Are we still united as one people? Are we still one nation, one people ,under one God. Come October 1st 2017, shall we be celebrating our 57 years of independence together as one nation or shall the mass sack and killings of the Igbo commence following the expiration of the quit notice given to them by the Arewa youths? Will the hate campaigns from all sides go on and unchecked? Has the Nigerian state got too weak to check the excesses of ethnic militias? Many a time our leaders speak of our diversity as our greatest strength. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, just last week signposted our diversity as being our biggest assets and strength. But isn’t our diversity what is tearing Nigeria apart today?
In 1954 , Awolowo argued that Nigeria is not a nation but a mere geographical expression. More than 60 years after the Awolowo submission and over 57 years of independence, many still insist that Nigeria is still not a nation. What is a nation? French writer Ernest Renan gave us the answer in the 19th century: “A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things constitute this soul. One is the past, the other is the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is present consent, the desire to live together, the desire to continue to invest in the heritage that we have jointly received’.
Today, our desire to continue to live together and invest in our common heritage is threatened by myriads of challenges. Apart from economic recession, there are also menace of herdsmen and their recurring murderous clashes with farmers, agitation for the now resurrected ghost of Biafra, restiveness in the oil-rich Niger-Delta, and alleged marginalization of a section of the country by successive administrations. How can Nigeria wriggle out of her self inflicted mess?
Suggestions are as diverse as the different tongues and tribes that make up Nigeria. Some opinions want the Federal Government to implement the over 620 recommendations of the 2014 National Conference. Yet some opinion leaders , think otherwise and want the National Assembly to spearhead the move through the amendment of the constitution. There are also those who think Nigeria has already been restructured by President Buhari and requires no further restructuring. Some thoughts championed by former President Obasanjo feel there is nothing wrong with the structure of Nigeria but the mentality of the people . There are also the separatists groups who want nothing short of their own nation. The divergent views are not out of place. The country’s history is replete with avalanche of moves to hammer out a workable structure.
In 1958, 106 Nigerian delegates drawn from the ethnic nationalities attended a conference in London to look at what was then the Nigerian federation. That conference yielded the 1960 Constitution that ushered Nigeria into independence. In 1963, with the departure of Southern Cameroon from Nigeria the country fashioned the 1963 Republican Constitution. The military intervention of 1966 abrogated the 1963 constitution. However, the military set up a Constituent Assembly in 1977, which produced the 1979 Constitution that returned the country to civil rule. About four years later, the military overthrew the democratic government and set aside the 1979 constitution. In 1989, the then General Ibrahim Babamasi Babangida-led military government set up a Constituent Assembly that produced the short-lived 1993 Constitution. The clamour for a Sovereign National Conference, SNC, gained currency in 1994 following the ‘June 12’ which canvassed a restructured polity that would drive socio-economic and political development. The General Sanni Abacha regime, organised a National Constitutional Conference, NCC, in 1994. The confab was boycotted by the progressive wing of the South-West, led by late Senator Abraham Adesanya, which insisted on the SNC. The conference came up with far-reaching decisions like creation of the six geo-political zones and 13 per cent derivation. The proposed constitution was in the works until Abacha died in 1998. When General Abdulsalami Abubakar took over in 1998, he set up a committee led by Justice Niki Tobi to sieve the volumes of the constitutional documents. The process produced the 1999 Constitution.
In his second term, Obasanjo organized a National Political Reforms Conference, NPRC, with all the delegates appointed. One of the resolutions of the confab was 17 per cent derivation. However, the decisions of the conference, which the National Assembly was discussing with the aim of including them in its constitution amendment exercise died with Obasanjo’s alleged Third Term agenda.
Under President Jonathan, the 1999 constitution was amended twice but the clamour for a restructured polity persisted. In response, Dr Jonathan organized the 2014 national conference, to tackle these issues. Indeed, the conference touched virtually all aspects of the socio-economic and political challenges besetting the country such as resource control, fiscal federalism, devolution of power, creation of states, forms of government, revenue allocation, ethnic nationalities and minority question, and resolution of the herdsmen and farmers’ crises.
For a start, the conference recommended part time legislature, removal of immunity clause on criminal matter, independent candidacy, part-time legislature, cutting cost of government by having only 18 ministers instead of 42, The Diaspora participation in voting, unbundling of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, privatisation of existing refineries and stoppage of sponsorship of pilgrims.
The confab also recommended that anybody aspiring to become the country’s President must be a degree holder. It approved the rotation of Presidency between the North and South and governorship among the three senatorial districts of each state. Also, any elected official, executive or legislative, who carpet-cross, regardless of the reasons for such, shall automatically forfeit his seat. It also recommended the creation of 18 new states (three per geo-political zone).
Apart from the 18 proposed states, the Conference also recommended one new state for the South East to make the zone have equal number of states with the other zones except the North West which has seven. It said that states willing to merge can also do so based on certain conditions.
On the vexed issue of fiscal federalism and resource control, the Conference recommended the establishment of a special fund for the development of mineral resources. The Fund should be administered by a competent body according to guidelines that shall be specified by the National Assembly. It specifically said that excess revenue should be used for exploration of mineral resources in every part of the country. To reduce economic power at the centre, it recommended that the sharing of the funds to the Federation Account among the three tiers of government should be done in the following manner: Federal Government – 42.5%, State Governments – 35% and Local Governments 22.5% as opposed to the prevailing 52.68 %, 26.72% and 20.60% respectively.
On form of government, the confab recommended the Modified Presidential System, a home-made model of government that effectively combines the presidential and parliamentary systems of government. The president shall pick the vice president from the Legislature. The President should select not more than 18 ministers from the six geo-political zones and not more than 30% of his ministers from outside the Legislature. Reduce Cost of governance by pruning the number of political appointees and using staff of ministries where necessary.
On Local Government, it said Local Government will no longer be the third tier of government. The federal and states are now to be the only tiers of government. States can now create as many local governments they want. The Joint State/Local Government Account be scrapped and in its place the establishment of a State RMAFC with representatives of LG and a Chairman nominated by the Governor.
The Constitution should fix the tenure for Local Government Councils at three years. Conference recommends the scrapping of State Independent Electoral Commission, SIECs.
On Livestock, grazing reserves, ranching, an issue that is holding Nigeria at the jugular, the confab recommended that in the long term, cattle routes and grazing reserves be phased out to lay emphasis on ranching.
In spite of these recommendations and many more, President Muhammadu Buhari, on assuming power elected to archive the report of the confab, a decision that has fuelled ethnic agitations that may lead to the final dissolution of Nigeria. We are obviously no longer our brothers keepers and I doubt if we can proudly say we are one people and one united nation under one God.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.