Nigeria cannot remain the same after the confab CHIEF Charles Edosomwan (SAN), a former attorney general and commissioner for justice in Edo State is a delegate to National Conference representing Edo State. In this interview, he reviews the deliberations of the conference and posits why Nigeria will be a better place if the outcomes of the conference are adopted. Excerpts:
By SIMON EBEgbulem
How would you describe deliberations at the confab?
If you ask me, the conference was a success. We achieved far beyond people’s imaginations when we started. Many people did not give the conference any chance at all because of contending issues and contending interests. Nigeria has been together for a hundred years and there have been issues that have to do with our unity, issues about the economy and we have entered an era where terrorism in its most dastardly form has come to Nigeria.
We thought that we would throw chairs or fight when we talked about the explosive issues of restructuring the country.
In the end, all the regions were discussing peacefully as brothers and sisters to see that we do not have to get to a stage where there will be a breakdown of deliberations. If you ask me, we have done very well so far. We were able to navigate the issue of state police and you know how explosive that was. We were able to affirm the basic principles of our federalism. The issue of funding religious organizations was also negotiated. The difficult things we encountered in those areas were successfully negotiated and overcome by consensus.
Fears of disintegrated Nigeria
To tell the truth, I think everybody came to that conference with the idea that our unity must be affirmed. Having been together for a hundred years and the fact that this is the biggest black country in the world, with its potentials for a big internal market, it will be a tragedy for us to start negotiating how we can dissolve ourselves into fragments.
This is in spite of the fact that when we were brought together in 1914, nobody was consulted and the terms of union were unfair. Frankly speaking, I left Benin City for the conference with the mandate that I must talk for the unity of Nigeria and I think I did that.
However, I at times, sounded the warning that even though we want to be united those who want to promote unfair principles, those who want to promote injustice, those who want to further grudges, those who want to keep alive, primordial issues that have festered into national problems must not take Nigeria’s unity for granted because when countries break apart, no body sits down to take a decision that we are going to break apart and there are so many examples in history. So it is only somebody who is oblivious of history that can say no Nigeria can’t break up that will be taking our unity for granted.
Comparing Northern and Southern delegates
Everybody was prepared. The good thing about this conference was that many people who were in this conference were of the highest class in quality. Some of them are people who would not win elections given the current state of our electoral law and practices.
They probably would not have the money to buy votes, they probably will not have the predisposition to rig elections, they probably would not be electable because of their strict principles, technocrats, men of high moral standing, they are all in this conference.
This conference has more credibility than the National Assembly. Trust me I did a lot of electoral petitions. This conference in terms of personnel, in terms of the human resources regime that flooded it, has a lot more credibility than the National Assembly.
I stand to be corrected. But we may not win elections. These are people who are deep thinkers, experienced people and they all came with clear agenda. Even when Alameseigha was talking about the plight of the Ijaw people, he never said he was going to break away. Even the South West people who are quite homogeneous in terms of aspirations and history, they did not come to talk about breaking away. But that is not to say that Nigeria cannot break up, I keep sounding this warning.
Do you think that the confab was able to proffer solution to the prevailing insecurity in the country?
We made certain recommendations that will go a long way to help but to say that the conference will end the insecurity will be proposing a fool’s paradise because we are not a military body. We don’t have the wherewithal, we can only speak but each time there was an incident, we also expressed our outrage, like when the Chibok thing happened, we took a half day off.
Interrogating the issues
But we are helpless, we have a President who is the Commander in Chief that is his beat.
We have generals, we have the Inspector General of Police, that is their beat. We needed to interrogate the issues. How come Nigeria has become so challenged that the centrifugal forces have become even more active. Those are the issues that have been long standing, they have to do with our politics, they have to do with ethnicity, they have to do with our system of government as well as religion.
When it comes to this issue of security, first is the policing system. It has turned out that national policing has not worked out for a country as variegated in ethnicity, in cultures and religion as Nigeria. We have over 300 ethnic groups in Nigeria, some of these ethnic groups were empires before they were forcefully brought into Nigeria.
