‘Only restructuring can make Nigeria safe for democracy, development’ (1)
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. The 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 The conversation was not to be published.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.
ON 13th July 2015, President Buhari said, “If Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria”. What is your take on this remarkable comment?
I saw the quote in the mass media and it gladdens my heart that the President has finally and concretely opened the woolly core of the ‘Pandora’s box’ in his party’s manifesto. My consistent and insistent position, however, is that the foundation or the grandparent of corruption in Nigeria is the year 1999 decreed constitution (as amended). Of course, it was foisted on the country by the hurriedly departing military junta of General Abdulsalami Abubakar. Like its predecessors since 1966, our current constitution is a unitary one that can never work optimally in the context of our multi-cultural society. This is because no country can ever solve any of her problems by attacking the symptom(s) of the problems but remain resolute in refusing to address their root causes. So, I sincerely agree with President Mohammadu Buhari that we must now quickly do everything necessary and sufficient to kill corruption in Nigeria before it kills us. But, for me, it is only by fundamentally reforming and re-energising our federal constitutional architecture to reflect our multi-cultural existential parameters to be able to escape the suffocating stranglehold of our systemic and endemic self-inflicted general under-development.
Many students of the Nigerian society have always insisted that Nigeria needs a new and bold political architecture if she must grow and develop her immense resource potentials for the benefit of her citizens and the world at large. How are these proposals to be practically addressed?
Undoubtedly, the 1999 Constitution (as amended) started its immediate but not its remote existence from the period of General Sanni Abacha and it was escalated to the 11-month rule of General Abubakar. And they gave its full-blown version to the succeeding pseudo-civilian government of General Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo to implement. So, Nigerians, as a people with different ethnic compositions, did not make and could not have made such a constitution of their own under a military dictatorship which could not have permitted voluntary and willing negotiations of the lasting bases on how multi-nationalities would want to live together in peace and progress.
As it is quite clear from our problematic external colonial history when we were compulsorily amalgamated but not unionized in 1914, the 1999 constitutional experiment was also a continuation of a similar imposition by our own internal colonial overlords. Note that the amalgamation was meant to be a temporary mechanism for cheaper exploitation experiment that our external colonial tormentors envisaged may not last more than a difficult century.
Of course, we are yet to resolve and solve the basis of our relationships with various ethnic groups in Nigeria. So, as they say, we kept patching things up and postponing the evil days. We boldly proclaim to ourselves and the rest of the world that we are a “Federal Republic” when, in actual fact of our harrowing daily experiences, we are neither ‘federal’ nor ‘republic’. Our hypocritical self-denial has caught up and dislocated and corrupted our cultural and institutional structures, our personality systems and our vision of a good society.
For emphasis and for the avoidance of doubt, we now have this 1999 Constitution which is a military contraption lying against Nigerians by saying that “we the people of Nigeria give to ourselves this constitution”. We never did. It is a lie. Some patriotic citizens have gone to court to challenge the big lie and seek for its abrogation but, alas, the court has prevaricated for almost 10 years without resolving this monumental fabrication. It is a military decree, so it has created a monstrous and dysfunctional centralized administration in Nigeria.
It is a universal truism that Nigeria as a multi ethnic society ought to be governed on the basis of federal structure. We don’t have any federal structure in Nigeria. We don’t have federal republic. As I said earlier, we are neither federal nor republic. We are in self-denial. And when we are not doing the right thing but expecting good result it would remain a mirage. We are perpetually lying to ourselves and making a mockery of ourselves to the rest of the world.
Corruption has now overtaken us because when you start to lie, you corrupt the system. The father, the mother, the grandparents, the foundation stones of corruption in Nigeria – which is one of the cardinal items (to be addressed) in the APC manifesto – is the 1999 constitution (as amended). So, the Federal Government must urgently go to the 2014 National Conference recommendations to get Nigeria out of centralism, out of centralized governance into federalist arrangements. Unless and until the government does the needful, monumental corruption will multiply, and the Nigeria nation-state will continue to be going backward instead of going forward.
How do you want the President to use constitution-making to fight corruption?
Every constitution would recruit its own adherents and operators. The current 1999 constitution cannot be an exception. Already, it has recruited people who, essentially, have been surreptitiously telling the voters that they want to go and steal. For example, when a governor or a gubernatorial candidate is spending about N5 billion to run for public office in an election, you must already know that he or she has already corrupted the electoral system and also that he/she is going to steal to recover his or her monumental expenses.
