Nigeria’s Constitution Amendment: Failure Of Imagination And Need For Political Courage

By magnus Onyibe
John McCain , the indomitable United States of America, USA senator whose vote torpedoed the Republican Party- his political party’s attempt to repeal the USA affordable health care bill-dubbed Obamacare is a study in political courage.This is because along with two other senators – Suzan Collins and Lisa Murkowski who incidentally are ladies – he casted the vote that thwarted the plan of the current USA president Donald Trump and the ruling Republican Party to scrap the existing affordable health care coverage nicknamed Obamacare.  If the vote for the repeal had sailed through, an estimated 30 million Americans would have been compelled to face avoidable health care risks.

In a US regime where both the executive and legislative arms of govt are under the control of the Republican Party, and l dare add the judiciary arm as well (since Trump had the rare privilege of appointing a conservative Supreme Court judge that tilted the balance in favor of the conservatives) the courage of senators Suzan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, along with John McCain is exemplary and shines the light on the path that Nigerian legislators should consider trotting as they embark on a second amendment process of the very much discredited 1999 constitution after their current recess.

To some observers, the rejection of devolution of power from the federal Govt to the states, which entails the transfer of some items from the exclusive list to the concurrent list including the removal of land use act from the constitution, amongst others, during the recent publicly viewed electronic voting by senators to amend some critical aspects of Nigeria’s constitution , signals the death of hope of restructuring. But in my considered opinion, that’s not quite so.

My optimism stems from the recent statements credited to senate president Bukola Saraki and his deputy Ike Ekweremadu as well as the speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara that the rejected clauses during the recent constitutional review would be revisited.

The four, 4 legislative items slatted for amendment that could not pass through the crucible due largely to ethnic and religious sentiments, can be tagged the sticky points and temporary setbacks that would over time be refined through political horse trading and get passed eventually.

In my humble and candid view, to unleash progress and prosperity, Nigerians need to press a reset button by making conscious efforts to jettison clannish and ethnic group sentiments and also engage in religious detox. By that l mean we need to tone down the ethic group alignments and reduce religious fanaticism as these negative attitudes have been polarizing and under developing Nigeria since its independence from British rule some 57 years ago. I’m aware that we can’t really be religion neutral, but we must make conscious efforts to play it down during interactions with other groups. Such tolerance would promote harmonious co-existence with mutual prosperity as the dividend.
And that brings me to another factor that has the capacity to be a significant enabler for a harmonious co-existence in Nigeria which has been neglected:

l’m amazed that a case for place of abode of citizens to replace emphasis on state of origin clause did not make the list of matters slated for legislative amendments .

It is settled case in the social circles that the issue of state of origin which is currently enshrined in our constitution is a clog in the wheel of integration of the multifarious ethnic groups and therefore it needs to be repealed and replaced with emphasis on place of abode. That would, to a large extent address the Indigene/settler conflicts and also enable Nigerians vote where ever they reside and not resort to migrating to their ancestral homes during general elections.

From historical accounts, it is the British colonialists that sowed the seed of discord between the people of northern and southern Nigeria after it amalgamated both regions for its administrative convenience. The tactic is derived from the doctrine of divide and rule which was the preferred strategy of the United Kingdom, UK in the administration of her colonies and which is quite the opposite of the French policy of assimilation, that encouraged french colonies mainly in North Africa to adopt the life style and doctrines of French people with their financial system also linked to the French franc.

Some may argue that France’s policy of assimilation is currently hurting the country owing to the alarming rate of terror related crimes ( mainly homebred) being perpetuated by migrants from Islamic states, especially from North Africa, whom the policy encouraged to migrate to France. But it could also be argued that the rate of terrorism in the United Kingdom is not in any significant way less than the number in France, so the case against assimilation as the purveyor of terrorist crimes is neither here nor there. Rather, in the long run, it has profited France that the economies of her colonies are tied to her apron strings as it enabled her enjoy economics of scale as her market size is in tandem with her territorial influence. Little wonder France’s economy is the second largest (German economy is No 1) in Europe.

There are also some evidence that the policy of assimilation helped in one way or the other to reduce internal strives within French territories.

And the opposite is the case in British colonies where multifarious ethnic nationalities forced to become one nation, like Nigeria, without their consent, have been at daggers drawn.

