aleyideino, Mr. A. Al-Hakim, Dr. A.Y. Aliyu, Professor S.A. Aluko, Mr. P.R.V. Belobo, Mr. S.M. Angulu, Alhaji Ardo Buba, Alhaji Nuhu Bamali, Alhaji Mamman Daura, Prof. T.S. David-West, Prof. U.P. Diejomuoh, Mr. D.D. Dimka, Professor B.J. Dudley, Professor E.C. Emovon, Alhaji S. Gaya, Mr. R. Gbadamosi, Dr. T.O. Idris, Mr. Bola Ige, Professor O. Ikime, Mr. S. G. Ikoku, Alhaji I. Imam, Mr. K. Isola-Osobu, Alhaji Aminu Kano, Alhaji S.M. Liberty, Mr. M.A. Makele, Chief K.O. Mbadiwe, Chief I.I. Murphy, Professor B.O. Nwabueze, Professor G.A. Odenigwe, Dr. P. Okigbo, Alhaji Femi Okunnu, Dr. S. Osoba, Dr. Oye Oyediran, Dr. Tahir Ibrahim, Alhaji Talib Ahmed, Dr. M. Tukur, Mr. G.P. Unongo, Dr. Y.B. Usman and Dr. Obi Wali.  Chief Awolowo, GCFR, declined to serve as a member of the committee. A few days later the committee was inaugurated at the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island, Lagos.

To be continued…

Vanguard News Nigeria

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