AT THE ANNUAL DINNER OF MIDWEST TEMPO MAGAZINE ON THURSDAY, JANUARY 18, 2018 IN BENIN, TITLED: “TIME TO RENEGOTIATE OUR CORPORATE EXISTENCE”
His Excellency, Governor Godwin Obaseki, management and staff of Midwest Tempo Magazine, ladies and gentlemen.
I am indeed humbled by this invitation from Midwest Tempo Magazine to deliver a lecture. The topic couldn’t have been more apt and more current. We are going through trying times, but I believe and trust in God, that we shall overcome.
Recent developments in our nation, ranging from sectarian clashes, episodic genocides perpetrated by Fulani herdsmen against the Tiv in Logo and Guma Local Government Areas of Benue State and similar massacres in some states in North Central and Northwest zones and across the Middle Belt, to the age long problem of the rigged structure of our federation, resulting particularly, in lopsided development and nepotistic appointments into strategic federal positions, have underscored, more than ever before, the imperative of renegotiating our corporate existence.
Let me state from the outset, and unapologetically too, that we need to revisit and rejig our federalism in ways that will shear it of fraudulent trappings. We must ensure the enthronement and faithful practice of true federalism if our corporate existence is to be assured, enhanced and guaranteed so that we can thereafter live in assured peace.
Our corporate existence has never been so questioned as it is today due to leadership insensitivity and deliberate policy of emphasising those issues that divide, rather than unite us. Ethnic chauvinism, religious bigotry, settler-indigene question, state of origin issue, et al, continue to have a free reign in the determination of our socio-political interactions. Even the federal character principle and quota system as constitutionally circumscribed, are symptomatic and emblematic of our rigged nationhood.
We have never seen nepotism so glaringly and unconscionably exhibited as it is being done today. Most Nigerians, especially in the Southsouth, Southeast, Southwest and Middle Belt, daily criticize the lopsided appointments made by the present administration. A situation where all security chiefs, but one, are from the northern part of the country leaves a lot to be desired. A situation where all key government agencies are headed by people from one part of the country is unacceptable. To think that this is happening under a democratic setting, makes it most disheartening.
And this is not the way our founding fathers: Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, and their followers, envisioned and fashioned Nigeria. Yes, they feverishly pursued development of the various regions with the unity of the country at the back of their minds. They did not do anything, willy-nilly, to undermine the unity of the country. Such developmental strides saw the establishment of schools, industries, hospitals, roads and other laudable infrastructure, which if we had rigorously maintained, would not have left us in our present doldrums.
At times, I am tempted to put the blame on the colonial masters, the British, whose sole aim of amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Protectorates was commerce and ease of administration. I doubt if many Britons at the time, were enthused about coming to work in mosquito-infested, malaria-prone Nigeria, inhabited by hostile natives, if not for economic considerations. But we have come of age and should have been able by now, to break the shackles of colonial mentality. If India, which was equally colonised by the British, can make monumental strides, why not Nigeria?
India is one people divided by caste, whereas Nigeria is made up of many ethnic nationalities – good enough reason to come on the table, understand our differences and decide whether to co-exist with an understanding of who we are, or not. The current state of our country calls for sober reflection by all discerning minds. We must ponder on whether or not we are succeeding and making progress as a nation. Remarkably, Nigeria will commemorate her 58 years of Independence from Britain this October, but sadly, critical issues pertaining to her human, economic, social and political development are far from being settled over the past years. It is even sadder that successive governments are still unable to answer basic questions of road, water, health and education infrastructure provision.
CONSTITUTION DEVELOPMENT AND PROJECT NIGERIA.
Against the backdrop of aggravating state of our nation, it has become apposite, at this instant, to take a perfunctory look at Nigeria’s constitution development, the features and objectives of the various constitution intercessions in order to objectively appraise what has hindered our progress as a nation in comparison to a country like India, which is today, a great nation. In 1948, India and Pakistan gained independence from Britain, 12 years earlier than Nigeria did. In 1971, Bangladesh was born out of East Pakistan after the Bangladesh liberation war. We can also cite South Sudan – the youngest nation in the world, after a protracted civil war.
