Femi Ajayi's Outlook

I belief the peaceful co-existence in the State should be allowed to continue improving without any interruption.
Monday, March 14, 2005

Dr. Femi Ajayi


igeria, since its existence, has been struggling to get its head above the water in its political process with no cranium. Each administration has tried to formulate a workable framework for the country, all to no avail. The Colonial Masters used their direct and indirect rules and fused various 'countries' together, and call the new 'child', Nigeria, taken from River Niger. The First Republic worked tirelessly against the storm, but 'tsunami' washed them away.

Then we had the advent of the Military in the process, to correct the ills of the retarded 'child' born by the colonial 'mother'. The Military on the other hand, in the quest to get the warped line straightened, was 'blessed' with a 30-month civil war with no side claiming victory. Nigeria went through reconciliation, reconstruction, and rehabilitation. Regrettably, gluttony crept into the system the moment Gowon asked Nigerians to allow the Military to have their breakfast when asked when they would relinquish power to the civilians after nine years of Military rule. That brought about the change in the baton and continuous cutting Nigeria into pocket States, and micro Local Governments.

The apology from the Army (Adeyinka Adebayo), Navy (Akin Aduwo) and Air Force (Emeka Omeruah) notwithstanding, the Military did some hollow on Nigerian political process. "The Military overdid" its 'corrective measures', if that is what they wanted to call it. I hope Nigerians should be kind enough to accept their apology so that the country can move forward.

In 1979, the Head of State, Lt. General Olusegun Obasanjo conducted an 'incomplete' election and handed over to a Civilian President. Then the pitch of the music changed from British to American tune with Alhaji Shehu Shagari as the Captain of the experimental Presidential system. Merry-go-round 'Khaki Boys', like I called them then, decided to start the total war on the National treasury up till 'brother tortoise' reminded them of their shameless journey.

Each Military administration set up a jamboree of 'elders-in-council' to discuss what is good for Nigeria. Some saw that as a gimmick, pilgrimage, package for the loyalists, and such gatherings, whatever the intent of the leader, could not be trusted, since nothing solid ever came out from the previous gatherings.

Someone reminded me that the 2005 inauguration of a political reform committee was the eighth attempts to give the nation a befitting Constitution since 1922. Nigerian leaders have been dancing round the circle searching for a workable Constitution, with no headway.

It has been suggested that some operators of the Constitution should undergo some surgical appraisal of their mental capability before giving them the mandate to lead the country. In addition, the followership mental state of mind has to be revamped. Past attempts were the Clifford Constitution 1922; Richards Constitution 1946; Macpherson Constitution 1951; Lyttleton Constitution 1954; 1960 Independence Constitution; 1975/76 Constitutional Conference, 1988/89 Constitutional Conference and 1994/95 National Political Reform Conference. Out of these initiatives, the review of the nation's constitution was further subjected to input from the Constituent Assembly in 1977/78 and 1988/89.

Thanks for the freedom of speech in Nigeria, Nigerians reactions to the NCF is mixed, some personal, some constructive, and some has no base. A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Gani Fawehinmi said,

"The reform is similar to the late General Sani Abacha's National Constitutional Conference of 1995. It is not based on systemic people-determined structure."
The Chairman of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, Alhaji Balarable Musa, s
aid "what Nigerians wanted was a Sovereign National Political Reform Conference. What Obasanjo has offered is provocative and insulting to Nigerians."
Pro-National Political Reform Conference Organisations PRONACO, under Professor Wole Soyinka and Chief Enahoro, is organizing a parallel conference to which President Obasanjo could care less about.

President Obasanjo's response to such reactions was contained in his speech. According to him,

"Of course, not all segments, constituencies and individuals will be or can be totally satisfied. This is normal. However, I call on all those who are yet to learn that the military era is over, that we must begin to see the Nigerian cup as half full rather than half empty and that the best way to express maturity, patriotism and relevance is not to stick to a culture of perpetual attacks, cynicism, aloofness, arrogance, ego-centricism and bad politics. Rather, it is more profitable to join the process, make contributions, educate the public positively, and stop the unhelpful culture of attempting to throw away the baby with the bath water all the time. Our country has grown far beyond these opportunistic grandstanding strategies that rely on ideologies, methods, language and ideas of the past that have been transcended all over the world. I want to urge all Nigerians to participate, contribute and to take full advantage of this opportunity to be part of reforming our political process. Let us learn to look up and look forward and to see the Nigerian cup as half full with boundless potentials as against seeing it as half-empty."
I believe Nigerians were given overflow cup, turned empty by the Military, now it is time to refill the cup. Hum!