Legislators and Ministers are normally elected and/or appointed on the basis of this constitution, which is to say that they are truly representing vested interests. In practical terms, that is what we have now. I want to assert that the good people across the various ethnic groups in Nigeria would never come out to borrow money to fight election when they only want to volunteer themselves for meritorious public service.
In a non-dysfunctional society, public service is not the basis for making money. But in Nigeria it is the primary basis for making money. So only monetized public servant-masters, who I prefer to call ‘political entrepreneurs’, are available to be engaged through this constitution of 1999 (as amended). Those who are not so inclined to corruption would not show their faces. So, to fight corruption, Nigeria must change the overarching constitutional parameters. We must change the constitution that allows corruption to fester.
In point of fact, the current 1999 constitution gives immunity to public office holders such that if they commit any criminal and/or civil offences, nobody can make them answerable before the laws of the land. It makes them to be above the law while they are holding public offices. Of course, whenever they leave office alive, they hastily sneak out of the country or they can obtain even perpetual injunctions. They can’t be easily apprehended. The case of ex-Governor Ibori of Delta State is a glaring example. In Nigeria, the law could not catch him but for the same offence he is made to serve punitive jail terms in England. There is another one, Former Governor Peter Odili who reportedly obtained perpetual injunction. So, as it can be seen, really this constitution is not serving and could not serve Nigeria well. Our so-called leaders have always been putting a square peg in a round hole without appreciable success.
Since the 1966 military intervention, Nigeria has been running a centralized administration in a multi-ethnic society – and it has not worked and it cannot work optimally. I can assure Nigerians and her genuine friends that the 2014 National Conference report addresses all these issues – whether it is security, whether it is devolution of powers, whether it is the creation of additional states to recognise the rights of people to govern themselves according to their cultural values, norms, beliefs and knowledge systems, etc. These solutions are recommended in the 2014 National Conference report and I wish the Buhari administration will not be stubborn by refusing to listen to the common sense of Nigerians.
Our President should honourably go and see the report and take the best out of it. He may not have to call another conference. He may just need to ask and task men and women of proven competence and integrity to extract from the report what could be needed to translate Nigeria into a federal structure. When that is satisfactorily done, then he can go to the people for a referendum through the National Assembly for the people to accept that they want to be so governed.
Unless and until that is done we shall still be beating about the bush on almost everything: for sure, terrorism will multiply, other forms of anti-social behaviours will multiply because we are living in self-denial.
In Nigeria, the heads of state or presidents are always held hostage by influential ‘kitchen cabinet’ members who are mostly from their own areas. If you have the opportunity of meeting the President now, how will you advise him in the context of the 2014 Conference report? Recall that the people from the President’s areas reluctantly accepted certain things that have formed part of the report and the people are already telling him not to touch the report.
First and foremost, I will inform the president that those who helped him to win the election are not necessarily those who will help him to win governance. Therefore, he should be able to recruit men and women that have proven professional competence and integrity to serve in his administration. Second, since governing Nigeria must be on the basis of the constitution, and since the 1999 Constitution (as amended) is not a federal constitution but a unitary constitution that cannot work in a multi ethnic society like Nigeria, I will, therefore, say: “Mr. President please put together some experts across the various ethnic groups who are men and women of professional distinction and of integrity to help advice on how to bring the various reports of the various conferences (including the efforts of the 7th National Assembly’s) to bear on the urgent needs of Nigeria and Nigerians to have and celebrate a truly Federal Constitution”. And if I may add, various reports of the conferences of the past were given to us at the 2014 National Conference.
So, what we have done, therefore, is an accumulation of what has taken place in the past that enabled us fashion out our current views. So, if Mr. President empanels experts to look at 2014 National Conference report (which I know was handed over to both the National Assembly and to the President himself), they will give him the best report that will effectively and efficiently take Nigeria out of most of her extant and future multifarious social problems and challenges.
How do you think you can link this constitution making for growth and development? How do we develop this country through this process you explained when the people in government are always from the same polluted pool?
Thank you. Basically, putting a round peg in a square hole is the beginning of any systemic corruption and its dysfunctionality. For a start, I strongly disagree with some advocates of human rights who conveniently forget to balance such noble claims with the necessary corollary of human responsibilities. If you have human rights, you must also have human responsibilities.
