The Nigerian question and its resolution
THE escutcheon of the “Nigeria is not a nation” thesis of Chief Obafemi Awolowo has gone largely unscathed 70 or so years after the axiom was enunciated. It is profoundly consistent with the practical realities of what a nation is or should not be. The Nigeria nation is yet to develop a feeling of national identity 55 years after her attainment of flag independence. There are millions of Nigerians to whom ethnic loyalties, religious creed and professional affinities are claimed as more important than love of country or loyalty to fellow countrymen or women. The spirit of national consciousness, unity and self-confidence is desirable as its absence calls to question the basis of our recovery as a people. If our country cannot command the self-sacrifice and loyalty of her citizens, we had better dissolve into a series of separate communities or merge into some larger entity, which by their composition can command the right kind of public spirit.
A nation is invariably an amalgam of different elements, none of which is singularly crucial. Nationhood is clearly, to some extent, a matter of degree. It seems incapable of purely artificial proclamation. Without a sense of nationhood, the prospects of a people’s prosperity are imperilled; the ironic paradox of an infinitely endowed country [rich in valuable natural resources] whose teeming population wallow in abject poverty and her human capital is ensconced in the lowest wrung of the human development index ladder is obviously worth investigating. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 is a continuing unmitigated embarrassment and an implacable reproach to the objective sub-national or social relations condition of the people of Nigeria in their geo-social and economic circumstances. We are confronted with an embarrassing paradoxical situation of a presumed federal constitution that is everything but federal; that is patently lacking in many indices of a federal order or of devolved responsibilities in typical federal democracies.
The Nigerian national question has received, at best, smug, indifferent or mediocre treatment by successive Nigerian governments. A number of insincere attempts has been made just to give a semblance of rigour or sensitivity respecting the popular clamour for addressing the issue. But there is an all-purpose requirement to interrogate or firmly ground the basis of Nigeria’s corporate existence. The Government needs to take a critical position with respect to the popular pan-Nigeria quest for a politically restructured country under a new constitutional regime favoured by the 2014 National Conference Report.
Whereas the heterogeneous, varied or diverse nature of the Nigerian populace suggests the true practice of federalism, our constitution is a poor reflection of the ideals of that socio-political management option. The imperative of the practice of federalism has been snubbed or shunned by the constitution. The major indices of a federal state are largely missing in this hapless document. Subjects such as derivation, resource control, mining, minerals, oil fields, local government establishment and control, policing, etc. are unfairly listed as exclusive federal matters. The power, purview, authority and opportunities available to the government at the centre are so awesome that the states have become insignificant in the scheme of governance respecting their responsibilities or duties. Our diversity in culture, language, religion, etc. suggests the requirement of the practice of federalism. A vote for federalism is a vote for unity, peace and progress in its full dimension of plurality diversity, peculiarity, respective identity, competiveness, etc.
The convocation of the National Conference of 2014, it is submitted, is a studied acknowledgement of our attenuated links and of the futility of a continuing threadbare explanation or rationalisation of a giddy or untenable federal state. It is recognition of the grim potential dislocation that is imminent to afflict our essentially weak link as a people conducing, if not checked or arrested, to eventual monumental disruption or catastrophe. The conference’s recommendations, it is humbly submitted, amply provide us with a workable agenda. The truth is that the conference resolutions have presented us with a document that is development or people-oriented, that abjures regional, ethnic or sectarian ambush of the polity, and that is generally less odious or problematic. The 1999 Constitution, unsolicitously bequeathed to the Fourth Republic, is generally perceived as a military ambush of the true yearnings of the people to live together under a legal regime that recognises their commonality of interest but is cognisant of their respective distinctive uniqueness.
We humbly disclaim the view that an incisive exploration of the essence of Nigeria’s corporate existence is necessarily unpatriotic or willy-nilly conduces to the disintegration of the country. It is, in fact, the non-investigation or the non-discussion of the issues thrown up by our in-explicable coyness that do grave harm to our quest for progress. Nothing should prevent our frontal confrontation of the many identifiable foibles of our respective ethnic communities particularly in the light of a steadily-growing and wide-spread radicalisation of consciousness among our people. The political will on the part of Government to do the needful with regard to the deliberations of the conference will be the defining characteristic of our common purpose to chart a refreshing course for Nigeria. Some of the far-reaching recommendations of the conference respecting seemingly difficult issues like State Police, status of local governments, fiscal federalism, devolution of power, derivation, political restructuring, etc. are positioned to substantially improve the quality and content of our federal character. The conference report is clearly indicative of the desire of the people to forge a truly federal state and to live under a legal regime of brotherhood, peace and prosperity.
All told, the conference has achieved the restoration of some of the tenets or elements of federalism as was witnessed under the 1960/63 federal constitutions e.g. reduction of Federal Government constitutional responsibilities, restoration of a wide array of services that the states can offer, giving affirmative seal to the rights of ethnic nationality communities to merge with their kith and kin in neighbouring states, taking key elements like policing, minerals, mining, oil fields, etc. from the Exclusive to the Concurrent list. These resolutions/ recommendations evince a critical, even condemnatory, stance concerning the quality or value of leadership provided by the military, their acolytes and the succeeding political elite particularly regarding a national constitution that is federal only in name but sorely deficient or defective in content and praxis of the federal ideal.
We cannot further postpone genuine efforts to re-mint the Nigerian state. We can no longer pretend that the national question is merely tangential or peripheral to our current general reform or “Change!”efforts. The time to set the country on the path of true nationhood is now. The answer lies in the proper or correct appreciation of the ultimate benefits of a re-structured polity from the ruins of a dysfunctional constitutional regime or order.
• Rotimi-John, a lawyer and public affairs commentator, sent in this piece from Abuja.