FEATURE ARTICLE

Douglas AkuniaSaturday, January 18, 2014
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hat things are not right with Nigeria is an understatement. How to fix the country if possible is the issue now. Since the 90's, there has been the call for National conference to restructure the country or to fix the problems that have been dogging the country. We have had conferences before and after with no real result except the creation of zones with the unintended consequences and rotational presidency from the 1995 conference which we have now pretty much abandoned. The president has agreed to set up another national conference. There have been all sorts of opinions. Some are in support of it and others are not or skeptical. Some want it sovereign and others think it will not be legal. Some are calling for a brand new constitution while others are calling for a modification of what we have now. I think the call is for national sit - down to talk among all constituents of the country. Out of this might come out constitutional issues and other issues. Not everything is a constitutional matter. Some might require reorientation of the people, some might require social or civic studies while others might need public service announcements and perhaps, strong, good and purposeful leadership.

This exercise should be about what should be good for the entire country and the way forward which is the focus of this write up and less on what each individual group wants for themselves. We leave the individual tribes' demands to their appropriate organizations. This is not about Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa interests, let Ohaneze, Afenifere, Arewa, OPC, Middle belt groups, Igbo leaders of thought and other such organizations handle that. This is a contribution to the constitution that might come out from the conference to correct some of the problems we face.

For the constitutional matters, there has to be a working document, or basis from which to start, whether it is what we have now, or any we have had in the past, or have it based on whatever the conference comes up with. This in itself has to be agreed on. But please let's leave other peoples' constitution alone but rather think about how they arrived at what they have. There are all other kinds of suggestions that Nigerians have been putting out and some are good, in fact brilliant while others make no sense and even miss the mark by a mile in the larger scheme of things, just a laundry list of selfish demands. But how much of the inputs will matter at the end of the day is unknown but it shouldn't stop people from putting out ideas. The 'Blueprint to a Nigerian revolution' we published a few years ago is still very relevant here though a few positions have changed since. In that article we talked about how other countries like the United States came up with their constitution based on their experience and that of others. For example, that they have two legislative bodies was because they couldn't agree on either one, so they compromised. Why do we have to copy that compromise?

The most meaningful thing we can do is to look at where we are as a country. We have had experiences, we know ourselves, and everyone knows what our problems and our challenges are. We know that our problem is tribalism, regionalism, religion, greed, selfishness and corruption as a result of or resulting in impunity with which people act. We know that a big part of our problem is leadership and followership. The issue should then be how do we deal with these. We also know our assets and strengths. So fixing the problems of this country shouldn't be as hard. The main challenge is agreeing on solutions.

The first issue is the structure of the country which many have identified as a main problem. Some have called for an outright dissolution of the country. This to us is a last resort, that is, in an unlikely situation where most people don't want to make anything work. But this should not be the premise or even the purpose of this exercise. If that is what the overwhelming majority comes up with, then fine but I personally don't think it is going to be in anyone's best interest. It will be going from frying pan to fire, like South Sudan. The people have to think about this very carefully, think about true origin and the complex makeup of the country. Into what pieces and along what lines is the country going to be dissolved? Those that argue that the English put together some contraption to their benefit should realize that the regions that constitute that contraption were themselves put together by the English. To those that advocate going back to pre 1914, how was it pre 1914? What happens to those that don't want to go wherever they are to go, or those caught on the wrong side of the divide? There are so many issues here that make dissolution so complex and probably the worst of the solutions.I can list several reasons why it will not be a peaceful dissolution. Those that suggest that the country legally expired in January 2014 should know that the law to colonized Nigeria was an order in council of the British Parliament which already expired at independence also with another order in council by same.

However those that are causing problem, wanting to convert the country, or anyone for that matter to their brand of religion by force have in fact won some converts for the advocates of dissolution. These trouble makers should either be stopped on their tracks by all, and with force, or in my opinion, their area be excised from the country if their people are not openly cooperating with the government to fight the menace meaning that they support them. Let the rest move forward. The country has to continue to be secular with freedom of religion guaranteed by the constitution and protected by the federal government.

There are those who advocate a Swiss type confederacy. That actually is an alternative that could work but again along what lines? It can also be subject to sinister motives.