If we look at it critically, which I have said several times, an average Nigerian would not support any form of National Political Reform Conference again. The reason has been that, that was supposed to be the work of the National Assembly. Unfortunately, and that is very sad, the assemblage of the 'young fellows' we have at the National Assembly are not up to the task. Male members of the National Assembly are free to clout female members because they were not in the same equation when it comes to money sharing, and Committee Chairs especially, are much more interested in taking bribes from public servants before they do their job. Based on these facts President Obasanjo's choice is to 'leave them alone' and get Nigerians together to discuss their fate, against all odds, and oppositions.

In 2005, Nigeria is still searching for a workable system to synchronize the mammoth of over 250 ethnic groups in the country, and the deadly 'rattle snake', that is religion. The assembly of about 400 delegates in Abuja under the National Political Reform Conference might be the last hope for Nigeria.

As a matter of fact the whole world is awaiting the outcome of the conference. In the New York Editorial of March 7, 2005, titled "Hope in the Land of Dashed Hopes" the Editorial remarked:

"For more than 40 years, the epitome of wasted potential and squandered opportunity in Africa has been Nigeria. From the time it gained independence from Britain in 1960, that behemoth of 137 million people has seemed to do its level best to fritter away every natural advantage. Given the second-highest proven oil reserves in Africa, Nigerian officials spent oil income on lavish estates in Europe instead of decent schools and water systems back home. The country that produced the Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka and arguably Africa's best author, Chinua Achebe, was better known for the cruel, thieving dictator Sani Abacha."
Nigerians should start thinking inwardly to make the country right with all the endowed blessings from God.

This Monday, March 14, 2005, debate would commence in earnest to fashion the working document for Nigeria. The Chairman, Justice Niki Tobi has promised 'No Hold Bared' for the delegates, that is all areas affecting Nigeria will be discussed, possibly writes a new Constitution, and takes its reports to the PEOPLE, "WE THE PEOPLE", for a referendum.

The Makarfi Committee, which concluded its work on December 31, 2004, produced a background paper for the new political reform committee, which addresses these issues.

The transformation of political parties from mere vehicles for contesting elections into viable instruments capable of deepening the content of Nigeria's democratic values and nation building process; how to ensure internal party democracy so as to produce high quality candidates for elective offices and party leadership; the process of constitutional reforms, taking into consideration the ongoing exercise at the executive and legislative levels; how to thoroughly refine the electoral system so as to ensure credible elections; how to reorientate Nigeria from politics of patronage and materialism to politics of service; any other important issues that would contribute to good governance, human rights, social justice and sustenance of unity."

The areas to be discussed by the NPRC are fashioned into 18 points agenda for debate. These areas are the Economy: - agriculture and food, land tenure system, oil and gas, manufacturing industry, services, foreign trade, monetary policy and protection of the national currency, debt (external and internal) and foreign exchange and national development, Human and Social Security, Human rights and the rule of law, Education: Primary, secondary and tertiary; Health; Youth development; The development of the Nigerian child; Pro-gender policies; Food and water security; Culture & sports; Social security (Pension); National Security: - Armed forces, The police, SSS, Prisons, Customs, Citizen & Immigration, Substance abuse. Social Infrastructure: - Energy, Railways, Road transport, Information and communications technology, Models and Structure of Government, Tiers of government (federal, regional/zonal authority), State, Local, Federal, state and local or federal, region and state. Power Sharing: - Exclusive list for Federal Government (without any concurrent list) with Region/state government or local sharing, Residual power, Power sharing between regional authority and state.

In his speech to the members of the 2005 National Political Reform Conference, President Obasanjo states the purpose of the conference to

"discuss and reach consensus on any aspect of governance arrangement for reinforcing the unity, cohesion, stability, security, progress, development and performance of the Nigerian federation. The purpose is to enhance rather than diminish the present and the future for every Nigerian."

