“Some of the problems of this country are based on several pluralities – religions, ethnic and territorial ambition. I have noticed all the time the desire of many people to wash away these pluralities. These are Nigerian pluralities and in fact these are the causes of stress in this nation. I would like us to adopt a more positive attitude towards these pluralities…”
In October 1977, my friend Mallam Mohammed Haruna then of the New Nigeria introduced me to Mallam Adamu Ciroma (1934-2018) at the premises of the parliament building in Lagos where a session of the Constituent Assembly was holding. Mallam Haruna, a powerful writer, is now a commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), whose weekly column is on recess now because of his present assignment. Although it was a brief introduction on that day but it was the beginning of my friendship with Mallam Ciroma. I was told later that he was one of the contributors of the weekly column in the New Nigeria newspaper titled “Candido” – the man behind the mask. Other contributors of that column, I am told, were Alhaji Turi Mohammed (1/1/1940-17/9/2010) who represented the Gbako constituency of Niger State in the Constituent Assembly of 1977 and Mallam Mamman Daura, who was a member of the sub-committee of public services, including the Armed Forces and the police, in the Constitutional Drafting Committee of 1976. In the senatorial race in Niger State 35 years ago in 1983, Alhaji Turi Mohammed, who was from Bida, lost to Professor Jerry Gana. Alhaji Mamman Daura, who is an uncle of President Muhammadu Buhari, served in the subcommittee on public service along with Dr. Obi Wali (who was chairman), Alhaji Ahmed Talib, Colonel M. Pedro Martins, Chief Ekanem Ita, Mr. Mamman Ali Makele and Dr. Tajudeen Olawale Idris.
The three of them worked in the New Nigeria newspaper and their column was too powerful to be ignored during the tenure of General Yakubu Gowon. Another journalist who worked in the New Nigeria newspaper then and who represented Katsina-Ala constituency of Benue State in the Constituent Assembly was Mr. N. Mvendaga Jibo, who was also my friend. I later covered Mallam Adamu Ciroma when he served as the secretary of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) between 1978 and 1979, and when he became minster under President Shehu Shagari between 1979 and 1983. In 1999, when he became a minister, I used to see him during the Federal Executive Council meetings at the villa, when I served in the office of the secretary to the government of the federation. He had a special way of calling my name. I missed him when he had a car crash in early 2000 on his way to Kano and was flown abroad for medical attention. On his arrival in the country in 2001, he phoned me. And since then till late last year, we were always in touch. Mallam Adamu Ciroma was a great man and a true friend to me. He had no pretence about anything. He was frank and down to earth. I will always remember him. On November 3, 1977, he made a contribution at the Constituent Assembly. I hereby present the speech in full:
“My name is Adamu Ciroma and I represent Fika-Fune in Borno State. Well, I am contributing. I would like, as most speakers have done, to pay compliments to the CDC and its chairman for a job well done. It is becoming rather monotonous but I think that we can bear with this monotony in view of the excellent job which they have done. Our job here, I believe, is to try to make a good job even better. Before I go into the points which I wish to raise, I would like to make some preliminary observations.This country, I think one would say, has definitely established itself as a united country in terms of physical unification, the definition of its boundaries, et cetera. This has clearly been confirmed by the events which have brought us here today. What has been going on before the definite unification, is a long-term and sometimes imperceptible process and that is the process of integration. I think we should regard our exercise here in terms of facilitating and encouraging this process of national integration. To do this is to attempt to achieve peace, stability and progress. I think that everyone agrees that a Constitution is a code of rules of do’s and dont’s that create the atmosphere for facilitating the achievement of peace, stability and progress.
“There is nothing new in putting Directive Principles and Fundamental Objectives in the Constitution…it is absolutely necessary that the goals and objectives of this nation should be clearly stated for the guidance of those who are called upon to govern us…”
“One other point I would like to make is that we should regard ourselves as being in a school and that this Assembly is part of our own arena for acquiring education. I think that if we are able to listen to what we are saying to each other, we should be able to arrive at a consensus. I think that consensus is so important. One can deal with issues in terms of votes and majorities but if you are dealing with people in a plural society, it is much better to deal with issues on the basis of consensus. Most members have already taken oath to do their best and endeavour to produce a Constitution for this country. I would like to say quite categorically that God may never allow me to be involved in an exercise which deprives even one person in this country his legitimate rights. Members should be very careful that whatever they do, they should seek the interest of the minutest number of people, and should be done in conformity with the acceptable tenets for furthering political processes.
