Our Constitution, our mindset

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BY OSITA OGBU

IN remaking our constitution, we may be excessively concerned with the nitty-gritty of the process, the details of what should be in and what should be out, in the political calculation of who has won or lost or the implied trade-off therein that we may lose the soul of the exercise, the over arching message of a constitution to the citizens and the underlying mindset that creates both the national dream and the goods.  The constitution should represent our common aspiration, our dream of a glorious, just, equitable and peaceful nation in which everyone has a stake now and its future.

But before we can address the details, we must underpin the constitution with a philosophical mindset. We must be clear whether we are creating a constitution for a nation with a hunter mindset or a farmer mindset, more like Esau and Jacob Nations in the Holy Bible. My brother and colleague, Prof. Vincent Anigbogu of the National Institute for Transformation is very adept in analysing these mindsets and I give him credit for stimulating this idea, but I have taken the liberty to give it my own coloration.

The hunter mindset is a chop-chop mindset: primarily a “predator”, often individualistic, in pursuit of readymade food, ill-disposed to nurture, with kill and gather-loot mentality, no inclination for diversification because he must kill one at a time, not interested in new knowledge and ideas except that which makes the instrument of killing and loot gathering faster and more efficient, silent in pursuit but quick to gather, with great agility and prowess to track the loot, hide their tracks and take home the trophy. When the hunter gets home, his wife and tradition might compel him to share the loot with those who contributed nothing to the loot but have great expectations. Is this sounding familiar? Now let us examine the farmer mindset.  The farmer is a nurturer, a team player, grows the loot with multiple inputs and hands, worries about market conditions and nature, relies on new knowledge and ideas to survive, does not “equate activity to productivity”, does not assume that the loot will always be there, has very strong work ethics with a reward system that matches everyone’s contributions.

When everyone wants a State; when every Local Government wants to be a State whether they would be able to pay the basic salary of their civil servants to which mindset are they playing to? When we spend great efforts to debate derivation, resource control, off-shore-onshore without being mindful of acquiring the technology of the oil industry or mindful of its declining future value, to which mindset are we aligning?  When we agitate for rotational presidency, and worry about the powers at the centre, and lack of it at the middle and the bottom of the tiers, of the relevance of zones and geo-political zones which mindset underlines our frame of analysis? Are they driven by a chop-chop mindset?  When the issue of state police is discussed, is it discussed in the context of nurturing and adding to the national wealth, in creating a peaceful nation where everyone has a stake in it now and in its future or in the context of an instrument for predatory acquisition and political intimidation? When the agitation for legislative and judicial budgetary autonomy is made with ever increasing passion, one hopes that it is made with a mindset of legislative efficiency and judicial probity.

These discussions, agitations and concerns embedded in the remaking of our constitution are not on their face-value illegitimate.  I am only interrogating the mindset that is behind them and to argue for a framework for deepening the discussions and eventual incorporation of new materials into a new constitution. And these mind-set discussions are important in arriving at trade-offs, concessions, accommodations that are a necessary part of constitution making. They are also important in entrenching a deeper understanding of nation building, patriotism, that uncommon love and loyalty to nation, and the sacrifices they entail. Above all, it provides a practical filter to those charged with administering the constitutional remaking process in deciding what should be in and what should be out.  Passing the farmers mindset test is an appropriate test for inclusion of any new item in the constitution.

But these agitations and concerns have not always been about our constitution. They have been, in most part, about the operatives of the constitution. The men and women charged with translating the constitution into our common dream, our common hope and destiny, and tasked with creating a nation bound together in love, faith and freedom, where everyone has a stake in it now and its future, have fallen short of these expectations. And this is at all levels of government.  The agitation for new States, for new local government areas, for regional autonomy is to see if these new structures would address this dream and hope deficits. And if they don’t, the cycle might start all over.

Writing an Opinion piece on “Why Obama Cried” in the USA Today Newspaper of Monday, November 19, 2012, Prof. Stephen Prothero of Boston University underscored the essence of structures and people that produce the national dream and the imperatives of delivering on the dream. He indicated that the author of Righteous Republic, Ananya Vajpeyi of India “observes that countries today are caught in a fundamental contradiction.  On the one hand, they are dream machines that bind diverse populations together through something akin to poetry or religion. On the other hand, they are pragmatic devices for the efficient delivery of government services.” While we may not really know why Obama cried, Prothero gave us some insights. The often stoic Obama broke down while thanking his young election staff after his re-election because “American elections are about America and Americans”, and after the dreaming and visioning, he must now govern; turn to “a task at which his skills are being tested”. Obama knows that to be a successful leader he has to both inspire and do.

The modern nation must therefore be an embodiment of national dream and aspirations of her people no matter how diverse, and at the same time have appropriate structures and leaders to deliver the goods that meet the aspirations of her people. It is in delivering the goods and services that the governments sustain the dream of a nation. Currently, Nigeria has neither a dream nor the mindset to construct a meaningful one with the appropriate structures and leaders to deliver both the dream and the goods that flow from its structures.  The daily deluge of acts of corruption and lawlessness in our society can demoralise the most optimistic Nigerian. But we cannot give up.

In remaking our constitution let us have a farmer mindset. And we do need a mindset make-over.

The constitution must be about Nigeria and Nigerians not about the current political office holders and others bent on using the constitution to address personal and clannish ambitions. We must seize this opportunity to initiate a dialogue, and entrench the kind of enlightened politics and structures that can create our dream; a dream that calls for our strong patriotic zeal and sacrifice, with inspirational leaders who are both dream makers and task masters. Leaders, at all levels and across the three tiers of government, who are conscious of the expectations of all Nigerians, not driven to clannish tyranny, and willing and able to work together, with the best there is,  to deliver the dream and the goods. Anything short will bring us back to where we started, or worse still, take us in an untoward direction.

*Mr. Ogbu, a professor of Economic & director , Institute for Development  Studies, wrote from UNN.

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