Yesterday panelists at the Vanguard Conference Hall used various terms and phrases to identify the system that presently ties Nigeria today. Panelists generally claimed that Nigeria is supposed to be a federation but it is operationally a unitary system.
Today panelists go on to proffer the kind of system they want for Nigeria.
What have we been able to establish with oil money? Virtually nothing! If you establish today, you can’t maintain. They are not interested in the maintenance; they are interested in what they are going to put in the pocket. They put 10 percent in the development and the rest into the pocket unlike before the war, when politicians stole 10 percent and put the rest into development.
That is what comes when you have a proper structure that is owned by the people. The centralised structure is not owned by anybody except the man who is there; the people who are around the table, they are the ones collecting as much they want.
The search for the structure that works is a search to save this country from collapsing. I am telling you, I’m not a prophet of doom, if in the next ten years, nothing is done about this restructuring, this country will collapse. There is nothing to sustain it. The oil revenues are going down, more oil is being discovered everywhere, and people are exiting oil as a source of energy.
What we have in place today is a federal structure. But is that federal structure working? Is it a true federal structure? The answer is no.
The kind of federation we operate is the kind that Deputy Senate President described as “feeding bottle federalism.” It is a situation whereby every state will go to Abuja to cap in hand to go and collect money from the federal government and go back to their states. When it is exhausted the following month, they go back. That is not how to be a true federation. The kind of centralized Police that we have today is it working? We have a situation where the IGP sits in Abuja and commands the entire police in the country and also takes care of the welfare of the policeman in the remotest parts of Nigeria.
The structure we have now is one where politicians are more powerful than the laws that are supposed to be running Nigeria. It is a structure of the presidential system of government where the president is more powerful than anybody else. That system is right now in the bondage of the politicians. That is why it appears that the only industry that is working in Nigeria right now is the political industry; you just have to be a politician to survive in Nigeria ideally!
This present political structure only favours the politicians, those in politics. Any system of governance in any society that does not favour the generality of the people always exists in chaos; the way that of Nigeria has existed.
The current structure is a structure that is encouraging inequality; it is a structure that is encouraging poverty and oppression, marginalisation of the people. It is a structure that collects from the poor and gives to the rich. We are in a structure whereby once you are in politics, life is good.
It has now gotten to the state that the political system has now courted the religious system and they are now at ease with one another. To the extent that when they use politics to marginalise the people, they use the men of God to talk sweet things to soothe them. When they hear from the man of God that it is going to be well, ‘your mansion is coming,’ someone that has not eaten you are telling him that his mansion is coming and in the night you see these men of God go to collect their share of the national cake! That is the kind of political structure that we have now.
Any political structure that does not run on the seven ideals that I have propounded shall continue to be problematic.
One is that the lawmaking system must be ideal. Second is that our laws must be right and the laws must be ideal.’
Number three, ideal law enforcement agents. Number four, we must have an ideal judicial system to interpret the laws and make sure offenders are punished.
Number five is ideal political system. The man at the driving seat of the other ideals is the ideal political system. Number six is the ideal citizenship orientation. If you have good leaders and the people you are governing are badly orientated, it will not go anywhere, and number seven is ideal God. If our national conscience can be governed by the dictates of the ideal God, then we are going to get it right as a country.
Systems don’t run themselves. It is human beings who run systems. The presidential system of government that we are complaining about now is what the Americans have been using, and it has been working for them. It simply tells us one thing that the people you put in charge to run a system also matter. The orientation of the people in charge of Nigeria is that of businessmen in government who believe that all they are there to do is to run the country for their own profit.
We are supposed to be running a federal structure. But somehow somewhere we went off the track. National interest was not made the purpose. We are glued to our respective religions, our respective regions, and our respective tribes. It is a bit unfortunate that we are supposed to have a federal structure but what we are running today is such that once someone hears your name, knows your tribe and knows where you come from, the person repositions you regardless of how good or how excellent you are.
I was expecting a country where Nigeria was going to grow based on management dexterities, intellectual acumens. I hate it when they say the problem was in amalgamation. But Lord Lugard is long time dead and gone. Why can’t we move forward? Because Lord Lugard amalgamated Nigeria is that the reason Nigeria won’t move forward today?
Ahmadu Bello had his approach. Nnamdi Azikiwe had his approach. Awolowo had his approach. They were great Nigerians who contributed their quota. To be fair to them, these great Nigerians are dead and gone today. Why must we not move forward?