The country according to the constitution we have and always had and as inherited at independence is a federal republic. This means that there are federating units with some degree of autonomy that form the federal republic. This system worked relatively well for us until the military came with the unitary system. The unitary system we are practicing now is not working and cannot work under a democracy in such a diverse country, assuming we have agreed to have some type of democratic system. The unitary system however works well for a military government or for a mono ethnic society.

The constitution we have now already spells out the system of government and the federal structure except if there is objection. That should not change except in two areas, the actual practice of it and what are going to be the federating units. Some have suggested going back to three or four regions while others have advocated using the six zones to replace the regions as the federating units. The argument is that it will make us a country of different people which is what we are. This is gaining traction as most people seem to be supporting it. I used to share that opinion but I am not so sure now. Some have suggested using the zones and then the present states could be provinces, the third tier of government. In fact the idea of the six zones came from removing as much of the minority groups as possible from the three main groups which was a problem with the original regions. The minorities used to claim marginalization and oppression in their respective regions then. But the problem with both regions and zones is that they dissect and separate the country along the tribal lines making the politics of the country a tribal affair. Why enshrine tribalism if we know it is one of the big problems we have? Now people don't have to like each other or their neighbor or even their brother for that matter but that is on individual level and not the system. Alternatively, for all intents and purposes except for one, forget about the zones. It should be scrapped because it has only institutionalized tribalism. Also, even though it tried to cobble together the main ethnic groups into their respective zones, it also put together some of the minorities who don't have anything in common and in some cases, not even in close proximity.

I agree though that no more states should be created. Since the states are federal creations and not really natural federating units, every state should now be given a chance for validation as a federating unit instead of the zones. Those that are not financially viable should be encouraged to merge with each other and only they on their own can make that decision to exist as they are or merge with a neighboring state/s. The very big ones should be left to stand alone. There should then be less dependence on the federal government for state finances. The power will then be devolved along this line to the resulting units.

The country that is a true federal republic means that though secular but a federating unit can decide to be anything or have anything as long as the rights of the minority are protected and applicable federal laws abided by or else the federal government will sanction them or punish them for rights or other violations by financially withholding support funds without interest, or even the use of a biting state of emergency.

On the contentious issue of resources, everyone should keep whatever they produce and just pay tax to the federal government and to their local governments if applicable. On mineral resources, the local government, not state or zone should be compensated with 25% of the revenue generated. The investor (explorer), federal government, state governments and local governments should share the other 75%. The local government shares should be based on resident population and should be the larger portion while the state government should be shared on equal basis and should be minimal. All the states get equal share. That way, no more marginalization. We use population of each local government for resource distribution. We can hire a foreign firm to conduct a census until there can be trust within ourselves. There are satellites now that can also be used to assist. The federal government should use states' share as leverage to keep them in line with their constitutional obligation. So the point is less money in the hands of the federal and states governments and more for local developments that produce. What they do with it is up to them.

One other main problem is leadership as everyone will agree. We should look around the world and see what they have and what works and why. We then look inward and see which one will work for us and how. We don't have to have the British parliamentary system or the American presidential system. Those are not the only two alternatives. The British system we tried before failed because it does not produce that strong central leader like the American president for example and we couldn't handle it. A Prime Minister is only like the government manager. On the other hand some have argued that the American system was too expensive for us and produced a president that is too powerful. I agree with that. One thing is for certain, Nigeria needs strong leadership as supported by our history. Nigerians are by nature very difficult people to lead. So we need a strong president but with vision and an agenda for advancement. So what we should do is to create something tailored to us, what Sen. Ekweremadu called a "hybrid of the two".

We seem to be stuck in this 'our turn' thing even down to the local government level. We have tried rotational presidency but it did not go round before it was scuttled. In fact an American think tank predicted the dissolution of the country some years ago in part because we have moved away from that arrangement that they said had worked for the country. If not for the rotational presidency, some groups might never get a chance to be president because they might never get a majority vote because we usually don't vote for merit. I suggest using the rotational system based on the zones and this should be the only use for the zones. I again support a one six year term for the president and it will go round all the zones in a south-north rotation starting from the South East. This will give every group a chance and a sense of belonging. The vice president should come from the same zone. Now to avoid mediocrity, the president will appoint a prime minister and that is the basis for the support of this. Otherwise we keep what we have. We already have a de facto prime minister now in the form of a coordinating minister. This appointed prime minister should be the best technocrat that we can find from anywhere in the country, subject to approval by the house and renewable every two years. The prime minster is at the president's service, carrying out the president's agenda which we voted for and can be fired by the president for non-performance or indiscretion or when there is a call for his or her head by the people, or their popularity becomes too low or when there is a no- confidence vote by the parliament. The prime minister will coordinate all the ministries and probably head one of them. He or she is in effect, the head of the government. The prime minister and not the president implements the budget and handles money. The state governments don't have to follow this format.

