Ben Nwabueze… In Search Of United Nigeria
AS a student of constitutional law, the invitation to review the third volume of Prof. Ben Nwabueze’s autobiography titled My Life and Work in the Search for a New, Better and United Nigeria is a testament by a master that his student has come of age and this testimonial is more of an endorsement for me than a platform for profound scholarly exposition.
Professor Ben Nwabueze in my estimation is the greatest constitutional law scholar in human history. The depth and breadth of his seminal works in this area put him in a class of his own. It is manifestly so evident that A.V. Dicey, Wheare, De Smith, Laurence Tribe, Hodd and many other emerging Constitutional Law Scholars did not impact the subject in such a way and manner as Nwabueze did. Simply put, he is a genius.
What stands about Nwabueze is his pragmatic approach to constitutional engineering. He not only propounded principles, theories and doctrines, he interrogated the effect and relevance of his postulations in the constitutional evolution and development of many countries of the world. His life and works are therefore totally dedicated to developing a road map for enthronement of constitutionalism and good governance.
In his preface to the 517-page book, the author stated as follows:
“This volume of my autobiography (Volume 3) is a continuation of the story of my life and work told in volumes 1 and 2. It enlarges the last part of the story as contained in part III of volume 2; this accounts for some repetition that occurs. The volume might be described as embodying my culminating – I would not say final – thoughts on Nigeria. The volume deals with concepts, principles, political and social issues, and not so much even with individual actors except former President Olusegun Obasanjo, General Sani Abacha and one or two others. It has therefore nothing to do with my private or personal life, a full account of which is contained in volume 1. The volume may not therefore provide a reading comparable in excitement with volume 1 or even volume 2.”
It would appear that the author in ranking this volume lower than volumes 1 and 2 in terms of providing exciting reading grossly under estimated the relevance of the issues discussed in this volume with the Nigerian project. Indeed, I dare to mention, none of the 32 seminal works of the author preceding this autobiography ranks in comparison in terms of pragmatic contribution to our national quest for a new better and united Nigeria. In his other books, the author’s brilliance as a leading constitutional lawyer shone ever so brightly. But in his final thoughts on Nigeria, the author assumed his rightful place as an agenda-setting thinker, an opinion leader and moulder, an influential elder statesman, a courageous patriot, a pan-Nigerian nationalist and Nigeria’s voice of reason amidst the cacophony of self-seeking praise singers and sycophantic opportunistic hero worshippers.
In part 1 of the book, the author extensively addressed ‘National Transformation as the Roadmap to Peace/Security, Progress and Nation Building’. Whilst the author accepts the transformation agenda of Government as crucial for national growth and development, he questions its limitation to economic policies only.
In his words, “social and ethical transformation implies the creation of a new society and the creation of such a new society would entail changes of two types – a radical transformation of the material conditions of society and what has been called an “inner mutation i.e. a spiritual or mental transformation in the attitudes and behavioural patterns of the individuals member of society”.
The defining aspect of the book is the exposition ‘On transforming Nigeria through a national conference’.
Here the originality of the author as the finest constitutional lawyer is well displayed. In a breathtaking and gripping argument for National Conference, the author highlighted the following as the basis for national conference. They are as follows:
Transforming Nigeria with its vast diversity of ethnic nationalities into a nation. Federalism as a constitutional device for facilitating the creation of a nation in a territorially extensive and socially diverse country like Nigeria. The unity-in-diversity approach in Nigeria’s constitution marked by over concentration of powers and financial resources at the centre but without entirely sacrificing ethnic diversity. Legal framework for the convening and holding of a national conference and for the approval of a people’s constitution.
The author undoubtedly secured his place in our national history by not only pushing for a national conference but by comprehensively addressing the question posed in chapter 14 of the book: “will the National Conference as now convoked and constituted by President Jonathan, be effective in realizing our aspirations for a new, better and united Nigeria?