Further more, President Obasanjo advised the NPRC to stay away from some areas, 'no-go areas', like the past Military administrations. In his own words, the areas are,

"The oneness of Nigeria; federalism and federal system of government; presidentialism; multi-religiosity; federal character; popular participation; the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy; and separation of powers. The Conference is free to strengthen, update, and refine these in their recommendations; nothing should be done to undermine our national integrity and sovereignty or weaken our national cohesion. These areas constitute the bedrock of our unity identity, and political praxis."
Regardless the no-go areas' of which Justice Tobi has promised to debate, Nigeria's political process has to be fashioned along side the country's multi-culture. Nigerians want to live together and in harmony.

Opening Nigerian history book, on May 11, 1988, General Babangida inaugurated the Constituent Assembly, and demarcated the Assembly from 'no-go areas' as well. Babangida advised then that:

"I should also state categorically that the Assembly should not indulge itself in the fruitless exercise of trying to alter the agreed ingredients of Nigeria's political order, such as Federalism, Presidentialism, the non-adoption of any religion as State Religion, and the respect and observance of fundamental human rights. . . . Your job is to improve on these agreed political issues and not to change them, . . . do not jump the gun; your immunity only covers your role as members of the Constituent Assembly. . . . You cannot afford to fail; we cannot afford failure at this critical juncture in our national history."

However, there was some merit in not allowing the Assembly to waste its valuable time on matters on which the Government seemed to have made up its mind. One of such agreed political issues are those that could cause some setback to the country, which could dissipate the energies of the conference and further exacerbated any tension in Nigeria

Babangida must have read his history book very well especially what transpired in the 1977 Constituent Assembly debate on Sharia. Typical of the statements which kept the issue fresh in the minds of the concern then was the one credited to Alhaji Mohammadu Ahmady (S/Fada; Isa, Sokoto State) who stated that:

"If this House does not grant us this simple request, the possibilities are that the Moslems will cause a meeting to be held and to cause a Court of Appeal to be created for themselves to meet this fundamental religious obligation. And when we take this step, I will not be surprised that the whole country will cry out that the Moslems are, or the Northerners are at it again; that they are meeting privately to discuss matters connected with the special unity of the North, with a view to dominating the country."

Some lesson could be learned from the speech given by late General Murtala Mohammed at the inauguration of the Constituent Drafting Committee on Saturday, October 18, 1975. The Head of State, General Murtala Mohammed, reminded and advised members that

: "While it is evident that some of our difficulties may have been created by political leaders who operated the Constitution, it is clear also that some of the provisions of the Constitution facilitated the periodic political crises this country [Nigeria] went through. Therefore, I trust that you will keep it in mind that the Constitution which we need has to reflect our past experience, while at the same time paying attention to the equally important fact that a good Constitution must also be capable of influencing the nature and the orderly development of the politics of the people."

He further reiterated that:

"The fear of the predominance of one Region over another has, for instance, been removed to a large extent by the simple Constitutional Act of creating more States. Your aim, therefore, must be to devise a Constitution which helps to solve other problems that may arise in the future."

General Mohammed advised CDC members that:

"Politics must be transformed from its previous scenario of bitter personal wrangles into a healthy game of political argument and discussion."

He philosophically concluded by reminding them that:

"You are at the bar of history. Your deliberation during the forthcoming months will be crucial as to whether or not we can create a political arrangement which will be viable and which will sustain us for many years to come. Nigerians everywhere will be looking up to you for a sound and enduring Constitution. Whatever Constitution you draft, it must be workable and acceptable to the majority of our people."
Justice Niki Tobi has a challenge on his shoulder to listen to the words of wisdom from fellow Nigerians.

The two headed monster is creeping up again as a group of religious fanatics made a trip to Aso Rock to complain about the composition of the officials of the Conference being Christians. The religious group is threatening religious war if President Obasanjo refuses to balance the religious qualifications of the National Political Reform Conference members. Graciously, the Middle Belt forum has dissociated itself from the religious group. If we may ask, what is in it using religion in fashioning a good working document for Nigeria? Some fanatics, I doubt the level of their understanding of their faith, are very egocentric, to say the least. They made innocent followers to do their dirty jobs while they enjoy the 'goodies' of their religion. Their followers would sacrifice their life, family, time to do as their leaders wish. Where does religious bigotry take us to?

