The national question and vision 2020 – Part 2
Continued from yesterday
The question may be asked: how many Nigerians, intellectuals inclusive, have seen or read the 1999 Constitution; and I dare to ask, how many of our so-called legislators, state and national, have read the constitution? This is why the advocacy for a new constitution to address fundamental issues is a herculean task. One way to address this lacuna is to introduce a General Studies course for students of Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education to be titled “Elements of the Nigerian Constitution” so that they may understand their fundamental rights and obligations as citizens, the obligations of the State to the citizens and the nexus between the Constitution and governance. I had at one time written a memo to the National Universities Commission on the subject of a general studies course on the Constitution so that it is coordinated centrally. But Nigeria is experiencing deep social, economic and political crises as a consequence of a dysfunctional governance system and accumulation of unfinished businesses of governments. Over the years we have seen systemic decline in development indicators and wellbeing of citizens – growing unemployment and youth despondency, increasing external debt portfolio, failure of institutions, unabating corruption at all levels, poor health and educational systems, insecurity of lives and property, profligacy by public servants, etc. The questions may be asked – where are the automobile assemblies, tire -manufacturing companies, paper, textile and oil mills, steel companies, sugar companies, and a host of others that have gone moribund? What value have we added to the many solid and liquid minerals which abound in the country? We hear of government’s plan to mine gold in Zamfara for export just as we do for crude oil instead of it being an anchor for value –chain industrialisation.
Only just recently is government awake to the need to utilise our bitumen rather than import it when we have a bitumen belt spanning Edo to Lagos. What a country – so much work to be done, but no Jobs! The political class is insensitive and is contemptuous of the ordinary citizens whose welfare is the primary business of governance. How do we explain the travesty of the debate, at a time, about minimum wage of N30, 000.00 a month which, unarguably, is non-sustaining? Indeed and ludicrous is the recent argument on who controls the so-called jobs for 774,000 Nigerians between the Minister of State for Labour and members of the National Assembly for which each person will be paid the sum of N20,000 a month i.e., N666.67 ( Six Hundred and Sixty -Six Naira, Sixty – Seven kobo only) per day for three months.
At the end, the persons concerned can move on in life empowered! Need I mention that a university professor at the bar of the salary scale takes a net N412,000 every month? And yet a senator of the Federal Republic takes a whopping sum of N13.5 million a month for salary and sundry costs to make laws for the ‘good governance’ of Nigeria. The governors take security vote in some cases, as high as N1billion per month without accounting for it in addition to the high cost of running governments at all levels. These are the contradictions in our governance system in a country of acute poverty of majority of her citizens.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has always been identified with the making of the 1979 Constitution whose provisions are the precursors of the 1999 Constitution. Professor Ben Nwanbueze, a foremost constitutional lawyer and a key player in drafting of the 1979 Constitution, in exasperation over the dysfunctional 1999 Constitution averred that they were misguided by the principle, that coming shortly after the Nigerian civil war, a Constitution with powers and responsibilities concentrated at the centre would galvanize the country. He has since been a foremost advocate of a truly federal Constitution to save the country from the precipice. It is against this background too that it is gratifying to note what might seem a volte-face by Obasanjo’s comment concerning the Constitution, allegedly made to a gathering at the Abeokuta Club – “—- My personal conviction is that with the experience we have had operating the current constitution where we have seen some important aspects of the constitution being breached willfully and wantonly and with the centre seemingly being overwhelmed by issues of security, with crying need from different quarters for reform of the basic structure of Nigeria’s federating units there is the need for repositioning of our country for the purpose of unity,—-good governance—-justice—- I remain truly convinced that without reform of federating units, as I will like to satisfy those who may not like the word ‘restructuring’, Nigeria will remain insecure, unstable, non-progressive and stagnated at best or disintegrated at the worst—-” Well said and here lies a convergence of Professor Wole Soyinka’s advocacy for a ‘political kingdom’ and indeed of many eminent Nigerian advocates of restructuring of governance architecture, and the recent position of Obansajo – a convergence in the recognition of an encumbering 1999 Constitution and the urgent need to discard it for a truly federal Constitution.
The 1999 constitution, in configuring the structure and system of governance, is a threat to the continued corporate existence of Nigeria because it has created an unjust society. A system of governance, over-centralized, is one prone to catastrophic failure – to wit, failure of leadership and indeed, of governance. Therefore, there is the overarching need to restructure the system of governance anchored on a new Constitution that is autochthonous and has the imprimatur of the peoples of Nigeria. Clearly, a truly federal Constitution is sine qua non for a harmonious co-existence of about 374 distinct linguistic ethnic nationalities and for enthronement of a just society and ultimate attainment of nationhood of the Nigerian state.
Prof. Eromosele, former Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic), Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.