On Thursday the 1st of October, 2020, Nigeria celebrated her 60 years of Independence with mixed feelings and reactions from her citizenry home and abroad. While some argued that, 60 years after independence, there is virtually nothing to celebrate as a Nation; others are of the opinion that no matter what, Nigeria still has a cause to celebrate. However, one thing that appeared to be unanimously agreed upon by the overwhelming majority of Nigerians is the fact that there are fundamental questions surrounding the structure of our Federal System of Government ran on the basis of the very faulty and fundamentally defective Constitution handed over to Nigeria by the Military. This has therefore led to the agitation for restructuring from many quarters and indeed total or outright breakup or desolation by some others.
Therefore, our Correspondent in a chat with BRIG-GEN Donald O.I. IKPONMWEN, ESQ.Psc Dss Mss Mpoa LLB (Hons) Bl PhD Fwc mni, a Legal Practitioner & Notary Public, Former Provost Marshal (Army), Former Head, Nigeria Army Legal Services, Former Commandant, NA School for Military Police takes a brief look at the challenges bedevilling Nigeria over the years and the way forward.
The Choice of Federalism
The founding fathers of Nigeria opted for a Federal System of Government because they recognized the pluralities of the component units that formed the union. Over the years, it appears as if successive governments have lost this idea and vision and have had same replaced with a Unitary System of Government. This phenomenon has been further compounded by the prevalence of personal, ethnic and religious bias with no tangible human capital development in the polity.
Before proceeding any further, as a matter of duty, we must pay tribute to our founding fathers whose effort led to the attainment of Independence which was granted to Nigeria through an order-in-council of the British Government in 1960. We cannot but recall that the name “Nigeria” was actually the handwork of the British Lord Luggard who championed the amalgamation of the erstwhile Southern and Northern Protectorates that were hitherto separate colonial entities before 1914 after the area came under British Colonial rule.
It is no longer a matter for an argument that the amalgamation was mainly for the convenience of the British Imperial Government. Prior to actual grant of Independence, our founding fathers recognized the different and distinct ethnic nationalities that inhabited the area; they very well understood that the Federalist System of Government was the most ideal for such erstwhile autonomous entities. Hence in all their pre-independence conferences, they left no ambiguities as to their choice of the Federal System among other forms of government. The idea was to ensure that they put in place a government that would recognize the various ethnic nationalities and guarantee a political union that would sustain mutual respect, mutual relevance and mutual inter-dependence thus promoting the growth of Federating units capable of developing at their own pace and along with their own distinct peculiarities. It goes without saying, therefore, that the idea of our founding fathers was evidently to forge national unity, with regional governments, being the real governments, and a Central Government existing for the sake of handling particular interests common to the union.
Corruption and Military Intervention
Corruption which undoubtedly has been the bane of our Nation played a major role or better still has been identified as the reason the Military struck and took over the government from Politicians in the First Republic. The agenda of the Military in taking over power was said to be their quest to address the growing trend of corruption and inefficiency in the newly Independent Country. Conversely and more worrisome is the fact that the Military who eventually came into power after the coup, threaded a sharply different course by adopting a Unitary System of Government. Even though it is arguable that the nature of the Military and the need to effectively prosecute wars could explain the departure from the Federal System of Government given to us by the founding fathers, it is sad to say that Corruption which was identified as a problem and cause of inefficiency in the Civil Rule retained its solid place in the Military Administration too. In other words, the Military rather than solving the problem created more by departing from the Federal System which is best suited for a Pluralistic Society like Nigeria.
Nigerian’s Defective Constitution
It must be submitted that the operation of the fundamentally defective Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) has been the root of Nigeria’s problems since our emergence from a cumulative period of over 30years of Military Rule. To make matters worse, since the return to Democratic Rule in 1999, there has been no tangible effort by subsequent governments to create a culture of patriotism, loyalty, proper value, and service in our polity with the result that corruption, inefficiency and all other unpardonable vices have reigned supreme even as politicians use ethnic and religious differences to manipulate the citizenry for selfish gains.
Looking at our situation from the perspective of ideal democracy, it would become obvious that the well-being of the people ought to be central to governance Section 14 (2) (b) of the Constitution, but 60 years after Independence, practically nothing is working. We have since come to terms with the fact that Military Rule was an aberration and a phase in global history at the time but even so, we have had 21 years of Civil Rule – 16 years under PDP government and 5 years under APC. Not a few assert that our political system and our politicians have not taken us anywhere near the high hope and expectation of Nigerians at the time of Independence in 1960. All that we could see is that even though we claim to operate the Federal System of Government, in actual fact, what we operate is the Unitary System left behind by the Military. Truth is said, there can be no justification for sustaining this virtual Military System on return to Civil Democracy in 1999. It is no wonder, therefore, that different groups have sprung up from virtually every segment of Nigeria questioning the viability of our present system; some strongly agitating for restructuring while others outright seek desolation. Some of the groups are The Indigenous People of Biafra, Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra, O’odua Action Movement, Independent OGAFI, Yoruba Liberation Command, O’odua Grand Alliance for Independence & O’odua People‘s Congress, Niger Delta Avengers, Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate, Niger Delta Vigilante, PANDEF, Middle Belt Forum, NCPF, NEF, United Middle Belt Indigenous People’s Congress to mention but a few.
