I have written two books in the past decade, Taking Nigeria Seriously, and the other, This Conference Must Be Different, in which I anticipated the conference and have sought to approximate an old, quite ancient, spirit of advocacy and to merge it with modern projects of which the 2014 Conference turned a veritable terminus, a great expectation. I mean: to be upfront with it, I am taking liberties to abridge the arguments in the books here. What I propose to do is to enter three caveats and a discourse before rounding the cape on where the 2014 National Conference, through its resolutions, may wittingly or unwittingly be heading. Of course, my understanding of its promise is that all the problems that Nigeria and Nigerians are facing have solutions buried in possibilities that a good Constitution can provide.
Problems of insecurity, corruption, poverty, ignorance, even unemployment, and ill-health can be solved or worsened by the nature of the constitution that a country has. Which is why for me it is such a sad loss that candidates in the 2015 General Elections are storming barns and buckets across the country without being tied down in a debate about what they think of specific provisions, or resolutions that the 2014 National Conference has marshalled for moving Nigerian beyond the fiascos of previous constitutions. It has reduced much of the speechifying and electioneering to grandstanding in vacuo about fighting corruption, unemployment, insecurity, and hunger without adverting attention to the precise prescriptions that will hold the doer down to the guiding constitutional principles or law. The shopping list syndrome is so all pervasive in the campaigns, without a kitting out of implementation strategies after the usual fine phrases about democracy and good governance. The point is: the candidates do need to spell out what in the Constitution is or is not their goat, so that when we go to the polls, we shall choose aright.
Let me simply reveal that when President Goodluck Jonathan was still relatively an unknown quantity, just rising to be Governor of Bayelsa State, and still a long way to convening the 2014 National Conference in Nigeria’s Centenary year, I was on his trail. I was convinced that someone from the beleaguered oil state, if he must make his mark, would need to join in finding an endgame to the haggle for the right constitutional order for Nigeria. After he became the President, I saw the only job he had ahead of him not as that of solving a specific problem like Ebola, or building 22 airports, or more roads than all his predecessors as he has done, or erecting 129 of the 150 promised secondary schools in the face of a Boko Haram-threatened North, and 14 Universities across the country for the necessary move to prepare Nigeria for a great leap forward. Nor did I put much store by the kind of Agricultural push, quite expensive, I must say, that has materialised under his administration.
True, I expected him to put some money down in proper investments for a future generation, as in what is now called the Sovereign Wealth Fund. I expected all the states in the Federation to adopt but refine it, not drown it. I expected, but made it not the big deal, that he would build at least three more public, not private, refineries and six mega power stations across the country to link, by rail, every one of the old colonial provinces, each purring with farms linked to factories, as we really hope should happen, now that he has put the rails back on track after more than 25 years in hibernation.
Also, I entertained the possibility, but did not much worry, that if he was letting the farm and factory spirit ride the rails across the country, with a brand new line linking Kaduna to Abuja, he would enter into a lot of grating problems with countries that are today denying Nigeria fair trade, and refusing to share research or security information, or sell ammunition to the country in the face of grave threats. I could have sworn that, as he has done, he would refuse to sign the modern day instrument of slavery, the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) handed down by the European Union which sentences African countries that sign it to buy from Europe rather than produce for, and trade between, themselves. All of that amounted to doing good deeds without touching the heart of the matter.
The heart of the matter and one job I truly expected President Goodluck Jonathan to do, if he did nothing else, and even if he would die doing it, was the job of convening a National Conference. I did not expect it to be a Sovereign National Conference. There was no chance of that, and no road that could lead there, in the hurry that many strong-voiced Nigerians wanted. But a National Conference? Yes, skills-driven, and threshing a path for the discovery of the real sovereignty of the Nigerian people. Not to forget, because of the freedom and bonhomie needed to make all Nigerians comfortable with such a period of search and debate, I expected him to be a President who could be spat at, slapped and pushed, as Boko Haramists and sundry tacklers have so far done, but who even if he would be part of the shoving and pulling, would not lose pace and focus.
With particular reference to Boko Haram, frankly, I expected him to refuse to play the role of that leader who enters a house in which a child is crying, bends and folds the child into his arms, dances round the room, distracts the child to quiet, and hands the child back to the mother or nurse. Goodluck Jonathan preferred the role of the other leader who walks into the same house and moves close enough to the child to find out whether the child is hungry, ill, or discomfited by a handler. Only then, issuing instructions for the problems to be solved, does he get on his way.
Roundly, by setting up 150 Almajiri schools, out of which 129 have been established, President Jonathan was definitively meeting the challenge of Boko Haram’s hatred of western education. A feat of responsivenness, objectively apt, before the public relations savvy of the Malala handlers. It would have been quite some great public relations to reach out post haste to embrace Chibok on the loss of the 200 school girls but that would truly have been out of character with the need not to become a marionette in the hands of terrorists whose first victories are scored by getting opponents to jump when they say “jump” and dance when they say “dance”.
The first law in counter-insurgency operations is not to become a marionette in the hands of terrorists, especially terrorists whom the political opposition openly identifies with up to the point of claiming that a clampdown on the terrorists is a clampdown on a part of the country, the North. Those wishing that their country’s President should behave like changeling in the hands of a visibly schizoid character, as Shekau has proved to be on television, may have good and solid public relations credentials but not a rationality that can be relied upon to meet the irrationality of terrorism. Especially, at a time when the state had no wherewithal to engage in effective search and apprehend strategy in pursuit of terrorists! Nor would it have made tactical sense to start haunting and hounding those infiltrators within Federal ranks who were suspected of dumping sophisticated weapons for the insurgents to pick up in the war fronts, or sending poorly armed soldiers to engage terrorists already apprised of those on their trail.
Splitting the ranks of the national army, by allowing ethnic, regional or religious division to creep into the military would have been a plus for the insurgents. Goodluck Jonathan, in spite of the baying of the opposition, refused to be distracted while bidding for hard-to-get weapons in the international market place and seeking the cooperation of neighbouring states whose initial indifference and shoulder-shrugging neighbourliness was beginning to embarrass. The skill and tough-skinned sense with which Goodluck Jonathan bore the high-voltage disparagement of his style and the charges of insensitivity against him, at home and abroad, proved he knew what was required to get it right. He got it even more right in the face of the opposition to, and even ongoing derision directed at, the National Conference. The truly good part is that he pulled it all off, not without rough edges, in a Boko Haram infested environment in which the opposition, without a programmatic sense of occasion, turns a ritualistic mis-description of the country into implacable embrace of the detestable zoning formula that he was over-riding in his own party, the People’s Democratic Party. This included a shocking abandonment of true Federalism and the long-fought restructuring of the Federation which was one defining modality of progressive politics in the country.
Having pulled off the 2014 National Conference, the next stage was to consider turning the jaw-jawing and rather un-streamlined resolutions into formats for hard implementation. Now that members of the 2014 National Conference have handed in their report, by choice, to the National Assembly which has reached out to, and has received the joint report of the State Houses of Assembly, the road appears open to implementation strategies. In a normal run of events, it ought to be a hurrah for a new constitution. But can there be hurrahs until after the General Elections? This is the question! and why the candidates in the current elections, including those who opposed the 2014 National conference, ought to be telling the country what they think of the Constitution which Nigerians expect them to go by, or change, in their bid to make all the transformations they aver on the rostrum.
