Ihenacho’s Home Truths

The constitution is the most undemocratic document in the present-day Nigeria. A club of self-serving military dictators who had no business delving into democracy in the first place drew it up.
Tuesday, June 1, 2004

David Asonye Ihenacho


he beauty of any genuine democracy consists mainly in its leadership doing all it can to avoid getting in the way of its nature and logic. A living democracy tends to sport its own mind and logic notwithstanding its leadership and the party running it at any given time. Once a nation chooses the path of democracy, it surrenders itself and its leadership to certain principles that flow both logically and naturally from its universal ethos. The essential thrust of these principles is that the majority owns the power of decision and no one individual or a few, no matter how privileged or well placed, could decide for the rest. Most importantly, the leadership serves at the pleasure of the people and must listen to them. The primary duty of any democratic leadership is to foster and jealously guard these principles in order to pave the way for the growth of the democratic culture in the nation. However, when a leadership, either by accident or design, gets in the way of these principles, it usually causes a jammed pile-up and ultimately results in the muddying-up of the intricately crafted process. So the wisest and most pragmatic choices for any true democratic leadership usually take the form of allowing the nature and logic of a democracy to take their natural courses.

A democratic government, such as the one currently operating in Nigeria, lives and dies on the strength of its constitutive logic. It thrives on the independence of its mind. This is often described as the rule of law and voice of reason. Any democratic leader worth the salt must at all times be attuned to the rule of law or the logic of democracy. He or she must be somebody who at all times listens to the voice of reason. If a democratic leader is averse or deaf to this, he or she is bound to run the democratic process aground. The democratic concept of rule of law goes way beyond mechanical obedience to positive laws of a state. It means embracing the whole gamut of a democratic culture whether convenient or not in any given situation. It entails accepting the judgment of a democracy that is usually determined by the sheer weight of numbers. It means being sensitive to public opinion and going out of one's way to ascertain the pulse of the nation in order to fashion policies accordingly. A truly democratic leader is always willing and ready to implement the judgment of the people whether it accords with his own personal belief or not. To manipulate, muddy up or suspend a democratic process to make it accord with one's belief and choices is usually called abuse of power.

The voice of reason that constantly rings in a democracy demands that democratic leaders price collective minds and reason over and above their private choices and inclinations. The whole rationale of a democracy consists in using all objective ways to determine the true mind and preferences of the majority over and against what an individual in leadership position or a privileged minority may consider as ultimately good for the entire people. In a democracy, when a majority speaks, whether through an election, referendum, popular acclamation, or just through a discernible opinion pulse, the case is rested, if not permanently, at least, temporarily. The truth is, a true democratic leadership is one that sides with the people in all its decisions, or one that finds a way to carry the majority of its people along even in such decisions as those dealing with the safety and security of its people. A democracy that allows the thinking of one or a few to run roughshod over a collective thinking is usually considered a travesty. When a democracy is not allowed enough room to operate on its own terms, it easily turns into a dictatorship. Nigerian democracy of today is clearly edging towards a mindless, reckless, lawless and logic-less democracy. Hence democracy in Nigeria is once again pounding at the doors of totalitarianism.

In view of what has been happening in Nigeria, since her purported return to democratic governance, it appears that both the president and his party, the Peoples' Democratic Party, have made a conscious decision to plant themselves permanently in the way of democratic logic in the nation. They have been frustrating, destroying and even forbidding those elements which are most natural and logical to every genuine democracy, namely, public opinion, elections, dialogues, etc. President Obasanjo is perhaps the only democratic leader in the contemporary world running a democracy of fraudulent elections, non-consultation and non-dialogue. Nigerian democracy a la President Olusegun Obasanjo can easily be summarized as: "I listen to no one other than myself;" "I implement no laws other than the ones I dictate," "I heed no counsels except the ones that spring from my muddied-up mind," "I call conferences only when I am personally threatened," and "I am the wisest Nigerian and decide for the 130 million "idiots" in the nation."

In fact, the barely coherent president of Nigeria with his permanently cowered lieutenants is operating today as a democratic know-it-all. In Nigeria the democratically blind and deaf is leading the way to our nation's future. And if in the future you find the entire country lodged permanently in a ditch, do not ask why. As is to be expected, when the deaf is leading the way, he hears nothing and listens to nobody. And this is why the rowdy clamor for the convocation of a sovereign national conference to discuss the permanently fractured state of the nation is booming from all corners of the nation and beyond today, yet Nigeria's "philosopher president" insists on following only his own mind, though clearly wrong and confused. Being democratically deaf and dumb, the routine deadly communal violence that is claiming thousands of innocent lives mean little or nothing to him. Rather, he is dead-set to fashion out of the 300 ethnicities in Nigeria a Soviet Union-like one Nigerian nation no matter what.

