FEATURE ARTICLE

Tuesday, March 19, 2024
[email protected]
Lagos, Nigeria
WHO ELSE BUT PROF BENJAMIN NWABUEZE (1931-2023)

n 1975 Brigadier General Murtala Mohammed GCFR (8 November 1938 - 13 February 1976), he was at that time a brigadier, approached Chief Frederick Rotimi Alade Williams SAN (16 December 1920 - 26 March 2005) to be the chairman of the 50-man Constitutional Drafting Committee. Chief Williams told Brigadier Murtala Mohammed that he would accept the job on two conditions, among which is that Professor Benjamin Obi Nwabueze (22 December 1931-29 October, 2023) from Atani in Anambra state must be a member of the committee. Chief Williams told me this story himself when I covered proceedings of the committee which were usually held in his residence in Ilupeju, Lagos. I asked why he insisted on his friend, Professor Nwabueze to be a member of the committee; his reply was "who else but Ben".

Eventually, Professor Ben Nwabueze was appointed a member of the 50 man committee. The committee was inaugurated on October 18, 1975 at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island, then headed by Professor Bolaji Akinyemi(82), from Ilesha, Osun state, who later became the Nigerian Foreign Affairs Minister under General Ibrahim Babangida GCFR.

The committee was inaugurated before General Murtala Mohammed was assassinated on February 13, 1976. The Secretary of the committee was Alhaji Gidado Idris, who was then the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture in Kaduna state. He later became secretary to the Constituent Assembly and later Secretary to the Government of the Federation under General Sani Abacha GCFR (20 September 1943 - 8 June 1998).

At the Constitution Drafting committee, Alhaji Gidado Idris was assisted by Mr. R.C. O. Nwokedi, Senior Assistant Secretary, Cabinet Office, Lagos, Mrs O.O. Onajide, then Head of News and Current Affairs Mid-West Television, Mr. A. Obilade, Lecturer in Law, University of Lagos and Dr. O.A. Obozuwa, former Lecturer in Law, Lagos State University and a Commissioner, Public Service Commission, Bendel State.

Other supporting staff of the committee by then were Mr. E. Omofuma, Mr. O. Ogunade, Mr. J.O. Oyefeso, Mrs A. T. Kole, Mrs M.M. Wuraola, Mr. J.E. Ikebude, Mr. R.O. Akpabio, Mrs J.O. Adeyemi-Wilson, Mrs V.O. Odunuga, Mrs M.M. Albert, Mrs P.C. Adiele, Mr. A. O. Iyiola, Mr. E.O. Ajiboye, Mrs. J.T. Okechukwu, Mr. E.I. Ojogwu, Miss A.E. Anwana, Mr. J. A. Adesanwo, Mr. Ben Enahoro, Mr. N. Orekan and Mr. P. Nwajei.

After the inauguration of the committee, Professor Nwabueze was made a member of the Legal Drafting subcommittee headed by Chief Rotimi Williams. Other members of the subcommittee at that time were Chief Richard Osuolale Abimbola Akinjide SAN(4 November 1930- 21 April 2020), who later became the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation in 1979, Alhaji Olufemi Lateeef Okunnu(91), former Minister of Works, Dr. Tajudeen Olawale Ayinla Idris(June 6, 1940- August 30, 2018), who later became Commissioner for Education under Governor Lateef Kayode Jakande and Chief James Ajibola Idowu Ige, SAN(13 September, 1930 - 23 December, 2001) who was elected the governor of Oyo state, 1979-1983 and Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, 2000-2001.

The rest members of the committee were Justice Muhammadu Buba Ardo(1930- October 5, 1991) from Fufore, Yola in Adamawa state, former Chief Justice of North Eastern state (1975-1976), Justice of the Supreme Court(1978-1979), Mr. S.M. Liberty, Attorney General of Borno state and Mr. Kanmi Ishola Osobu from Ilesha in Osun state.

Mr Osobu was educated at the famous Ilesha Grammar School before proceeding to University of London. Before his death in 1995, he had a flourishing bar practice in Lagos of which many lawyers including Wole Obayomi, currently a partner and Head of Tax, Regulatory and Peoples' Service (TRPS) Practice of KPMG and Mr. Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika SAN, passed through. Till he died in Ibadan, myself, Toye Akiyode, Yinka Guedon, Gboyega Amoboye (THE GOVERNOR), Femi Ogunleye(now the Towulade of Akinale in Ogun state), Labake Adebiyi alias EVERYTHING LABAKUS, Jimi Aderinokun, Dapo Aderinola, Tunde Fagbenle and other journalists were associated with him. Egbon Kanmi Ishola Osobu alias PEOPLE'S LAWYER, a human right activist was also closely associated with Fela Anikulapo-Kuti

The last member of the subcommittee was Alhaji Abdulganiyu Folorunsho Abdulrazak (November 13, 1927 - July 25, 2020) from Ilorin. He was the first lawyer from the northern Nigeria and the father to the present governor of Kwara state, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq.

