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Our nineteenth birthday

By Ray Ekpu
29 May 2018   |   3:25 am
Today marks the 19th birthday of our Fourth Republic. This is the longest run we have had as a democratic nation. When compared to the three dead republics this is a marathon. The First Republic lasted for five years, the second for four years and three months, while the Third Republic, more like a joke....

Today marks the 19th birthday of our Fourth Republic. This is the longest run we have had as a democratic nation. When compared to the three dead republics this is a marathon. The First Republic lasted for five years, the second for four years and three months, while the Third Republic, more like a joke, let’s call it Joke Republic, was only two years old. On the basis of longevity, therefore, this republic which has been run by four men, two purely civilian, two military men panel-beaten into civilian shape, has endured more than its discredited predecessors. Should we drink to that? Are you looking for a bottle of the celebratory champagne and the toast giver? Sorry, neither the champagne nor the toast giver is on duty. They are mourning the dead and do not think that the day calls for any exuberant celebration. But it does if only for the fact that this is the longest civilian interregnum in our 57 year history as an independent nation.

During these 19 years, we have put our 1999 Constitution on trial; we have seen its flanks and its flaws and its fickleness, we have bad-mouthed it and those who authored it in their unitarist image of federalism. We have agreed that since something seems to be wrong with the constitution, then something should be done to make it right.The National Assembly which has the prime responsibility for tinkering with the constitution has been pussy-footing over the issue for more than a decade. Then in 2014 President Goodluck Jonathan summoned courage from God-knows-where and mounted a National Conference whose members sweated for four months and produced copious reports with seminal ideas that any serious country or government would have been proud to utilise. But even Jonathan, the convener of the conference failed himself and the country. His nerves failed him and his nonchalance towards the conference reports put his original motive under question, his patriotic ideas under doubt, and the future of our country under peril. Our Constitution has failed the federalism test, by virtue of its asphyxiating centripetalism. The discomfort and the dysfunction birthed by this obnoxious political arrangement has led to a dismantling of the federalist principle.

This has led in turn to the shrill noises at first and a loud howling by apostles of restructuring and other visionaries of a better society. But President Muhammadu Buhari is unmoved by this dormant volcano because process is the culprit not structure, he says. But the campaign for a new structure that can produce a new architecture of governance has not abated. Instead, it is gathering momentum and gaining traction as the crusaders for a new order mount rallies from region to region in the effort to recruit new converts into their dream republic of fresh ideas. It is obvious that in the next few months these issues will form the major talking points as the political combatants ask us to favour them with our votes.

In these 19 years, our democracy has suffered at the hands of vulgarians in the states and in the centre. A governor was impeached in Anambra State at five in the morning when parliament was not expected to meet. In Bayelsa State, a governor was impeached by a federally organised gang of legislators kept under protective custody and taken by force to the House of Assembly to do the dirty job as arranged by the dirty jobs man. In Enugu State, a Deputy Governor was impeached for running a poultry farm while the mastermind of the impeachment, the governor, who ran a piggery, sat pretty untouched by the evil fingers of an impeachment plot. The lesson is that it is better to run a piggery than a poultry because pigs are bigger than chickens. In Osun State, the governor ran a government for several years without a cabinet and the lame duck, sycophantic legislators in the State House of Assembly betrayed their Osun State voters by simply looking the other way while their Sole-Administrator-Governor played his pranks. Overall, the states, virtually all the states, remain and have remained the certified playground for the governors to do as they please since in most of those states the opposition is weak and the legislators are connivingly obliging. In the absence of serious scrutiny by the media and civil society groups of government business in the states and with the constitutional provision of immunity as their guardian angels, the governors are strictly the modern day Lords of the manor, bestriding their world like a colossus.

However, the Federal Government has received a reasonable level of close marking by the resurgent opposition, the media and civil society groups. That is why it has been possible to bring to the fore cases of human rights infraction, rule of law violations, double standards in the anti-corruption battle, discriminatory employment practices, violations of federal character principles and the cancerous problem of double speak on various national issues. These have yielded some modest fruits but the level of transparency and accountability is still abysmally low. The country is still kept in stark ignorance of how much Nigerians have paid for the treatment of their President in hospitals in the United Kingdom. Nor are the taxpayers who foot the President’s hospital bill put in the picture as to the nature of his ailment. And yet the President is a public servant who the apologists now insist for their convenience that he has a right to keep his ailment undisclosed and what we paid for it under wrap. When we are paying the bill he is a public servant; when we want to know what we are paying for, he is a private citizen whose health must remain private.

The Federal Government will be crowing in the next few days on its achievements on the economic front. There is a modest growth in GDP. The exit from recession is being strengthened at about 2%; the naira is being stabilized but the exchange rate is still high; Inflation has dropped to about 12.48% while foreign reserve has increased from 20 billion dollars in 2015 to 40 billion dollars now. This is caused largely by the upswing in the price of crude oil. In Agriculture, especially in rice production, the country has surpassed all expectations. The view is that by the end of this year the country might be self-sufficient in rice production. Perhaps that sector remains the biggest achievement of the Buhari administration. However, unfortunately we are at the money lenders’ door again after liquidating our debts during the Obasanjo era. Also, despite the apparently impressive recovery statistics most Nigerians have been readmitted into the poverty club. Some people are auctioning their children to get money for food while the army of beggars has increased on the roads, cities and towns.

Sadly, the Boko Haram insurgency remains a worrisome menace. In spite of the premature announcement of the defeat, technical or untechnical, of the terrorists, they remain a force to reckon with. The remaining Chibok school girls have remained in their custody for four years now. Now, the addition of the 15 year old Christian girl, Leah Sharibu, taken a few months ago from Dapchi has introduced a religious dimension to the Boko Haram imbroglio because the young girl refused to convert to Islam and was therefore not released along with the other girls.

While the Boko Haram crises has been substantially reduced there is the emergence of killer Fulani herdsmen who have so far bared their murderous fangs in 10 or more states. They have made these hitherto peaceful states their new killing fields. They have become the new nightmare who by their unconscionable blood thirstiness have seriously devalued human life and reduced the right to life to a right that they casually bury daily. As has been noted by many commentators the Federal Government’s handling of the matter has been casual, tentative and incompetent and lacks the kind of robust response that ought to be visited on a matter that grave. The response to the crisis was not only slow and tepid but it appeared as if the government and the security agencies had come to the conclusion that it was a problem that would disappear in a matter of days.

As the problem grows in intensity it is apparent that the government is overwhelmed and certainly needs an injection of new ideas on strategy into the management of the crisis. But perhaps because of the appearance of both ethnic and religious dimensions, an inflammable cocktail, in the conflict the government needs to gather people of influence together from all the regions to jaw jaw on the way forward. If Mr. Buhari is a born again democrat as he claims even though this has not been manifestly proven, he needs to call a meeting of multilateral groups and seek ways of lowering the country’s temperature. A group like that comprising thought leaders, traditional, professional and political elite will be a platform for distilling and dissecting ideas that can lead to lasting peace.

Also, that forum can be a testing ground for the various thoughts that Nigerians have been throwing up including those of Mr. Buhari’s own party on a new Nigeria. So far the President has remained frozen in his despotic past unwilling to avail himself of new ideas even if they are unpalatable. In the days to come, those ideas will keep intruding into the country’s consciousness and the President may find that they are ideas he cannot ignore for much longer no matter how conservative or dogmatic he may choose to be.