‘Only restructuring can make Nigeria safe for democracy, development’ (2)
The big man does not talk anyhow. He is not just an activist, he is a notable academic, administrator and entrepreneur who is always very angry about the way we are in Nigeria. Dr. Amos Arogundade Akingba, a former university don and product of Cornell University, one of the Ivy League institutions in the U.S where he obtained his doctorate degree believes firmly that no matter how good a leader is, he or she cannot achieve anything fundamental if his or her governance is not anchored on well-defined constitutional structures. The NADECO chieftain who was one of the major actors in exile during the difficult years of General Abacha’s military junta is angry again that some sycophants and irredentists may deceive president Muhammadu Buhari into throwing away the remarkable 2014 conference report that his predecessor in office produced. There was an early morning conversation with him last Saturday in his Ikeja home. The conversation was not to be published. It was to be part of a journalist’s consultation with elders of the land – for intelligence gathering. But it was so enthralling, so remarkable that his permission was sought to record it for your reading pleasure and for those who have ears to hear what this old prophet is telling the nation. He spoke to the Editor, MARTINS OLOJA…on sundry issues about the troubled federation and the way out
But we already have federal character provision in the current constitution that defines quota for every ethnic group, states and geo-political zones. The principle is even recommended to the local governments in the constitution.
It is true. Yes, we must not be afraid of the reality of our multi-ethnicity, which must be judiciously balanced on the cardinal principles of equity and justice for every Nigerian ethnic and other social group. The 2014 Conference recommendations dealt with these issues very well and better: That if you federally decentralize, the exclusivity of certain responsibilities that are currently federal have been unbundled and ceded to the states. And when you are dealing at states and local government levels, you are bound to deal exclusively with your own citizens who reside in your state and local governments.
The Federal Government should really be a regulator or supervisor, playing oversight role over the federating units. Up and until now, the Federal Government still constructs primary schools and water boreholes, etc, in some states and local government areas. These are things they should not be doing. The Federal Government has left undone what it should be doing and doing what it should really not be doing.
Truly, the federal character principle is to entrench justice in the management of our affairs. More concretely, it is to ensure that we do not serve one ethnic group to the detriment of another. There is no ethnic group in Nigeria that does not produce competent men and women to occupy public offices. Let’s not kid ourselves. There is none. But if you now take one at the expense of the other, you alienate the others; you marginalize them and create seething disaffection. So, the federal character principle can and must be seen to work if and when properly managed.
But if you want to work it very well, you must work it alongside merit. In each of the ethic groups you want to bring, there are distinctive people who are capable, if you are not kidding yourself. Even for entrance to the secondary school level, if primary school students are properly taught at both the state and local government levels, they will pass examinations to go to unitary schools. And you have enough from each of the 36 states and in each of the 774 local governments. And if you want to recruit graduates into federal service from the federating states, you will surely find that the ethnic composition in the various states of the federation has good people to be so recruited.
So, in a multi-ethnic society that we have in Nigeria, you have to be very careful in your administration and management so that you ensure that there is equity in your balancing in the development and allocation of material and human resources. You have to do that for all hands to be on deck and for progress to be long lasting. That is why, in the 2014 Conference Report, we recommended that all the states so far created must themselves have their own respective constitutions to spell out how they want to govern themselves in the digitalized world civilisation and within the federal structure as well as within their own cultural parameters – their beliefs, their values, their norms and their knowledge systems. Thus, in any true federal system of government, one constitution does not and cannot be suitable for all the multi-ethnic federating units.
The one-constitution-fit-all principle in Nigeria is a faulty military constitutional contraption brought into existence since 1966. That it is why the 1999 Constitution and its similar predecessors could never work optimally. In fact, a federation is a union of constitutions. For the avoidance of doubt, let me repeat that there cannot be one constitution for a federal system. It has to be a union of various constitutions. America has 50 states and fifty constitutions plus their federal constitution.
What are the consequences of ignoring this idea whose time has come?
If these warning signals are ignored, all our social institutions will continue to retrogress. For examples, our education, health services and infrastructure will be going backward; corruption (or stealing as some people now define it) will be higher, impunity (in lawless behaviours) that relies on constitutionally guaranteed immunity would be higher. Almost everything in our previous and current negative behaviour and experience will be higher than we ever expected it. And the quality of our lives and living conditions will be degraded. Those are some of the stark negative consequences of failure to reform our 1999 constitution (as amended).