But I digress if I fail to add that I did not expect President Goodluck Jonathan to be stuck, for more than eighteen months, with the undertaker economists, and World Bank fair weatherists, who led President Olusegun Obasanjo down the garden path, until he thought he needed a third, unconstitutional, term to recoup. Of course, we can see that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has done better under President Jonathan than under his illustrious predecessor who was led to counting cents and dollars in foreign reserves while crying tasks were being abandoned at home until the crash of the world economy wiped out the dream acre of reserves that the former Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Chukuma Soludo turned into some kind of religion while the real sector was suffocating. Poor Soludo, he had spent his term bunching up paper monies in so-called consolidated banks while the economy was virtually screaming for the real sector to reduce the humungous massing of dollars in foreign reserves that the speculators would go after like termites.
My hunch on the question of the reserves has been quite good, as we have all seen, haven’t we, during these 2015 electioneering campaigns, as a distracting and even insulting confrontation has emerged between the super gurus of the World Bank charade in Nigeria. Trading tackles, the top flight economic stalwarts, harbingers of Bretton Woods heinous crimes against the Nigerian economy, are charging and counter-charging about who lost Nigeria the humungous amounts of money. They all did in their unconscionable World Bank monafiki and folly until the bubble of monetarism across the world proved how they caused Nigeria to take all the wrong turns while they made good, got super star prizes, and gained top flight availability in a jet-setting world of undertaker economics. The pity is that they have only competing tragedies to present to Nigerians, confusing the electorate with phantom ideas as if counting the farms and factories that they should have built for the country.
On all sides, they still brag that it is not the business of government to be in business. If Okonjo-Iweala listened to that suasion too much, I wonder which market forces they would be invoking to explain the roads and railways, the agricultural renaissance, and the talk of giving jobs beyond the counting of roadside sellers of re-charge cards as proletariat or entrepreneurs. I reckon that it takes diligence and some intellectual stamina to pry underneath the flatulent blame-gaming at each other, concerning how they gave away, for peanuts, the family heirloom to smart alecs at home and abroad and trashed gilt-edged assets in spurious privatisation deals, while withdrawing subsidy from the poor to help the irresponsible rich of the world. To think of it, the truly responsible stalwarts of the real sector, sweating it out in the dry season of the many cabals in the Nigerian public space, went as-sorrowing while Professor Soludo was engaging in bare-faced money-laundering that any Central Banker should have been sacked and disgraced for.
What is there to choose between gurus who go counting paper money in foreign reserves that soon get eaten up by the termites of speculators and their Undertaker Lords, while the real sector that should make the difference was lumbered with fine stories about inflation-targetting? They all went admiring and sucking up to Barrack Obama for his super-star fine suits but failed to see the hard-headed suasion that made that smart American to tell the people of his father’s continent: I wont buy your oil. Obama was simply saying: I am going to defend my country before I come back to you: do likewise. But Soludo and his teammates wanted to defend their futures as individuals, not Nigeria’s future.
I can tell you that although there is so much election gimmickry in the ongoing attempts at rabble-work between Ngozi Okonjo-Nweala and Chukuma Soludo, what should matter to the rest of us is how not to bow to the consequent libelling of Nigerians in the non-debates with which they have draped good, normally hard-working Nigerians with hurting terms like ‘indiscipline’, ‘incompetence’ and ‘corruption’, all gleefully inflicted after monies have been burnt in speculative ware-housing and off-shoring in the name of not allowing plenty of money to pursue few goods across the domestic economy. We are expected as voters to be entertained and to allow ourselves to be whipped into line behind this one or that one when the best of neither could have done too much better than the other. The phrase for it is ‘undertaker economics’!
Am I required as a voter, no matter how I may dislike President Goodluck Jonathan, to join Chukwuma Soludo, in refusing to put proper weight on the deserved praise that made Okonjo-Iweala shift from monetarist monafiki to fiscal redress of sundry infrastructural deficits? The joke is on those who in the name of economic liberalisation doomed job-creating possibilities across the economy and left only 419 for the expression of talent by daring Nigerians. Such poor consolation it is now to be told that because of the monetarist sinkhole that the egg-heads in government have been committed to, and their deference to friends in high places across the globe who needed a piece of the Nigerian action, they allowed factories and farms to close down, with no hope of new ones germinating, while they counted monies being lost in bureaucratic muddles that the Central Bank was created to uncover and block.
By the way, I am deliberately repeating myself in different ways. The truth is that across Nigeria, so many factories were turned into churches where former factory workers – I was one of them – now pay tithes and pray for the Governors who ride private jets with their pastors. This is fact, not fiction. And while every state in the Federation bids for another Shoprite franchise to teach Nigerians how to shop without strain, you want to ask how many of the goods that would be sold in them will be sourced from factories that our Governors-to-be ought to be promising in these electioneering times?
These are the questions that stare us in the face whether there are elections or not. They are questions that Nigerians used to know how to answer and answer well as the old man Professor Samuel Aluko proved so well, even while he worked for a very unpopular government. The questions can still be answered well. The snag is that a country rived by do-or-die battles arising from regional vetoes and unsolved ethnic arithmetic cannot find the way to answers. We are getting hair-raising talks about post-election violence and an end-game for the Federation called Nigeria in 2015, as some doomsday dirty jobbers have gamed it. The truth is that we cannot find solutions unless we bid within a common morality. Not a benign one for you and yours, and a pernicious one for others. Assuredly, we can change Nigeria into a liveable space of happy, unafraid, determined, free, loving and creative people instead of having a world that is flat, one-dimensional; a world of only one colour, one kind of music, one religion or ideology, in which people have to act against their better selves in order to survive the debilities of so called market forces that have forces but no markets for jobs acceptable to honest citizens.
It is such a space that the idea of a National Conference was always fishing and bidding for beyond political immediacies. It had always been rightly believed that, if skilfully convened, it could eliminate the fear of the future by different Nigerian nationalities and enhance conversational civility between diverse fractions and factions. The short of the matter is that an unusually gifted collection of nationalities, ill-informed to a most disabling degree, without affective access to one another that truly links hearts and minds through exposure to a common morality, how could they solve simple economic problems while each is thinking of how to overcome the other’s advantages instead of going for the goal that puts all and sundry as winners? Where would empathy come from as a defining ethic to humanise dreams and put them to work for the whole society, when the grandest ideals, even divine injunctions, are being subverted against genuine cooperation that we all need to heal the existential plagues that our lives are becoming?
These days, as we witness the giddy movements towards the 2015 General Elections, it is apposite that we have an opportunity to gather for one whose role in this contentious territory can still be weighed in to see how far and how well we are travelling. Sometimes, as we see genuine conversations becoming truly impossible, and shouting matches in the name of electioneering overcoming the civic space, with no one listening to no one in the jam of the social media, it is some bonus point for our communal health that we can have time for some honest interaction while truth goes falling as a banal casualty on the rostrum. Don’t get me wrong. I do not imply as some people are proposing that it is darkness visible. Not for our country. The need to honour a man like Abel Guobadia whose most advertised public role centred on a most modern institution, an electoral commission, a means for recruiting leaders who may continue to deploy knowledge or ignorance as their disposition lets them, simply ought to be a means of engaging the issues that challenge our country to do better. For instance, the ongoing, hullabaloo over the non-availability of Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) under Professor Attahiru Jega’s INEC in the 2015 elections, may well be viewed not only from the standpoint of putting a dampener on the process of searching for transparency in the 2015 General Elections, but re-engineering the organisation.