“Some of the problems of this country are based on several pluralities – religions, ethnic and territorial ambition. I have noticed all the time the desire of many people to wash away these pluralities. These are Nigerian pluralities and in fact these are the causes of stress in this nation. I would like us to adopt a more positive attitude towards these pluralities and use all those parts of them that contribute to strengthening this nation, instead of wailing and writhing about the fact of ethnic and religious pluralities. We can contain all these provided we work on the basis of consensus and on the basis of protective interests and rights.
“Now, Mr. Chairman, may I now touch on the question of Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles. It seems that the only issue in this regard is whether these are justiciable or not justiciable. Some people are arguing that unless these pious hopes are made justiciable, they ought not to be in the Constitution. It is even suggested that if they are there, they should be in the preamble. There is nothing new in putting Directive Principles and Fundamental Objectives in the Constitution. Those members who have read the papers that have been circulated will know the number of countries which have these principles in their constitutions and they are not justiciable. The important point, whether these come as preamble or whether they come as part of the Constitution in the way they are in the Draft, it is absolutely necessary that the goals and objectives of this nation should be clearly stated for the guidance of those who are called upon to govern us. We cannot take these things for granted. It is important that they become an accepted burden, instead of being items for political manifestoes subject to discussion and being set aside when the election has been won. So, I am in complete support. I think that the fear of introducing new things should not be allowed to dominate us. We should be prepared to innovate. I think that this is one of the innovations in this Draft and I commend it to this House. I will, at the appropriate stage, support the inclusion of this part of the draft in the Constitution.
“I feel that there is no justification whatsoever for giving anyone in the press any more freedom than is given to any Nigerian. The press has freedom; their problem is that they are not using the freedom and I believe that their problem is not going to be solved by any constitutional provision made in that respect, if the people are not ready to use the quantum of freedom available to them at this time.”
“Secondly, Mr. Chairman, I should like to refer to the fundamental human rights and in particular to the issue of press freedom. Two distinct speakers who had worked in the press – I refer to my honourable friend from Ijebu-Ode (Chief Onabanjo) and the nominated member (Alhaji Jose) have already commented on this issue. And, of course, my successor in the New Nigerian has also commented on this. I should like to state my own qualification also for commenting on this issue. I was a newspaper editor and a managing director of a newspaper. I have done these through a period of crisis in this country and at no time did I feel that the freedom of the press in this country was restricted, even during the war. In this Draft, Section 16 refers to the freedom of the press to uphold the fundamental objectives and the directive principles. And under Section 32 (1), the freedom of expression is guaranteed to Nigerians and under Section 32 (2) provision is made for Nigerians to own, establish and operate media.
“I feel that there is no justification whatsoever for giving anyone in the press any more freedom than is given to any Nigerian. The press has freedom; their problem is that they are not using the freedom and I believe that their problem is not going to be solved by any constitutional provision made in that respect, if the people are not ready to use the quantum of freedom available to them at this time. It is more important that they employ the right people than to talk about freedom, which they have and which they have not used. I should like them to use this freedom. The things they have been complaining about are detention of journalists, beating up of journalists and shaving their heads. These are general problems. Other citizens are being subjected to the same problems. When somebody belongs to an association like the Union of Journalists or to the Bar Association, anything which happens to a member of that association becomes a subject of magnified public report, and the members have in fact irritated a lot of people by the way they have over-played whatever has happened to a member of that profession, instead of using the media to defend the general rights of every Nigerian who has been subjected to any unpleasantness. I should therefore suggest that a provision in the Draft should deal adequately with the needs of Nigerians, as well as the Nigerian press in terms of freedom of expression and of ownership of media.”
Eric Teniola, a former director in the Presidency, Writes from Lagos.