We are supposed to have a practical federal structure, but this structure is not working. We don’t have control measures. The detective control measures are not working, the preventive control measures are not working, and the corrective control measures are not working. Let’s just look at the politics we run today, and that is why I feel sorry for this country called Nigeria.
We try to take care of some monsters but in the process give rise to another set of monsters. In our respective states today whether you’re in the North, South or East, some people are undergoing marginalisation within those states. Even within the local governments!
I practised in the Niger Delta when you go to some of these oil communities; you will sympathize with them. The local government chairman probably has nothing to do with that community. There is probably no oil in his community, but he will be so brutal to some communities that you will sympathize with them.
So, I classify this structure as a defective one because when you talk about the politics, I only see the politics of emasculation; I see the politics of vengeance and exclusion. Until we start with probably mental restructuring if care is not taken, even if we regionalise the country, within regions there will be monsters that will continue to oppress others.
If an American travels to Nigeria, he feels more comfortable with other Americans, but if a Nigerian travels out of Nigeria if he sees a fellow Nigerian, he runs away from him because he is scared. If a Nigerian travels out of Nigeria, he doesn’t want to report to the Nigerian embassy, but if an American or a Canadian comes here, the first thing he does is to identify.
So, something honestly is wrong with our psyche. Whatever it will take, the structure is defective; it has gone wrong to the point it has affected our psyche.
Whatever we will do, if we call it restructuring, if you call it redesign, if we call it realignment, the key thing is that we are greater together but that restructuring, that realignment, that redesigning is necessary.
Moderator: There is a consensus on redesigning the structure that we have. We are supposed to have a federal structure in which we operate a presidential system of government, but it is not working. The National Assembly recently made some modicum efforts in devolution of power through devolving railways, power transmission, collection of stamp duties and such to the states, but it was unsuccessful.
Now, can we redesign or restructure Nigeria within the framework of the 1999 Constitution?
The 1999 Constitution as I said is defective. You cannot put something on nothing. It will not stand. There is something that is quite missing in our discussion. One of the things that the Constitution makes clear is that sovereignty belongs to the people and it is obvious that people that are supposed to be at the centre of the discussion are missing in the whole discussion about how to restructure Nigeria.
There is a way that the constitution is made that makes it acceptable to the people and that is the first thing we need to do. For our Constitution to be legitimate, it must derive its power from the people. It must be the Constitution that has that kind of polish that people can see and talk about ownership. I cannot blame the person that asks for self determination under the Constitution that does not give right to them.
If the Constitution does not recognise the aspiration of the Nigerian people, we will continue to have a problem, and that is why it is so fundamental that we need to readdress it and unfortunately what we have seen of recent is a lot of windows dressing.
The National Assembly discussed an issue that has to do with us forgetting that they only have four years to spend there. Constitutions are not made for today. Constitutions are made for the future so Constitutions must be able to understand the organic way that society can evolve.
There is nothing wrong in having federalism. Federalism is not the problem. It is how we are operating federalism that is a problem, and that is why I say that federalism that is pushed forward by this current constitution cannot guarantee anything. That is why we have inequality, that is why we have marginalisation. A woman cannot decide where she is from!
The Constitution talks about the issue of citizenship. Who are you as a Nigerian? Because for us to talk about value, orientation, for us to talk about nationalism, you must know that you are a Nigerian there in Abuja, you are a Nigerian in Lagos, you are a Nigerian in Anambra, and you are a Nigerian everywhere.
Citizenship which is the fulcrum of defining who you are to be a nationalist has not been properly defined in the Constitution. So, we need to start from there.
We also need to address the issue of devolution of power. People cannot continue to go cap in hand.. .hat is not what federalism is. Police cannot remain at the centre. Now because the State Independent Electoral Commissions, have not been doing well, the National Assembly came and said that the Independent National Electoral Commission should take over.
We need to dissect the Constitution, and if we need to throw it away, we throw it away. But I think let them bury politics, let go back to the 2014 confab report. It is very clear. My participating in that conference opened my eyes to the Constitution and the problems we have in this country. That people must add politics to every issue shows that we have a gigantic problem. I think the problem can only be solved by we the people of Nigeria and we are not well defined in the 1999 Constitution. And that is why we don’t want to remain sitting on the gunpowder and allow ethnic jingoists to continue pushing their idea of restructuring. I think the Nigerian people themselves must take the idea of restructuring as the last hope for the nation.
