Nigeria: Between restructuring and a separatist ogre
It will appear that the political restructuring advocacy which had been struck down by official apathy, smug indifference or lulled to sleep by cold comfort recently regained traction and returned to the front burner of national discourse or attention with greater fervency or militancy. It is suggested that the clear verbiage of separatist movements matched by their threatened dismemberment of a giddy federation has upturned the agenda of a supercilious, insensitive administration. Since 1999 (even as we discount earlier efforts in regard of the calls for the practice of true federalism) popular opinion became strident for objectifying an otherwise conveniently-misunderstood or “abstract” subject matter – the patriotic enthronement of the manifestation of the true character and purpose of the ethos of federalism.
The campaigned recourse to true federalism had received the expressed understanding and “ideological” acknowledgment of the All Progressives Congress (APC) even as it embodied the cherished values of that democratic ideal in its published manifesto and swore to initiate policy moves for its actualisation on assumption of office. Six years into its administration however, the party is still struggling with itself on what to make of its promise to return Nigeria to the path of a true federal state. The internal contradictions of a promised policy position and the reality of a hegemonic disposition that is in oppositional relationship to vote-catching drivels on the campaign dais has landed the APC leadership in a quagmire regarding the requirement of a clear position on the issue of restructuring. The party’s leadership from the South-West has been particularly compromised and cast in bad light as it had been the ardent promoters of that socio-political model. Today, it is awe-struck even as it has lost face among its embarrassed constituents.
The failure or reluctance of the APC to keep its promise of a restructured Nigeria on assumption of office and the arrogant self-deception of the presidency are hinged on the patently-false premise that Nigeria may continue to operate a rogue constitution as her grundnorm and yet remain as an indissoluble entity. It must be correctly noted that it is this official smug indifference that has sprung up the present situation of up-beat separatist or secessionist campaigns popping up grassroots characters like Sunday Igboho and his less-fancied counterpart, Nnamdi Kanu. It is self-deluding to think of them as possessing a mere nuisance value or as rabble rousers. Against the backdrop of wide-spread insecurity, of real or perceived official partiality regarding inter-ethnic relations, and of a decidedly insensitive administration, the restructuring campaign has received fresh impetus and its fire may not be put out until it has achieved its object.
For more than three years in the life of the Buhari administration, reports of the unspeakably intolerable and brusque treatment by Fulani herdsmen respecting their host communities have poured into Abuja. Yet, not until the offensive of the likes of Igboho did the administration begin to organise somnambulant town hall meetings for “forging the way forward” even as the perpetrators of the accompanying crimes of forcible occupation of ancestral farmlands, etc. were not apprehended, tried according to law or otherwise punished. The security agencies that were receiving the frequent plaintive pleas of the relatives of the victims of the herdsmen’s onslaughts were reluctant to appoint any person of rank for the investigation of the all-round carnage involving abductions, kidnappings, murder, robbery, rape, etc. The consummate tact and fair-mindedness of the affected communities have thankfully conduced to the amelioration or reduction of tension and may have saved the Nigerian union thus far.
For the avoidance of doubt as to what exactly is the way forward for Nigeria, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 must be identified as the cog in the wheel of our progress. It is the culprit regarding our present sorry plight. There is an urgent need to re-write the constitution – not just to tinker with its provisions by way of a review or amendment. The better option is to fashion a completely true federal constitution. Afenifere has aptly derided the reported frenzied attempt by the National Assembly to begin an amendment process of the provisions of the constitution. It has described it as an exercise in futility and its projected outcome as dubious in its utility. Afenifere cannot be more correct.
There is a requirement for an immediate end to the country’s unitary constitutional order which has been forcibly maintained by a section of the country in flagrant negation of the federal basis upon which Nigeria became a political union at independence in 1960. Under the present perverse practice, the Nigerian state has fraudulently appropriated the respective sovereignties of her composing entities. Even as the diversities of the various peoples of Nigeria dictated the adoption of a federal constitutional model at independence in 1960, the federating units as Regions (namely, Eastern, Western, and Northern Regions of Nigeria) wisely adopted federalism as the basis of entering into the political union. The union has since become fractured as the military incursion into politics truncated the federal arrangement and imposed a unitary structure akin to the military command system on the polity. As the 1999 constitution is a wholesale adoption of its 1979 edition and as the powers of the federating units have been weakened or deprived of virility by a 68-item Federal Exclusive Legislative List that robs the federating units of all key economic assets and governmental powers and also to the extent of the document’s derogation from the basic tenets of federalism, it is fatally flawed. There is a general consensus regarding its unworkability. The present constitutional order has only been sustained by a combination of deceit, a divide-and-rule tactic, brute force and untold impunity. There is a general repudiation of its thrusts and of its purpose or intendment.
Thankfully, there is a new federating consensus against the prevailing unitary constitutional order. We are afforded ample relief, for instance, in the 2006 draft Peoples’ Constitution meticulously put together by PRONACO, the 2014 National Conference proceedings, and the APC-inspired el-Rufai committee report on restructuring. The thrust of these reports is the admonition that Nigeria requires to be re-negotiated. The self-evidently false claim that “We the people… enacted and gave ourselves” the 1999 Constitution is as fictive as it is untrue. Legally, it is a criminal usurpation of the sovereignties of the constituent components of the country. It is the inalienable right of the people to make for themselves the constitution by which they propose to federate and be governed. This, undeniably, is an incident of their sovereignty. It may not be denied them or alienated from them.
The truism that sovereignty belongs to the people from whom government, through the constitution, derive all its powers and authority can only receive expression when an autochthonous process by which the constituent units submit their peoples and their lands into the union and also stipulate the terms of their union which will be ratified by a plebiscite or referendum. The only way to forestall what truly is an imminent breakup of Nigeria is to immediately convoke a meeting of accredited representatives of all the ethnic nationalities comprised within the country to harmonise the views contained in the PRONACO document, the 2014 National Conference resolutions and the el-Rufai Committee report on restructuring for producing a truly people’s document that may rightly be referred to as having been fashioned by “We the people…”
Although many have continued to worry how the desirable re-minting of Nigeria would come to be, the “rabble rousing” activities of a hitherto inconsequential Sunday Igboho and his ilk have tended to energise our collective yearning and have brought us nearer our quest. They have presented for us all that need to be said or all that we would have said by ourselves. The debt that we owe these ones is the debt that they have paid our collective cause. They are fine exemplars of the public profession of activism in advocacy. Instigated harassment of their persons is an indication of ingratitude. Threats of arrest or of incarceration of their bodies are a threatened imprisonment of our collective will and weal. The bridge to our destination may have been designed and re-designed overtime. Its actual construction work has just begun and may be proceeding to completion.
Rotimi-John, a lawyer and public affairs commentator, wrote vide email@example.com