Prof. Auwalu Yadudu, a constitutional lawyer of repute and former legal adviser to the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, bares his mind on Nigeria @57
Assessment of Nigeria at 57
It is not easy assessing a period in which one is growing; a period in which one is old and grown up. My view on Nigeria, as it is with most nations, is that it is work in progress; it is never finished. At inception, you may have clear ideas of what it is, but you keep trying to actualise the dream. According to our defunct national anthem,’ though tribes and tongues may differ, in brotherhood we stand’. Those who conceived Nigeria in these terms recognised that tongues and tribes of Nigeria are diverse, but in brotherhood we stand.
As work in progress, therefore, one will recognise the fact that geography, circumstance of history has put together this nation as it is, and it was not a mistake. I happen to disagree with those saying Nigeria was a creation of the British in 1914, and that it was not something that we had input, that it was an imposition. No. No state or nation starts out exactly as different communities at different times.
We think of it, but if you recognise one fact about the nation, we are diverse and in our diversity lies our strength. What we need to do, therefore, is to see how we can harness and recognise the diversity as a source of strength to harness it and, overtime, build a nation through what I refer to as work in progress, make it better than it was, but not to look at it as something that is a mistake and regrettable.
So, trying to reinvent nation-building at this moment, we have a distinct identity as Nigerians for good or bad and, as part of the nation-building process, we need to sincerely make those good things about us as a people work, and deal with those that are not so good. This is how I want to look at our journey so far.
Anything to celebrate?
There are plenty things to celebrate. We have several times reached the edge of the precipice but we have been able to pull back and move on as a nation. Are we better off than we were 57 years ago? In some ways yes, but in some others we are not.
What one will, therefore, argue will be, what are those areas of our nationhood that we can be proud of and sustain; and what are those areas that, clearly, we have not done so well as a nation and we need to work on to perfect? Yes, there are things to celebrate, and there are others that we are not so eager to celebrate, and it is not surprising for any nation.
Do you think where we are today is where our founding fathers wanted us to be?
To the extent that we have held together, and that we have retained our unique identities, but to the extent that we have not progressed and actually we have regressed, that cannot be the dream of our founding fathers. If we are to collate the level of Nigeria’s progress, especially in the first five years after independence, or you want to start from the era of self-governance by the regions in 1957, to 1966, those ten years, or from the time of regionalism, when we took off in 1954, to 1966, the rate of our growth, economically, socially and even politically, is far greater than it has been from 1966 to date, and there are many reasons for that. Therefore, we should identify what those reasons are and deal with them. Our founding fathers will find fault with so many things that we do today, and will also take pride in the fact that they did not make a mistake in agreeing to live together and to found a nation called Nigeria with its uniqueness in the way we know it today.
What do you identify as the major challenges confronting us as a nation?
The major challenges are, one, and very regrettably, we have the tendency of being confronted with problems and we gloss over them; we don’t deal with them and no nation will progress doing that. If you ask Nigerians, they have a clear idea of what they consider as the problems, but i will give you one:
The oil curse, that is, our dependence on oil as source of our revenue which has made us lazy and made those in the position of authority not to work, and the followers not to be too eager to hold their leaders to account solely because we don’t seem to work hard for the revenue which we are eager to share when indeed there are far important sources of strength and production in us that we can pursue.
For example, the kind of education system that we had before and after independence was the envy of other nations. We went to public schools that were maintained by the native authorities, well-funded, well managed. This was a system that was not even run by the regional government, though part of it was run by it but, largely, the basic education, up to secondary school, was run by the native authorities and the provinces. How can we not remember this?,
How can we ignore what our forefathers were able to do on education which has made us great and produced individuals that can compete anywhere in the world on account of the educational system that we went through? Today, what we have as education is a joke; if we are unable to deal with the provision of education to every child up to a certain age and to impart skills, we are wasting our time; we will not compete as a nation and the oil we rely on is going to become less important.
So, we have two crucial challenges. How do we generate revenue and account for it, and what you do with your educational system? I know that on the scale of priority, there will be many others things, but if you take these two and you are able to do something about them, you will see wonders in this country. Of course, you can take health care, you can take community relations and some other things, but these two are very important. The third issue is political accountability.
