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Constitutional concept of indissoluble, sovereign nation has collapsed, say Nwoko

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Uwemedimo Nwoko

Bar Uwemedimo Nwoko (SAN), a life bencher, activist, and social critic is the immediate past Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Akwa Ibom State. In this interview with AYOYINKA JEGEDE, he examines the current state of Nigeria and gives the verdict that the country bears the symbol of a failing state.

What is your reaction to the new electoral act Amendment conflict in respect of the electronic transmission of results?
The conflict is absolutely unnecessary and uncalled for. It is a product of the lack of understanding of the relevant provisions of the Constitution. We have dwelt in ignorance for too long. The first and most critical question to ask and answer is whether the National Assembly is vested with the powers to enact the provisions they are trying to enact in section 52 of the Electoral Act. We must bear in mind that the power and responsibility vested in INEC to conduct elections is donated by the Constitution. That power is donated by the Constitution to avoid any other person or authority interfering with the exercise of that power.

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The power to organise, undertake and supervise the conduct of elections is not subject to the control of any other person or authority. Section 160(1) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria provides that the power of INEC to set its own rules or otherwise regulate its own procedures shall not be subject to the approval or control of anyone. As the name implies, INEC is independent and must operate independently according to the provision of section 52(1) (b) of the Electoral Act. The attempt to re-enact the hindrances to the free powers of INEC is a backdoor attempt by the National Assembly to interfere with the independence of INEC. That provision seeking to determine whether INEC can transmit election results by electronic means is totally ultra vires the National Assembly.

Do you think a clause in the electoral act barring political defection will check the incessant carpet crossing by politicians?
We need a more stringent provision in the Constitution, not Electoral Act, to prevent the embarrassing rate of carpet crossing. It is a clear and manifest act of political prostitution. It is scandalous and needs to be checked with clear provisions in the Constitution. It must cover all political offices including the executive.
How do you see the three per cent allocated to host communities in the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB)?
The passage of the PIB with three per cent to the host communities is an invitation to anarchy. This is a time bomb and we should expect the calamitous effect in no distant future. The National Assembly is not interested in the future of Nigeria.

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Do you believe the 1999 Constitution still has the capacity to hold the country together?
There is a reality starring us in the face. The concept that is contained in the preamble to the 1999 Nigerian constitution, which says that we are one indivisible, indissoluble, sovereign nation under God, has collapsed. That is the stack reality. Nigeria is a divisible country. We cannot say we are indivisible. In fact, it has divided. Nigeria is a dissoluble nation. To say that we are indivisible or indissoluble is a mirage and self-deceit. This is a country that almost every tribe wants to be on its own. That is why we are having all the carnage, destructions and burning of properties going on across the country. Political leaders are now more interested in how they secure their own lives and personal interests. We have built a nation that people identify only with their individual ethnic groups than the country.

The average Nigerian now does not have a national consciousness. It is that national consciousness that will say I am first a Nigerian before saying I am an Akwa Ibomite, Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa. In fact, people now tell themselves, forget about Nigeria, I am a Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa. The first loyalty of every citizen is supposed to be the national flag everywhere you go. That is where we talk about patriotism. The first loyalty in any nation that is going to survive is to the country not to the tribe. If you go to America, the man from Texas does not talk about Texas. He will say I am an American. If you go to the United Kingdom today, whether somebody is from London or Scotland, the first thing he or she says is that I am an English person. But here we elevate tribal loyalty above national loyalty. Everyone is more like I must first protect where I come from; I must first protect my territory. Everyone wants to know the tribe you come from because our loyalty is misplaced.

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If you place a Yoruba flag, Igbo flag, Hausa or Fulani flags alongside the Nigerian flag, people will first go for their own tribal flags in terms of obeisance, honour, patriotism and loyalty. They will first protect their regional tribe’s flags and insignia. This is part of the problems we are facing in the country. The problem is that the leadership in Nigeria has not shown the strength of character to build a nation from inception. It is even getting worse now. The Nigerian civil war was a product of ethnic discontent. The facts and circumstances that led to that discontent by the Igbo rather than being erased from Nigeria’s consciousness are now being amplified since after the civil war. The other major tribes have headed Nigeria, have we had Igbo President?