In 1977/78 and 1988/89, members derailed and made the issue of religion a major subject for deliberation. In 1977/78, Alhaji Shehu Shagari led a walk out because the Assembly, under Justice Udo Udoma, would not deliberate or debate Sharia. The "unfinished" business of the Sharia was echoed also by another pro-Sharia member, Mr. Abubakar A. Abba (Song/Mayo-Belwa, Gongola State), who wanted to be on record by threatening that:

"If you do not give it to us here, we are going to get it somewhere else. We are going to go round."

Alhaji Kam Selem, the spokesperson for the pro-Sharia group in the 1977 Constituent Assembly, in his protest speech at the floor of the Assembly stated that:

"When the debate on the judicature has ended, we shall determine our next cause of action."
Nigerians hope that the 2005 Conference would not degenerate to what we experienced in the previous debates.

In another development, we have ethnic agenda floating in the veins of Nigerians for the 2005 National Political Reform Conference. We have Yoruba agenda, Ohanaeze plan, Arewa schema, Middle Belt outline, Itshekiri chart, Urhobo Women memo, National Women schedule, Ijaw position, Afenifere arrangement, all along ethnic lines turning the Conference into a child play using ethnic chauvinism.

This is what Obasanjo has to say to that in his speech,

"It is my view that our country has gone beyond the antics and narrow interests of ethnic entrepreneurs. We have moved far away from those that do not want to face realities that most Nigerians may have a permanent address in their villages but survive on the basis of other identities at the places of work, business, leisure and other interaction and engagement. We should consolidate these positive webs and networks of solidarity, compassion, tolerance, inclusion, organisation, mobilisation and collective dedication to the common good rather than reifying ethnicity in a nation and world that is changing rapidly."

Nigerians should look beyond ethnicity or religion in living together in good harmony. Let it be a united Nigeria in good Harmony. May be Kwara State is going to host the whole Nigeria in harmonizing all the ethnic groups together.

I hope the 2005 National Political Reform Conference would not turn into what Nigerians experienced in the previous Constituent Assemblies where religion almost turned their work into Atlantic Ocean. Nigerians should look beyond religion and ethnic groups to move the country forward. I doubt if the State's position is that clear to the public, which I think is responsible to the continuous conflict in the Nigerian political process.

In one of his works, Professor James Coleman and Gabriel Almond predict that:

"Where religions and tribal {ethnic} cleavages coincide, the religious factor may in time become even more pronounced in provoking political separatist movements. In general, however, the religious pluralism of the new territorial societies has furthered the principle of religious toleration. In most emergent States, African leaders seeking election {even military regimes} avoid religious issues or sectarian identification, if for no other reason than that most of them confront a religiously heterogeneous electorate."
The Nigerian situation proved Almond and Coleman right, as religion became a barometer to measure an individual for the Government's positions, contracts, and scholarships. However, we can say that, while conflicts between different religious groups persist, they will continue to have political consequences.

United States of America and the West should stop bastardizing and blackmailing Nigeria. According to Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Finance Minister,

"Nigeria is changing. If your child has been doing bad things - drug abuse or alcohol - and they come to you and say, 'My mother, I want to change; please help me,' would you say, 'No'? Would you say, 'You are hopeless; you can't change'?"
While I am not opposing to US involvement in Nigeria affairs, Nigerians have much to do to help themselves. The 2005 Conference should be the last of such 'jamboree' in Nigeria. The wimpy religious fanatics and the divisive ethnic bigotry should stop.

The debate should focus on how to fashion Nigeria within its culture and what works for the country, like I have mentioned in some of my previous papers. The guidelines recommended by Markafi's Committee will get Nigeria the political stability that would be respected across the world, and could make the United States of America have ennui, because Nigeria is endowed with God's blessings, both human and natural resources.

Look out for my upcoming book, coming out very soon, titled: The Impact of Religion on the Political Process In Nigeria: The Case of the Federal Sharia Court of Appeal (1975-1990). The study was conducted between 1991 and 1993. The book is very revealing. It addresses the issue of Sharia in Nigeria political process, 1977, 1988 Constituent Assemblies, the Sharia Law, Nigeria legal system and the Sharia, the issue of Arabic Inscription on the Nigerian currencies, among other related religious and ethnic matters.

We should join Obasanjo in this exercise, either Nigerians trust him or not, by joining him

"in achieving that objective, and that is, to make our dear country the best in every endeavour and a shining example to the rest of the world. When God is with us, and we think, work, plan, and act together, no goal can be beyond our reach as a people."
Nigeria's hope lies with the National Political Reform Conference.

The world is watching!