The questions arise. Why couldn’t PVCs have arrived two years before the elections, so that corrections and revisions would go on apace for a whole year before the election year? If such untoward things can happen under Jega, who has a well-earned reputation for integrity, where lies the salvation for Nigeria? It matters to ask because just when we were all about to start celebrating a change for the better under Professor Jega at INEC, newspaper adverts started flying which revealed that all the principal officers at the Independent National Electoral Commission were appointed against the prescribed principles minded by the Federal Character Commission. It caused an uproar which had not quite died down when it was made public that additional polling booths shared in a lopsided manner between North and South were slated as part of the preparation for the 2015 General Elections. INEC has very wisely put a lid on the matter. But it gives the impression of padding; mere padding with the presumption always bobbing up to the surface that there is in Nigerian politics a psychological wrench based on a structural mismatch between different parts of the country, especially between North and South which stands in the way of wholesome behaviour and which must be healed for Nigeria to achieve her full undoubted potential.
The truth is that for Jega to insist on being ready for the election while 23 million voters are yet to get their PVCs is tantamount to a conspiracy to disenfranchise a third of the electorate. The discovery that there was a gash of regional disparities in the distribution between North and South, with 80.1 percent in war-torn North East; the shock was that the National Assembly did not think that such a disjunction was serious enough to be treated as a National emergency requiring the INEC boss to sever his relationship with the electoral process. Worse, was the behaviour of all the former Heads of State who, at the National council of state, lined up to refuse a postponement of the polling day, without a thought to the disenfranchised. It showed by what disfigurements they had landed Nigeria in the mess that made it a far cry from scandal for millions to be denied their right to vote.
Equally, so hearty have been the voluble protestations against postponement of the polls by so called progressives within and outside party circles, who think the dates fixed for the elections were more sacrosanct than the necessity to defend the enfranchisement of millions of citizens. If census enumerators could go from door to door, why can’t INEC make it an emergency deal to do exactly the same, since it was not the fault of the voters that INEC waited for the month of the elections to begin to admit that millions of the PVCs had not even been printed. Scandal of scandals is that they managed to distribute 80.1 percent of the permanent voters cards in war-torn North East, while Lagos and environments, areas in which the President had a good showing in the last elections, had less than 40 percent distribution rate. Surely, if the President had intervened before the postponement to insist on fair distribution, that would have amounted to cracking the independence of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Even if the idiosyncrasy credits that all of us owe Professor Jega for his famed integrity makes many of us ignore the evident incongruities, why would any self-respecting candidate, party supporter, or ethnic warlord, confronted by his disenfranchised followers, be expected to stay complacent with the crudities of the bias in the distribution. In order to be considered law-abiding? Evidently, before the military service chiefs intervened to insist on a postponement to enable them battle Boko Haram to a standstill, the PVC issues were already source of seething security hazards under the deceptively calm surface of a driven electoral unfairness. The potential for an explosion in INEC’s arrogant presumption of readiness in the face of roundly evident mal-distribution, was reminding most Nigerians of the disastrous national obligation to accept figures for population censuses and registers of voters that we all know to be simply unreliable if not useless. With sanctity removed from the figures through unhealthy haggle, surely, to assume an unwillingness by the state to stand fast for effectuation of the people’s will is the easiest part of the bargain. Whether elections can be free and fair in the circumstance becomes so much a matter of turning shabby context into destiny rather than a matter of the character or will of the electoral personnel.
The short of it is that we can all consensually agree that across Nigeria’s history, every electoral commission has been mired in such incongruous situations. Not even the ostentatious attention drawn to the ‘independent’ in INEC has prevented concern about the in-built subversion of its independence. INEC, as it turns out, has common features with all the failed electoral commissions of the past, following a wearisome pattern that fits the mould of a judicial officer of minority ethnic stock servicing the agenda of a majority power bloc. After the first Chairman, Sir Kofo Abayomi, the run began with Mr. Eyo Eyo Esua, Efik (1965); Chief Michael Ani, Efik (1979); Mr. Justice Ovie-Whiskey, Urhobo (1983); Professor Eme Awa, Igbo (1987); Professor Humphery Nwosu, Igbo (1989-93); Professor Okon Uya, Efik (1993); and Chief Sumner Dagogo-Jack, Calabar (1993-98). In the fourth Republic, Justice Ephraim Akpata, as Chairman, this time Edo, and. Dr. Abel Guobadia, another Edo, (1999-2006) was followed by Prof. Maurice Iwu, an Igbo(2006-2010) and the breaker of the mould, the first northerner, Prof. Attahiru Jega, the incumbent since 2010. The same mindset that was evident in the appointment of the Chairmen was displayed in the appointment of the Secretaries to the Commisssion, Alhaji Adamu Bawa Muazu – “geo-political” correctness followed the pattern of Alhaji Saidu Barda, Secretary to Ovie-Whiskey’s Commission who was appointed after Alhaji Lambo Gubio, a member of the newly-formed INEC under Maurice Iwu.
The pattern was not exhausted by the fact that Dr. Umaru S. Ahmadu was secretary to Prof. Eme Awa while Alhaji Aliu Umar was Secretary to Professor Humphery Nwosu whose Chief of Logistics incidentally was Col. Mohammed Wase. For that matter, Alhaji AbdulKadri Aliyu was Secretary to Professor Okon Uya while Alhaji Mohammed Ali was Secretary to Dagogo-Jack backed by Col. Yakubu Bako as Chief of Logistics. One highly indicative appointment is that of Alhaji Shehu Musa Makama Bida, Secretary to the Government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s NPN government, in 1979-83, a Presidential Aspirant on the platform of the National Republican Convention in 1990 and Chairman of the National Population Commission for the 1991 Census. A serious matter of consequence in assessing the independence of the Commission is in the fact that a common political tendency could be traced in the membership of Nigeria’s electoral commissions. Until the appointment of Jega in 2010, it had the political colour of the conservative flank made up of the NPC, UPP, NNA, NPN, NRC axis as against the more progressive AG, NCNC, NEPU, UPGA, UPN, NPP, PRP, SDP axis. What INEC lost in rigid conservative coloration, it made up for however in the regional consistency of its top heirarchy.
One remarkable feature of the pattern maintenance that has taken place in INEC is that until the appointment of Prof. Jega as Chairman in the Fourth Republic, the organising principles were fairly well threshed within a negative dictum inherited from the First Republic. Simply, from the standpoint of the ruling party, it said: whether you vote for us or you do not vote for us, we shall win. This was the Elder Fani-Kayode doctrine. In the Second Republic, it was reduced to the simple formula that competition in the system was between the ruling party and the military rather than the opposition, according to Adisa Akinloye. In the Third Republic, victories won by candidates were simply annulled and party Chairmen were instructed by the military to endorse the change. In the Fourth Republic, the principle, derived from the same old rampart of impunity was argued differently. At the beginning, it was a case of if we won an election organised by the military, how could we lose an election that we ourselves shall organise as argued by Mallam Adamu Ciroma.
Before this non-principle was activated, virtually all Nigerian newspapers reported how a party stalwart, Chris Uba from Anambra, looked the president in the eye and demanded to be granted his recompense for rigging the elections in his state. He said: “I gave INEC money and asked them to announce the results”. The gubernatorial beneficiary of that rigged election, Dr. Chris Ngige, who was present, also looked the president in the eye and said your election and my election were rigged on the same table. “Get out of my sight”, shouted the Presdient. And, they got out of his sight but not out of the system. There was no police intervention because it was just a family affair.