The position here is that nothing should be taken for granted about the future of the Nigeria Project, going by similar antecedents in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. We cannot ignore the fact that similar factors that militated against an economically, socially and politically stable India and Pakistan, and which led to the birth of Bangladesh, after a genocidal war, are not present in Nigeria and have been manifesting since 1960 and, at the turn of each day, are becoming more protracted and dangerous.
For emphasis, these factors are tribalism, ethnicity, sectionalism and religious intolerance in our daily national life. These cancerous vices have denied the average Nigerian citizen justice, equity and true freedom in all aspects of global economic, social and political development indices and they are entrenched in the provisions of our constitution.
Failure of several provisions of the constitution due to entrenched interests based on tribalism, ethnicity, sectionalism and religious intolerance is responsible for supplementary issues like agitations for private ownership of resources, private Police and, most recently, the idea of establishing cattle colonies for nomadic cattle herders, that goes to touch on the awkward constitutional issue of land tenure and administration in Nigeria. Conventionally these ought to be communal heritage regardless of tribe, ethnic group, religion or location.
A brief examination of the 1999 Constitution especially its Chapter II on “Fundamental Objectives And Directive Principles of State Policy”, attempts to give the impression that the Federal Republic is to be organised and operated in the interest of justice, peace, unity and the well-being of Nigerian citizens. Unfortunately, several other provisions of the same constitution, betray or contradict Chapter II of 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria as did other constitutional writings and amendments preceding the 1999 constitution.
Constitutional provisions like: State of Origin, Federal Character, Sharia Justice Administration, and States/Local Government Joint account system, amongst others, are hindrances to all aspects of our Human Development as a nation.
As of today, it is no longer in contention that Nigeria is presently grouped among the 20 poorest countries in the world and among the first 30 undeveloped countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Of Nigeria’s 160 million population, from 2006 census, about 100 million people live below the poverty line of less than US$1.00 a day. This is to say that an estimated 70 per cent of Nigerians are poor, after 58 years of independence. This regrettable state of affairs is as contradictory as it is upsetting to Nigerians especially in view of all known pointers that Nigeria would become a great African country within a very short time after independence in 1960.
As soon as the British realised that, at some point, they would have to relinquish direct political control to the natives, it became imperative for them to plan a long term strategy to sustain control and exploitation of Nigeria, their former colony, even after attainment of political independence. The British succeeded in achieving its neo-colonial hold on Nigeria mainly through the instrument of constitutionalism. They succeeded in entrenching a political heritage, which would forever perpetuate national insecurity and the consequential poor governance by a few selfish elite. With the failure of our constitutions, the British knew that failure of our human, economic and social systems would naturally fall within their whims and caprices and, subsequently, of their numerous capitalist allies in the West.
This strategy worked for them and they have been able to remain in control of the Nigerian economy. Looking at Nigeria from1960 to date as already alluded to supra, it was anticipated that political freedom at independence would usher in new thinking and new policies, which together, would bring rapid transformation of Nigeria from exploitation and under-development as a former colony. Nigerians were so optimistic about the bright prospects of Nigeria becoming a country where its citizenry would live in justice, peace and prosperity as could be found anywhere else in the world.
With these hopes dashed 58 years after independence, it is only rational that the present young generation of Nigerians, bewildered as to what went wrong, are justified in venting their anger on the older generations through orgy of violence, kidnappings, prostitution, drug peddling, armed robbery, illegal migration and utter hopelessness.
Since independence in 1960, Nigeria has been governed by 14 heads of state and presidents, out of which nine were not elected; and, of the five elected, only two were elected through processes that were adjudged to be free and fair.
JUSTIFICATIONS FOR RENEGOTIATING OUR CORPORATE EXISTENCE.
Now, hear this: the political volatility, which hindered Nigeria’s human, economic, social and political development from independence in 1960 till date, is entrenched in the constitutional provisions that gave room for tribalism, ethnicity, sectionalism and religious bigotry. Constitutionally entrenched provisions that fan the embers of tribalism, ethnicity and sectionalism have contributed the most to Nigeria’s political instability.
All military interventions in Nigeria were stirred by tribal, ethnic, sectional and religious tendencies intrinsic in Nigeria’s human, economic, social and political diversity. In the 30-month gruesome civil war and the lopsided creation of states and local governments in the past 58 years, lie a response to enduring demand for tribal, ethnic and religious allegiance rather than national loyalty.
