Rotimi-John: Political restructuring: Imperative agenda for elections
THE myth that an incisive or trenchant exploration of the essence of Nigeria’s corporate existence (the rationalist, demythologising or disinterested investigation of her history and sociology or the exposure or santo of the chicanery, fib or taradiddle which have become a veritable part of her national architecture) is necessarily unpatriotic or willy-nilly conduces to the disintegration of the country has been blown or punctured by the Goodluck Jonathan administration when against some misconceived entreaties or plaintive blandishments it convoked the National Conference.
Among the many recommendations of the confab, the one on political restructuring stands out particularly as a truly deserved result of a long-drawn advocacy of restructuring and of a sustained campaign for social welfare. The document from the conference is a refreshing departure from similar but patently invidious, working-to-the-answer confabs of the Abacha and Obasanjo regimes. As a matter of fact, the document is far ahead of or superior to the 1999 military contrivance in terms of ideals or philosophy and also in terms of implementation tactics or strategies and praxis.
Since 1966, Nigeria has rudely shunned the practice of true federalism but has instead imposed on the people a quixotic version of that mode. Military intervention in the affairs of state and a sworn regime of hegemonic power play have foisted an unworkable unitary form of government on the polity. But a true and sustainable federal structure is as desirable as it is imperative. Granting our circumstance and our collective yearning for peace, progress, prosperity, optimal utilisation of resources, competitive development, etc., federalism remains our best management option. Our diversity in culture, language and religion points inexorably in the direction of the requirement for the true practice of federalism.
The report of the National Conference has set a workable agenda for the resolution of the worrisome issue of the necessity to firmly ground the basis of Nigeria’s corporate existence and of her people to live in peace and plenty. The 1999 Constitution, unsolicitously bequeathed to the Fourth Republic, is generally perceived as a military ambush of the true yearnings of the people to live together under a legal regime that recognises their commonality of interest but is acutely cognisant of the diversity, plurality, panoply, peculiarity and respective identity which form their respective distinctive uniqueness. In the view of this writer, this period of electioneering offers our political parties the opportunity to hook up to the canons of the report of the confab with a view to making them campaign issues in the light of the palpable absence of formidable manifestoes and the visible critical lack of content or of strong ideological position on serious matters of state in their published road maps. So the report has ably provided them a contextual platform on which to stand and tell the people their position regarding the pursuit of social welfare, etc. Our political parties in the First and Second Republics were identified with philosophical and practical positions concerning issues of governance, thrust, etc.
The Obafemi Awolowo of this world would have delineated the terrain for the practical, painless implementation of the recommendations of the confab at his campaign rallies or hustings. As a matter of fact, Awo as the undeniable totemic symbol of the intrinsic values of a federal Nigerian state, would have led the debate for the establishment of the canons of a social welfare regime or would have lucidly adumbrated his advocacy of restructuring of the federation. It is a-historical to find some who claim to be faithful political children of Awo acting out of step or characteristic temper. They are today the handmaidens for the impious presentation to the electorate of the option of choosing between an irredeemably corrupt political party which internal dynamics have happily [or curiously?] set the stage for great constitutional changes and a political formation which has unwittingly blown itself off track by abandoning its age-long or foundational philosophy or advocacy of restructuring of the Federation and the pursuit of social welfare policies or programmes (full and gainful employment, free health, free education, integrated rural development, etc.).
The APC has, for the dubious purpose of winning the 2015 elections, drawn to itself a philosophy that is antithetical to or is in oppositional relationship with its foundational history, i.e. if it continues to insist to flaunt its doubtful Awo pedigree or genealogy. Two contradictory agenda – on the one hand, a “northern” hegemonic stranglehold on the polity and on the other, a tepid or dishonest enunciation (or is it mooted renunciation?) of the values of federalism or of progressive politics – have exposed the APC as one which is gleefully enamoured by the sheer prospect of victory at the polls at the expense of a proper investigation of the ideological or philosophical basis for the fusion of its federating parts. From the way certain renegade characters who thought of themselves as indispensable electoral assets were readily absorbed into the APC from the PDP, it is clear that the APC does not set any store for political ideology or its practice. The APC had hoped to benefit from the presumed electoral advantage which the decampees had brandished. But the decampees were bringing to their new party a baggage consisting of a failed bid to insist on a northern candidate for the PDP and of a general hegemonic mien or disposition. What remained as the APC’s attitudinal purity regarding certain strategic issues of state became diluted with political opportunism and an unconscionable denial of the party’s original vigour and underlying ideological precepts.
We aver that the only agenda that is worth being canvassed at these elections is the discussion of the political restructuring of the polity and the welfare state. It would be an odd sort of state which regards the general welfare as irrelevant to policy. Contained within this welfare regime is the requirement for a faithful adherence to the principles of true federalism and of that model’s policy offshoots. Our parties have turned ellipsis or selective taciturnity into a craft. They verbalise much but yet say little or nothing. They have cleverly avoided issues which are germane to our decision-making process. It is to be put to the presidential candidates what they would do with the efforts/reports of the national conference [which one hopes they have read with understanding] regarding the popular yearning for the political restructuring of the Nigerian state.
Will they abandon the imperative of working for a new constitutional regime or order? Or are they satisfied with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution with all its identified pitfalls or gaffes? The truth of the matter is that the provisions of the constitution in the works have presented us with a document that is development or people-oriented; that abjures regional or ethnic control or sectarian ambush of the polity; and that is generally less odious or problematic. It is submitted that the battle against Boko Haram and corruption (which confrontation the APC has elevated or lifted higher than the requirement to have a stable polity through the agency of a reviewed ethical framework) and for restructuring Nigeria for the effectual implementation of genuine social welfare policies (not charity or handouts) is more easily confronted or won under the framework fashioned by the conference. The foot soldiers of the struggle have been armed with an appropriate constitutional context from which to operate. But our parties have been coy or conveniently bashful regarding this all-important matter. They have not offered any insights further than their respective elliptical incantatory screams or slogans of “Change!” or “True Change”
It is to be recalled that APC chieftains had pooh-poohed the idea of the national conference, decrying it as distractive and a waste of time. It is further to be noted that these leaders are notably from a zone of the federation where the cry for constitutional change or political restructuring has been most vociferous or loudest. The expressed political philosophy of some of them regarding the requirement to heal or repair the seared soul or the fractured limb of the Nigerian polity had been proverbial. Everywhere they went they were identified with the call for the practice of true federalism through the agency of a fundamental constitutional amendment. The curious tool-kit abandonment or volte face manifested by these elements when the national conference was called has exposed their fiercely individualistic approach to national issues. It is the case of the grapes being sour. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the APC coxswain, may not be heard to be opposed to the fundamental changes, which the national conference reports have recommended. These are the same set of propositions which he had identified with or shrilly suggested in his own peculiar rendition of their swan song. The thrust of the conference reports has necessarily become an issue in this electioneering season. It is strange that any party will imagine a rules-governed polity without the requirement to work for a truly workable constitution.
We conclude by advising that the political parties in the race for the presidency be pressured to publicly unveil their critical positions regarding the popular pan-Nigeria quest for a politically restructured country under a new constitutional regime favoured by the 2014 Constitutional Conference report or be content with continuing to be local champions in their respective domains even as the people are encouraged to use the opportunity of the 2015 elections to reject the shenanigans of capricious, quixotic or whimsical political actors.
• Rotimi-John is a lawyer and commentator on public affairs.