Association of 
Nigerian Scholars 
for Dialogue

Presentation of the Report of
Justice Niki Tobi

[Being the text of a speech delivered by the Chairman of the Constitution Debate Co-ordinating Committee (CDCC), Justice Niki Tobi, while presenting the Committee's report to the Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar.]

On 11 November 1998, the Head of State, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, General Abdulsalami Alhaji Abubakar, FSS, Dss, mni, inaugurated the Constitution Debate Co-ordinating Committee (CDCC) which was charged with the responsibility to "pilot the debate, co-ordinate and collate views and recommendations canvassed by individuals and groups and submit (the) report not later than 31 December 1998."

The Head of State, Commander-in-Chief, in his inauguration speech, called for "fresh ideas" on the following contentious issues in the 1995 Draft Constitution, and I quote from the speech:

The short notice notwithstanding, Nigerians graciously responded to the advertisement for the submission of memoranda. The committee received a total of 405 memoranda from Nigerians within and outside the country. I wish to say that in response to our e-mail, Nigerians abroad also sent memoranda, which the committee found most useful. And here, I should specifically mention the Report of the Forum on the Nigerian 1995 Draft Constitution held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Washington D.C on December 5, 1998, submitted by Nigerians in the United States which included submission from Nigerians worldwide via the internet. I should also mention the memorandum from the Association of Nigerian Scholars for Dialogue in the United States and others sent by individuals from different parts of the world.

I think I should also say that by sheer coincidence, Nigerians abroad generally shared the same views with Nigerians at home, not only on the eleven issues raised by the Head of State, but in other areas in the Draft Constitution. This shows that Nigerians wherever they are, think alike on the nature of the Constitution that should govern them. And that gladdened my colleagues in the Committee.

I personally watched the debate in five centres (including Abuja). I am happy to say that the debate was not only cordial but also most patriotic and purposeful. Reports I received from abroad, particularly the Washington D.C debates in the Unites States of America, showed similar trend and response.

In the light of the memoranda and the oral presentation on the 1995 Draft Constitution, it is clear that Nigerians basically opt for the 1979 Constitution with relevant amendments. Putting it in another language, the common denominator in the mouths of Nigerians the world over is the 1979 Constitution with relevant amendments. They want it, and they have copiously given their reasons for their choice in the different memoranda and oral presentations. So we have recommended to the Provisional Ruling council the adoption of the 1979 Constitution with relevant amendments form the 1995 Draft Constitution.

I wish to make the point loud and clear to fellow Nigerians even at the expense of prolixity that the role of the committee was to coordinate and collate views and recommendations of Nigerians on the 1995 Draft Constitution and submit a report. That is exactly what we have done. In other words, the report of the committee which I will submit to you anon is based on the views expressed by Nigerians. They are not the views of either the chairman or any of the members of the committee. For the purposes of this exercise, my colleagues and myself in the committee decided to forfeit our legitimate rights as Nigerian citizens to express our views on the Draft Constitution. Painful as it is to us, that was the only way we could perform our duties like umpires in a game to the egalitarian benefit of Nigeria and Nigerians.

Nigeria is one country known to me, and probably to world legal history, where the constitution, the highest law of the land, the fons et origo of any legal system, changes like the weather cock in climatology. And that is sad, very sad indeed. It is part of our colonial history that following the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914 by Lord Lugard, we had the Clifford Constitution of 1922, the Richard Constitution of 1946, the McPherson Constitution of 1951 and the Federal Constitution (otherwise known as the Littleton Constitution) of 1954. That was before Independence in 1960. At independence, we had the 1960 Independence Constitution. In our third independence anniversary the country became a republic and had the 1963 Republican Constitution. After some experience of military regimes, the country returned to a civilian government by the promulgation of the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

It is the hope of the Constitution Debate Co-ordinating Committee (CDCC) that the Provisional Ruling Council will implement the desires, wishes and the views of Nigerians in the making of the Constitution and enthrone a truly democratic polity.

Your Excellency, I wish to thank you and the Provisional Ruling Council for giving us the opportunity to serve our dear country in this very important capacity, in our own little way. Above all, we thank the Almighty God that he made it possible for us to submit our report a day before the last [due] date. It was an effort [that involved] many sleepless nights.

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