The constitution of Nigeria has been changed or amended several times since independence, but unfortunately these changes have failed to largely address political instability arising from tribal, ethnic, sectional and religious sentiments. These interests have been deeply entrenched and have so far continued to undermine Nigeria’s self esteem and self reliance.
The demise of the First Republic marked the beginning of political instability in Nigeria and the inevitable consequences that arose from military and civilian leadership.
The importance of a constitution in any given society cannot be overemphasized. The constitution of any land is the supreme law of the land that governs the affairs of all citizens, individuals and parliament and must not be contravened. It is the fundamental and organic law of a nation or state that establishes the institutions and apparatuses of government, defines the scope of governmental and sovereign powers, and guarantees individual civil rights and liberties.
In 1914, the Colony of Lagos and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria were merged with the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria and they were referred to as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. The legislative council was this time allowed to make laws for only the colony.
Foundation for imposition of leaders and money politics was laid by the British to hinder Nigeria’s economic development when, on assuming office in 1919, Sir Hugh Clifford, the Governor, due to pressure from the then West African Congress, led by Caseley Hayford, drew up the TV Nigeria.
The Clifford Constitution did not represent the indigenous population. The first election was conducted into the legislative council with four slots: 3 for Lagos while 1 was for Calabar. However, the election disenfranchised the people for whom the government was being constituted. The constitution barred Nigerians earning less than a £100 (pounds) annually, from voting or being voted for in the election.
The Clifford Constitution of 1922 also introduced a legislative council that replaced the Nigerian council. Unfortunately, however, the council could only legislate for the South. There was no legislative council for the North. The Governor legislated for the North through proclamations, despite the declaration of amalgamation of Southern and Northern Nigeria since 1914.
This was another ploy the British devised to sustain and entrench their economic interests to the detriment of the people’s economic, social and political development. Different laws operated between the Southern and Northern protectorates of the amalgamated Nigeria, – a testimony to the fact that the two regions were heterogeneous in all aspects of human, economic, social and religious leanings.
After Hugh Clifford, there were two other governors, Cameron and Bernard Bourdillion. They did not do much in terms of constitution development. However, Bourdilion divided Nigeria into East, West and North for administrative purposes. This was the foundation for restructuring which clamour today, has reached its peak. The Midwest cashed in on this in the 60’s, for its creation.
Before the end of 1944, the then Governor, Sir Arthur Richards provided a new proposal for constitution amendment. This was as a result of pressure mounted on him by the educated elite. They felt that the Clifford Constitution did not represent the indigenous population. Therefore, the Governor introduced the Constitution which had the following aims:
• To promote Nigeria’s unity
• To provide adequately within that desire for the diverse elements that make up the country
• To provide greater participation of Africans in the determination of their own affairs.
The constitution provided for a new legislative council: the Governor, 16 official members and 28 unofficial members. Of the 28, two were nominated by the Governor while 4 were elected. The North had 11 members; the West had 8 members while the East had 6 members. The elected 4 were from Lagos and Calabar. Also, the Constitution made the council legislate for the whole country. It could be said that the Arthur Richards’ constitution of 1944 was the first attempt to douse and address the basic flaws of the Clifford Constitution of 1922 by addressing the issue of disenfranchisement to an extent, by widening the scope of true participatory democracy, but at the same time accommodating entrenched diversity of the people.
The Constitution provided for Regional Houses of Assembly. The members of the Regional Assembly were nominated by the Native Authority. Unfortunately again, they were not legislative bodies, but platforms for discussions on national issues; an improvement on the Clifford Constitution of 1922. It was also from the House of Assembly, that members were nominated to the Legislative Council. The East and West had unicameral legislature while the North, in addition to a House of Assembly, had a House of Chiefs. This further reflects the diversity of the different peoples, which today is the bedrock on which the clamour for restructuring, and not secession, stands.
The executive council in Lagos also had, for the first time, Nigerians. They were Sir Adeyemo Alakija and Bankole Rhodes. But despite all these improvements as compared to the Clifford Constitution, the Richards’ Constitution of 1944 still had several flaws, to wit:
Restricted franchise to only Lagos and Calabar.
Fifty pounds minimum annual income required for the right to vote or be voted for was still too expensive for most Nigerians.
