Constitutional dialogue: We need an arbiter

He have passed through this way before. It is often the last resort of our past deceitful leaders. Motivated often by predilection for perfidious politics, they often come up with the idea of a national conference as a diversionary measure. It is a weapon freely used by Babangida, Abacha and Obasanjo not to enrich constitutional development, but to commit fraud. The nation got little joy from the conferences of 1988, 1994/95 and 2005. It is not therefore difficult to understand why President Jonathan, confronted with five months ASUU strike, facing local and international criticism over his corruption-ridden administration, and an intra-party PDP crisis that threatens his 2015 ambition, he has after four years of initial resistance to a call for a sovereign national conference to resolve the national question, suddenly changed his position without explanation.

And for now the debate about the composition of delegates has pitched credible Nigerians with genuine concern for the health of our nation against government apologists and contractors. While Wole Soyinka has for instance suggested only elected representative of the people should be delegates, Dr Fasehun, leader of OPC militant group wants government and political parties exempted. While Ohaneze, the umbrella body for the Igbos wants equal representation of ethnic groups, the Arewa Consultative Forum has rejected the suggestion saying ethnic groups are not equal. While the Convener of the Yoruba Assembly, Gen. Alani Akinrinade (rtd), has suggested the adoption of the Pro-National Conference Organisation (PRONACO)’s 18 nationality region-structure for drawing the list of delegates, others have said the conference will be enriched if we have representative of NADECO, a body that is responsible for our current democracy.

And still to tie the hands of President Jonathan who has publicly claimed he is never moved to action by public opinion, and who is known for tucking reports such as the Uwais electoral reform report and the Ribadu report of monumental fraud in the oil industry, that he and his party cannot exploit for political advantage, under his locker, others have suggested the involvement of United Nations representative, Britain, our ex-colonial master and other lovers of our country like ambassador Omowale Walter Carrington.

And my sympathy lies with the last group. History is on their side. In the absence of the colonial master with a big stick, we have in the last 53 years proved incapable of producing an acceptable constitution to manage our affairs. And I think the time to stop hiding under sovereignty that died long before the age of globalization, the god the world worships today, and admit we need help is now.

The starting point is to examine where we are coming from. Let us remember that at the height of our nationalist struggle to take over from the colonial masters, Britain had warned that it was their presence that guaranteed a measure of stability and that their departure ‘would mean for millions, a descent into the turmoil of warring sects’. This has long become a self-fulfilling prophesy. We have fought a civil war. We are currently engaged in another with Boko Haram. We are under the assault of ethnic irredentists’ sponsored militants. We are daily assaulted and assailed by armed robbers, kidnappers and thieving government ministers and lawmakers, all taking the form of warring sects as predicted.

We can also note from insight that the golden era of our constitutional development was between 1946 and 1959. That was when the colonial masters held a big stick to ensure we behaved ourselves. The 1946 constitution which heralded in regionalism provided for unity in diversity and opened the way for participation of the nationalists and traditional rulers. The 1951 Constitution which they supervised created House of Representatives of 136 elected members, 68 from the north, 31 elected members and three members of the House of Chiefs from the West, and 34 elected members from the East. There was not just parity between the north and the south, provision for a bicameral legislature for the West and the North, was made, while the East was contented with a unicameral legislature.

Similarly, with the supervision of the colonial masters, the 1953 London Constitutional Conference was without rancour as it allocated specific powers to the centre leaving the residual list for the regions. The 1957 Constitutional Conference paved the way for self-government for the West and the East without posing a threat to the North that was not ready. At the end, the British gave us a written constitution patterned after their own unwritten constitution that has endured only on convention for centuries.

The question is why our written constitution collapsed in less than five years. The fault, we will discover, is not in our stars but in the character of our leaders like Tafawa Balewa, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello, Awolowo some of whom were motivated only by greed using their ethnic groups as cover.

Of the three dominant groups, that have been used by the political elite to hold the nation to ransom since independence, the west and its true leaders have remained faithful to its preference for a federation of ethnic nationalities where each group can develop at its own pace without posing a threat to other federating members or to the overall health of the greater Nigerian nation. As for Ahmadu Bello and Balewa, the North would only be part of a federation where they could control 50% of member of the House of Representatives and the north remains unrestrained from imposing feudal control over areas conquered during the early 19th century jihad. They got everything they wanted under the British.

The East and its leaders have remained the most ambivalent. Zik first canvassed for a unitary system. After becoming a late convert to federalism, Zik and the political elite from the East against the spirit of the 1951 Constitution attempted to take over the West through NCNC. After the first coup of January 1966, the East and its leaders attempted imposition of unitary system through Ironsi and when that also failed, it demanded a confederal arrangement with the East controlling the oil rich minorities.

It was the greed of northern and eastern political elite to hold on to claimed conquered territories or areas mischievously regarded as ‘no man’s land’ that brought them into coalition in the first republic. It collapsed over sharing of booty from their adventure into Mid-west following NCNC’s takeover of the new region, which was followed by NPC dumping of NCNC as a coalition partner in favour of a fringe political party also from the same Mid-west region. It is the same greed that informed their coalition in the Second Republic which also collapsed over sharing of resources that rightly belong to others. It is the same greed that has sustained the East and the North in PDP in the last 14 years.

From the discussion so far, it is obvious Nigerians don’t trust President Jonathan, the convener of the new conference, who has continued to behave as if he is elected to serve PDP.

And what Nigerians have for their legislators who according to the president will decide the fate of the conference, is disdain. Widely regarded as the highest paid legislators in the world, Nigerians think they serve none but themselves.

Cynical Nigerians think without the threat of a big brother, the outcome of the conference will be more of the same. And some have even predicted if the list of nominees for the proposed conference comes out tomorrow, it is likely going to be peopled not by Nigerian national icons like Soyinka, the Nobel laureate sought after by great nations of the world to proffer solution to mankind problems, Emeka Anyaoku, the world respected former Secretary General of the 53-nation Commonwealth, and our highly principled Col. Kangiwa Abubakar. In their places, they predict we will likely have entertainers like ubiquitous Ebenezer Babatope, Ojo Maduekwe and Jerry Gana.

Why then should we be ashamed to seek help after groping in the darkness for over 50 years (1963-2013) – those who believe we need the help of Britain have asked. If you ask me, I will say why not?

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