1999 Constitution: “You Can’t Be Wrong And Get Right” -By Law Nnaji

Filed under: Political Issues |

Above is the title of one of Jimmy Cliff’s brilliant philosophical hit songs from the 1974 album, House of Exile.

In that song, the great Jamaican reggae maestro and his co-protagonists insist that no matter how hard you may try, you can’t be wrong and get right!

The message of this song, with its Aristotelian logic, seems to be apt in capturing my thoughts on the greatest scam ever perpetrated against the Nigerian people since independence.

Guess what it is?

Okay, let me help you out.

It’s nothing other than the so-called 1999 Constitution (amended) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria!

Yes. You read me right.

Do you want to know why?

Okay, stick a bit with me as this will be a long read.

The military junta under General Abdulsalam Abubakar (rtd.) single-handedly prepared the 1999 Constitution. But that’s no longer news.

It’s no longer news that prior to it being imposed on Nigerians, there was no debate on the content of that document by the Nigerian people or their elected or appointed representatives.

Also, it’s no longer news that there were no input whatsoever made into it by the Nigerian people or their elected or appointed representatives.

And yet, despite all the aforementioned, it was foisted on Nigerians, hook, line, and sinker, as their constitution!

And as if to underscore the brazen mockery of our people, the opening preamble of that constitution majestically declares; “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.

What a blatant lie.

And in the unmistakable and shameless tone of an impostor, the document’s mysterious draftsman continues:

“Having firmly and solemnly resolved:
To live in unity and harmony as one INDIVISIBLE and INDISSOLUBLE Sovereign Nation…” (Emphasis added.)


“DO HEREBY MAKE, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES the following constitution:…” (Emphasis added.)

So cheeky.

Really, the joke is on all of us. What a travesty! Sad.

But wait a minute, the greatest absurdity is that, “We the people of The Federal Republic of Nigeria”, perceiving it as a fait accompli have accepted and continue to accept this brazen and ridiculous lie as the truth.

Now, I think that those who are canvassing for amendments of the 1999 constitution completely miss the point.

The issue at stake is fundamental. Let me put it bluntly: That document is a product of corruption. A fraud. And try as hard as you may, the inconvenient truth is that you can’t amend a fraud! The fight against corruption must start with ‘Our’ Constitution.

And to borrow Jimmy Cliff’s words of admonition, “You can’t be wrong and get right. No matter how hard you may try.”

Ordinarily, there’s nothing unusual in the birthing of that farcical document if you considered the proclivities and antecedents of its author, the military. Unarguably, military juntas rule by decrees and impositions.

However, the ONLY unusual, intriguing and scandalous thing is that Nigerians have continued to accept that aberration for so long, even after the exit of the military!

But, why?

In my search for an explanation of this absurdity, I came across an interesting phenomenon known as the baby elephant syndrome. It was a research conducted by a group of psychologists on a baby elephant. Right from the time of birth, the baby elephant was tied to a stake with a tiny rope. As it tried to move, it was restrained by the rope, which it wasn’t strong enough to break.

Now, here is the interesting part of the study recorded by the researchers. They were astonished to observe that even when the elephant became a massive adult and was strong enough, it still didn’t try to move from the rope it was tied to, even though it could!

In other words, although the elephant had the strength to tear the rope or knocked down the entire stake with just a little kick, if it wanted to, surprisingly it did not. The elephant had gotten accustomed to the limit that had been imposed on it as a baby!

This bizarre phenomenon is what behavioural psychologists refer to as Learned Helplessness. And surprisingly, this strange conditioning is also exhibited by we humans.

Although the military has since left and handed over power to civilians, in the light of the above research, could we then rightly affirm that Nigerians are suffering from Learned Helplessness on this bizarre issue of continually accepting the 1999 Constitution?

Is the persistent aberration of upholding the 1999 Constitution by the stakeholders – the bar, the bench, civil society, labour unions and the public a classic case of Learned Helplessness?

Or, is it, as it is often alleged by some critics, that certain regions of the country and tendencies are favoured by the 1999 Constitution? And, those those favoured are happy with the status quo and may even resist any attempt to abolish it?

Undoubtedly, that constitution helps to consolidate and solidify the disparity and inequitable political structure (such as the number of states and local governments) across the country – the ruinous legacy created out of the five former regions under various military dispensations led by Heads of State of northern extraction.

Recall that even Sharia that was not originally in the constitution was boldly smuggled into that dubious document.

So, you then ask, what’s the remedy?

Now, I’ll be very blunt and straightforward in my suggestion: Just. Throw. Away. That. Dubious. Document! Abrogate it.

Let’s go back to the only true constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in operation before the disruptive incursion of the military into our political landscape. And to the best of my knowledge, that is the 1963 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria!

Friends, that to me is the only authentic constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, thus far, worthy of that name.

But mark my words; no matter how long it takes, Nigeria can never make any serious progress without the restructuring of the current political system, focusing on the fundamentals – the basis of engagement between the different ethnic nationalities or, alternatively, going back to the only true and authentic Constitution, the 1963 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Ideally, outright restructuring of the political system is the most desirable thing for Nigeria. But, the modalities for achieving that will be tortuous and contentious, considering the mutual suspicion existing among the major ethnic groups in the country. The most recent case of such failed effort is the National Conference which took place under former President Goodluck Jonathan.

Therefore, If I were presented with an option between secession or a return to status quo ante (where we were before the military putsch of 1966), though a highly nuanced position for some influenced by ethnic, religious and other primordial considerations, I’ll certainly choose the latter.

For me, this is a much more pragmatic agenda than wasting time, energy and resources agitating for secession, constitutional amendments or even waging an elusive and frustrating fight against corruption.

Anything to the contrary will be tantamount to taking one step forward and two steps backward.

Finally, may I suggest you ponder on that inimitable and wise counsel of Jimmy Cliff? Okay, cool. Listen; “You can’t be wrong and get right/No matter how hard you may try/For you can’t be wrong and get right”!

Law Nnaji is a Recruitment Consultant based in Lagos.