This is attributable to the notion that ,since the merged nationalities did not negotiate before they found themselves in the union called Nigeria, they have been strange bedfellows in the past 57 years of the existence of the country as a nation state.
Furthermore, it is the consequences of the faulty foundation which the colonialists laid that’s still reverberating nearly 6O years after.

So, if history is to be used as a guide in the matter, it will be manifestly clear that it is the frosty relationship between the north and south that was nurtured by the colonialists through their policy of divide and rule that created the mutual suspicion between the predominantly Muslim north and Christian south. Further to that, religion has also been used to drive a wedge between both regions in the amalgamated Nigeria as evidenced by the growing tension between adherents of Muslim and Christian religions. That’s particularly so with the Muslim extremists-Boko haram that are becoming increasingly intolerant of their fellow Muslims who fail to embrace their brand and worse still,  with Christians in the northern parts who are constantly facing persecution because of their faith, sometimes resulting in gruesome murders.

Be that as it may, how long would Nigerians keep blaming the colonialist Britain for their misfortune which they have had the opportunity to correct since independence in 1960, yet failed to do so?
More dalliance on how the colonialists ruined Nigeria would result in the sort of apathy that the current ruling party, APC is currently suffering in the estimation of Nigerians who are miffed by the fact that two years after taking over the reins of power, the authorities are still lamenting and giving excuses that the previous administration is to  blame for lack of appreciable improvement in their socioeconomic welfare.

Rather than correct the imbalance foisted by the colonialists, the military that toppled a democratically elected Govt in 1966 worsened the power equation in Nigeria. And through decrees enacted after the war which ended in 1970, altered the delicate balance of power by fiat rather than through negotiations which had been the case.That’s part of the reasons why most watchers of Nigeria’s political development, blame the military for her current socio-economic woes.

Prior to the military era, Nigeria practiced regionalism and attempts by several constitution review conferences to share power between the three regions in a ratio of 45:33:33 in the 1956 were resisted by the premier of northern region, Ahmadu Bello who threatened that the north would pull out of the Union by going its separate way unless 50% was allocated to the region in the power sharing matrix of Nigeria. The powerful negotiator had his way hence Nigeria now politically comprises of the north and the south as main power blocks even though there are three major ethnic groups occupying the three regions which form the tripod on which the country stands, pre military interregnum.

The interesting thing to be noted is that under the parliamentary governance system of the days of yore, the opportunity to review or renegotiate the union, was available and explored as revealed by the constitution review conferences including the one in lbadan.
There was even a second constitutional review conference in 1964 where micheal Okpara, the premier of the eastern region, agitated for a referendum clause to be inserted in the statute book, but his proposal was rejected.

So there were  frequency of opportunities to renegotiate the union of Nigeria amongst the leaders of the three regions.
Had the military not struck in 1966,  party democracy could not have been truncated and parliamentary system of Govt would have continued ,just as negotiation of the union would not have ceased; while  healthy rivalry for development amongst the three regions would have also continued; and Nigeria could have been better for it. And best of all, even if the three regions were not developing at par, development was apace .

On a social media platform, I recently came across a compilation of a litany of misfortunes that befell Nigeria, development wise after the military struck. Although it was not stated as such, it was a clear case of arrested development wreaked on Nigeria by omission or commission by the military. a sort zeitgeist attitude.

Ironically, the military at that time comprised more of intellectuals than the present crop as most  of those who plotted the coup or got killed in the course of it were Oxford university and Sandhurst trained. As such, they should have appreciated the role of democracy in nation building, better. But that was not the case.

Most southerners believe that the military skewed the locus of power in favor of the northerners who are also believed to be thankful and therefore are making every effort to sustain the advantage. In my view both the southerners and northerners are wrong. My position is hinged on the fact that the military actually led northerners into veering off agriculture which is their tested and proven path to development, into reliance on oil/gas from the south. As things stand toddy, such misplaced hope on  has turned out to be only a temporary respite because,  in less than a decade from today, oil-so called black gold,  will become irrelevant due to mainstreaming of electric cars and agriculture would be the new gold.

Put succinctly, the military shifted the north off the course of development by making them start depending on handouts from oil and gas proceeds coming from the wells in the Niger delta which made them divert attention from agriculture,(their best pathway to sustainable economic development) that was booming in the north in the good old days.