Professor Ben Nwabueze married Rose Achike in December 1961,with three sons and three daughters. He had his education at the London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London, England, 1956-1961, lecturer, later senior lecturer, University of Lagos, 1962-1965, senior lecturer, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 1965-1967, acting dean, University of Nigeria, Usukka,1967-1970, Professor, School of Law, University of Zambia, 1970-1976, also dean, School of Law, 1971-1976, joined United Bank for Africa, Lagos and awarded Nigerian National Merit Award in 1980.

In January 1993, under the Transitional Council, then headed by Chief Ernest Adegunle Oladeinde Shonekan GCFR (9 May 1936 - 11 January 2022), he was Secretary (Minister) of Education and Youth Development). In October 2013, Professor Nwabueze was appointed into the National Conference Advisory committee but withdrew on health grounds. He was replaced by Mr. Solomon Asemota, the Chairman of the Governing Council of the Christian Social Movement of Nigeria as well as Coordinator of the Ethnic Nationalities Movement (ENM).

Atani, his hometown, is the headquarters of Ogbaru Local Government in Anambra state. Atani is also the hometown of my favourite musician, Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe(March 17, 1936- May 11, 2007).

In 2004, I was in Atani when my friend, Chief Chris Nwabueze Ngige (71) from Alor in Idemili South Local Government of Anambra state, was the Governor of Anambra state. A very quiet town.

Professor Ben Nwabueze was later made the chairman of the sub-committee on National Objectives and Public Accountability of the Constitution Drafting Committee. Other members of the committee were Kanmi Ishola Osobu and Professor Emmanuel Uwamagbuhunmwun Emovon (February 24, 1929 - February 20, 2020) from Benin city, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Jos, who later became the Minister of Science and Technology under General Ibrahim Babangida GCFR. The rest members were Dr. A.Y. Aliyu, lecturer Public Administration, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Chief Paul Wanteregh Unongo (September 26, 1937 to November 29, 2022) from Jato Aka in Kwande Local Government Area of Benue state, who later became Minister of Power and Steel under President Shehu Shagari GCFR and Alhaji Ibrahim Imam (1916 - April 1980) a Kanuri politician from Borno, who was the secretary of the Northern People's Congress and later became a patron of the Borno Youth Movement. He was elected into the Northern House of Assembly in 1961, representing a Tiv district. Prior to his election in 1961, he had represented his district of Yerwa in 1951 after supporting a strike of Native Administration workers.

It was in this subcommittee that Professor Nwabueze served his country best. His footprints are all over in the 1979 Constitution.

Professor Nwabueze subcommittee's main objectives were (1) to consider and make recommendations on the desirability of embodying National Objectives and Directive Principles in the Nigerian Constitution (2) to suggest what such principles and objectives should be (3) to consider and make recommendations regarding constitutional arrangements to ensure observance of and conformity to such principles and objectives including the procedure to amend this part of the Constitution and (4) to examine and make recommendations on institutional and other arrangements to prevent corruption and abuse of power on the part of all persons holding public offices or exercising power (be it executive, legislative or judicial).

The committee's recommendations were that the Federal Republic of Nigeria is one, indivisible and indissoluble, sovereign state based on the principles of democracy and social justice and accordingly, (a) Sovereignty belongs to the people from whom government, through this constitution derives all its powers and authorities; (b) the welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government; (c) Government shall be responsible and accountable to the people; (d) participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this constitution; (e) the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this constitution and to ensure and facilitate the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people; (f) the state shall not adopt any religion as the state religion but the freedom of every individual to preach, to teach and to practice the religion of his choice shall be respected and protected.

It was Professor Nwabueze's subcommittee that recommended the fifteen codes which a public officer must adhere to. If those codes had been enforced, I am sure this country would have been a better place. The codes were "a leader shall not put himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts with his responsibilities as a leader, or which enables him to explore others; without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing paragraph, a leader shall not (a) hold more one public office (b) engage in any private, trade or profession (c) receive any remuneration, gain or profit other than the emolument payable to him in respect of the specified office held by him. 4. A leader shall not, after his retirement from public service and while receiving pension from public funds, accept a remunerative position as chairman, director or employee of a public company or receive any other remuneration from public funds in addition to his pension.