There is no other magic to prevent our downward slide. Even General Buhari, when he was military Head of State 30 years ago, did all sorts of punitive things against anti-social behaviours when he authorized shooting of armed robbers and drug dealers. We learnt at the time that those watching the shooting at the shooting range were even picking the shooters’ pockets! And no sooner than General Buhari was booted out of office by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, than the whole things he tried to construct collapsed woefully because his apparently noble actions were not based on the lasting platform of the people’s constitution.
Now, in his 2015 reappearance as a civilian President, it is an open secret that even his noble intention to integrate most of the several Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to cut the costs of governance is being restricted by the 1999 constitutional provisions. Also, now that they are talking of 19 ministers and 17 junior ministers, some people are ready to protest if a ‘junior minister’ is nominated from their state as they can logically and legally argue that no federating state is the junior of the other(s) to warrant the status of a ‘junior’ minister. Those are the provisions of the 1999-decreed constitution. The constitution is the grundnorm and the foundation of all laws.
Any law made by state government or federal legislature that is in contravention of the constitution is null and void ab initio, hence the awesome power of the supremacy of the constitution. Consequently, a flawed constitutional architecture, such as we have been having in Nigeria, is one that has always allowed a few privileged and paranoid military officers to annul the electoral will of a whole country and which permitted some demented autocrats to impose their political choice on the nation. Therefore, we cannot reasonably be surprised that our flawed constitutional architecture can and do produce bad leaders and, consequently, energise all kinds of ceaseless resistance from lovers of justice, freedom, peace and progress.
What kind of gaps have the flawed constitution created between the North and the South?
For me as always a Yoruba and a Nigerian person in that order, the gap between the North and the South has been closing downwards. The western part of Nigeria has always strived for human capital growth and development through qualitative and qualitative educational access and achievement for our children. However, I regret to say that our educational institutions have long been reduced to only quantitative but not qualitative for most of our students. We have for long lost the education baton but the other parts of the country have not caught up either.
So, we have all headed downwards. Recall that, years ago, the Federal Government took Ife University over but in order not to get the South-West angry, they labeled the degrading episode after the legendary Obafemi Awolowo. It has since been drastically downgraded. If you go to Obafemi Awolowo University now, it has become a shadow of itself but not worse than any of the other higher educational institutions in Nigeria. University of Ibadan, Nigeria’s premier university has always been an underfunded federal institution. Everything has been downgraded not only in the South-West but countrywide.
Nobody is showing the flag of progress. We use to have electricity every year, every month every day, but now we don’t. The roads are death traps; we use to have vehicle assembly plants in various regions, they are no longer there. Even basic family life and living conditions have been destroyed. Parents, especially in urban areas, will leave home around 4 or 5 am when their kids are still sleeping in search of money to feed them and to make life and living good for all.
They can’t come back home earlier than 11 pm because of traffic congestion caused by smaller and crooked roads and by which time all their children are again fast asleep. They have no time to make sure their children get good educational foundation. And those children are coming out now to display negative attitudes towards the society. I am not surprised. I am only embarrassed that we have allowed ourselves to be caged into these hellholes where everybody does everything with impunity. As it is well known, the Judiciary has become ‘judicial-sharing’ of judgments.
We have most judgments without justice. Executives have become execu-thieves and legislators have become legis-looters or legisla-thieves. And what example do we give to our children? They go to university to buy examination questions with money and/or their bodies. Teachers have become hawkers of printed notes and textbooks. Nothing works.
We are going backwards because we do not give rights and responsibility to the federating states where most of the sovereign owners of Nigeria reside. We prefer to forget that the Federal Government itself is an artificial creation of our colonial tormentors. In fact, also at the state level you have to be very careful not to also overburden the artificial state institutions themselves because the only real owners of governance in Nigeria are the people at the local government level. And we must give the local government councils more powers and authority in the proposed new constitutional arrangements. The states can only coordinate the efforts of the local governments.
And the Federal Government can only coordinate the effort of the state governments. That is the fundamental reason why the 2014 National Conference Reports took local government out of the federal purview and situate it within the states. But we said the states must make sure that they fund local government councils in a democratic way.
Any state can create any number of local government councils it desires, provided it can fund them by meeting the checks and balance in the 2014 Report. I am always very embarrassed when many professors and scholars, men and women labeled with such distinctions who have not read the 2014 Report but make critical but woolly and sweeping judgments on it based mainly on what they claimed to have read in the opposition media to the 2014 Conference. They forget that people who are benefiting from the status quo are quite determined to kill the Conference Report.