We have quite a number of disturbing perspectives of the situation in the country, economically, politically, security-wise and in national cohesion. The unity of this country has disturbing features. Nigeria qualifies by all standards, the definition of a failing state. I use the word failing very advisedly so that I will not sound too pessimistic; otherwise, I think that if a person says today that Nigeria is a failed state, the person will not be far from the truth. I call it a failing state to see whether there is anything left to be rescued from the collapsing edifice that is Nigeria.

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The insecurity in this country has totally gone out of hand. There is no protection; there is no preservation of life and property, which is the cardinal responsibility of any government. Nigeria has clearly turned into a killing field. Law and order have taken flight from Nigeria. Security is not available from Kano to Port Harcourt, from Sokoto to Lagos, from Maiduguri to Calabar. There is no part of the country that is insulated from the security calamity that has befallen this country. Our security situation has gotten so bad that the poor are kidnapping the poor. People are no more being kidnapped because they can pay the ransom. They are being abducted and kidnapped because others would come and pay ransom for them. In Niger, Zamfara, Kano and Kaduna state, students are being abducted so that government would be the one paying the ransom. Motherless babies were kidnapped in Niger. Who used to kidnap school children before? If anybody would contemplate kidnapping, it should have been to kidnap the rich, and not to abduct children. Everyone is a target in the kidnapping business today. In Calabar, someone whose son was kidnapped told me that a Vulcanizer, who stays in front of his house, was kidnapped. So, who kidnaps a Vulcaniser that inflates tyres and collects N1000? From these perspectives and from the factual situations, it is easy to conclude that Nigeria is no more existing to protect life and property as a state.

Are you campaigning for Igbo Presidency as 2023 draws near?
No! I am just pointing out one aspect of our problems. But if we want to logically and sincerely look at Nigeria’s distribution of offices, following section 14 of the 1999 Constitution, which provides for the federal character, we would easily realise that what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. We should come to that realisation and consciousness that we cannot afford to continue to feed fat where our brothers are growing lean and hungry. It will make sense to give them a chance because the geopolitical zone has not had a bite in the most exalted office in this country. The Igbo have never had a bite of the presidency of this country and it is not because they don’t have capable hands, but because Nigeria is not giving them the opportunity. And if all of us claim to be brothers, how come out of three brothers, first and second sons have eaten and the third must go hungry?

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The lack of strength of character on the part of leadership to run Nigeria as a nation that will manifest the indivisible and indissoluble sovereign country is part of our problem. We cannot afford to continue to run the country as a parastatal of an ethnic group, where the interest of certain persons are far more protected than others, where some people are more Nigerian than others and where opportunities are offered on basis of who you know, where you come from and the religion you belong to.

To achieve national cohesion, what is fundamental for you in leadership recruitment?
We should look for a leader that will rescue the country come 2023, but we cannot achieve that purpose until we restructure and have a reliable electoral system where the votes of the people would count. The multifaceted problems of this country can be seen from so many perspectives and dimensions. All these narrow down to the constitutional structure that we run.

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A constitutional structure that overloads the government at the centre, is faulty. You have about 65 items in the exclusive legislative list, which ought not to be and about 26 items in the concurrent list. The rest are on the exclusive list. So, somebody sits down in Abuja and wants to run government up to the stream in the backyard of a person in my village. He is the one overseeing the security architecture of the entire country, up to a point that the pettiest and commonest crime in my locality would still be subjected to the guidance and direct instruction of the Inspector General of Police, even when he does not have information on the local content of that crime. Every crime has its own local content and sentiment. You cannot afford to use the sentiment and knowledge of what operates in Zamfara for Akwa Ibom. A situation where we draw out a particular scheme of law enforcement and want that to apply across the entire country is bound to fail.

The problem of policing crimes in Ondo state may not be the same in Imo State. There are too many aspects that make Nigeria clearly manifest the symptoms of a failing state and if there is no conscious effort to stop the drift, we are heading to a precipice, where the fate of the Nigerian State may totally collapse.

If we have leadership with the strength of character to rule this country and have a good constitutional structure, we will make progress. If we restructure the system, divest the Federal Government of more powers and responsibilities, transmit them to the state and have a leadership particularly at the national level that sees Nigeria as one unit, Nigeria will be out of the ropes.

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