What happened to the groundnut pyramids, cotton mills and tanneries that were endemic to the north ? Obviously, they have vanished owing to the neglect of farming/agriculture that is the only area in which Africa has comparative advantage in global trade.

Without any doubt, reliance on the soil has been on a retreat since the military seized power in 1966 before releasing it in 1979 after the death of Muritala Mohamed via a failed coup detat in 1975 that brought Olusegun Obasanjo, Mohamed’s deputy to power.

Critical areas in which Nigeria was a global leader and in which she is currently experiencing arrested development as catalogued in the social media post that l earlier referenced are detailed below:
“Every time I see the remarkable landmarks of #Tesla I am further convinced that Nigeria will be so doomed in the next 10 years, our recession will be televised on 3D!

We started television broadcast in Ibadan, but South Africa went digital before us.
We built a National Theatre before Dubai became a place. They have an Opera House now that is booked till July 2018.

We had Ogbe Hard Court, a tennis tournament in the 70s, yet, we do not have a Nigerian Open.
Lagos is blessed with water, yet no international boat races.

We have festivals that are still in the same style they were celebrated 100 years ago.
We still have one bridge linking the East. Onitsha Bridge. It was built in 1965.
We have abandoned projects scattered across the country.

We have no plans to complete them.

The NET building and Defence Headquarters… side by side are rotting in our time.
National Theatre. National stadium. National Refineries.National Seaports. National Museum. National shame!

So, #Tesla is making cars that run on batteries and self generated energy…

The cars are now outselling petrol and diesel driven cars.

So, in a few years from now our oil will be like the Coal in Enugu. Even people who roast boli don’t buy coal from Enugu.

Very soon NNPC will be like NIPOST.

When was the last time you sent a Telegram; Renewed your post office box?
When was the last time you used the Railways to move around Nigeria? Meanwhile, it would have been easy to drive your car on to a railway coach, use it in Lagos or Abuja put it back on the coach and pick it when you get back to Aba. Nooooo. That is not development. Give it 10 years. Most parts of the world will scrap filling stations for recharge stations. Where you can quickly recharge your car and it will carry you for 4 more days.

When did you last call NITEL that your phone was tossed?

We go drink our crude oil soon!

Instead of us to develop Entertainment, Tourism, Agriculture, Education, information Technology, broadcasting, Fashion and culture. We are drilling for crude oil. Doesn’t that remind you of the biblical 10 maidens?

Dubai has extra revenue sources now and plans to not depend on oil by 2020. That’s in 3 years. We are not sure we can stop borrowing in 30 years.

Religion is fast rising than development”
You will agree with me that the post is so poignant and reflects the zeitgeist mindset of the new generation.

I’m particularly struck by the point that the anonymous author made about the rise of electric cars and the decline in the use of fossil fuel to power cars in the  foreseeable future. It simply implies that sooner than later, our much vaunted oil/ gas reserves would be worthless.

Ironically, it is being alleged that it is in the bid to continue to have unhindered access to the oil/gas in the Niger delta that motivated the northern law makers to ‘ shoot down’  the devolution of power clause that would have made the federal Govt leaner and more nimble. Similarly, the removal of Land Use Act from the 1999 constitution under review would have returned land in the hinterland back to the rightful owners. It may be recalled that land became dead capital following 1978 land use act passed by the military regime under the watch of Olusegun Obasanjo. By taking land use decree off the constitution, folks in the rural areas would be empowered to use their huge parcels of land as collateral for obtaining bank loans etc and the effect on the productivity and gross national product, GNP could be dramatic .

But the senators voted against the repeal because they believe it would amount to a back door way of giving the south-south, the much sought resource control. What a failure of imagination!

What the nay saying law makers failed to recognize is that when electric cars become mainstream in a few years time, there will be no more oil/gas resources in the Niger delta to share or control.
Since the north has more land mass than the south, does resistance to unleashing its economic potency not amount to cutting their nose to smite the face?

If indeed, that’s the motivating factor for rejecting the proposal to remove land use act from the constitution, and l would like to give law makers the benefit of doubt, what a misjudgment?
When are our legislators going to have a better world view and what are the legion of legislative aides that are supposed to be conducting research for the law makers,doing ?

Isn’t it also such a tragically laughable situation that at a time that the world is turning its back on fossil fuel, that’s when Nigerian oil explorers on a mission to seek for hydrocarbon in and around Lake Chad, got ambushed and slaughtered by the terrorist group- Boko haram which has been in control of that swathe of land ?