Because some of them own some media houses, they are trying very hard to mis-educate the populace about the 2014 Conference outcomes. For the purpose of informed opinion, I strongly advise that those who have no other genuine access to the Report should go and find access to it on the Internet. This is the age of digitization and big data. The authentic website is: www.2014nationalconferencereport .com. They will surely see all the things we have done therein that are quite very good for re-engineering the Nigerian nation-state. Unless and until we do what is needful we will continue to be beating about the bush and the world will be leaving us behind. If we cannot lead our ways forward then we cannot lead Africa at all.
Can you shed light on how the consensus among the conference members was achieved?
The composition of the conference was the best we ever had. It was composed of professionals such as market women, Nigeria Medical Association, Nigeria Bar Association, Trade Unions, educationists, civil servants, security services, etc. In all, robust representatives came from different thirty-three groups from all the six geo-political zones. Each group sent their best representatives except, perhaps, the South-West due mainly to the preponderance of APC’s negative influence. In fact, the APC was the only group that did not send their own two nominees. But all the APC members throughout Nigeria came from different areas but not as APC members but as their own ethnic representatives. And as soon as the conference got on its way, procedure and processes took a new awkward turn because; in the real politick of the situation, all the thirty-three group members dissolved into their respective ethnic formations and vital interests. It was frightening but full of hope. The game changer that saved the conference was that men and women who were there were mostly people of proven professional competence and indomitable integrity. They knew what they were doing.
They knew that if we don’t repair Nigeria the way we have been doing that Nigeria would almost certainly self-implode to the utter detriment of all. So, most delegates went there to do the best they can to save Nigeria. To that effect, we then put in place the Conference Rules of engagement such that if we had 70 per cent and above voting on an issue, it will be regarded as our consensus decision. Throughout the proceedings, that was what prevailed. Not by ballot, but by voice acclamation of saying ‘yea’ and ‘nay’. Whichever way the voice voting went, it was thunderous.
By doing that, the conference succeeded in working together. There was camaraderie, fellowship, and friendship across ethnic lines. It became clearer as time went on that we went there not to agitate but to negotiate. And we negotiated the best that was ever done for Nigeria. We took into consideration all the conference reports of the previous years – even from 1966. Everything was given to us. And we studied them; at least I believe that most of us did. When I came back, I lost one and a half pounds of body weight in the grueling five months we spent at the conference.
It was never a tea party conference. We could have done better work if we had 12 month to federalize Nigerian governance system. I make bold to say that if and when we have such a country it would be one of the wonders of the world. So, unless and until that is done, Nigerians shall most certainly be shooting themselves in the feet and moving backward in agonising and astonishing stupidity.
If President Buhari really wants and means to walk his talk on the fight against all forms of corruption and set Nigeria and Nigerians on the path of socio-political greatness, he must ensure the immediate and fundamental reforms to the 1999 Constitution (as amended). The President now has the golden opportunity to, once again, rescue the country from its systemic and endemic dysfunctionality. He must seize the moment to write his name in Nigeria’s first golden history book as the first who killed the major sources of our corruption and, consequently, propelled the country to the enviable paths of peace, progress and world respectability.
My ceaseless iron-clad claim, which our internal and external colonial history has vindicated beyond any shadow of doubt, is that unless and until we firmly and truly embrace ‘federalist’ political structures for Nigeria and Nigerians, all succeeding regimes must be worse than their predecessors. Mark my words. I honestly pray that Buhari’s administration can and will break this logjam. It was paradoxical that the then President Goodluck Jonathan only belatedly woke up during his slumbering administration to this monumental task with the production of the 2014 Confab Report. History will hardly judge us all fair if we delay or even fail to restructure this country on the basis of true federalism either with or without the year 2014 Conference recommendations.
My ceaseless iron-clad claim, which our internal and external colonial history has vindicated beyond any shadow of doubt, is that unless and until we firmly and truly embrace ‘federalist’ political structures for Nigeria and Nigerians, all succeeding regimes must be worse than their predecessors. Mark my words. I honestly pray that Buhari’s administration can and will break this logjam. It was paradoxical that the then President Goodluck Jonathan only belatedly woke up during his slumbering administration to this monumental task with the production of the 2014 Confab Report.