Notwithstanding anything in paragraphs 3 and 4, a leader shall entitled to earn, in addition to his emoluments as a leader--- (a) interest on money deposited in a bank, building society or other financial institutions; (b) dividends or other profits from stocks or shares held by him in any registered company; (c) interest on Government stock; (d) gains or advantage derived through personal labour on land owned or occupied by him. 6. No person shall own or occupy more than one plot of State land throughout the country. Any person who at the coming into force of this Code owns or occupies more than one plot of State land shall sell the excess over one plot to the State. The price---(a) as regards the ground shall be at a rate at which allocations of State land in the area in which the plot is located are made by the Government at the time of sale; (b) as regards any building erected on the plot, shall be such as may be agreed or determined by the court in default of agreement.

A leader shall not ask for nor accept any property or benefit of any kind for himself or any other person on account of anything done, to be done or omitted to be done by him in the discharge of his duties, nor accept gifts of whatever nature other than from relatives and personal friends.

A leader who holds a position as President or Vice-President of the Republic, minister, permanent secretary or head of any public corporation, university, or other parastatal organization shall not accept. (a) a loan except from a bank, building society or other financial institution; (b) any benefit of whatever nature from any company, contractor, business or their nominee or agent.

No person shall offer to leader any property, gift or benefit of any kind as an inducement or bribe for the granting of any favour or the discharge in his favour of the leader's duties; a leader shall not do or direct to be done in abusive of his office, any arbitrary act prejudicial to the rights of any other person; a leader shall not put to his personal advantage or to the advantage of any other person materially or otherwise any information acquired by him during his term of office as a leader; a leader shall not be a member of, belong to, or take part in the organization or management of the Ogboni or owegbe societies or any other secret society of a similar nature.

Every leader shall, (a) within three months after the coming into force of the code or after taking office, as the case may be, (b) at the end of each year (c) at the end of his term of office, submit to the Code of Conduct Bureau of the Government which employs him, a written declaration of all property or assets owned by, or liabilities owed to, him, his spouse or unmarried children under the age of twenty-one; any false information in such declarations shall be deemed to be breached of this code; any property or asset acquired by a leader after the initial declaration required by paragraph 13 (1) (a) above and which is not fairly attributable to income, gift, or loan approved in this Code shall be deemed to have been acquired in breach of this Code unless the contrary is proved.

An allegation that a leader has committed a breach of or has not complied with the provisions of this Code shall be made to the Code of Conduct Bureau, which shall, unless the person concerned makes a written admission of such breach or non-compliance, cause the matter to be heard and determined by the tribunal referred to in Article of the Constitution.

A leader who does any act prohibited by his Code through a nominee, trustee, or other agent shall be deemed ipso facto to have committed a breach of this Code".

By virtue of his being the Chairman of the subcommittee, Professor Nwabueze automatically became a member of the Constituent Assembly. Other chairmen of subcommittees that became automatic members of the Constituent Assembly were Alhaji A.G.F. Abdul-Rasaq (sub-committee on the executive and the legislature, Alhaji Nuhu Bamali (sub-committee on the judicial system), Dr. Pius Okigbo (sub-committee on economy, finance and division of powers), Alhaji Aminu Kano (sub-committee on citizenship, citizenship rights, fundamental rights, political parties and electoral laws, Dr. Obi Wali (sub-committee on the public service including the Armed Forces and the Police) and Chief F.R.A. Williams (Legal Drafting sub-committee).

On November 1, 1977, Professor Nwabueze was appointed the chairman of the business of the Constituent Assembly. Other members of the business committee were Alhaji Abdul Razak, Dr. Pius Okigbo, Chief Olu Awotesu, Dr. K.O. Mbadiwe, Chief Samuel O. Mbakwe, Mr. D.G. Vembeh, Chief Frank N. Inok, Alhaji Adamu Ciroma, Alhaji Shehu Malami, Dr, Iya Abubakar, Dr. Mudiaga Odje and Dr. F.O. Nwator.

From October 6, 1977, when the then Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo GCFR, inaugurated the Constituent Assembly, till the assembly adjourned sine die in March 1978, Professor Nwabueze sat next to Chief Rotimi Williams. The two were inseparable. Inspite of his later years pronouncements on political issues, Professor Nwabueze, should be judged on the preamble of the report of the sub-committee on National Objectives and Public Accountability of the Constitutional Drafting Committee which he co-authored in 1975. That preamble was his legacy. The preamble defined Professor Nwabueze.

