By Tonnie Iredia
Going by the frequency of debates in Nigeria, arguing back and forth over an issue is now a visible aspect of the nation’s culture. Not long ago, those in favour or against the introduction of Islamic Banking shouted themselves hoarse over its desirability or otherwise.
The latest now is the introduction of a new 5,000 Naira note. A common feature which runs through all our debates is that they are usually fruitless. While no one can easily lay his hands on how each of them ends, some of the debates really never end. A good example is the debate on the best constitution which our nation should operate.
Nigeria has had no less than 10 constitutions since colonial times. Interestingly, it is not too easy to see the difference between the constitutions especially those of 1979 and 1989. Indeed the 1989 Presidential constitution was not even put into use before it was discarded. Our present constitution has since 1999 remained under constant but cosmetic amendments.
No one seems to recognize that the British colonial masters who taught us how to write constitutions have never written anyone for themselves. Rather, governance in Britain is premised on conventions which are obeyed both to the letter and in spirit. In Nigeria, we debate everything and seek to put them in a constitution whose provisions are obeyed more in the breach.
After changing from the Parliamentary to the Presidential system, we still needed more debates. So, in 1986, a political bureau went round the country collating views on the best political system for Nigeria. The nation also spent valuable time debating whether to accept the famous IMF loan or not. In every case, the debates add to nothing. Instead, the changes we make amount to replacing ‘six’ with ‘half a dozen’ and ‘started’ with ‘began’.
The real issues are never tackled. For some time now, we have had a new Electoral Act every other year but nothing is done to substantive matters like the immunity clause in our constitution that allows Governors to function like armed robbers unchallenged while in office.
Hence they act at will; while many of them appropriate local government funds, many others operate caretaker committees instead of local government councils. It was thus a comedy the other day listening to two Governors at the Nigerian Bar Association conference sermonizing on the topic.
Comrade Okorocha of Imo State was applauded for coining a new term ‘Economic Kwashiorkorism’ to describe Nigeria’s over-centralized federalism. I was however unable to applaud that my former friend because I am yet to recover from the shock of his having to be publicly persuaded by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice to obey court orders and to let elected local councils in his state be.
The other comrade from Edo was equally articulate on the occasion but he has run local government in his state like his comrade from Imo. Perhaps this commonality informed their invitation to the conference to join the debate on the State Police – one of the latest topical issues to be debated for the remaining part of this year.
The debate is however fruitless because today’s insecurity problems which seem to bring the issue to the fore have nothing to do with what level of government controls the police. What we face now are not petty crimes and other localized offences, which the local police can handle with ease. What we are facing are complex international crimes like Bombings which the federal police is obviously better positioned than the states to handle.
In other words, the clamour for a state police at this point is for the sake of a debate and not as an answer to the problem at hand. Otherwise, what do we expect a state police made up of indigenes to do during incessant settler-indigene violent clashes in some parts of the country? Some people who just have an exogenous approach to issues would argue that in some countries like America, state police is in vogue as if that rationalizes the adoption of the approach by every nation.
Meanwhile as we hear, countries like France and Denmark have our current police structure but they do not have our type of insecurity. We also appear to overlook the fact that we already have more than enough state police formations? The real difference between Egbesu, OPC, MASSOB etc. and the Police is probably in the uniforms.
But bearing in mind that the Nigeria Police has had almost as many uniforms as it has had Inspectors General, we cannot be too sure how its next uniform would look like – it may by chance be like that of the Lagos State Police whose official title for now is LASMA. Federal or state police is therefore not our problem. The real problem is our unending debates which deprive our law enforcement framework of viability.
In the last two decades for instance, we have had no less than eight reports from different panels set up to brainstorm the Police issue. A former Inspector General of Police, M.D. Yusuf chaired one of the panels in 2008 and produced a report with 125 recommendations which are yet to be implemented.
A panel headed by Stephen Oronsaye CFR, a former Head of Service to prune our proliferated federal bodies submitted a report more than 4 months ago. It is yet to be implemented perhaps because some people are still debating either the report or some ancillary matters.
One of the new issues is the merger of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC). We hear that the merger of the two regulatory bodies may soon be settled because it has been approved in principle.
If so, we need to recall that some 5 years ago; the Obasanjo administration went beyond the level of approval in principle and actually announced the merger of the bodies. The then Director General of the NBC, Bayo Atoyebi was removed from office for showing lack of support for the merger.
After that, nothing else happened. So, what next? Well, I can see the merger coming up shortly along the pattern of the merger of some ministries in the past. At that time, to prove that two ministries had been merged we did not appoint two ministers; instead we appointed only one minister and then merely added only a minister of state.
As for the issue of the moment, we agree that debates are good for democracy, so we can have them but it is dysfunctional for such debates to turn the majority of the people from being the subject of democracy to becoming its object.
Thus, we need to realize that majority of Nigerians don’t have N5, 000 naira in their possession and as such have no need to carry such an amount at any time. As a result, the issue is neither people-oriented nor does it concern the people. Instead, it is just one of our usual debates which are always done for the sake of debating.