Benin for instance was an empire and it extended to the Western Niger Delta to Accra Ghana. We had the Oyo empire, the Nupe empire, the Kwarafas and of course the Hausa/Fulani people, the kanuris, the Igbos, these are empires that were forced into the contraption called Nigeria which the late Awo referred to as a mere geographical expression. With this kind of situation a monolithic national policing will definitely not work. A national policing that will be controlled from the center will be too far from the people.
In terms of protection of lives and property, a state police command which conceptually is not under the state governor, which does not take orders from the state governor, is also unable to make its presence felt by the common man in the nooks and cranny of Nigeria.
Nooks and crannies
A police commissioner from Sokoto or Zamfara cannot empathise enough with the problem of kidnapping, armed robbery problem in Edo State for instance, because while he is a Nigerian, he does not have that empathy to connect to the people, culturally he cannot do it.
Outside that, because he is a stranger in his new locality, it is not possible for him to overnight develop the kind of intelligence regime that will make him get information that will enable him anticipate crime before it is executed or make arrest and bring about effective prosecutions.
I think there are fears that people could turn state policing to militias overnight but I don’t think so. People were also afraid that governors will abuse state police, use it to oppress their opponents. But I also do not think that it is enough reason not to have state policing, I also do not think that is enough reason for us not to have state policing.
While that is a possibility, and which will be condemned if it does happen, it is possible to establish this system with a lot of checks, may be, making a police commissioner independent the way we created an independent Attorney General for the Federation so that he can also take on the President of Nigeria where ever the constitution is being breached.
Then there are those who said there will be confusion between state Commissioners of Police and the Inspector General of Police, but they forget that just like powers are distributed in our constitution between states and Federal, you also have jurisdictions where each will be supreme. For instance in a state matter it will be stupid for the Inspector General of Police to try to control the state Commissioner on a state matter. Federalism is a matter of mutual sovereignties, there are aspects where the state is supreme and the federal must respect that. That is what federalism is all about.
We also found out that the way the courts are structured, it is not possible to deliver justice especially when it comes to people committing crimes, we now said why don’t we create terminal courts for states.
I introduced that memo at the conference through my judiciary committee and gladly it received a lot of favourable acceptance the only problem was that they did not want it to be called state Supreme Courts. I wanted it to be state Supreme Courts because in state matters state matters should be handled strictly by the states.
The terminal courts should be supreme that is how it is. The only matters that should go to the Supreme Court should be constitutional matters only. And in any case for the matters to cross from state Supreme Courts to the Supreme Court it will not go to Court of Appeal any more, it is the state Supreme Court that will give leave.
In that case, the Supreme Court will now be a court that will be trimmed seriously in its docket. Its workload will be truly constitutional. Those will be matters where the court only speaks where it needs to send a message to the polity.
Not like the Supreme Court is right now where disputes that have to do with truck loads of rice, dispute over a small plot of land, dispute over who control a shrine all go to the Supreme Court.
So that the Supreme Court will be very free to make those sound decisions we used to see in the sixties and in the eighties, a period that Prof. Sagay has deemed the golden age of the Supreme Court.
Some fear that the National Assembly might tamper with most of the decisions reached by the conference. Do you?
That is a likely problem but like we all said, project Nigeria is all in our hands. If the National Assembly wants to make itself unpopular that is its business. There are two ways of looking at it, both have their challenges.
The president told us in his inaugural speech that he is already interfacing with the National Assembly which is currently undertaking a constitutional review process to see if they can partner into his constitutional review agenda so that we can get a new constitution through this conference.
And to that extent, he will tell them to make a provision for a constitutional amendment that will; bring in a referendum. He said that. The issue you talked about the National Assembly standing in the way of progress is quite real. Recently, one read in the newspapers about some on-going schemes by certain forces to trash all the progress we made in this conference at the level of the National Assembly. But we are watching.
On the issue of referendum, it is quite an attractive process, it gives a stamp of authority and truth to a preamble that says this constitution was made by we the people. But the problem is that bringing a referendum in a country where the electoral system is still very, very corrupt is difficult. We do not have an exact figure of how many we are.
I know that something will have to give, but one thing I know is that by this conference notice has been given to the whole country that this country cannot remain the same the way it is, in its inefficient social system and corrupt political system.