What is of significance, from my perspective here, is that irrespective of who has been INEC boss, the same informalities and impunity have been turned into a culture for managing elections. Ten years after Abel Guobadia left INEC, the extant organisational debilities are still those of muddling things to predictable endings. It comes from a long way off; so far away that it obliges all to realise that it is not just about the individual operative or Chairman but the surrounds, the context in which INEC itself functions. When population figures, in acrimonious dispute, are matched to the absence of a proper register of voters, while the structure of the electoral commission itself is fraught with the rigours of ethnic and regional bias, context seriously becomes destiny. Context here refers to the overhang of ruling party dispensers who design and enforce authoritative decisions along lines of impunity. Context impacts upon elections in gory forms that go beyond what is reported by embarrassed and sometimes enraged international observers who do not need to imagine it but can see that ballot boxes get stollen, and underage children vote and results are announced from booths where no polling took place.
As Abel Guobadia has presented them, the gross informalities that overtake the bureaucracy at the electoral commission ensure a depressing picture; all efforts to set INEC free, as recommended by the Uwais commission, are blunted by ruling party and regional warlords at state and Federal levels. Every effort to streamline the process of voting through the use of DNA technology, or data capture machines or even the grander pursuit of an Identity Card system to cover the whole country has ended in disappointment. After expending so much money, the machines are abandoned. As it was in 1962, so it has remained in supposedly more enlightened times. For anyone with cursory familiarity with Nigeria’s history, it is this, the predictability of failure for virtually every such historical project aimed at changing the story of Nigeria, that has induced the campaigns not just for institutional but constitutional change. Events have made it so obvious that, beyond the possibility that Professor Jega can carry out his revolution of the Permanent Voter’s card, only a complete overhaul of the system through constitutional re-engineering will pass.
There is, for instance, absolute necessity to ensure a funding pattern for INEC to remove the excuse of poor scheduling such as led to postponement of polling days in 2011 after they were due, and has created the same crisis of dates in 2015. In the latter case, the mal-distribution of permanent voters cards (PVCs) leading to the disenfranchisement of 23 million, more than a third of the voters at the point of postponement, is like a coup against the electorate. The sad and shocking part is that all of Nigeria’s former Heads of States at the National Council of States, and a host of supposedly radical civil society organisations, lined up against postponement, making it seem as if the fixed dates were sacrosanct but the disenfranchisement of a third of the electorate was piece of cake. To have claimed to be ready several times before the calamity of disenfranchisement was exposed puts Professor Jega in the invidious position of someone determined to rig the election against the electorate. It is compounded by the fact that war-torn North East had 80.1 distribution rate as against 38 percent for a Lagos at peace, the largest national constituency, not to mention the queer North/South divide in the volume of distribution that proves the fears of those who have accused him of fixing an ethnic and regional echelon around himself at INEC to bias the whole electoral process.
The oppositional pundits, arguing that all democratic elections always have low voter turn-out hence no reason for panic, are just being shameless in their extenuation or justification of the fiasco of an electoral commission that therefore sets out ab initio to pre-determine a lower level than tolerable in the circumstance of a closely fought election. Suppose the eventual winner scores two million votes more than the loser but undistributed voters cards run up to five million, how can the umpire justify handing the certificate to anyone? Clearly, only a fair distribution of voters cards which leaves the voters to decide whether to vote or not to vote meets the factor of freeness and fairness in the process. Otherwise the 2015 election must pass as not just rigged but cooked. Even without the intervention of the security chiefs insisting on being given time to fight the Boko Haram insurgents in the North East to a standstill, it ought to have been obvious that there is a clear security issue in so cavalierly disenfranchising millions. What could be a greater security issue than a virtual coup against the electorate? So why not let’s posit the self-evident: that a country in which such mal-distribution of voters cards may be argued as having security implications does deserve to have had a National Conference, if only to make a pitch for change. So to say, after the failure of the 2005 Political Reform Conference, which President Olusegun Obasanjo flunked, President Goodluck Jonathan had no choice but to convene a National Conference. If he had failed to act, history would not have marked him down as clueless but downright irresponsible.
Given the foregoing, Nigeria’s history from 1900, the beginning of British rule, may be viewed as one long transition to democracy that has not yet arrived but is endlessly on the way. Implicitly, it began with the notion of a civilising mission which, in the specific department of the polity, covered forty-six years of struggle and negotiation between fractious natives and the colonial military ruler. It may well be noted that there have been two “civilising missions”, one undertaken by the colonial military until independence in 1960, and the other by their step children, the native soldiers whom they left behind and who began to intervene extremely rudely in politics from the first coup of January 15, 1966. As it happened, the colonial ruler disengaged after enacting five different constitutions with the sixth becoming the Independence Constitution: Fredrick Lugards’ instruments of Amalgamation (1914), Clifford Constitution (1922), Richard’s Constitution (1945), Macpherson Constitution (1951), the Lyttelton Constitution (1954), the Independence Constitution (1960) and the Republican Constitution (1963).
Counting from 1960, the country was having a fifth Post-Independence Constitution by the time General Abdulsalaam Abubakar’s transition reached the shore on May 29, 1999. Properly speaking, only the constitution that came after 1963, the Republican Constitution, may be described as falling into the period of the second civilising mission – the era of the so-called “corrective” regimes. All the same, a common view of the periods can be sustained which puts the civilising mission and the corrective interludes – colonial and post-colonial – together in terms of attempted departures from regimes of force. Either way, the umpires in the political space were military in cast, bowing now and then to dissent and open defiance but generally holding the aces. The corrective military regimes and their transitions – in a sense – have been no better than clones, if not handmaidens of the colonial ones. Worthy of note is that all the transitions followed a common format usually beginning with debates audited by specially created technical committees, special commissions or political bureaus which made recommendations around popular demands or trends that are then subjected to further supposedly non-partisan administration, ad hoc or Constitutional Conferences or Constituent Assemblies.
The umpires shape the processes from local levels to more partisan regional and national levels. The watchword of the processes was usually that it be orderly. This implied that it be amenable to control. The reality of control ensured that whatever agenda emerged from aggregation of views and interests was revisable and usually had to go through revision by the colonial or military ruler. While it has always been the case that the authoritarian lawgiver was forced to be an exit-taker, there tended, always too, to be enough leverage and clout for the law-giver to determine the state of the negotiated outcome. As in the colonial era, the post-colonial law-giver, this time some kind of internal colonialist from the home-grown barracks, had a lot of impact on the progress of constitution-making, moving from a parliamentary to a quasi unitary, command-centred, constitution amenable to military dictates in 1979.
The constitution which favoured a Presidential system, a mould-breaker, was rubbed in too hard however when the 1999 Constitution, which Nigerians did not see until after the transitional elections that it was supposed to guide, was touted, by a military decree, as having been enacted by we the people. It was and has remained a scandal. The agitation for a new constitution thereafter took on a fervent outlook after transition to civil rule. It yielded a demand for a sovereign national conference, disavowing the need for military guidance or overhang, with the people gathered as sovereign. Except that under an elected government, no matter how unfair the polls, it was difficult to press for a Sovereign National Conference unless from the ambit of a coup de tat which would have no relationship to, but could annul an existing government. Quite brusquely, it was resolved by the establishment of the 2005 Political Reform Conference which had no pretensions to a democratic provenance. Unfortunately, that conference failed to deliver.
At any rate, the demand for a sovereign national conference seemed at first to be merely a bargaining position from which to bid for military exit from power. It turned out to be so fervently taken to heart by sundry groups that a need arose to match the theory to the actual necessity to restructure the lopsided Federation. The controversial edge to the demand is that it was not only linked to the necessity for devolution of powers from the central government but based on a redefinition of federating units, not in terms of states created according to the whimsies of military dictators but ethnic nationalities and language groups as originally proposed by Obafemi Awolowo in the forties in his book Path to Nigerian Freedom and re-stated in the sixties in Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution, The People’s Republic and The Strategy and Tactics of the People’s Republic of Nigeria.
