Coping with the pace of change
I HAD begun putting this essay together with the mind of entitling it, “If I were Buhari.” But I recognised very quickly that even with the best of intentions, I could neither approximate to the General’s corpus of fine attributes, replicate or reproduce his dour façade or mien nor am I the one who the people cheer his incoming administration with so much hope and starry-eyed enthusiasm.
The people have, probably with premature optimism, welcomed it as stimulating, exciting or even inspiring, and for good measure. For some forty or so years now, the social and political conditions of Nigeria have been one of almost unrelenting upheaval or unspeakable disaster.
The incoming administration’s promised innovation or change is today being awaited with bated breath particularly among the intelligentsia.
They have come to recognise that neither law nor political institutions, morals nor social habits can be respected or honoured if they are in a perpetual state of flux. These ones have learnt by experience that laws, like religion, were not made to be constantly reformed or changed.
Even the Chinese who were in a continual state of revolution have come to recognise that such a state could be ameliorated, consciously restrained or terminated. Human beings need some degree of security if they are to be allowed to plan for the future. Some measure of continuity [particularly of things that have proven to be salutary] could be an intrinsic part of the strength of community life.
One readily recalls, in Nigeria’s contemporary history, fast-paced military administrations especially that of Murtala Muhammed from 1975-1976 which regimes are considered to have gone too far and too fast probably much further and much faster than was justified by the popular will.
The ever-increasing flow, for instance, of decreasingly respected legislation or decrees, edicts, regulations, etc. brought the administrations to some disrepute or disregard. Little did the administrations recognise that legislation or the enactment of decrees required to be restrained.
Every evil or injustice, real or imagined, should not necessarily breed or give birth to a new law or an ingenious or clever legal contraption. The Buhari administration must not attempt to effect “change” in all spheres of our lives or “change for change sake”.
If it were left to me to devise a programme of change, I would promise reduced public expenditure having in mind the bogus National Assembly and Cabinet Ministers’ overheads, etc. I would also proceed to do as little as possible in the field of general legislation except, or course, in the area of constitutional change.
I will attempt no bold new schemes requiring government expenditures except for radical shake-ups in the education sector or in health provision; I will discontinue the privatisation programme or whatever is left of the rape of our provenance. I will concentrate on our economic difficulties and boldly consider what would be the way forward in our constitutional development. I will beat the bookmakers by taking a fresh and considered look at the report of the 2014 National Conference.
The insinuation is abroad that since some notable members of the APC have voiced their disapproval of the conference, they may well have been speaking the mind of the ordinarily-taciturn President regarding the conference, its outcome and prognosis.
In particular, in constitutional law, it would not be possible to avoid important change, or at least, the creation of machinery to make change possible. This important change is, in my considered opinion, what the people need or what they want. For the time being, they want stronger government, but much less of it and more than that, a minimum of new legislation.
What we are suggesting would have considerable practical consequences for the leadership of the political parties. The test or instruction guide here will be to accept any measures, however unpalatable, which could be expected to bring about immediate and lasting improvement.
The measures must, however, not adversely affect our study or understanding of the various constitutional problems which have confronted us from the beginning. There is an urgent requirement to rejig the Nigerian constitution because I doubt whether our situation can be constrained to remain static sufficiently long to allow of a leisurely or cavalier treatment.
Even if such a situation were to be tolerated, we should need to set new and vigorous machinery for bringing about constitutional change based on the popular report of the 2014 National Conference. Legislation fashioned to bring about “radical” and irreversible changes should be avoided.
Grandiose or white elephant schemes or patent ideas for changing the whole face of housing and health policies should be dropped. Only affordable housing or human settlement index improvement development programmes should be embarked upon.
All wide- ranging schemes for the reform of our laws should be abandoned although, no doubt, particular adjustment in all these fields may have to be undertaken in the light of events that may unfold in the course of time. Happily as members of the African family of nations, Nigeria’s racial or ethnic groups share identical moral or ethical values.
However, we need to clear a number of hurdles so we may have a clear picture of the things we believe in. What place or space do we allow religious or spiritual experience? What place do we reserve for our country in the comity of nations? What sort of brand of democracy do we wish to practice? What is Nigeria? Who are Nigerians? Our answers to these and many more questions will determine the quality and direction of the change that we consider desirable or salutary, i.e. the change that is positioned to propel us into the world stage of adroitness, sufficiency and plenty. •Rotimi-John, a lawyer and commentator on public affairs, wrote from Abuja.