The regional houses of assembly could not make laws; they were merely grounds for public discussions.
Those nominated into the regional houses of assembly and the legislative council, were not nominated by the natives.
Due to the shortcomings of the Richards’ constitution, a new constitution was needed. The Governor, Sir John Macpherson, not wanting to make the mistake his predecessor made, decided to include Nigerians in the constitution-making process. There was wide consultation with Nigerians even to village levels. In addition, there was also the Ibadan Conference of 1950. The result of all these was what led to the creation of the Macpherson Constitution, which provided for:
A federal legislature called the House of Representatives;
Enlarged but skewed representation in favour of the North based on revenue because the country then, depended on agriculture; 136 elected representatives, 6 ex-officio members and 6 nominated by the governor: 68 members were from the North, 34 from the West and 34 from the East;
Provided for regional legislatures that could make laws for their regions;
The legislatures in the West and North were bi-cameral, each having a House of Chiefs alongside the regional legislature. In the East, it was a unicameral legislature. It was also from the regional legislatures that members were nominated to the legislative council.
Notwithstanding the progress in the Macpherson Constitution, it could not keep Nigerians united. It collapsed soon due to problems from the legislature. Enter the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954!
In 1953, Anthony Enahoro of the Action Group proposed on the floor of the House that Nigeria should be given independence in 1956. The Northerners, who felt they were not ready for independence, opposed this. The fundamental differences between the peoples of Southern and Northern Nigeria, which several constitution amendments have manipulated or coerced, are responsible for the dismal state of the Nigerian State.
While the North, based on their level of development, proposed that independence should be given ‘as soon as practicable’, the Southern delegates chose to coerce them. This led to their being booed in Lagos, culminating in a riot in Kano as a reprisal. The North threatened to secede, which was a serious pointer to the incongruent heterogeneity of North and South; but this glaring signal to the danger that lay ahead was ignored by our leaders at the time.
The Lyttleton Constitution fully introduced a federal system with North, East, West, Southern Cameroons and the Federal Capital Territory in Lagos.
On the judicial flank, the West African Court of Appeal was abolished. There was a Supreme Court for Nigeria and individual High Courts for the Regions. However, the highest Court of Appeal was the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The Eastern and Western Regions became self-governing in 1957 while the North became self-governing in 1959. Southern Cameroon, through a referendum, opted out of Nigeria.
On 1st October 1960, Nigeria became independent. This meant that Nigeria was a sovereign state, independent of colonial influences. However, this was not fully the case. The Queen was still the Head of State, although she was represented by a Nigerian in the person of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as Governor-General while Sir Tafawa Balewa was the Prime Minister.
The Constitution divided legislative powers between the center and the regional legislatures. It made provisions for an Exclusive Legislative list. It also made provisions for a Concurrent list. Items in the Exclusive list were to be legislated upon by only the Central Legislature. Items in the Concurrent list were to be legislated upon by the Central Legislature and the Regional Legislatures. Items not included in any of the lists were regarded as Residual lists which were within the sole purview of the Regional Legislature.
It also provided for a dual executive. This meant that we had the Head of State and the Head of Government in two different people. The Head of Government was Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe while the Head of State was Sir Tafawa Balewa. The Head of State performed only ceremonial functions while the Head of Government had executive powers. He was responsible for the day-to-day running of government activities.
In order to douse fears due to the heterogeneous nature of Nigeria, the constitution was made supreme in order to deter tribalism, ethnicity, fears of domination of minority groups and religious intolerance. But, unfortunately, necessary provisions needed to make the constitution truly representative were lacking because the leaders at the time, and not the people, made the constitution.
Although Nigeria was purported to have gained independence from the British, there were still some relics of imperialism in the 1960 independence constitution. One of them was that the Queen was still the head of state, represented by a Nigerian. Also, the highest court of appeal was the judicial committee of the Privy Council in the House of Lords instead of the Nigerian Supreme Court. It was due to these, that a new constitution had to be made.
This gave birth to the 1963 Republican Constitution which was passed into law by the Federal House of Representatives on September 19, 1963, and came into force on 1st October 1963. This was after the constitutional conference held in Lagos on July 25 and 26, 1963, where issues bordering on the real independence of Nigeria were resolved.