True, restructuring for Ken Saro Wiwa was a drift towards the confederal, while Obafemi Awolowo never shifted from his federalist perspective. Both were agreed, however, that restructuring should return self-governance to carefully delineated ethnic groups in territorial formation whose pre-colonial mandates were dismantled by British guns; and whose post colonial dispositions have been assaulted by the internal colonialism of fellow natives in military gear. To have federating units which are states simply means, according to this argument, that ethnic groups and fractions must constitute states, local governments and special autonomous units recognised by the constitution. The real news, and the proof of the patriotic inclination of the movers for restructuring is that like Awolowo, who never stopped demanding states based on ethnic affiliations, they have upheld the most insistent plank for linking all the nationalities together through common social welfare programmes. This was the basis of the insertion of fundamental objectives and directive principles in the 1979 Constitution, which sundry groups have fought to make justiciable as now affirmed by the National Conference.
Along this line of thinking, and in order to formalise a basis for a more equitable Federation, a virtual national movement of ethnic nationalities emerged in the nineties, which was boosted by champions of the June 12 struggle after the annulment of the Presidential election of 1993. The indeterminate possibilities of this movement, along the North/South divide, led to compromises on all sides that must explain why Olusegun Obasanjo was removed from prison to become President of Nigeria. All opinions agree that it was a sop for the aggrieved Yoruba over the June 12 annulment. By the same token, the Niger Delta was being placated when Goodluck Jonathan was nominated as the Vice President to President Umaru Yar’adua. It was a case of mollifying the much marginalised oil-producing Niger Delta which continued to account for more than 80 percent of the national income and was up in arms, in fervent militancy that was taking away the goose that laid Nigeria’s golden egg.
The question was always hanging in the air: why have a Federation in which some parts are given sops and mollified, instead of having direct civic rights on the basis of which they bid for and get their due? This question underlay what may be termed the Goodluck Ebele Jonathan Dilemma, or the GEJ Dilemma, for short. It is simply a factor of the lopsided geo-political architecture that has fractured national psyche and given rise to invidious manipulation by geo-cultural Mafiosi and cabals. It happens to be an architecture full of terrible imbalances and incongruities which has raised fear and distrust and frustrated many grand national projects.
As so many watchers of Nigerian affairs agree, it has not been good for the North because it has not been good for the country as a whole. It has given rise to unheeded demands for mending; healing; recasting, and restructuring of the national frame. To no avail. Its markers have been particularly vicious: evident in attempts by one side of the country or state to catch up with the other, to halt, or simply destroy the advantages of the other, to even up. It has witnessed crude attempts at truly inane rotation of offices, barring people of the wrong regions, states or local governments from strategic political offices, or allowing the arrantly unqualified to overtake the truly qualified so long as it helps to maintain ethnic or regional security. Also, it has been quite a bone of contention in the negotiations within and between Nigerian political parties across the decades.
Please, because this is very important, let me take it slowly. There is a sense in which a President who has refused to go by any rule of thumb and has chosen to throw the matter of constitutional reforms into the boil of a national conference in an election year, is a risk taker. Since he once opposed a more draconian version of such a conference, he may well be seen as having a genuine dilemma. It meant that there was a dire necessity to be served that he knew he could not postpone. In essence, those opposed to the holding of a National conference could not, in fairness, be accused of far-fetching when they claimed that the President is seeking to use the holding of the National Conference to get out of a logjam. It was too evident for words that he was face to face with a logjam, for instance, in his own political party.
At the core of the logjam in the party, PDP, loomed a private arrangement which its supporters consider to be superior to the provisions of the Nigerian constitution. It touches on President Jonathan’s presumed signing of an agreement that zoned the Presidency of Nigeria to the North; at least for eight years. It is argued, in line with the zoning formula, that he was not supposed to take the slot allotted to the North in the family arrangement under which he emerged as Vice President to Alhaji Umaru Yar’adua, a northerner from Katsina, who unfortunately died without completing his term of office. President Jonathan has insisted that he never signed any such agreement, but Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, Chairman of the Northern Governors’ Forum, claims he did. Jonathan’s presence at the meeting where the zoning formula was agreed upon is taken as the imperative of his commitment to it. Although the national constitution allows the Vice President to succeed the President in such circumstances, his northern opponents raise the family arrangement above it to the effect that only a Northerner should have emerged to complete Yar’adua’s term.
After the cross country uproar, fired by the Save Nigeria Group, which induced the so called doctrine of necessity that enabled him to become President, they claimed he was not supposed to attempt to run on his own steam. But he ran and won. The error of running in that election which he was not supposed to run for, or win, was compounded in the eyes of the defenders of the zoning formula, by his seeking to have a second term as President. Seven Governors out of 23 threatened to leave the PDP, and five actually left, because President Jonathan would not abdicate his right to run again. Incidentally, the five who carried out their threat, including Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, a Governor from the South South zone where President Jonathan hails from, have since joined the All Progressive Congress. They have taken with them a host of legislators: going from 135 to 172, one above the ruling party’s 171, in the House of Representatives. With the APC in what seemed an unstoppable barn-storming across the country, and with sundry defections to it from the PDP, President Jonathan obviously needed a secular wand that could halt what was threatening to be a runaway victory for the APC opposition. How could he stem the revolt in his party and confront the larger national constituency that was being made to believe that he was incapable of delivering the dividends of democracy?
President Jonathan had an even more discomfiting challenge. This one from former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who sided with the supporters of the zoning formula. Obasanjo, his illustrious mentor and predecessor, first PDP President in the Fourth Republic, declared that President Goodluck Jonathan was allowed to do only one term and no more. An intriguing element was added by the fact that in his eight years in office as President of Nigeria, Obasanjo, an Owu from Abeokuta in the Southwest, was also constantly berated for signing an agreement with the North that he reneged upon. As President, Olusegun Obasanjo claimed that he refused to sign the secret agreement that required him to bow to the wishes of the hegemonists who cornered him. Professor Jubril Aminu, stalwart of the Arewa group that negotiated with him, has insisted that he signed the agreement. The odd part is that no one has said that Obasanjo was not presented with such an agreement to sign.
The question is: why should there be a secret agreement, supposedly to make a Nigerian President perform only as one part of the country wishes? How talk about living in one united country if we are hedged in by such underhand manipulation in favour of a geo-cultural cabal? These are rhetorical questions. But they dredge communal memory in the face of events, such as the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election which was won by MKO Abiola, in what is generally described as the freest and fairest election in Nigeria’s history. The annulment of that election was carried out under the military dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida, and his presumed Khalifa, or successor, General Sani Abacha, pursuant to the interests of northern echelons within and outside the army. Although Ernest Sonekan, an Egba Chief was inserted in an interim capacity as Head of State to mollify outraged Yoruba groups, it was with the death of General Abacha, Sonekan’s nemesis, and Obasanjo’s jailor, that the northern establishment found the man that the North could trust enough to hand over power to. Obasanjo fitted the bill in the course of General Abdusalam Abubakar’s minding of the transition to civil rule in 1999. In like manner, Goodluck Jonathan was supposed to have fitted the bill. A mild-mannered denizen of the oil-rich Niger Delta, he was supposed to serve as Vice President to a northerner and help to douse the flames of militancy spurting from guerrillas who were fighting against what Ken Saro Wiwa, the judicially murdered writer and Ogoni leader, taught Nigerians to describe as internal colonialism.