Today in Nigeria, inter-ethnic crises continue to ravage the nation, dislocating communities and sending hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens to their untimely deaths, yet the president insists that only he knows what it would take to keep the nation peaceful and united. The ultimate implication of all this is that the Nigerian president with his crowds of acolytes is showing unacceptable level of blindness and ignorance with regard to the logic of democracy. In a nation where reason and decency are still values to be pursued, a person like the present president of Nigeria cannot be seen as qualified to lead any democratic nation. He seems incapable of thinking and acting democratically. He is permanently disabled as far as democracy is concerned. His intransigent prohibition of dispassionate dialogues on the forces that continue to prevent our nation from moving forward in peace and progress after nearly five decades of blind and hollow idealism clearly portrays him and his lieutenants as loaded with enough bad-will that they could be described as unpatriotic to the core.

In his address to a citizens' forum in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, recently, the Nigerian president completely ruled out the possibility of convening a sovereign national conference in Nigeria under his watch despite the nationwide clamor for it. With a cavalier misapprehension of the dire situation our nation finds itself in as a result of its structural problems the Nigerian president threw a lame challenge to the people of Bayelsa State and Nigerians as whole:

If you can convince me that the Sovereign National Conference has something that it can achieve, which the National Assembly, which members are elected in their own rights cannot achieve, which the governors cannot also achieve, which the leaders of thought we meet in every walk of life cannot achieve, who we trust in their own rights, different associations such as the National Council of Women Societies, even you, the youths; I had a conference with you; if all these cannot achieve what we want, then I wonder what the Sovereign National Conference will achieve (Guardian, May 11, 2004).

Pushing his hollow argument further, the Nigerian president declared "null and void" any agreement on or about the Nigerian nation that was not already included in the constitution. That is to say, if Nigerians demand anything that is not already contained in the constitution, they would not get it under the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo. For him the Nigerian constitution, flawed as it is, contains the exhaustive lists of all future aspirations of Nigerians. And such is the reasoning capacity of the man running the democracy of Nigeria. By implication the Nigerian president has closed the door permanently against the convocation of a sovereign national conference since according to him such was not provided for by the Nigerian constitution. But nothing seems to demonstrate the president's lack of a democratic credential than this sort of reasoning. Portraying himself as a literalist adherer to the Nigerian constitution, which, of course, he is not and has never been; the president claims that the constitution prevents him from entertaining any thoughts on restructuring the Nigerian nation even if for political efficiency only. But if he had been somebody imbued with the logic and ethos of democracy he would have realized that the Nigerian constitution is a part and parcel of the problem and not its solution.

The constitution is the most undemocratic document in the present-day Nigeria. A club of self-serving military dictators who had no business delving into democracy in the first place drew it up. Isn't it sad and a tragic irony beyond imagination that the 130 million Nigerians have no in-puts whatsoever in the constitution that is supposed to guide their democratic aspirations and evolution? If this president had been a democrat, his first assignment after coming into office would have been to convoke a nationwide conference to reconsider the constitution and help the different ethnicities of Nigeria to sign on to its provisions. But rather than do that he is hiding behind a military-dictated document to stifle democratic aspirations. A truly democratic constitution is not supposed to stifle democratic aspirations but to foster them. The constitution is made for Nigeria and not Nigeria for the constitution. The constitution is a mutable document. It is not cast on stone. It is constantly evolving. It grows with the people and evolves with their needs and aspirations. The treatment of a military-dictated decree as an immutable document serving in place of a collectively agreed constitution can only show how democratically ignorant the Nigerian president is.