Human rights without the corresponding human responsibilities cannot work optimally simply because such claims necessarily corrupt the incomplete circular requirements. It is like trying to walk or run on one leg without any support. So, my position has always been focused on the urgent need of Nigerians to first of all craft a new people’s Federal Constitution for ourselves that will guarantee our personal, ethnic and institutional rights and responsibilities. That is how best to grow and develop any country and the individuals and groups within it. You cannot be feeding fat on one resource that is crude oil and gas and think you can develop the country. You can’t do it successfully. It has never happened and it will never happen.
We are going backward because most people are not working but prefer to rely on their human rights to obtain the good things of life and living without the commensurate responsibilities of hard work and accountability. Essentially what we have is not democracy; it is a civilian bureaucracy. This is a country governed by bureaucrats. They take money without working and now use computer to lie about and steal our money.
To develop the country we must give rights and responsibilities to the people through their federating states or regions. For examples, when a student goes to school as of his or her right, his or her parents must, as part of their parental responsibility, pay the price of schooling and the student must study, must do hard work, as part of his or her responsibility, to succeed but not to go and buy examination questions as they now prefer to do with money and/or their bodies. If you must, as of your right, go to the hospital for any treatment, you must meet good hospital staffs who are well trained and responsible and you must, as your responsibility, pay your money and you must get good treatment from the hospital as of your right.
Therefore, we cannot make appreciable progress if we keep relying only on money from oil and gas and also from money coming from our Diaspora people who are slaving outside Nigeria. When you use that money, as we always do, to buy goods and services from abroad you will not develop. We have more resources than oil and gas. In fact, the greatest capital resource any country has is her human capital (human beings). And we are not developing them optimally in Nigeria. So if we want to develop Nigeria, let us include human responsibility to human rights and let our constitution so specify. If you get married, you must feed your wife and your children and you must make sure they go to school. You must make your contributions to the society in order to benefit from the society. You must pay your tax. All of these things are only possible when the enabling constitutional environment is explicitly provided and enforced. But right now the constitution is for the distribution of money coming from oil and gas or coming from our people who are slaving abroad.
By the way, some people claim that Customs and Excise Department generates a lot of money. Not quite so, because they only generate secondary revenue for the country. The truth is that it is the revenue we have in crude oil and gas sales and the money that our slaving nationals send from abroad that we use to buy goods that are taxed at the customs and excise gates. Customs and excise Department has nothing to add to the quantum of our original sources of revenue. We must get this right.
So, it generates nothing by itself. However, if we really want to grow and develop this country for the benefit of all Nigerian citizens, then we must have a truly federal constitution that gives adequate rights and responsibilities to the federating States so as to enable their various citizens to enjoy the good things of life.
I repeat that what we have now is not a federal structure; it is centralized. It is a unitary constitution. No growth and development can take place when we put a round peg in a square hole. It will not work. It has never worked for us. It will not happen. We are retrogressing every time and all our extant leaders have been victimized and the followership have been vicariously scandalised by this unsuitable unitary constitution. Since the 1966 military intervention into civil society with the imposed unitary constitution, every successive group of leaders has never been able to achieve any lasting societal progress and none of them has ever been given lasting accolade. They ran the unitary constitutional system that cannot work for Nigeria. So they ended up with bad names. Since 1966, all our political leaders have always been victims of our flawed political architecture. And if Buhari’s administration does not change this 1999 Unitary Constitutional structures and their attendant mindsets, his legacy, too, will be worse than Jonathan’s, just as Jonathan’s is worse than those of his predecessors.
This point must put paid to the arguments of those advocates who keep on insisting that we need strong leaders instead of building strong institutions. Leadership is always secondary to the supremacy of the political architecture epitomised by the Constitution from whence all types of leaders and almost all other good and bad social goods and services emanate. More concretely, therefore, a given political leader is the sum total of the strengths and weaknesses of the political architecture that throws him or her up and also an accurate reflection of the forces and factors at play including the balance of power in and outside a given society. No leader and his team can ever legitimately produce the people’s constitution. Only the people as the owners of their own sovereignty, acting through their own authentic representatives, can make and later authenticate, through popular referendum, their own legitimate constitution. Only through and by this process can the people legitimately claim that “We, the people, give to ourselves this Constitution” upon and from which their own leadership cadre will continue to emerge and recycle from generations unto generations.