The way we run our democracy, we have been at it for close to 17 years now, but it does seem that the most lucrative business in town is to be in politics because you are in the position to deploy resources, allocate them, do as you wish with them and no one will hold you accountable. Holding our leaders accountable politically and financially is very important.
This has nothing to do with the North or South. I come from a local government in Dala or Dawakin Kudu. I have an idea of what the leaders get by way of allocation from the federation account but the people have nothing to show for it. We should not quarrel with a man in Bayelsa over his own allocation. If we are unable to deal with the local person to whom we have entrusted our resources but who abuses that position, our problems will not be limited to the person from the North or from the South; it is a unique local problem that you have to deal with.
What is the role of the military in our myriad of problems?
The incursion of the military into governance from 1966 to 1999 when they eventually left has been a double edged sword. In 1966, we encountered a political problem that, if given time, the political leaders could have solved, and if they had solved it politically, we will not have gotten into the civil war and we would have avoided stunting our political growth.
Nations grow politically by trial and error, by encountering challenges and dealing with them according to the instruments of governance. Suddenly, in 1966, this was thrown away. Our problems could essentially be traceable to them. Having said that, one must also recognise that, the political class created a problem which the military leaders also put their lives to deal with.
Now, the military, whether you like it or not, have held this country together, and they have done it at the expense of their lives and spilled their blood. The problems were not entirely theirs. Over the years, anytime we had political problems, our political leaders will avoid dealing with them politically and invite the military, and when they come, they also mess things up. My view is that the military incursion into politics was a double edged sword.
57 years on, Nigeria is yet to achieve political stability. Don’t you think restructuring is the way out?
The problem with restructuring depends on who is mouthing it. We do have agitations everywhere and the thinking in some quarters is that every community in this country is marginalised. So, if everybody says he is marginalised, that means nobody is marginalised.
This takes me back to an idea that this nation is work in progress where there are bound to be legitimate agitations. Now, how to deal with them is where individuals differ. That is why to the Afenifere group, if you don’t go back to regionalism, this country is doomed to fail.
To some groups in the South -East, even though the elites are not publicly mouthing it, if you don’t concede to the Biafran secessionist agitation, you are not dealing with the Nigerian problem. If you go the Niger Delta, if you don’t give them hundred per cent of their mineral resources, you are not going to have peace. While it is legitimate for any group to agitate, my view about restructuring is that if you cannot have your way according to the terms of the existing order; that is chaos; that is anarchy. I am not opposed to individuals or groups sitting to discuss their problems to seek to find solutions to them, but, as you can see, the antagonism, the agitation, the absolutist position that some individual blocs take are obviously unattainable if there is no give and take, if there is no understanding like our forefathers did.
What it means, therefore, is that the 1999 Constitution and the existing laws under which we operate are not perfect and need to be addressed. But I demand that to overhaul it will have to be done according to the constitutional stipulation because that is the only legal and orderly way of doing it, otherwise you are talking about a revolution. And the days of the military are over but maybe there will be a civilian revolution that will displace the existing legal order and impose on the nation an entirely new thing. But to be more direct to your answer, I understand where those who are clamouring for restructuring are coming from. I am willing to listen to them because the Constitution recognises their freedom of expression, but I will only remind them that we don’t have a perfect system, it is work in progress, and the system can be overhauled but nothing prevents us from engaging in give and take.
Many people make the mistake that the North has not come out to say ‘this is our idea of restructuring’. If I will speak for some, I will say we understand where you are coming from but we don’t take absolutist position that ‘there will be no peace if you don’t do this for us’. Whatever it is that we can talk over, whatever it is that we can adjust, let us do according to the existing legal order and not outside of it.
How do we get Nigeria out of the woods?
Nigeria in my view is not in the woods. Nigeria is grappling with problems and I have outlined three key areas that if we are able to attend to will make a huge difference in the way we live.
And of course concerning inter-ethnic, inter-religious relations, there is greater need for more understanding, more respect and greater need to be restrained about what you say about others especially when it is derogatory. That way, whatever problems you have, if you have mutual respect, you will be able to talk it over; you will be able to come to an understanding on how to solve it.
What do we do to make Nigeria great again?
Well, what we do to build on the existing structure is to sincerely and dispassionately look at where and in what way it does not work, and to dispassionately and with patriotism at heart deal with those problems across the nation. There has to be an understanding, a meeting point, a greater accommodation; if we have those things, we can make this work in progress a little better than we found it.