Surely, against such a background, and the opposition by a northern group to his candidacy, who would not agree that President Goodluck Jonathan had a personal dilemma! Except that the dilemma has an evident northern coloration which some readings of the ongoing Boko Haram violence in the North East of Nigeria actually see as a source of escalation; a way of giving President Jonathan a virtual hammer to swallow for breaking the power code in the ruling PDP. True or false, the fact is that five of seven Governors who successfully carried out the threat to cross from the ruling PDP to the newfound All Progressive Congress advertised their open commitment to the search for a Northern candidate for 2015. They were not in search of a Nigerian President. Their movement from the People’s Democratic Party had the logic of transferring the zoning hamper in the PDP to the APC, implying that strategic offices in the new party, especially the Presidency, would be reserved. Indeed, without self-consciousness as to the parochialism underlying their cause, the Governors made the President’s commitment to the family arrangement within the PDP appear the standard by which the whole country should go.
As they criss-crossed the country in search of allies, they seemed, wittingly or unwittingly, to be insisting that their aggrieved sense of entitlement was superior to the constitution of the country. It has become a challenge to many Nigerians who loathed the PDP zoning formula but now must confront it in the alternate ego of the party, the APC. The logic is that the APC, the new mega party, also has it as a primary dilemma to deal with the same zoning conundrum. And one of the great occlusions of the work of the National Conference, if I must anticipate myself, is that it bought into the mania of imagining that once you sequester the country into zones and rotate offices you are dealing with the problems, diversity, regionalism and national unity. It is based on a very unprogressive reasoning which fails to explain why a North-South Rotation and a zone by zone rotation across six geopolitical zones, as in the defunct Yugoslavia, always manages to dissatisfy everybody without making anyone truly better off. What is not considered is that the absence of such a rotation and the risk it contains for every leader to have a map of the country nation in his and her head from day one is actually a better means of bringing people to coalescence. That is, for those who truly want a country to eventually coalesce.
As noted, already, even the APC mega party that has just been put together is saddled with it as a birthmark, a primary dilemma, the harshness of which the leaders have been able to ameliorate by de-emphasising re-structuring as a party pursuit. The point is that a cultural philosophy, which so far has only been patchily taken care of by a religious compromise, is needed to stem the reality of the myth which says that if the southern leader agrees with a northern leader, he has to worry about placating the masses of ‘his’ people who have always demanded different standards of public provisioning. And, if the northern leader submits to pleas by the southern suitor, a large segment of the northern electorate will need to be mollified against seeing it as a betrayal.
A grand social welfare philosophy which can remove the zero-sum nature of the myth demands emplacement beyond the glaring religious assertion that is so brazenly displayed by the structure of the party hierarchy. It is not clear how much of the old commitment to restructuring can still be formalised within the APC, especially after the open disavowal of the necessity for a national conference that seems to have overtaken the party. The urgent task that stares the party in the face, however, is to distance itself from the jinx of organised groups, like the Arewa Forum which extra-legally arm-twists political leaders to take only regional security agendas to the national table, while openly bragging about watering down the mandate of every Southerner that becomes President.
In essence, it follows that what appeared a Goodluck Ebele Jonathan dilemma was actually not such a personal one but an impersonal exposure of the existence of a fractured national psyche which he could heal not only for his party but for the whole country. Whatever his presumed ambitions for the 2015 Presidential elections, which opponents regarded as his underlying rationale for pushing for a national conference, the real challenge is to meet the ambitions of a Federation, which many, including his opponents always wished to construct on the principle that no side ought to be so powerful as to possess an over-bearing veto over others.
The more serious question concerns how to approximate national sovereignty, restructure the political system, to allow for a more balanced order in an environment in which there is no fair population census, no proper electoral roll, no determinate principle for the creation of states or local governments. To talk of sovereignty in such a country is merely to turn the mob, the rabble, into revolutionaries, as the Arab spring proved so well. It was largely in appreciation of this that opponents of the National Conference remained so sure of its predictable failure. The real plebiscite, however, was wreaked by the grouse of many marginalised minorities and disadvantaged majority ethnic groups in both the North and the South, who voted for the National Conference and agreed to participate in it.
It is an intriguing issue because members of the opposition party who were once strident about a sovereign national conference, not only repudiated the necessity for any sovereign national conference, but through Asiwaju Bola Tinubu indicated that they preferred adopting the report of the political Reform Conference of 2005 which was organised by President Olusegun Obasanjo. Whether it was a case of adopting an old conference report or not, whoever was conversant with Nigerian affairs knew that whichever choice would lead to bringing Nigerians together for a dialogue, was all the rave. At any rate, even if Jonathan meant to avoid it, the very problem that haunted the country was now so much his personal problem that he could not fail to accede to the demand for restructuring that President Umaru Yar’adua, a keen man of northern extraction, had begun to address so pointedly and fervently, before his demise! It was time to look at the structures that always permitted such a sense of entitlement which made a self-appointed cabal believe it could have a non-constitutional arrangement that would outpoint the national constitution. It made President Jonathan more right than wrong in bidding for a national conference that could give northerners and southerners a sense of a common/shared future. In the face of a raging war in the North East, the fractious developments in his party, and the rising profile of the political opposition that was very well primed to overcome the pursuit of the idea, the National conference was convened in March 2014 after the cross-country testing of the ground by the Okunrounmu Committee.
Let me note at this point that there have been very strong opinions expressed by strong-voiced Nigerians about how prepared the President and the country was for such a conference. Even if it is very much conceded that the President had problems – personal and national – that he had to contend with, there is good testimony to the fact that he was meticulous and highly skilled in preparing for it. The authoritative voice on this as I have argued in This Conference Must Be Different is Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the leader of opposition who has been most categorical about his misgivings and who must be thanked for unwittingly rousing a virtual national movement behind the idea of the conference.
The former Governor of Lagos State and national leader of the All-Progressive Congress, has acknowledged in a backhanded sort of way that he was indeed following the steps being taken by the President although he never expected those steps to be well-meant or pursued to logical conclusions. In the statement that he made on his return from recuperating abroad, he averred that the President opted for the “wiser and more cost-effective line of action when, in November 2011, he inaugurated the Justice Belgore Presidential Committee on the Review of Outstanding Issues from Recent Constitutional Conferences”. The President, according to him, appointed many eminent personalities to the Committee. After the Committee’s report on July 11, 2012, the President constituted a Cabinet committee, with the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke, as the Chairman, to report within three weeks. Then: “Under the President’s watch and directive, a presidential retreat was held for civil society organisations and professional groups at the Banquet Hall, of the State House, Abuja”. The Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Emeka Ihedioha, the Chairman of the House Committee on constitution Review, stressed the fact, at that retreat, and in the presence of President Goodluck Jonathan, “that the target of the legislature was to complete the constitution amendment process by June 2013.”
When that process was actually completed, all the principal drivers in the National Assembly began to deliver reports to the public in a way that was, agreeably, parliamentary. This means that even while so many were talking about the cluelessness of the President, so much was actually happening that was being kept at arms length by those who should have been most enthused by, even if critical of, the process. Although the public has been kept in the dark about the Belgore Report, the minders of the amendment process in the Senate and in the House of Representatives kept faith with the public. So much work they have done to enable any concerned citizen to follow the pattern of the reconstruction of a new constitution in the light of the old!