Who and what do we respect and listen to? In the North, they follow their traditional leaders but in the south, they follow a leader who has stood out and earned that leadership role, sought of a symbol. We should then tap into that. I actually think that there should be a role for traditional leaders. They should make up the upper house at state level called the council of chiefs. This should be on part time bases to uphold the tradition, culture and interest of the people, devoid of politics. Their counsel will be sought by the state executives and they can vote on some of the laws coming from the house of assembly. At the federal level, there should be the house of representative that represents the people based on population distribution and the more Presbyterian senate that also sits on part time basis representing the federating units and their interests. They meet and sit on occasions to deliberate and vote on certain matters.

On the issue of indigene and citizenship in section 42 of the constitution, first of all every Nigerian born in Nigeria or to a Nigerian parent and has not given up his citizenship is a citizen regardless of where they live. You are a resident of where you live regardless of where one is from originally or where you were born. It means that where ever one is counted, one gets every benefit other residents get. Indigenes except in one situation should only refer to cultural and traditional things when there is any need for that like king making. Leave local traditions alone as they are. There is nothing wrong with ethnic self-awareness. But as far as state business is concerned like who should vote and be voted for, employment, school and other state benefits, every established resident is equal. However, we have to be careful here. Ethnic chauvinism and discrimination and favoritism on state matters must be discouraged, made enforcedly illegal or unconstitutional. Local taxation, even if a penny but based on earnings must be encouraged because it entitles one to state benefits and helps them hold their governments accountable. Also, if one is counted in a local area, the area gets money on that person's behalf. That person is a stake holder in that area.

To represent a people, one has to be a citizen of the country and then demonstrate continuous residence for a period of time in the area. One has to be one of the people they are trying to represent. You have to understand the people, their ways and needs. For local elections, including local council, assembly, representative, senate and governorship, one has to have been resident there for least one year or so. If you are from Sokoto for example but never lived there at all, you cannot run there or represent them. Run where you live or go and live there first then run.

For president, one has to be citizen of the country and resident in the country for two years or more. In case of rotational presidency, one has to have been an indigene of the zone they are trying to take the turn of and this is only where indigene and zone matter in the civil affair of the country. All the parties' candidates have to be from that zone. If one takes the turn of Igbo people and become the president, you have to make Igbo people proud and Igbo people will have to hold you highly responsible for any mess up and not defend you when it is clear things are not working or in case of indiscretion.

Talking about elections, tribal parties should be banned. All parties should state their ideology before registration and must have presence in 2/3 of the country to be validated. All the parties with similar ideologies will have to be made to merge. This will also reduce the number of parties and make the democracy more meaningful. That way, people know what ideas they are voting for. The opposition will become strong and meaningful.

One other problem here is income distribution, the rich and the opportuned gets richer while others suffer in poverty. There is a report that the number of millionaires in Nigeria will increase. There is so much money but only in the hands of few while there is a lot of poverty and suffering. I am not an advocate of income redistribution but in Nigeria, there is no fairness, it is a jungle. So I think we do what the Americans did when they had a similar situation, institute a strong tax system. This will encourage job creation and money in the state coffers for infrastructure. Stealing from the government or bank leaves people scarred or even worse and should treated as such.

On the issue of state police, there are some forms of state policing in some states already. I support state police but the Nigerian Police Force should remain a federal agency, enforcing federal laws and acting a supervisorial role over local police forces. Local police functions should be handled by local police. Nigeria is too chaotic. The problem in the country is law enforcement or lack thereof, from the traffic to the corridors of power. The menace of corruption should be fought with serious laws and enforcement as well as education and public awareness but as bad as it is, it is not a constitutional matter. Public embezzlement and looting must get automatic time and forfeiture. The president should get audited at the end of his term.

These are some of my opinions and there are others out there which should be put out and considered and then debated but I am confident that these will set Nigeria on the road to where it should be. We should get a constitution we can defend as ours.

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