In the preamble, he wrote "Government in Nigeria, as indeed in other developing countries, has tended to be pre-occupied with power and its material perquisites. Given the country's conditions of under-development, power offers the opportunity of a lifetime to rise above the general poverty and squalor that pervades the entire society. It provides a rare opportunity to acquire wealth and prestige, to be able to distribute benefits in the form of jobs, contracts, scholarships and gifts of money and so on to ones's relatives, and political allies. Such is the pre-occupation with power and its material benefits that political ideologies as to how society can be organized and ruled to the best advantage of all hardly enter into the calculation.

Perhaps the Constitution is in part to blame for this. The Constitution in Commonwealth Africa speaks only in terms of power and of rights, but never of duties. The latter are taken for granted. The Constitution assumes that those who wield the power of the state will be conscious of, and responsive to, its obligations and responsibilities. And so it says nothing of the duties of the government towards its subjects. Our experiences have shown this to be a wrong approach to constitution-making. As a charter of government and the fundamental law of the land, the Constitution should make it clear that powers are bestowed upon the organs and institutions of government, not for the personal aggrandizement of those who wield them from time to time, but for the welfare and advancement of the society as a whole. It should therefore cast on the State definite duties towards its subjects

A constitution should indeed do more. It should proclaim the principle on which the State is organized and spell out the ideals and objectives of the social order. Every Constitution is set and operates in the context of certain organizing ideas but these are often left unexpressed. Again this approach to constitution-making is out-dated. A Constitution should not be simply a code of justiciable rules and regulations; it is a charter of government, a government involves relations and concepts that are not amenable to the test of justiciability.

The objectives may be in the nature of immediate, specific policy goals or of long-term ideals. The former are not likely to excite controversy; they are the things Nigerians except their government to secure for them-food, clothing, water, medical facilities, education, etc. Spelling them out in the Constitution provides a yardstick for judging the performance of any government. It invests them with the quality of a constitutional directive to the organs of the state to inform and guide their actions by reference to the declared principles. It would also serve as reminder to government functionaries that their position is one of trust involving powers as well as duties.

The latter imply ideology. Ideology arouses a certain mysticism and suspicion amongst us. Yet every new nation has a special need of a nationally accepted ideology. For unless the goals and the fundamental attitudes and values that should inform the behavior of its members and institutions are clearly stated and accepted, a new nation is likely to find itself rudderless, with no sense of purpose and direction. By defining the goals of society and prescribing the institutional forms and procedures for pursuing them, ideology seeks to direct and concert the efforts of actions of the people towards the achievement of those goals. In this way it seeks to unite the society into one nation bound together by common attitudes and values, common institutions and procedures, and above all an acceptance of common social objectives and destiny.

The need for an ideology in Nigeria is all the greater because of the heterogeneity of the society, the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, the growing cleavage between the social groupings, all of which combine to confuse the nation and bedevil the concerted march to orderly progress. Only an explicit ideology which clearly sets the parameters of government and informs its policies and actions can generate a spirit of co-operation, peace and unity.

If the national ideology is enshrined in the Constitution, then this may make it appear less of a political slogan, investing it with the quality of a constitutional, albeit non-justiciable norm, and thereby making it easier for political leaders, and even judges, to establish and show the desired identification with it.

It may be argued that the aspirations, goals and values of a society are not unchanging for all times; they may not even be a true reflection of current values but only what the present generation of leaders believe them to be or think they should be; to enshrine them in the Constitution would therefore be an imposition, and would create a false and unwarranted image of popular acceptance. These sentiments might equally serve as argument for not having a Constitution at all. Whilst unquestionably values are relative to time and place, every society should attempt to formulate the values that are relevant to its time and place; their embodiment in the Constitution does not entitle them to any more immutability than the frame of government instituted in the Constitution. The important thing is that the values and objectives declared should be the really fundamental ones widely shared in the community, and not the sectional objectives and goals of particular social and economic policies of a ruling party.

It cannot be disputed that the ideology that is most relevant to our society today and one that is accepted by most Nigerians is that of socialism operating within the framework of a participatory democracy and the ideals of liberty, equality and justice. It is the only effective answer to the conditions of under-development, inequality and exploitation that exist in the country. The long-term objectives of socialism in Nigeria should be to place in the hands of the State and people the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution".

Professor Obiefuna Benjamin Nwabueze served his country the best way he could.