I’m not sold on the excuse reportedly given by minister of budget Udo Udoma that continuation of oil/gas search in lake Chad was with a view to extracting all we can before the commodity looses relevance. Need l remind the minister that the search has been going on without success for twelve, 12 years and Nigeria’s existing and proven reserve is not expected to be exhausted until the next fifty years or so? In effect, assuming as technology laggards,we in Nigeria give ourselves additional 20 years to adopt the use of electric cars which would be the mainstream means of transportation in the advanced societies, before we finish mining the proven oil reserve, the commodity would become inconsequential in economic terms as the plans to dump the use of crude oil to power cars in 2040 which is only twelve years away, would have kicked in.

Unlike Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, the largest producer (9000bpd) recognized the danger ahead and decided to diversify her economy from oil in the last couple of years and even did an IPO to raise funds to support her new direction. But Nigeria (2000bpd) has been blindly digging in its heels by literarily groping in the dark in quest of oil/gas in lake Chad and in the process lost precious lives to terrorists.
Now the bereaved families of the civilians and soldiers butchered by the outlaws are left in the lurch to mourn their loved ones due to relevant authorities not engaging in critical thinking.

The realization that academic professors are amongst those killed or still being held in captivity is gut wrenching.

At this rate, without mischief intended, and with all due respect, perhaps we need an NGO to organize seminars to enlighten our legislators about what lies ahead of our country, if they continue to act in manners that are oblivious of the existential realities of the world today.

Without further equivocation Nigerians need to go back to tilling the soul for sustenance not running around searching for elusive oil whose usefulness is about to become as obsolete as Graham Bell’s invention, telegram. Agriculture is the new gold, crude oil is about to loose its magic.

As the doom and gloom that would follow the loss of income from fossil fuel stares us in the face, we must consider a modified presidential system of governance or a return to parliamentary system which would cost us less and unleash the humungous funds currently being used to buffet the very expensive presidential system for the much sort infrastructural development in Nigeria.

We are blessed with enormous human resource capacity because research indicates that youths comprise of about 60% of the workforce in Nigeria. With such positive demographics,the sky would be the limit,if our leaders unshackle the country from regressive policies and create the enabling environment for innovation to thrive.

Google already ascribe Nigeria no 8 position in the world in the usage of the tool. Considering that we are not even in the top 20 percentile category in the world world economy ranking, our vast and extensive potentials are, so to speak, dying  to be harnessed.

Consider the following: Nigeria’s economy presently runs for less than 12 hours a day; and the country is competing against economies that run 24 hours, 7 days a week; yet it is no 1 in Africa, beating South Africa and Egypt which function on 24/7 basis, to second and third positions. Imagine what would happen if Nigeria starts generating enough electricity to power factories and also build  infrastructure that would facilitate the operation of the economy on 24/7 basis.

The country would be creating jobs and boosting productivity and GDP currently estimated to be in the region of $500 billion, would probably double to about a trillion in a few years.

Dismayingly , the foregoing positive events won’t happen if our law makers continue to exhibit dog in the manger attitude.
In conclusion, it’s about time that Nigeria starts producing law makers with the mettle and imagination of the trio of John McCain, Lisa Murkowski and Suzan Collins in the US senate who stepped out of partisan politics mode and acted in the best interest of an estimated 30 million Americans who would’ve borne the consequences of the repeal of the so called Obamcare, if the bill had sailed through last week.
Although nine, 9 republican senators actually voted against the Obamacare repeal bill, the three senators listed above stood out.

Until Nigeria’s National Assembly, NASS gets populated by such gallant men and women who would shun narrow and parochial interests; and cross party, ethnic and religious lines to stand for what their conscience tells them is in the best interest of the greater good of Nigeria as a United country , significant growth and progress of our economy and society, will continue to elude our country.

Clearly, our legislators must rise above self, clan, religion and party, to a much more bigger interest of one Nigeria during the next debate which l would like to tag Constitution Amendment Voting 0.2.
That was the raison detre and passion of our leaders past and founding fathers of our great country; and l don’t see why such a noble objective shouldn’t be sustained by the new crop of leaders.

Magnus Onyibe, a development strategist, former member of delta state cabinet and alumnus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy sent this piece from lagos.

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