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Nigeria at 57: Facing challenges of constitutional issues

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Pat Odinachi Utomi


At two different fora to mark the 57th anniversary of Nigeria’s independence during the week, stakeholders drawn from the academics, politics, sports, civil and religious organisations, took a critical look at the country and proffered ways around the challenges of constitutional issues troubling the nation.

Fifty-Seven years after attaining political independence, stakeholders in Nigeria are still engaged in intense debates on the most appropriate system of government to adopt for good governance.While it is being canvassed in some quarters that the present 1999 Constitution is nothing but a failed document incapable of redeeming the country from its present predicament, others believe that the question of constitution is not the major setback for the nation’s development but that of attitude.
 
In all the country’s democratic history since independence, never has the demand for restructuring of the polity been so forceful as it has been in the two years of the Muhammadu Buhari presidency, which commenced in 2015.
   
The agitation particularly took a worrisome dimension after July 26 when the upper chamber of the National Assembly rejected the constitution alteration bill seeking the devolution of powers that would have moved some items from the bloated exclusive legislative list in the 1999 Constitution to the concurrent list, which would have given more powers to the federating units.

 
The lawmakers rejection of the devolution of powers consequently fueled the anger of the protagonists, who accused the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and President Buhari of not only recanting on its campaign promises to restructure the country but dangerously playing an ethnic agenda capable of dragging the country down.
 
The demand has, in another aspect, left the ruling party divided as some of its founding fathers are now latching on the demand for restructure to launch their presidential ambition ahead of the 2019 general election.
   
As part of the celebration to mark Nigeria’s 57 years anniversary, some prominent Nigerians expressed concern over the dangerous trend that the agitation and the forces against it are taking. They cautioned against the deployment of hate speeches and violent communication in the process of making political demands.
 
At a forum organised by the Covenant Christian Centre in Lagos to mark the nation’s independence, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Rev. Fr. Matthew Hassan Kukah; Minister of Trade, Industry and Investment, Dr. Okey Enelamah; political economist, Prof. Pat Utomi and the Chairman, Editorial Board of ThisDay Newspapers, Mr. Segun Adeniyi, warned that military or violent reactions in repelling agitations would not promote the unity and development of the country.
   
Other speakers at the event were the Vice Chancellor, Igbinedion University, Prof. Osaghae Eghosa; business analyst, Roman Oseghale; former member of the national team and football administrator, Mr. Segun Odegbami and the convener of the platform, Pastor Poju Oyemade.At another forum also held in Lagos, the Coalition of Nigerian Apostolic Leaders (CNAL) called for non-violence communication approach in addressing whatever grievances, agitations and demand any group of persons or individual may have in the country.
   
The coalition said while there is nothing wrong with agitation for restructuring, it warned that violent communication approach would rather plunged Nigeria into deeper crisis than achieving peaceful end.Kukah, in his presentation titled “The Weakness of Power” warned that the country is at the tipping point where anything could go wrong.

“Nobody knows what will trigger what, as it is in the country today. It is therefore necessary for everybody, both the agitators and the reactionary, to exercise caution,” he warned.
 
While he deplored the use of violent communication and hate speeches in agitating for restructuring on the premise that everybody in Nigeria appears to be angry and uncomfortable with the way the country is, including those who are against the demand for restructuring, the cleric said it was the military mindset of President  Buhari and one of his predecessors, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, that made them to say they fought a civil war to keep the country united.
   
According to Kukah, the fact that the problem which Buhari, Obasanjo and all those in that category fought to keep the country together still remains, shows there is a problem that must be addressed by all adding, “Whosoever wants to rule Nigeria must be ready to cope with her anger.”
     
Enelamah, who delivered the keynote address, said even though the country is facing daunting challenges in solving its problems, it would require the people to join hands together to move it forward.According to him, what the Buhari administration is doing is to create an enabling environment by removing possible constraints that could impede growth and investment.
 
The minister stressed the need for Nigeria to inspire a new generation, which must start from the existing one that would be committed to building a virile country.“The vision of the present administration is to make Nigeria one of the easiest places to do business. This will make everybody benefit, which is the essence of good governance,” he said. The minister added that immediately this is done, all the agitations would stop.
     
Although Utomi, in his contribution titled “Restructuring as a path to overcoming the lottery effect and the tragedy of the commons,” concurred that issues surrounding the current system of government needed to be addressed because there is the belief that Nigeria is not working.He said Nigerians should be aware that restructuring as being demanded would not automatically translate to good governance adding, “The problem we are facing is the failure of leadership.”
       
Utomi said the demand for the creation of more states has not resulted in good governance just as the agitation for increased revenue allocation for states has not brought the required delivery of dividends of democracy.
     
According to him, state governments, Civil Society Organisations and political parties are not really doing as much as they ought to do in the agitation for restructuring as he equated the activities of those deploying hate speeches in demanding restructuring as the same with those deploying force or threat to resist it, saying the issue is nothing to kill about.

