The mistakes Rotimi Williams and I made about Nigeria’s constitution – Nwabueze
BY GBENGA OKE
…North is in the middle of a civil war…
PROFESSOR Ben Nwabueze (SAN), the chairman of The Patriots, a group of eminent Nigerian citizens is disturbed that the transformation agenda is on the wrong step and might not yield the desired result. In this interview with VANGUARD, he proffers suggestions on how to re-track the agenda. He opposes calls for amnesty for Boko Haram sect and doubts the ability of the congregating opposition parties to dislodge the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in 2015. Excerpts:
His assessment of President Goodluck Jonathan’s transformation agenda
The transformation agenda of the President Goodluck Jonathan administration is inadequate because of its limited objectives. To begin with, it focuses only on the economy. Even as limited to the economy, it does not aim at a radical change in the nature or character of the economy. Its aim as stated in its enabling document is to engender economic growth and development in a way to achieve improvement in the welfare of the citizens.
The word ‘transformation’ according to the dictionary definition of it, is “change in condition, nature of character of a thing”, ‘a change into another substance.’ A new approach in the management of the economy may well bring about a great improvement in the economy in the form of enhanced growth and development and welfare services, but such improvement cannot in any meaningful sense be described as changing the Nigerian economy into something radically different in nature or character or changing it into another substance.
The Transformation Agenda is inadequate for another more fundamental reason. It has absolutely nothing to do with, not a word to say about, the transformation of our society from moral decadence into which it has sunk. No agenda, in the context of Nigeria, is worth being called a transformation agenda, which does not aim at the moral and ethical transformation of our society. Its focus must enhance the entire society or nation not the economy alone.
On how to improve the transformation agenda
What this country needs is national or social transformation not just economic transformation. I can think of nothing more disastrous for this country than an enhanced growth and development built or superimposed upon a morally and ethically decadent society, a society bereft of a sense of justice, probity, integrity, accountability, civic virtues and noble values.
The vice-President in a speech at the Obafemi Awolowo Prize for Leadership Award Ceremony on March 6, 2013 said that government planned as part of the transformation agenda programme to establish mega universities, each of which can take up to 200,000 students. The establishment of such universities will be a disaster, a disastrous misplacement of priorities when it is taken in the context of the incredible decline in educational standards in the country as attested by the phenomenon of near-illiterate university graduates, the existence of magic schools all over the country whose students are guaranteed automatic success in the school certificate examination, not of course by merit, certificate racketeering; examination malpractices etc.
His take on perceived looming revolution
For the present, unless the situation deteriorates to a point where the mood and reaction of the people can no longer be controlled, what I advocate for Nigeria is a peaceful, non violent social and ethical revolution led by a person imbued with a revolutionary ardour for national transformation. And I implore Mr. President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan to lead it.
On calls by major northern stakeholders for amnesty to the Boko Haram sect
I think the call for amnesty for the Boko Haram people is misplaced and it is based on mis-guided comparison between the amnesty granted to the militants in the Niger Delta. These are two different things, completely different. The Niger Delta militants were fighting for justice, it is not an insurgency. Boko Haram is an insurgency, revolt against constituted authorities.
Carrying arms against the state, that is what insurgency means. Militants in the Niger Delta never revolted against the state when they were protesting and that is the difference between militancy and insurgency. These Boko Haram people are insurgents therefore there should be no question of amnesty. However, I sympathise with them because they are revolting against the absence of social justice.
Now, forget the hardship and suffering, these are not the only cause for their insurgency, it also has political and religious undertones. The origin of the group Boko Haram is political, it was what happened after the death of (former President Umaru Musa) Yar’Adua, the North said the South has ruled for eight years under President Obasanjo and therefore it is their turn justifiably or unjustifiably, that was their argument.
They also said after the acting tenure of President Jonathan, that power should return to the North and that the price of that is what Nigeria is experiencing now. That is the political angle to it. I have mentioned the economic side of the revolt, which include hardship, suffering and poverty as well. They have now added a position which is untenable by adding religion to it. They say they want to convert Nigeria into a Muslim state; that is incredible.
On The Patriots recurring call for a National Conference, resistance from the National Assembly and next line of action
We are still going ahead with the National Conference. The arguments from the National Assembly are again misplaced. They are representatives of the people who are elected members, elected by the people, but what is their mandate? There is a clear difference and distinction between the National Assembly and the Constituent Assembly or National Conference. The National Assembly are elected and given a mandate to govern according to the Constitution.
The Constituent Assembly, the National Conference is an assembly for just one specific purpose, the purpose of making a constitution. Their mandate is not to govern, the mandate is a special one and that is making a constitution. The people are the constituent power; the constituent power in any country is in the people as a sovereign people. The National Assembly is not sovereign, the people are sovereign. In exercise of their constituent power of their sovereignty to deliberate on their constitution and how they are to be governed, that is the whole purpose of the demand for a National Conference.
On areas that need amendment in the 1999 Constitution
Quite frankly, there are many flaws and many errors in the content of the constitution. So many errors and I as a person was partly responsible because I was a member of the constitution drafting committee set up by the military government in 1978. I was not only a member but chairman of one of the sub-committees that produced Chapter 2, the fundamental objectives and one of the cardinal flaws in the constitution is the concentration of powers in the centre.
That is why I accept that I am partly responsible for that because at the time, late Chief Rotimi Williams, a close friend of mine and nearly everybody in the Constitution Drafting Committee were so overwhelmed with this feeling, this patriotic feeling that we needed unity and the most effective way to achieve unity of the country is by having a very strong central government.
Most of us in the committee shared that idea at the time. Chief Williams shared it because of the patriotism in us and we wanted a united Nigeria, we feel we can achieve unity by having a strong central government. Then, what did we do to achieve our mis-guided objective? We took away 50 per cent of the items on the concurrent list and gave it to the centre.
We feel by doing this, we are establishing unity. We did not stop at that. We looked at the residual matters, these are matters exclusive to the states, we took a large part of it, more than 30 percent and close to 50 percent; we took it away from states and gave to the centre. And the result is the almighty Federal Government, but what we discover was that instead of producing unity, we produced disunity because of the intensity of the struggle to control the centre.
The intensity is so much and it is not just in the political power that was concentrated at the centre, much of the money also went to the centre and so by action, we destroyed what is called fiscal federalism. Too much money at the centre increased the struggle for the control of the centre and the control of the money itself and that has remained the feature of the Constitution up till today.
So when people struggle and agitate for true federalism, for fiscal federalism, they know what they are talking about and they are right, that must be changed and until it is changed, we might not achieve true federalism because the basis of which we did it has proved to be misguided, the unity we thought we will achieve was not achieved and what we achieved was more disunity than unity because of the struggle.
So I am not sure the rectification of that error is what the National Assembly can do because so much is involved. We have to restructure the territorial basis of the federation. Even if we have to take power away from the centre, whom are you going to give it to?
The 36 states, many of them carry even the power they have now not to talk of bringing back what has been taken away. Many of them are so small to carry those powers. So not only restructuring in political power, not only restructuring in financial power, you have to restructure territorial basis of zones. Six zones as suggested already but there is nothing sacrosanct by number of zones, it can be six, seven or eight but realistically six zones. So that has to be done. Can the National Assembly do it?
That is why again the entire people, all the 300 or more of the ethnic groups in the country need to come together and discuss and there are also many other things in the Constitution which experience has proved cannot work and it is not a matter for National Assembly alone and that is why I said let us have a National Conference to look at the whole thing both the more fundamental issues, the source of authority and the content of the Constitution.
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