(By Iheanyi Ezinwo) -The 57th anniversary of Nigeria’s independence from Great Britain was marked October 1, 2017, with a public holiday declared for October 2, all over the country, but citizens remember the day with mixed feelings.
Speaking with Notable Outcome in Port Harcourt, Hon. OCJ Okocha, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, hinted that while he is elated that Nigeria is still one country, “one united (in quote) country, but not too happy that Nigeria is still having so many difficulties as we are experiencing them today. So it is mixed feelings”, he said especially against the background of the hope of a glorious future after Nigeria gained political independence in 1960.
He further observes: “In 1963, we became a republic under a constitution made for us by our selves as Nigerians. Remember 1960 constitution was made under the supervision of the colonial masters in those days, the country of Great Britain now called United Kingdom.
“I feel that we have not managed our fortunes well. We became a republic in 1963; we had three regions, and these regions had semi autonomous existence. To a large extent they controlled the affairs of government and every day life in their regions: they were in charge of more powers than the states, which were created in 1967.
“The central government was not as powerful in 1963.The regions were in fact the seats of power for the peoples of Nigeria who were residing in their respective territories. But all along the line, from being what is on paper a federation, we started descending into what we call a unitary state where maximum power was concentrated at the centre.
“And we know what has happened since then. From regions to states: from 12 states, we have 36, and yet we still have great difficulties. Disunity is at its highest level. We don’t love ourselves. We have failed to forge a national identity. This trouble about indigenship and citizenship should not continue to be in our vocabulary. Any Nigerian residing any where should see himself as a Nigerian and contribute to the development of where he resides, or does his business.
“ Now look at the clamour for restructuring: It has become the topical issue because most of the local governments, most of the states, have not got fair deal. And neither have the citizens of Nigeria as individuals got a fair deal in this country. We have said we should convene a proper National Conference and let Nigerians make for themselves a constitution that will meet the yearnings and aspirations of majority of the people of Nigeria.
“And I have made my proposals: We can continue with states as federating units. If so, then each state should nominate an equal number of delegates to a national conference where they will sit down and agree on how to work out a constitution for Nigeria. The impetus is on the National Assembly because they are the people to pass this law to convoke a National Conference”, the former national president of Nigeria Bar Association clearly explained.
He further posited that the 1999 Constitution was faulty and not the peoples constitution because it was foisted on Nigerians by the departing regime of General Abdusalam Abubakar in 1999.
The senior advocate of Nigeria further contended that amendments of the 1999 Constitution by the National Assemblycannot in any way correct its faulty foundation, as, according to him “Anything that has a shaky foundation cannot carry any heavy structure. We have to find a way to bring about a truly people’s constitution, so that it will indeed be a constitution of the people of Nigeria”, he reasoned.
Responding to a question, the former commissioner for justicte and attorney general of Rivers state emphasized that a preponderance of the issues plaguing Nigeria’s unity and development have to do with the constitution, than with the operators of the constitution.
He however conceded that, “if those in government mean well, have altruistic motives, that Nigeria can still manage with the constitution”, but regrets that after nearly 18 years of civilian administration under the 1999 constitution, that “we are not making any progress”.