Moderator: I want Mrs. Akiyode-Afolabi to address two seeming contradictions. The 2014 Confab of which you participated in recommended about 54 states for the country and just recently, the National Assembly pushed the abolition of SIECs. So how do we address the seeming contradiction of pushing power to the states but at the same time there is a popular clamour for the SIECs to be scrapped?
Federalism itself allows the states to have its institutions and election institutions are fundamental. What federalism means is that there is a power at the center, that is not that powerful and more power goes to the states. So, there is nothing wrong in having State electoral commissions; my argument is that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, years back was very terrible and people can remember those days of FEDECO and all that. It became better because there were agitations to strengthen INEC and when Attahiru Jega came, there were people to build the institution to where it is today. The SIEC may for now be bad institutions, but we need to work towards strengthening that institution. It doesn’t mean that because INEC is working well today that we should now remove the SIECs. We must focus on how to build institutions.
Concerning the creation of states people still, ask why we should have (only) five states in the South East. Why should we not increase the number of states in some other places especially, because we have regionalized the country to the extent that people look at regions and the number of states to determine what they get? That is the reality of the country that we need to put into place.
Pragmatically the 1999 Constitution we know is not autochthonous. There is no portion of Africa where the elites had allowed itself to be swept aside completely, and Nigeria will not allow that; that is to say to allow you to come and remove the whole 1999 Constitution because of the grammatical word called autochthony and adopt a totally different constitution.
You know the phrase “we the people” is a lie. The people did not sit down to discuss this Constitution. We can allow the situation where the people can discuss the constitution, but this National Assembly says they are the people because we have a substratum; if you say that they are not the substratum, then who will make the law that will bring in another set of people to discuss it?
Basically, you can have this change perhaps in an evolving manner with the 1999 Constitution, and I want to suggest how that can be done.
India used to have 32 percent revenue allocation to the state. When there was serious complaint, they moved it to 42 percent. For a very long time in this country, we have been crying over the revenue allocation of this country because if you look at all these arguments, you will situate it to distribution – money.
Once the states can get reasonable sum of money, then indirectly, you would have started the restructuring. Some people when they want to get billion naira contracts, they go to Abuja because they say that they cannot get One billion naira contract in the state.
So, if a state can make a budget of N45 billion for contracts, it will make certain people who are looking towards Abuja to come home and the problem they have taken to Abuja, they will bring it home.
I also agree that our inability to define a citizen is even a fundamental problem. If you make someone in Kano State who is from Ogun State to continue to fill a form on tribe and when he starts arguments you accuse him of arguing in the line of his tribe whereas you gave him a form to fill tribe even after 45 years of staying in Kano. You cause him to fill his state of origin, religion and all that excludes him from certain appointments in Kano State.
That is why I say that we have been living a lie.
The earlier we begin to use the constitution to build ourselves to be Nigerians the better. If a man stays in a place for ten years and can provide evidence of payment of taxes, he automatically comes from that place. If that happens, you have begun the restructuring that would be sustainable, and that will remove our fault lines.
No one will urinate in the water he wants to drink. The National Assembly will not urinate in the water they want to drink.
I don’t believe we can achieve true restructuring through the framework of the 1999 Constitution for the simple reason that the 1999 Constitution is a military decree. When the military took over, they took power over from the people, and it became power to the military, and when the military was going, they made a decree and imposed on the civilians, the same power that the military enjoyed, they transferred to the politicians.
The people do not feel the vibes of democracy under this civilian dispensation. And unfortunately, the 1999 constitution was made in such a way that to amend it; it could be simpler for a camel to go through the eyes of the needle than for you to amend the 1999 Constitution. For me, the only way to do it is to call a Constituent Assembly to create a new constitution.
Secondly, trying to amend the Constitution through the National Assembly is a misnomer. The National Assembly members are the representatives of the people based on the 1999 Constitution. They are there to make the laws for the people. They are not there to make a Constitution for the people. They can only amend the Constitution, they cannot create it. The Constitution has been done in a way that it is difficult to amend. So we have to find a new constitution.
We can achieve restructuring through the framework of the 1999 Constitution to some extent. The current political structure derives its legitimacy from the 1999 Constitution. If you throw away the 1999 Constitution in its entirety, they the present political structure automatically dissolves.
We have to identify the defects in the current Constitution and try to correct them.
The jurist has been likened as a social engineer; he keeps retooling it. We need to keep on working on the system; you cannot just throw it away. Fundamentally we have to agree in this country whether we want constitutional democracy which respects the rule of law or liberal democracy which is like mixing the two or dictatorial democracy which is what we sometimes see in our system.