In part II of this autobiography, the reader easily connects with the author’s exposition on the many problems of Nigeria standing in the way of the search for peace, progress and national building. Here reference is made to: the North-South Divide; and forces militating against democracy in Nigeria e.g. elite ruling class; the political class; the after effects of prolonged military rule; human rights violations of a nature, dimension or scale repugnant to the whole essence or ethos of human rights in a democratic society; wholesale election riggings and other electoral malpractices; corruption and other corrupt practices and abuse; pervasive culture of impunity in governance; lingering mass illiteracy; ignorance and poverty, structure of the Nigerian society; the weakness of civil society; absence of the spirit of liberty and democracy; absence of the spirit or habit of respect for the rule of law and of the habit of order; the phenomenon of democracy without democrats.
In his characteristic candour, the author brilliantly interrogated these forces militating against democracy and proffered solutions to the problems.
Flowing from this is a well-researched treatise by the author on Militancy and Insurgency. The reader is invited to note the depth of scholarship deployed by the author in distinguishing between militancy and Insurgency, his views on the call for amnesty for the Boko Haram Insurgents and his support for dialogue as the appropriate approach for addressing the insurgency challenge.
Anyone reading this exciting autobiography will undoubtedly be sucked in by the author’s answers to the question he posed in chapter 11 to wit ‘Is Nigeria a failed state or on the way to becoming one?’
Though the indices used by the author may be considered as veritable tools of neoliberalism, it is still not in dispute that the author raised sufficient alarm that serious minded citizens cannot afford to gloss over.
The book is enriched by inclusion by the author of suggestions by The Patriots as to the things to be done to halt the slide into the ultimate stage of failure of the state.
The concluding part of this autobiography highlights basically institutional and other means available or that may be devised in the search for solutions to Nigeria’s problems. This part of the book is extremely insightful and thought provoking. Again the reader is invited by the author to personally evaluate efforts made by The Patriots of which he is the Chairman to proffer solution to Nigeria’s problems. Students of history and political science will definitely find this part of the book most illuminating especially with reference to invitation to fathers of the nation to intercede in order to save our nation. The author’s final thoughts in this volume finds expression in his analysis of state ceremonies marking certain significant ideas or events as a means of creating in the people a feeling of belonging and of patriotism. His views on significance of independence and justification for its celebration; celebrating the end of military rule and not regarding it as democracy day; the significance of the 1914 amalgamation and whether its gains overwhelmingly outweigh its deleterious consequences to justify celebrating its centenary are all forcefully and logically canvassed. Even if one is not inclined to agree with him on some of his views on the matter, one cannot ignore the intellectual depth of his postulations.
For a life that inspires debate on thorny issues of national importance, Prof Ben Nwabueze remains a national treasure. For his capacity to reduce very intricate legal issues to simple and readable prose, Prof Nwabueze is an academic icon. For being able to chronicle his autobiography in three large volumes, the legal icon is a gift to humanity.
One will always wonder how the author over the years has been able to gather together newspaper cuttings and file documents that have proved handy for this seminal work. Professor Ben Nwabueze will always remain an enigma to those who are not close to him but to those who are privileged to read his works, he is nothing but a genius. This superlative quality again is well demonstrated in this volume.
Is this likely to be his final thoughts on issues concerning Nigeria? Definitely not! I have no doubt that as God gives him life and good health, we certainly will be reading more of the exciting contributions of Ben Nwabueze to national discourse. Will there be a volume four of the autobiography? This again cannot be ruled out. The author has the intimidating credentials as a five star researcher to put together another volume of his autobiography. Indeed, many Nigerians are looking forward to his comments and commentaries on the 2015 election. I am definitely not an exception.
It is therefore my honour and privilege to warmly recommend this well-packaged, well-researched and exciting autobiography (volume 3) of Professor Ben Nwabueze to students and practitioners of Law, Politics, constitutionalism, constitutional engineering, the Nigerian public and the global community at large.
• Prof. Azinge, SAN, is former Director-General, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies
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