Features of the 1963 Republican Constitution include:
The Queen of England ceased to be the head of state.
The head of state was the president who was to be chosen by secret ballot of a joint session of both houses of the National Assembly.
The president who was Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
The Supreme Court, rather than the Privy Council, became the highest Court of Appeal in the country. Also, the Judicial Service commission was abolished. The appointment of judges and their promotion were vested in the prime minister.
The power of judicial review was vested in the Supreme Court. It had the powers to declare actions which were contrary to constitutional provisions, null and void.
Despite all these changes in the 1963 Republican Constitution of Nigeria, there were still several criticisms leveled against it. First was that the president was elected by the National Assembly instead of the electorate.
Second was that the National Assembly consisted of just a few people in comparison with the whole electorate. This, it was argued, might end up making the president loyal to the legislature instead of the people.
Also, the abolition of the Judicial Service Commission was said to be a bad move. This was because leaving the regulation of the judiciary that ought to be independent in the hands of the executive, compromised the judiciary. Judges would not want to offend the prime minister in order for them not to get promoted, thereby circumventing justice. Due to political crises in the country, the Republican Constitution did not last. On January 15, 1966, there was a coup d’etat that removed the politicians.
In 1975, General Murtala Muhammed came to power through a coup d’etat, and promised to restore civilian rule in Nigeria. Sadly, he was assassinated. His successor, Gen Olusegun Obasanjo, keyed into his vision of ushering in democracy. A 49-member Constitutional Drafting Committee headed by F.R.A. Williams was appointed to make a draft constitution. After the committee was done, a Constituent Assembly headed by Justice Udo Udoma made final adjustments to the constitution. The constitution was promulgated and it came into force on 1st October, 1979.
The foray of the military into politics further divided the country. It foisted a unitary government on the people. The few southerners that headed the country assumed office by default and any southerner that occupied the seat looked more subservient to the North and the Hausa-Fulani hegemony, in order for peace to reign.
Major landmark decisions or projects like state and local government creation, constitution review, boundary adjustment and change in currency, etc., were all done by Northern leaders. The South has always demurred to the North for the sake of peace. But that peace still eludes us. A country where Fulani herdsmen are a law unto themselves cannot be said to be at peace. A country where there is glaring distrust of one another, where a section of the country believes it is its right to rule permanently, cannot be said to be at peace. The rest of the country, cannot remain a colony of the North.
The current uncertainties that envelope the nation, coupled with the dismal economic situation and abject poverty, call for a serious reconsideration of our “co-existence” since from all indications, we do not have any culture, costume, rite, language, or religion binding us. We are more of various ethnic nationalities cohabiting in an unhealthy relationship. Should Nigeria continue to be “a geographical expression” as depicted by our late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo in his book, “Path to Nigeria freedom”? Therefore, I, Senator Ehigie Uzamere, in my personal capacity and representing no other entities but myself, stand on the platform of the Annual Dinner of Midwest Tempo Magazine, to declare, in my personal and well considered view, that we need the urgency of now to revisit the basis of our co- existence and rejig our federalism in order to move it from false to true federalism in all its ramifications.
Once our nationhood is rested on the tripod of equity, truth and egalitarianism, true federalism will become a faît accompli and our corporate existence will be guaranteed. But, this will not happen on a platter of gold; we must strategically and intellectually engage all the component parts of the country in a deliberate enterprise of renegotiating our nation since we have, all this while, been ill at ease with the administration of our subsisting contraption called the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
As a corollary, we should take steps to visit recommendations by previous political and national conferences especially those of 2005 and 2014 respectively, on true federalism and ensure they are harmonized. I believe there are useful guides and recommendations in the reports of those conferences that can be adapted and implemented with a view to achieving the lofty ideal of a renegotiated and restructured nation anchored principally on considerable devolution of power from the national to sub-national governments.
Ladies and gentlemen, I believe very strongly that this is the best time to renegotiate our corporate existence and restructure our country.
Before I end this lecture, may I crave your indulgence to recite a short poem, I wrote on TIME.
Yet a foe
Waits for no one
Creeps in unseen,
Comes as opportunities
As friends, you use
As foe, you miss
And doomed alas.
Oh great country Nigeria
Land of my birth
Land of great men and women of yore
Seize the day
You’ll not be.
I thank you all for your attention.