The usually unbowed and proactive media across the country have performed admirably, in my view, and have enabled all who are genuinely interested in the process to know how different is the work that has been done by the sitting National Assembly. Because of the kind of education I have received from their reports, I owe a special deal of gratitude to my favourite reporters: and I want to acknowledge my indebtedness to the journalists who have done interviews and features on the basis of which I have garnered pictures of the various conferences and their reports. In particular, “A Tale of Two Constitution Amendment Reports”, written by Vincent Obia, for ThisDay, the Sunday Newspaper on July 24, 2013; “The PRONACO REPORT: Can Okunrounmu Committee Learn from the Past” written by Musa Odoshimokhe for The Nation on October 24, 2013; “Where is Abuja Conference’s Report” by The Nation‘s political editor, Emmanuel Oladesu, published on October 30, 2013: and Sunday Vanguard interview with Emeka Ihedioha, Deputy Speaker and Chairman of the Ad-Hoc committee on Constitution Review on March 9, 2014. It is true that no one has followed with much diligence the reports of either the National Conference itself or the job of synchronising the reports of the Senate and the House of Representatives which has been done and to which the Houses of Assembly have responded in a conjoint report. But I am for now simply interested in the work done by the National Conference.
Now to the discourse. I might seem to be getting personal, if I return to my earlier revelation that I had an agenda of my own which made me write a number of articles, a few published in the newspapers, which anticipated the outcome of the National Conference. If I wasn’t going to be there at the Conference, it was no reason not to let myself be felt or heard. I sent an advance copy of the two books, Taking Nigeria Seriously, and This Conference Must Be Different to the Secretariat of the Conference and watched and ticked off what I considered the touchstone of the whole exercise. There was nothing brilliantly original in what I had written. I made no claim to special knowledge. As I saw it, a “constitution that will outlast its makers must derive its rationale from collective ambitions that are not driven by immediate, or merely alimentary, concerns! Unity is not enough. Nor welfare. A good constitution must seek a shared future, based on justice and a common, benign morality…. as a syllabus of ideals into the next Nigerian Century. And beyond”. And, there was no reason in my view to try re-inventing the wheel. I merely relied on the “good work” that had been done in the last century which required us to take our country very seriously.
Hence, in asserting that this conference must be different, I had no reason to engage in far-fetching. The cumulative goodness of preceding creativity and hard work from various constitutional conference reports, civil society soirees and special commissions already had empowering visions from tapping into the best that the Nigerian mind had framed in pursuit of a handle for our collective aspirations. I merely extracted what I called asterisked items, many of which I had argued for in Taking Nigeria Seriously and When Does a Civil War Come to An End in the form of one citizen’s plea to fellow citizens: to appreciate the necessity for a National dialogue, the insolvency of a sovereign national conference, and the imperative of facing up to the challenges of the national question with creativity. Whether or not the Secretariat of the National Conference bothered with my submissions, I decided to line up the asterisked items which I believed could be consensually agreed upon by Nigerians who had given some good thought to them.
There is a personal statement I wish to make here about the faith I began to have in my fellow countrymen and women when I discovered that many of the resolutions of the National Conference chimed with what I had proposed as asterisks. If you hear the timbre of a brag in my voice as I reel out the asterisked items which coincided with the resolutions of the National Conference, it is because, as I have argued, there is really no reason to re-invent the wheel. The good work already done by preceding searchers for answers came handy. Nor is it a matter of raising one conference over another in a partisan pursuit of kudos. I arrived at the asterisked items by simply comparing the reports of the various national conferences to the positions taken by many constitutional experts whose arguments merely needed to be cleaned up, from sentimental dredges in order to be make them serviceable for lasting purposes. My asterisks were the items that, I thought, a fair and proper constitution, able to deal with the problems of our times, could not afford to occlude. “In my well-considered view, we are, as Nigerians, inheritors of great debates, marvellous precepts, and well-honed constitutional provisions – loaded asterisks – that are answers to our much-vaunted National Question. In over one hundred years of trying, we have arrived at principles that are true to our needs and ought now to be harnessed with the integrity of self-motivated people. In no particular order, the principles cover but are not limited to the following:
– A Presidential system with a four year, renewable, term for chief executives who shall be elected on the basis of universal adult suffrage by the whole constituency over which they seek governance;
– A bicameral legislature based on universal adult suffrage;
– A judiciary entitled to a first line draw on the Consolidated Revenue Fund;
– A post-office pension for past chief executives and officers of the legislature, so long as they were not impeached;
– The withdrawal of immunity from criminal liabilities for Chief Executives;
– Special courts for the prosecution, with despatch, of cases emanating from corrupt practices;
– States courts of appeal to be established in six geo-political zones;
– A mayoral administration for the Federal Capital Territory;
– Transfer of basic education, maternal health care, and housing from Chapter two, on Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State policy to chapter Four under Fundamental human Rights, therefore making them justiciable;
– Creation and re-creation of states strictly to ensure that, as much as possible, all people of the same ethnic or language group in contiguous territorial formation are together in one state;
– The creation of a Gbagyi state, Ekiti state, Ijebu state, Nupe state, Anioma state, Kanuri state etc. with common welfare policies as guaranteed across all the states of the Federation;
– Removal of pensions, prisons, railways, stamp duties, and wages from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent list;
– Addition of Road Safety, healthcare, public complaints, arbitration, aviation, and environment, health, housing and electricity to the Concurrent list.
– A shared and federated defence and security system with a directorate of each of the forces under each level of government; – Every tier of government entitled to a police system in the format of the judicial service;
– Secularity of the Nigerian state guaranteed, i.e. no state religion;
– All political parties to enjoy subvention commensurate with votes scored in local government elections;
– All incumbents who change their political parties midstream shall return to the electorate for their mandates to be re-determined in a bye-election.
– Every language to be a national language taught at school in the domicile of each language; a multi-language choice at higher levels, with Universities in each catchment area empowered to research into the history, folklore, literature and culture of the areas;
– The autonomy of the local government system to be guaranteed: no joint Local Government/state account; but a Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission for the state;
– Local governments and states to be involved through equity and management in resources found in their areas;
– Derivation principle to be applicable to all revenues, including Value Added Tax (VAT);
– A revenue allocation formula that takes cognisance of items on first line draw; and shift of items on the Exclusive and Residual list to the Concurrent list.
– Drastic reduction in cost of governance through downsizing of ministries, commissions, parastatals, offices of special advisers and special assistants;
– A half-yearly report of actual cost of government to be undertaken by specially created Code of Conduct/Public protector’s office answerable to parliament;
– “No expenditures without proper appropriation.” All budgets of such entities as the CBN, NNPC, NIMASA, Customs and Excise etc to be laid before the National Assembly;
– A separate office of the Attorney General of the Federation; distinct from the office of the Minister of Justice;
– The office of the Accountant General of the Federation to be distinguished from the office of the Accountant General of the Federal Government;
– All who are convicted for electoral malpractice shall be banned from running for any office for nine years.
My immediate misses pertain to the following that:
– All political parties to enjoy subvention commensurate with votes scored in local government elections;
– All incumbents who change their political parties in midstream shall return to the electorate for their mandates to be re-determined in a bye-election;
– Every language to be a national language taught at school in the domicile of each language; a multi-language choice at higher levels, with Universities in each catchment area empowered to research into the history, folklore, literature and culture of the areas;
– A half-yearly report of actual cost of government to be undertaken by specially created Code of Conduct/Public protector’s office answerable to parliament.
As I see it, the resolutions of the National conference pertaining to these three items have a special significance for the defence of democracy and cultural freedom across the country. I think that they bear re-presentation. But beyond the need to re-present rejected asterisks is the necessity to look at some critical items which simply should never have been given the latitude they have enjoyed as outcomes of the proceedings. Since this is not meant to be an exhaustive analysis of the resolutions of the conference, I wish to limit myself to items I would have wished that the conference de-asterisked before the report was sent to the National Assembly.
