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Interrogating minority report & draft constitution of 1976

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As part of its transitional measures towards civil rule in 1975, the military regime of General Murtala Mohammed gave a Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) of 49 wise men the task of drafting a new Constitution for Nigeria. The civil rule was expected to commence on October 1, 1979.

Two members of the committee, Dr. Samuel Olusegun Osoba and Dr. Yusufu Bala Usman, disagreed on ideological grounds with the report drafted by the other 47 members. The philosophical difference between the majority and minority groups was too wide to accommodate a compromise. Hence the minority came up with this document under review.

By the time the report was ready, the Head of State, General Mohammed had been assassinated in an attempted military coup. Mohammed’s Chief of General Staff, General Olusegun Obasanjo, took over the reigns of power. Sadly, instead of finding a middle course between the reports, the Obasanjo regime rejected the minority report. The consequences of that error are now for the world to see. Religion and ethnicity have now become arbiters of Nigerian politics. They are now the corrupting tools for power struggle in Nigeria. The majority report was accepted and decreed into the 1979 Constitution, the basic content of which has formed the nucleus of the current 1999 Constitution.

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The authors of the minority report, Osoba and Usman, both university readers in history wrote in 1976 that they never pretended to put forward a perfect document. In the true scientific spirit, self-criticism is the hallmark of radical thinkers.They readily agreed that the document could be improved upon. Unknown to our young people, who have a fetish for age in today’s politics, Osoba and Usman had recommended way back in 1976 the minimum age of 30 as part of the qualifications to contest for the offices of president or governor. Now 43 years later, the same provision is being celebrated.

Indeed, it is significant that the immunity clause conferring immunity to the governor, the deputy governor; the president and the vice president was hotly contested by Osoba and Usman, believing the clause shields the leaders from being prosecuted for corruption. Moreover, they contended immunity contradicts the principle of equality before the law.

The duo also supported the appointment of a prime minister for the sole purpose of diffusing power from the executive president. You will notice that the country’s failure to have a prime minister hindered government performance during the period between President Umaru Yar Adua’s illness and death and Ebele Jonathan’s ascension to power as president.

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Even in the current dispensation, absence of a prime minister affected governance during President Muhammadu Buhari’s illness. For that reason, Nigerians should salute the directors of the Centre for Democratic Development, Research and Training (CEDDERT) for their keen sense of history in resurrecting this document at this point in time.

The publication of the minority report is all the more appropriate this hour when people are clamouring for the restoration of federalism as given to Nigeria by the British. The federalist agitators seeking restructuring now have good ammunition in the reissued document.In its new introduction tagged: “The 1979 Constitution and its Succession of Catastrophic Governments from 1979 to 2018,” Osoba says, given the enormity of the current crisis of governance in the land, the reforms intended for solution by the Constitution, the 1979 Constitution has proven to have failed. In the circumstance, the surviving partner consequently recommends a minimum agenda for change on the basis of “a roof and branch strategy.” This should evoke interest among those sincerely seeking good government in Nigeria. Some of the lofty ideas espoused by the duo cry to be highlighted.

“What the masses of our people want, as most humanity in the modern era, is NOT a coalition of mini unviable states whose human and material resources are at the arbitrary disposal of their separate ethnic and regional notables. Our people need a country, Nigeria, operating at full capacity and unshackled by the thieving activities of a good for nothing ruling class whose only operating agenda is looting the national treasury,” Osoba, 2018. That is a true assessment of the Nigerian reality where religion has become corrupt and divisive and a tool for power struggle.

In his own assessment of Nigeria of his time, Usman said in For the Liberation of Nigeria, 1979: “It seems quite clear that, if their Constitution is adopted, far from moving towards national cohesion and democracy Nigeria will become torn with ethnic and religious disunity and sectionalism. Far from providing a basis and framework for the development of national cohesion and democracy, there will be an intensification of the present grossly uneven pattern of underdevelopment, greater capitalist and bureaucratic greed, individualism and chaos.

“When that happens the Nigerian people will be accused of being too immature and irresponsible for democracy and preparations will be made for consolidating the status quo and ensuring law and order through repression and terror. From the individualism, greed, chaos and thuggery of capitalist bureaucrats and politicians we shall move to the indiscipline, chaos, individualism, greed and repression of capitalist bureaucrats and soldiers. “Can’t you appreciate a pithy prophecy of our problems of today as seen by a visionary as far back as 1976? It is amazing how accurate the consequences of poor judgment of 1976 were captured by Usman.

Thus, the CDC majority in 1976 deliberately conferred on the 1979 Constitution to give the people socio-economic rights with one hand and take it away with the other by not making those rights justiciable. Moreover, if the provisions of Chapter 11 of the 1999 Constitution, which was inherited from the 1979 Constitution, were made justiciable, government would have been more serious in tackling poverty and inequality in Nigeria. Indeed, the profundity of the submissions of Osoba and Usman should nudge those approaching government with restructuring into greater agitation.

Unlike in the United States where citizenship belonged to the union, state citizenship is the case in Nigeria. The minority report opposed state citizenship and preferred national citizenship. If the minority report had been adopted, the internecine wars of indigenes versus settlers ongoing among the Fulani, Jukun, Tiv and Birom in Plateau, Nasarawa Taraba and Benue states would have been avoided. This is the reason why people are now clamoring for restructuring.

The minority report foresaw our challenges today nudging the authors to write in 1976: “This is not unity or consensus based on a minimum agreement by all concerning the need to protect and promote the real interest and well being of the masses of Nigerian people of whatever origin. It is our view that no genuine political unity or consensus is possible in Nigerian context without such an honest and firm commitment among the various sections of the national leadership to the genuine interests of all our people.”

The failings of the majority report are exemplified by the ambiguity in the citizenship of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. This was the subject of a rebuttal by the All Progressives Congress who said the former vice president isn’t a Nigerian because at his birth Adamawa, Atiku’s state wasn’t part of Nigeria. Southern Cameroun merged with Nigeria in 1961 and it was christened Sardauna Province. Sardauna province was later split into Adamawa and Taraba states.

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Another incongruity just emerged on the majority report incubated 1999 constitution. The Federal Government just got a licence to operate a radio station for Fulani herdsmen that are Muslims. Supporters of the government are saying the word secular, intimating that Nigeria is a secular state does not appear in the Constitution. But if the minority report had been adopted, the case would have been different. There, Osoba and Usman wrote: “The Federal Republic of Nigeria is a secular republic and the state shall not be associated with any religion but shall actively protect the fundamental right of all citizens to hold and practice the religious beliefs of their choice.”This 112-page book is a good-read, no doubt. Its publishers are the Centre for democratic development, research and training, Zaria, Nigeria.

Osoba, born at Ijebu Ode in 1935, educated at the University of Ibadan and Moscow State University. In his many years of teaching history at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Osoba established a tradition of historical research grounded in the methodology of dialectical materialism. At 84,though retired, he is still very active in intellectual circles.

Usman was born in Musawa, Katsina State, in 1945. He died in 2005. Educated at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, he taught History in his alma mater throughout his life. Usman was a political activist who played an important role in sensitizing Nigerians on economic and human rights emancipation. Years after his death, he remains an inspiration to the youth and old alike.

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