The president's challenge to Bayelsa people and to all Nigerians as such is to convince him on the need for a sovereign national conference. I pity anybody who would waste his or her time trying to convince the clearly incorrigible president of Nigeria on anything. The truth is nobody can convince this headstrong president with any arguments or facts no matter how strong. He knows it all. The president neither deals with facts nor with the strength of an argument. He deals only with his personal convictions. And his conviction on anything springs from his ignorance of everything. He is one of the few self-possessed leaders in the present world whose convictions derive entirely from ignorance rather than knowledge. If this president wanted to be genuinely convinced of the need for a sovereign national conference in Nigeria he would have challenged its agitators to produce empirical evidence of its need and he would take it to a referendum which results he would faithfully abide with. The president could have told the protagonists of a sovereign national conference to produce so-so number of signatures of support and the whole matter would be decided by a special plebiscite. But the incorrigible president of Nigeria does not want any empirical evidence that could shame his incorrigibility. Rather he has an obvious place to hide, namely, behind a dictated layer of military decrees which provisions he often cherry picks on what to adhere to and what to ignore.

Assuming that this president is granted his blatant lie that the current legislators and governors in Nigeria have been elected on their individual rights, does that annul or substitute for the democratic aspirations of Nigerians? The answer is absolute "no." The fact they were "elected" and are serving "democratically on behalf" of Nigerians cannot substitute for the popular aspirations of Nigerians, which accord perfectly with the logic of democracy. However, the situation of Nigerian legislators is made more tragic with the fact that Nigerian legislators and governors of today were not elected in their own rights. They were individually chosen by an incorrigible president, who arrogated to himself the infallible power of stifling democracy's logic in order to single-handedly determine the entire course of democracy in Nigeria.

In a true democracy, Nigerian elected officials would be reflecting and championing the causes and aspirations of their people which at the present moment weigh heavily in favor of convoking a sovereign national conference that could chart a new course for the stalled nation of Nigeria. But because they were individually handpicked to play the roles of legislators and governors, they owe allegiance not to the people they purport to represent but to the one who chose them in these roles. This seems the only reason why Nigerian legislators and governors are not identifying with the cause of convoking a sovereign national conference, which arguably tops the laundry lists of demands of the members of their constituencies today. Because these legislators and officials have had their consciences mortgaged by a president who prefers to live in the darkness of yesterday than in the light of tomorrow, that is why they cannot take any notice of a fact that has been making itself loud and clear in the last several years in our nation.

The Nigerian nation in the last five decades has shown gazillion clear signs that it cannot fly to any new heights with its current shape and structure; that it needs some kind of restructuring and fine-tuning to move forward and perhaps soar. Moreover, the nation has seen enough bloodsheds, enough social dislocations, enough hardships and sufferings to convince even the most naïve idealist about the realism and pragmatism that would be needed to move the country forward to a peaceful coexistence and progress. There is unbelievable consensus among Nigerian intellectuals across the world that our country is in dire need of some structural tinkering. But the Nigerian president who has appropriated all relevant powers in the nation has remained the only stumbling block to any dialogue of Nigeria's future of any kind. He is so maniacally opposed to dialogues and contrary viewpoints that he is ever ready to unleash his dogs of security operatives against anybody who wishes to make his or her contrary opinion heard. But try as he may, he cannot stop the logic of democracy. He cannot stifle the voice of dissent, which is more adept to the truth about Nigeria than his muddied and muffled voice of unreason.

In the last few months alone, voices advocating for the convocation of a sovereign national conference to determine the appropriate structure for Nigeria have become louder and more universal than perhaps at any other time in the history of the nation. The call for the restructuring of the nation has united unimaginable strange-bedfellows and convinced mortal enemies to fight from a common front. Yet the Nigerian president is not moved. The cause has elicited support from all walks of life - from the music industry to the academia, from the militants to the statesmen, from religious fanatics to atheists, from Nigerians at home to those in diaspora, etc. The OPC, ACF, MASSOB, EGBESU, etc., have all signed on. The Oha-na-Eze, Afenifere, Northern Unity Forum, Middle Belt Forum, Niger Delta groups, Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, Supreme Council of Sharia in Nigeria, Bishops' conferences, Evangelical organizations, youth organizations, etc., have all come on board.

Consider the pedigree of Nigerian leaders of thought, who are already on board the quest for the convocation of a sovereign national conference in Nigeria: the Ojukwu's, Falae's, Soyinka's, Ekwueme's, Anyaoku's, Anya's, Adesanya's, Balarabe Musa's, Bola Tinubu, Afe Babalola - Obasanjo's own lawyer; and the list can go on almost indefinitely. Even one Dr. Datti Ahmed of the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria, has on behalf of his organization threatened to unleash war if the president failed to convoke the conference. From north and south, east and west, Nigerian peoples of all ranks and classes have come together to demand the convocation of a sovereign national conference to determine the structure of the nation. The fact is from whichever way anybody might choose to look at it; public opinion is overwhelmingly weighed in favor of convoking a national conference to review the situation of Nigeria. The ball is clearly in the court of the Nigerian president. Unfortunately he has chosen to fumble it along!

