By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu.
Nigeria is not working, as it is currently constituted. There is a clear and present danger that the country may fall apart if something is not done urgently to restructure the ship of state. The rage in many quarters of the country is the call for restructuring. Of course this is easier said than done. It is indeed noteworthy that Declan Mbadiwe Emelumba, a committed journalist who was elected into the Imo State House of Assembly, has given his remarkable insight into making the Nigerian federation work in his book Reinventing Nigeria – The Plebisciterian Option.
He calls the new form of democratic Emelumba traces democracy back to Ancient Greece wherein, according to him, “The Greeks, who invented democracy, were responding to the challenges of their small city-states.” Democracy by direct rule of the people as practiced by the Greeks later gave place to the concept of democracy as a representative government in Medieval Europe.
In the march of civilization there were byways of monarchies, dictatorships, ideologies, parliamentary and presidential democracies etc. Emelumba puts his case upfront thus: “Africa, including Nigeria, as the last historical victim of colonial onslaught, seems to be stuck, and even satisfied, with experimenting with the democratic inventions bequeathed to her by Europe and America. This should not be so.
The peculiarity of Nigeria, given its unique historical and cultural diversity, demands otherwise. We cannot afford to be stuck with any model of democracy as though it were sacrosanct or gospel. We must rise to the challenge of our complex society and think of the model of government that will best serve our purpose. We may be stuck with the broad concept of democracy, since the evidence of history has shown that it is the best form of government, but not with any particular model.”
Reinventing Nigeria – The Plebisciterian Option is Ememelumba’s response to Frantz Fanon’s clarion call in his seminal anti-colonial book The Wretched of the Earth, to wit, “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” For Emelumba, Project Nigeria is not working because only the “beneficiaries of the flawed Nigerian federal project pretend that it is working.” From the very beginning, Emelumba asserts: “The Amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Protectorates in 1914, which gave birth to Nigeria, was done by fiat, not by the consent of the people.” Nigeria existed as a divided nation such that the South would have wanted self-rule by 1957 even as the North wanted the matter deferred because the region was not ready. Even as Nigeria gained flag independence on October 1, 1960, there was so much distrust amongst the diverse ethnic nationalities.
He cites a 1942 statement of the Sultan of Sokoto as having “urged the southerners who desired a united Nigeria to embrace Islam.” Abubakar Tafawa Balewa who later became Nigeria’s first prime minister has this 1947 quote to his name: “I should like to make it clear that if the British quitted Nigeria now at this state, the northern people would continue their interrupted conquest to the sea.”
Amid the contradictions, the January 1966 coup took place and in time charges of “Igbo domination” hit the rafters. Then the July 1966 northern revenge coup happened, intervolving pogroms, the fratricidal three-year civil war and predatory military dictatorship. Emelumba deposes that military decrees such as the Land Use Decree, the Revenue Allocation Decree, the NYSC Decree, and the Federal Character Decree rendered Nigeria’s federal project prostrate. The creation of what Emelumba calls “monarchical presidency” in an all-powerful federal government thus makes for “a federal arrangement that has become extractive, because it concentrates more on what values it can extract from the people than the values it can allocate to them.” In writing Reinventing Nigeria, Emelumba aims at bringing forth “a federal project that will be more inclusive of the nationalities that make up Nigeria.”
Thomas Hobbes in his classic Leviathan underscores the need for the Social Contract that elicits the making of a real state unlike the state of nature as epitomized by Nigeria in which life is “nasty, brutish and short.” Nigerian constitutions are almost always written by the military only to fraudulently append the lie: “We, the people.”
In his elucidation of “Plebisciterianism”, Emelumba proposes that “there shall be zero elections at the federal level, and that the states and regions shall indirectly elect both an executive president and a prime minister.” He goes further to propose: “1. There shall be, as in India, both regional and state governments. 2. The regions shall be the federating units. 3. There shall be a mixture of both presidential and parliamentary systems of government, or put simply, a plebiscitarian democracy.”
In the Emelumba structure, the subsisting six-geo-political zones of today shall be constituted into regional governments which will serve as the federating units, boasting of its own constitution, its own police, and managing its own natural resources. The region can create additional states to reflect and accommodate the ethnic diversities therein.
As the federating units, the six regions will necessarily “meet and agree on powers to be given to the centre, provided that they will include powers over currency, foreign policy, defence etc.” The agreements will be subject to a referendum. In “The Plebisciterian Option”, according to Emelumba, “The leader of the party that wins the majority of the seats in the parliament becomes the president of the country. The leader of the party that wins the second-most seats in the parliament becomes the prime minister.” In regard to the regional governments, Emelumba proposes: “Every region shall have a governor-general, who will be elected by the states that make up the region.
The governor-general shall be a member of the presidential council, which will meet every quarter to approve government policies. Every state shall have a governor that is elected by the people of that state.” The minutiae of the proposals cannot be elaborated here. It suffices to stress that Emelumba makes a strong case for the accommodation of almost all interests, majority and minority alike.
A major highlight is a change of name for the dear nation such that the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall become the United Nationalities of Nigeria (UNN). This must not be mistaken for the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN)!
The critical structures of the new order such as the electoral body, the judiciary, and the security agencies are given considerable attention by Emelumba. He ends with a graphic illustration of the new federal structure of the proposed United Nationalities of Nigeria.
Emelumba has indeed written a thought-provoking book. It is praiseworthy that this generation of Nigerians are thinking deeply about the dire problems of the country and committing their thoughts to the printed word. Emelumba’s work obviously bodes well for Nigeria, but the catch can be seen in the saying that Peter Mbadiwe Ezeala calls forth in the in the Preface to Reinventing Nigeria, that is, “the devil is in the details.” No matter how perfectly a constitution is made it will still be operated by human beings. It is difficult to do away with the phrase: “All things being equal…” Things never end up being equal. That’s why even the Titanic sank. As the musician sings, “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” There’s the necessary correction to be made because what is written on the cover is “plebisciterian” while the inside pages bear “plebiscitarian”.
Mankind must continue to dream of worthy causes. Emelumba dares to dream despite the dire dimensions of the Nigeria sphere. His proposal deserves urgent consideration. Emelumba’s patriotic duty through his book Reinventing Nigeria – The Plebisciterian Option deserves national recognition.