Some Fundamental Defects in the 1999 Constitution
Talking specifically about our fundamentally faulty Constitution, it is apposite to highlight some of the major defects therein. Firstly, the Constitution starts with a fraudulent Preamble which claims the Constitution to have been given by the people, to the people; whereas it is a well-known fact that the claim is an outright falsehood. This is untrue because the last Military Regime led by Gen. Abdulsalami tinkered with the work of the Constitutional Conference and panel-beaten same beyond recognition. Secondly, the same Constitution proceeded to out-rightly negate Nigeria’s erstwhile sacrosanct position of state secularism that is imperative for a plural state. This was done through some modifications in section 38 which rendered the section inconsistent with the provision of section 10 that unequivocally entrenches secularism in Nigeria. Another area of defect is, section 6(6)(c) which completely makes a nonsense of the otherwise very well crafted provisions of the whole of Chapter II of the Constitution which were meant to ensure all the good values that would be cherished by any Nation in the World. This therefore rendered worthless, the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of States, as same was declared non-justiciable.
Next is the point that even though Nigeria was, from inception, intended to be a Federalist State with only a few issues for the central Government to handle, we ended up with a Constitution in which constituent states were rendered virtually powerless with virtually nothing in which they have exclusive jurisdiction. That is in no way Federal. Worse still is the fact that these states are too many.
Many of them have no resources to sustain themselves and they constitute burdens to the Federal Government by overtly depending on federal allocations/subventions. Meanwhile, in an ideal situation, the states are supposed to be vibrant enough to be able to support the Central Government, this is the reason we are proposing that the number of states is reduced to a maximum of ten. States within the same geo-political zones should be merged together to form a formidable entity, thereby getting rid of non-viable, weak and ineffective federating units.
Equally deserving of mention is the fact that the Constitution in section 214 (1) strips the States of the power to have their own Police Force which is clearly anomalous in a federalist system. Another big anomaly in the 1999 Constitution is the insertion of the immunity clause. In a manner as though to pave way for corruption by the rulers, the Constitution bestows the President, Governors and their Deputies in no ambiguous terms, with complete immunity from investigation and prosecution no matter the nature of their offence while in office. It is noteworthy that the countries where the notion of Immunity originated have since abandoned this concept. The question to be asked is how does the provision for immunity entrenched in section 308 help the much-needed fight against corruption? In a similarly defective manner, some sections of our Constitution vest the President with the power to appoint the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and other Judges/Justices of the Higher Bench. This clearly negates the sacred and age-long doctrine of Separation of Powers and the principle of Independence of Judiciary as well as the entire essence of Justice, as nothing can be more antithetical to the effort to entrench a just and transparent society as having a system where the Judges are appointed by the executive arm of Government.
Our Constitution also listed the total number of Local Government Areas across the 36 States which creates a problem of rigidity and Constitutional crisis for the State Governments which by Section 7 are saddled with the duties of ensuring the proper existence of same and therefore have the discretionary powers of creating more or in deserving situation reduce from same based on their available resources and the true yearnings of the affected people. To all the above we must add the problem of a Constitution couched in too technical a language hardly intelligible to the ordinary people who constitute the majority. For the problem of space let me only add the fact that our Constitution is not gender-friendly in its use of language; as same inexplicably abstains from the use of feminine pronoun as though Nigeria is made up of all men. Another area of non-gender balance is Citizenship by Marriage. For example, a foreigner wife of a Nigerian is automatically entitled to Nigerian Citizenship but not so for a foreigner married to a Nigerian woman. This is the height of gender discrimination and gender hostility! We can ill afford this in a country where the female gender is in the majority.
Permit me to pose this question; how can a Constitution so seriously flawed promote good governance in a pluralistic entity like Nigeria? It is no wonder that different groups have sprung up from virtually every segment of Nigeria questioning the viability of our present system; either strongly agitating for restructuring or even for outright desolation. What then is the way forward?
The Way Forward
Even though the Right to Self Determination has become a global norm, it is my candid view that the idea of a united Nigeria remains the best option. However, this option will not be achievable unless we have a government that can summon the political will to embark urgently on re-positioning the polity. The Government must drive a system that will entrench and accommodate the various regional interest for the betterment of such various regions by either taking a good look at various Constitutional Conferences in the past, where the people had come together drawn from all segments and groups to discuss and put down the ways in which they felt they could be governed happily. Some of such conferences are: OBJ Political Bureau, Vision 2020, Confab 2014 etc, as this option is more cost-effective. The other option is for the Government to put in place a fresh national conference that would be well disposed to the promulgation of a new Constitution for approval by a referendum. The conference must recognize the diverse nature of the polity and agree on the best system of government for Nigeria. A stitch in time, they say saves nine; it is my ardent belief that the quest for an appropriate system should be seriously driven by the incumbent Government and I further hold that the present Government, having received the mandate of Nigerians by overt action or acquiescence, owes Nigerians the duty to flow with the people in their legitimate quest for a better and workable system. If president Buhari, who has been adjudged, arguably, as the most trustworthy President so far, cannot do it, the chances that another person would do it would be very slim.
In the same vein, even though the fact that the Legislators are elected representatives is indisputable, that mandate is certainly not without limit. The President must, therefore, be persuaded to believe that the kind of holistic change needed in our Constitution is well beyond the scope of the amendment that can be entrusted to politicians dominated by party affiliations and allegiance. Nigeria needs a brand new Constitution truly raised by duly elected people for that purpose.