Notwithstanding all that, the Nigerian president remains unconvinced about the need for dialogue in determining the structure and future of the nation. President Obasanjo with his minimal rational activity and lack of ability to articulate his ideas properly knows in his heart of hearts that he is not more intelligent than any of these leaders or organizations crying for the convocation of a sovereign national conference in Nigeria. He is not more patriotic than any of them. He does not love Nigeria more than any of them. He has not served our nation more loyally than any of these leaders. He does not have any qualification, which no other Nigerian has. What then is his argument for standing steadfastly in the way of the logic of democracy, which in Nigeria is absolutely the convocation of a sovereign national conference? What gives him the right and courage to stand in the way of the apparent democratic wishes of the people?

It is absolutely hard to understand the Nigerian president and his motivations. I guess one could have known that it is usually a Herculean task to understand ignorance in general. Ignorance is named so because it does not easily lend itself to any rational comprehension. But the solemn promise of the human condition is the possibility of redemption. The human is always capable of being redeemed. A sinner can always repent and be saved. An ignorant person can always overcome his ignorance with the acquisition of knowledge. A malevolent has the ability to call off his treachery and turn a new leaf in his life. Why is the Nigerian president insistent on perpetually holding the nation down with his personal incapacities and darkness? Why does he not change? Why can't he listen to the voices of reason that abound in present-day Nigeria?

Apart from his seeming disability in rationality that perhaps makes it difficult for him to know any better, the only reason why I think this president is hell-bent on leading Nigeria along the dark valley of bloodletting and mutual destruction is that he represents a force that is determined to keep Nigeria moribund for as long as it would take. The Nigerian president is obviously an agent of a group whose wealth depends solely on a hobbled and disorganized Nigeria. President Obasanjo comes from the greedy tribe of ex-military dictators. Their interest is to hold the nation down in perpetual darkness for as long as necessary. They have a vested interest in retaining Nigeria as a failed and an unworkable state. Though unpatriotic to the core, the club of these retired generals is usually the first to declare its patriotism and faith in the principle of one Nigeria. But such faith stays in tact in as much as it benefits and protects their stolen wealth. Obasanjo remains steadfast today to the concept of an over-centralized Nigeria because it is the surest way to protect the interest of his core-constituency, namely, the roguery ex-generals.

Since usurping the leadership of Nigeria nearly forty years ago, the very unpatriotic military dictators of Nigeria have made it their career to ignore or deny any promptings or demands for the restructuring of the nation. Their interest is to keep their evil kingdom of Nigeria perpetually at war with itself. No matter what they might claim about themselves, all living ex-military leaders of Nigeria are about the most unpatriotic Nigerians that have ever existed. This is the group the present leader of Nigeria represents. So it is no surprise that he would bet his life on stopping Nigerians from gathering in a conference to talk about how to organize their country and their future for progress. He is acting true to type. He comes from a tribe that hates democratic aspirations and movements. As a matter of habit, his tribe never listens to anybody. They only listen to their personal convictions, which are usually attuned to making a mess and looting.

But when all is said and done, there is no other place the Nigerian nation is headed than towards the convocation of a sovereign national conference. The momentum grows by the day. And nobody can stop it. The little-informed and incorrigible president of Nigeria can stand in its way as long as he wishes, but he will never be able to stop the almost certain emergence of a restructured nation of Nigeria. If he likes, he could go on pretending not be convinced and not to see any reason to pursue a long-overdue policy of restructuring our nation, but what he cannot do is stop the logic of democracy. And that logic says that the peoples' democratic will must prevail against tyranny either in the short or long run.

Whether in the nearest or remotest future, Nigerians of all ethnicities and all walks of life will have to sit down in a conference, draw up an acceptable constitution and determine what constitute peace and unity in the nation. Obasanjo will have his day. And his day in the sun is now. If he likes, he could go on ad infinitum squandering this precious day of his until whenever he will decide to give up the Nigerian presidential power. But victory ultimately belongs to the Nigerian peoples who are today crying and begging for the restructure of their nation for peaceful coexistence, efficiency and progress, but are being denied by a president who fanatically insists on leading his nation through a dark-blind alley to mutual destruction.