     
Adeniyi, who spoke on “A nation on the edge, which way forward,” noted that the Arewa youth ultimatum to Igbo residing in the north has been withdrawn “but its damaging effects are still there and unprecedented.”According to him, the ultimatum itself was triggered by the hate speeches hauled not only at the northerners but other non-Igbo people by the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, without considering that the same way he is alleging marginalisation, other parts of the country are complaining, but in different ways.
   
He warned that many Nigerians are angry at the system and such anger must be properly managed otherwise it could lead to disaster for the country. He suggested that the country must find a way to make governance more responsive; saying the dysfunction at the centre is responsible for the challenges in the country.

Failure of institutions
Describing federalism in Nigeria as the worship of an unknown god, Prof. Eghosa, who placed the blame of failure of restructuring on the governors, political parties, the judiciary and other state institutions, said whosoever is expecting that the government at the centre would concede power easily to states “should forger it.”He said it was not easy for the Federal Government to devolve power to states and local government it created likening it to “a man asking his creator to relinquish power.”
     
In his presentation, “Federalism is restructuring and restructuring is federalism.” the university don said those currently championing the agitation for restructuring have no locus standi to effect and cannot effect anything.Eghosa noted that the onus is on the governors to use their position to clamour for the agitation. He blamed the National Assembly for failing to restructure Nigeria, adding that the judicial review system is one of the instruments for restructuring.
   
Eghosa’s position corroborates the argument of a former governor of Ogun State, Chief Segun Osoba, who insisted that the present National Assembly is the body saddled with the responsibility to restructure Nigeria. The former governor posited that Nigeria would be forced to restructure either peacefully or otherwise when the time come.
 
Taking a critical look at the roles of the present protagonists of restructuring, among who were socio-political organisations like Afenifere, Ohaneze Ndigbo, Yoruba Unity Forum (YCF), Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Nigeria National Summit Group (NNSG), Pro National Conference Organisation (PRONACO), The Patriots, National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Pan Niger Delta Forum, (PANDEF), Southern Leaders Forum (SLF) among others, he said none of the groups has what it takes to effect restructuring even if the Federal Government conceded to the demand without necessarily involving the National Assembly and the governors.
   
The Vice Chancellor also faulted the activities of present political parties which he said are not too keen on the demand to restructure the country contrary to what it used to be during the First Republic when party manifestos was always placed above representatives in government.Explaining the flaws of political parties in the agitation, a top member of the ruling party said the bill for devolution of power was successfully rejected in the Senate because the lawmakers from the South were not appropriately mobilized from their base to take any position on the matter. This is likewise the case with lawmakers in the major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
     
According to him, “As we speak, there is none of the opposition political parties that is doing anything on restructuring.”Sports as a means to achieving restructure Odegbami, who spoke on “With sports, we can change Nigeria,” said the country, having survived a civil war deserves not only love but commitment from everybody as he identified sports as one of the veritable instruments that the country can use to effect changes.
   
Emphasizing the power of sports as a tool to rework Nigeria, Odegbami said sports have gone beyond the games and advanced to tourism, building of infrastructure and health facilities and have also become powerful weapons to facilitate the unity of any nation.He cited an example where the warring soldiers of the Federal Government and Biafra had to temporarily lay down their arms and ammunitions during the civil war to support the national team when it played a friendly match with the Brazilian national team “that is the extent of power of games.”
   
He urged stakeholders in the country not to allow the issue of restructuring to tear it apart but to deploy every available opportunity to ensure the growth and development of Nigeria, “sports being a factor.”
   
Lamenting the danger poor funding of education has posed to Nigeria, which he said has led to poor human resources, Oseghale noted that one of the bane to Nigeria growth even at 57, is the comatose state of the education sector, saying, “any country that kill education destroys itself.”
   
The Convener of the coalition, Apostle Wale Adefarasin, while appealing to all separatist groups, advocates of restructuring, militia organisations or those nursing any form of complains against the Nigerian structure to adopt a non-violent communication strategy instead of resolving to hate speeches, also urged the Federal Government to eschew any violent reaction as means of resolving any agitation in the country.
   
According to him, “It is imperative of the Federal Government not to resolve to violent reaction in suppressing or correcting any violent communication approach adopted by any group in the interest of peace and unity of Nigeria.”
Adefarasin, who is also the General Overseer, Garden Light Assembly said while it is not possible to stop any group of people from airing their grievances under a democratic government, “non-violent communication method is the best approach otherwise the country would be plunged further into crisis and chaos.”

     
According to him, “As an article of our faith, our foundation binds us to peace. As an expression of our faith, we build bridges rather than erect boarders. This coalition come together in direct response to the harvest of despair and division being delivered to our nation in a torrent of violent and near-violent language to violence itself.”
   
He said violent approach has not resolved any issue and it will not in the present situation adding, “non-violent communication based on the idea that all human beings have the capacity for compassion and only resort to violent behavious that harms others when they don’t recognize more effective strategies for meeting needs.”
   
The coalition particularly appealed to the leader of IPOB, Kanu, to desist from violence communication strategy and also pleaded with the government to embrace non-violent ways of resolving the issue.Speaking on the need to restructure the current structure of government, which he said has been in a long time demand from various groups and organisations in the country, Adefarasin said, “Even when we are looking into that aspect, the best approach is non-violent  communication strategy.”



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