The problem of this country is insincerity on the part of its leadership. We know what is right but refuse to do what is right, and until we learn to do what is right, the status quo will remain.
We have to, first of all, agree if we have a constitution yet. Can we agree that this country is being run on a good constitution or our constitution? If the consensus is that constitution is not our own, that it is not what the people of Nigeria wrote by themselves, then we can’t continue to amend what is wrong.
In my own opinion, if we think we have a constitution and we want Nigeria to continue to run on this Constitution, that is when we can give our lawmakers the permission to start amending. But for how long are you going to keep amending this Constitution? It is like when you keep amending your pair of trousers every day. It means the trousers are not good for you. We keep amending the Constitution every time which means that there is something fundamentally wrong with that Constitution.
I have said it that the Nigeria is in the bondage of the political system. So they won’t ever, it won’t be easy for them to allow what we are asking for to be done because they are the beneficiaries of the present situation. They know that once they throw this Constitution away and we mount pressure on them and write a new one that it will not favour them anymore. They are political bourgeoisie, they are political capitalists.
If we must achieve restructuring, the civil rights community in Nigeria must speak with one voice.
But unfortunately, you don’t give constitutional amendment to law breakers. When you have people who don’t have integrity as lawmakers and now tell them to amend the laws, they will be amending the law to suit their own interests. For example this Eight Senate, some of their amendments I call Vengeance Amendments, they were amendments to get back at the presidency.
We didn’t elect them to go and make a new Constitution, they were elected to go and make new laws. The people of Nigeria must be allowed to give themselves the kind of Constitution they believe for the benefit of their socio economic survival.
I don’t expect a perfect system, but I will appreciate having a realistic system. Whether we accept it or not, we just must start from somewhere. There will be nothing wrong in continuing with the existing constitution that we have. The common denominator is that it will still be produced by Nigerians whether we accept it or not. And the strange thing is whichever way we look at it, out of the 360 House members, I don’t think there will be anyone who will be ready to be sent back home just because we want to reduce the membership of the House. When you talk about 109 senators, no senator would want to be sent back because you want to reduce the number of senators.
So, from that point, we can see that we are stuck with a minimum of 36 states in Nigeria.
So, that mental restructuring is key. Assuming a governor in Zamfara refuses to perform or a local government chairman in Kaduna refuses to perform, must that be the reason why a local government chairman in Ogun State will also be a monster?
Must that be the reason why a local government chairman in Bayelsa or Rivers State will also be brutal to his people? These are the fundamental questions we need to ask.
But regardless of the different parties and parts of the country you look at, all the governors are dictators and brutal in their own capacities. All the local government chairmen are wicked to the political parties that they defeated. It tells you that there is a fundamental defect across the political landscape of Nigeria.
So, whichever way you restructure it, if monsters continue to come up, we will continue to have dictators, and we will continue to murmur. We should begin to see a situation that even though a governor in Region X is brutal, but a governor in Region Y will be sensible, but they all have a common trait; they are all wicked to their subjects, they are very wicked to their political enemies, and they do everything to crush their political opponents. All of them are stifling their local governments, all of them wouldn’t want to conduct local government elections, whether it is in the North, South, East or West. So, there is a common sickness across the geopolitical entity called Nigeria.
If restructuring is the thing going to solve it, I am for it 100%, but we must start from somewhere. This present Constitution to me is not bad for us to use in starting, but we need to be conscious of who we elect to go and represent us because everything has to do with that. Because if every one of them decide that they need cars whether from my state or from your state when they congregate, they will buy cars for themselves.
If they are people, who have the mentality of sending their children abroad and would not want to develop the healthcare centre, whoever, you be whether you are from my state or from your state, by the time they congregate nobody will remember that you are from his state.
The strange thing many people will not understand is this, you can go to Rivers State or Bayelsa State, and you will see a local government chairman being brutal to his people, but he has a friend he is helping in Kano. You can go to Borno State or Jigawa State see a governor there being very brutal to his people, but he is helping somebody in Ebonyi State, giving that somebody contracts or telling that person to use a fictitious name for them to execute contracts.
So, there is a common rot within the political system called Nigeria. Whatever it will take, we will continue to discuss, but my prayer and hope are that something positive will happen within our lifetime.
Any structure should be able to work in Nigeria if we can, first of all, have people with ideal character and orientation. Bring a bad system to good managers; they will turn it around for the benefit of their people. Give a good system to bad managers; they will run it aground. So, whatever is the system of government we decide to adopt in this situation to me is not a problem; it is the orientation and mindset. Nigeria does not have any problem. Nigerians are the problem of Nigeria.