Among the resolutions that I would wish de-asterisked is the National Council of Chiefs, which some people may consider a way of bringing Nigerians together but actually constitutes a danger to the spirit of the whole body of resolutions. This is not just because this is supposed to be a republican constitution, but because there are better ways of protecting valued institutions than denaturing them. Chiefs who want to mind their people’s interests in a governmental manner, beyond their localities and provinces, should be advised to run for elections and go into the Senate or House of Representatives. At a time when some Nigerians are demanding that one chamber is enough to do the job of law-making, why encumber the nation with a third chamber? If Nigerian senators do not have the skills to work out how to build a country of cultural freedoms, the other resolutions in the Constitution provides a wide berth for accessing a common, shared, future. At any rate the House of Representatives already, in its proceedings, considered the idea of a National House of Chiefs too outmoded to delay proceedings. That the National Conference has re-invoked it is a matter that should raise eyebrows as it posits a lack of attention to the demands of the future.
A shared future of genuine interactions, cannot be created by superficial agglomerations of ethnic fellowship which emphasise birth and indigeneship outside the areas of proper ethnic domicile. A National House of chiefs, no matter how instituted is bound to have a pecking order, multiplying areas of ethnic competition, and revamping parochial philosophies of zoning which down-grade and wound ethnic egos in ways that must be avoided in a Nigeria of free peoples; peoples who must not behave like slaves in search of overlords. All traditional rulers have individual turfs that must grant them places of pride not to be sucked into supposed national projects, and yielding to unnecessary ethnic ranking. We need to learn that it is not by an arithmetic of ethnic cultures that we build a common nationality for Nigerians. It is by giving such confidence and freedom to all communities that they know they must get their due irrespective of where they are or who they are. Those who enter the zones of any particular ethnic cultures must learn to live within that culture without requiring the indigenes to bow to another town within the town. It is called respect. Every citizen ought to have it for those amongst whom they live or wish to live to give it back in return. Of course, there are cultural forms that no longer fit into the modern rating of civilised conduct. It is a matter that properly made laws define within the ambit of the customary laws that the United Nations Declaration of Fundamental Human Rights represents for every society.
Another related resolution that needs to be de-asterisked is the requirement that there should be zoning of political offices between geo-cultural sections of society. One of the capital ingredients of this resolution is that states are to be treated as federating units. It is not a bad idea if, first of all, it is properly understood that a state must be made up of people of as similar a language and culture as possible. The practice of allowing minorities of one ethnic group to be in another state or local government is an open sourcing of trouble. It is attempted ethnocide if people, kinsmen, speaking the same language, and contiguous, are forced into different states, local governments, and autonomous communities. It amounts to trying to kill off people who should belong to the same community. Whether at local government or state levels, wherever it exists in Nigeria, it ought to be corrected. It does not follow that people of the same tongue, who have served too many different masters may not have differences but it can safely be assumed that they are less likely to be unreconciled to themselves at the level of culture or natal pre-conceptions. To require that offices must be zoned between them for there to be peace is partly a way of preparing the ground for and inducing divisions that can become so entrenched that they become unnatural obstacles to coalescence. Let political parties that wish to live on it put zoning on their manifestoes or even their constitutions as a way of gaining or proving communal access better than some other party. But not in the national constitution. Zoning is a bane that must be rooted out, as it actually stands in the way of allowing Nigerians to outgrow the divisive logic of treating people as strangers even where it has no meaning or significance.
By the same token, on the question of indigeneship, and consistent with the Senate’s admirably sharp rejection of a National House of Chiefs which may advise on religion, culture, resolution of boundary disputes, maintenance of peace, corporate unity and development of the country, there is a need to bring some tougher resolution to it’s existing stand on indigeneship in a country of minorities and majority ethnic groups where the former have always sought protected geographies through the creation of states against being overwhelmed and neutered. To deny or be indifferent to the issues that ethnic differences have wrought in the Nigerian firmament is to wish away the humanity of so many that are discriminated against on grounds of ethnicity. The problems of indigeneship, although resolvable by granting citizenship across the board to all Nigerians, runs into a sharp contradiction in the idea of a National House of Chiefs which emphasizes membership on the basis of birth, sex and religion. These are truly against the republican spirit of the constitution. To take the republican spirit off consideration is to leave many Nigerians exposed and unprotected at a time when the structures have not been put in place that could remove issues of internal colonialism which have a nuance that allows people of different ethnic stock to rule over long-repressed minorities and disadvantaged majority ethnic groups.
If a National House and state houses of chiefs are allowed, it would amount to giving constitutional imprimatur to serious cases of internal colonialism. The point is to distinguish between and not confuse citizenship and indigeneship. Where citizenship is emphasized, it is a distraction to bring in questions of indigeneship. It is when questions of traditional authority are played up, beyond localities, that indigeneship becomes an issue. If citizenship is equated with indigeneship, it creates the basis for a permanent civil war in virtually every part of the Federation. The old question by Mahmood Mamdani, “When does a settler become a native?” is not one to be answered tritely until there is an agreement over economic and cultural rights that will not give to one ethnic group or race what is denied to another.
On this count, I have written in a recent article that “The process of equalising conditions across the country, a necessity for transforming Nigeria and dissolving tumours like Boko Haram, must begin with defending the right of all Nigerians to be free of hegemonies, regional or ethnic. In relation to these, it is important to continue to press, as the national conference has commendably done, and to pitch for all contiguous conurbations of the same ethnic group to be in the same state rather than mucking up and cutting a line through an ethnic group, leaving minorities of one in a state or local government, dominated by another. Of course, there are few cases where such minorities are scattered across several states without contiguity. The reason such cases are not being properly addressed is because of the stand of those who think there must be only one kind of solution for all cases. A multi-ethnic state that insists on such fixity of position is pleading a zero-sum approach that can only result in terrorism as norm. On the contrary, if all Ekitis in the North and Ekitis in the South were brought together in the same state, it would remove the boundary between North and South in that zone. The same is true if Oyos in the South and Oyos in the North were now to be domiciled in the same state. Let Nigerians have a breathing space away from Lugard’s gerrymandering. One critical case concerns the Gbagyi people of central Nigeria who, following some arcane monafiki, are scattered in five different states although they are contiguous enough to be in one state. Frederick Lugard hived off a part of Gbagyi territory to create a capital for the old North in Kaduna. The Nigerian creators of a Federal Capital Territory took another chunk of the territory in Abuja. Today, the Gbagyi are in Kaduna, Niger, Nassarawa, Abuja with fractions in Kogi. What crimes have they committed against anybody that they should be under the curse of such authoritative mis-allocation of territory? Someone may ask: have they demanded a state of their own? But this is the wrong question. Should a national sense of justice not require that no community be subjected to the trashing of its language and its relationship with culturally contiguous communities simply in order to meet a legalistic requirement of propriety that others are not burdened by?
Perhaps, the asterisked position that is bound to become most contentious if maltreated pertains to the autonomy of the local government system. It may be best guaranteed by providing for no joint Local Government/state account; but a Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission for the state. In addition, it should be guaranteed that although only a state may create local governments, once created, no state shall have power to remove the electoral principle from the affairs of a local government whether in the process of creating it or funding it. The self-governance of communities is tied to this principle and it is the bedrock on which democracy stands or falls.
Initially delivered as the 3rd Annual Dr. Abel Guobadia Memorial Lecture on 5th February, 2015 at the auditorium of the Women’s Health and Action Research Centre, in Benin city.
Odia Ofeimun, writer, critic, and political scientist, was former president of the Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA, and one-time private secretary of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo.