By Afe Babalola
LAST week I discussed how issues of ethnicity and diversity have continued to plague Nigeria since independence. Prior to that I had detailed how the independence Constitution, following meticulous planning by the nation’s founding fathers, had addressed that same diversity and put in place a system of government that ensured that the regions making up the country thrived.
However events since the coup of 1966 and the adoption in 1979 of the Presidential system of government put paid to all the gains of the early years.
Role of a true Peoples’ Constitution in nation making: Constitution is the organ which binds together a society. Therefore to be a constitution in the real sense, it must be one put in place by the same people who have decided to come together, abandoning their individual identities in pursuit of a common political existence.
The Constitution of the United States of America is one of such which is the product of the consent of the people to live together under one political arrangement. However, the 1999 Nigerian constitution is one that was forced or thrust upon Nigerians by the Military Government.
It has therefore been rightly observed in several quarters that the preamble of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which reads amongst other that “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria having firmly and solemnly resolved” tells a lie against itself as the people were not in anyway involved in the making of the said Constitution.
In foisting the Presidential system on Nigeria, the military had little regard for the peculiar nature of the country.
However events in Nigeria since 1966 continue to show that the decision to adopt the Presidential system was not well thought out. All that the military did was to lift or copy wholesale the presidential system of government practiced in the United States of America without any serious thought to the practicability of such a system in Nigeria.
Big brother Federal government: This is why we have a system of government which concentrates power at the center with the effect that the States which ordinarily should be the main planks or anchors of meaningful development are stifled and left to the mercy of a big brother Federal government.
Government itself is made so attractive such that politicians now see participation in politics not as a means of positively contributing to the development of the country but rather as a means of acquiring wealth through the looting of public funds.
History however teaches that most countries which practice the system of Federalism enshrined in our 1999 Constitution and which also have similar diversity in ethnicities have been forged together as a Nation by incidents in their past.
Diversity in ethnicities
These incidents have contributed in no small measure to fostering a deep sense of unity and tenacity of purpose amongst the people sufficient to render insignificant whatever differences might otherwise had existed as a result of their diversity.
The United States of America is one of such countries. It is commonly referred to as a country established by immigrants. This may not be far from the truth as the land was originally inhabited by the Native Indians.
However with the discovery of the new world came a mass emigration of people from across the globe, most notably England. Canada and Australia are other examples which fit this description.
Both Countries like the US were originally inhabited by Natives, the descendants of who still exists today. However in both countries, measures have been adopted which recognize this diversity and actually use it as a platform in strengthening the union.
US, a country established by
immigrants: To drive home this point, I wish to refer to the situation in Canada which is a confederation. The Canadian Constitution recognizes two official languages; English and French. Articles 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21 of the Constitution Act 1982 protect the right of citizens to use either of these languages even in conducting business with government agencies.
Furthermore by 23, Canadians have the right to have their Children receive educational instruction in either language even if it the minority language in their province. More importantly Article 35 recognizes and protects the rights of the Aboriginal People. The said Section provides as follows:
(1) The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of
Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.
Definition of “aboriginal peoples of Canada”
(2) In this Act, “aboriginal peoples of Canada” includes the Indian, Inuit and
Métis peoples of Canada.
Land claims agreements
(3) For greater certainty, in subsection (1) “treaty rights” includes rights that now exist by way of land claims agreements or may be so acquired.
Aboriginal and treaty rights are guaranteed equally to both sexes
(4) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, the aboriginal and treaty rights referred to in subsection (1) are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.
Diversity of the Country
The above provisions not only recognize the diversity of the Country but also protect it. It recognizes that some people are firstly aborigines before being Canadians even if by the same Constitution they are citizens of the Country. In line with Canadian Constitution, 1960 Constitution which was put in place after due negotiation and deliberation appreciated the diversity and put in place the 1960 anthem which reads as follows:
Nigeria, we hail thee,
Our own dear native land,
Though tribe and tongue may differ,
In brotherhood we stand,
The new anthem places emphasis on the “nation” without reference to the diversity of the country. It reads as follows:
Arise, O compatriots
Nigeria’s call obey
To serve our fatherland
With love and strength and faith
The labour of our heroes past
Shall never be in vain
To serve with heart and might
One nation bound in freedom
Peace and unity.
I believe that just like Canada and Australia, Nigeria should have a Constitution that will recognize and preserve the identity of its various ethnicities so that each group will be in a position to canvass areas of interest or importance to it and disclose the terms which it wants explored by the whole in order to allow or permit a more peaceful, fruitful and productive existence with the whole.
These areas of interest may include issues of economic, social and political development of its area of inhabitance. It may also include issues of religion, education or even language.
To be continued.