We are always the enemies of our own structure. The national orientation has a lot to do. Olusegun Obasanjo said to restructure Nigeria is not the first step, but to restructure the minds of Nigerians. Whatever system of government we adopt is not the problem. The people we put in charge could be the problem.
The structure that I want is a structure that respects equity, justice, and fairness in this country. How can we achieve this? We can only achieve this only if we are sincere to ourselves. The problem is that our leaders know what is right but have refused to do what is right. Then our political configuration should reflect our values. What the average Nigerian in the North believes is quite different from what the average Southerner believes in. We should also strive to see ourselves first as Nigerians. Our structure should be the one that puts the right people in place; people who have the genuine interest of Nigerians.
For me, the purpose of restructuring is giving power back to the people. When you give power back to the people and find a way to reduce the cost of governance: we have 36 states and so many legislators, commissioners and governance, that is the money to look after those in government takes more than 75 percent of our annual budget.
To cut cost would not just mean to reduce ministries, it also means to reduce the units of government. For me, instead of having 36 states, we can have eight regions, four in the North and four in the South. You group them in a way that people will feel they belong for sanguinity and contiguity being the factors. For me, the 1963 constitution should be brought back to bear. Given the regions were able to make, we need that Constitution, it will reignite the various federating units as the centres of production and wealth creation. People and each of the regions will be competing, and within little time each of the regions would want to be number one. If we keep this centralised system, we will not go anywhere. It is when people feel that they have a stake in the system that they will contribute to it.
The restructuring I want is let us decrease the items in the Exclusive Legislative List.
The structure that Federal Road officials from 1,000 kilometers will be examining Trunk A road will not work.
Now, looking for good people to govern will never work. People will never sit down first to select good people that will govern it before they want a system. You first design a system, and even the worst people can be accommodated. By the nature of man, it is only rules that govern man. People are bad, and if we start waiting, it is like waiting for Godot.
Put the system in order; the exclusive legislative list should not be more than 45.
Then adjust the revenue formula in such a way that the states should manage the 53%, and they will take precedence over the federal. When you do that, definitely you’ve gotten close to the structure you want, that is not the perfect structure, but that is what this National Assembly can accept to do.
I will be okay with a realistic system, not a perfect system. For a country like this, we have to be conscious of people who are morally bankrupt and probably suffering from moral insolvency when looking for our leaders. We also have to be sure that people we want to elect will end up becoming economic managers because one way or the other we truly need economic balancing in the country. We need political balancing; we need social balancing.
I will appreciate it, if in my lifetime; religion will not determine where someone will go to, I’ll appreciate if tribes will not determine where somebody will grow and become. All I want to see is a system where one day Nigeria will be a country where Nigerians will be able to crisscross from one part of the country to the other. After all, nobody decides for the Almighty where he should be born, who should be his father or who should be his mother. I will not appreciate a situation where because I was not born into a royal family then I will continue to be a slave for the rest of my life in Nigeria.
All I want to see is Nigeria where togetherness, unity in diversity should be things that will keep us together. One big mistake that a lot of Nigerians are making is that some people are even thinking in the direction of balkanization. It’s our size that is making us to be respected. It is our size that is making us to be feared. If we balkanise this country, that big market that we used to look at, nobody will look at us again. We would become irrelevant.
Within Africa, there will be no country to take refugees from Nigeria. Whatever we design, I am for continuous discussion; I am for restructuring as long as we will end up having a system that will be an economic boom. It will make us have a Nigeria where one person cannot just loot and loot without control. No preventive control measures, no detective control measures. An individual would come and loot across the strata of our common patrimony, and nothing happens. I would not want that kind of system.
Let us take the issue of the 1999 constitution as amended as it is. You cannot put something on nothing. There are Constitutions that are new around the world. Kenya has a new constitution, so there is nothing wrong in Nigeria looking forward to a new constitution. I am looking for a structure that reflects the aspiration of the Nigerian people; a structure that provides for true citizenship for men and women on equal terms, and that gives a sense of belonging. That provides for federalism, and that allows people to make a choice of the kind of Nigeria that they want. A structure that allows for an equal opportunity for federating units to participate in governance, that gives balance in fiscal allocation to the federating units, a structure that allows for peaceful co-existence among the units, that eradicates ethnic mistrust and dominance. A structure that gives a sense of pride to ethnic nationalities and reduces violence and destruction. That is the kind of Nigeria I am looking for.