By Ike Nwachukwu
THE 1999 Constitution strengthens the already choking powers of the Federal Government and whoever is in the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This Constitution, in truth, cannot be tagged a federal constitution, as it was before the advent of the military into Nigerian politics in January 15, 1966. Today we practise our democracy in a more or less unitary system of governance. It leaves us in an illusionary federation.
Several national conferences had being held since 1979, all in the quest, to answer the National Question on whether or not we are a proper federation of peoples and to find equity and justice for all. I had the privilege of being a delegate at the 2005 National Political Reform Conference convened by President Olusegun Obasanjo, the recommendations of the report were jettisoned over the Third Term issue. At the 2014 National Conference convened by President Goodluck Jonathan, I led the South East delegates. Both conferences made wholesome attempts to address the wrongs in the 1979 through to the present 1999 Federal Constitutions of Nigeria. It is my opinion that of the two National Conferences that I attended, the 2014 National Conference holistically made more far-reaching recommendations to address the wrongs of the past. They include need to return the country to true federation, devolution of powers, states police, creation of more states, autonomy of the federating units and local governments, etc. Again the recommendations of the report at that conference are yet to be looked at or even implemented.
I believe that the present structure of Nigeria inhibits the development of the country. It is imperative that we restructure to what it was before the 1966 military coup, which encouraged healthy competition amongst various regions (the then autonomous federating units). Successive military governments created more states from the three regions.
Those states should be the federating units within a zonal arrangement but they must have autonomy and control their human, mineral and other resources. They shall pay taxes to the Federal Government. Should this happen, the federating units would be devoid of the choking powers of the Federal Government and therefore free to develop at their own pace. I predict that, failure to restructure back to pre-military government era, may cause Nigeria to head towards a situation in which peaceful co-existence will be difficult, if not impossible. The consequences could be dire for Nigerians and the West African sub- region if this were the case.
In the same vein, I prefer representational democracy. This was snookered in 1999, when the party machinery was virtually taken over by the state governors, thus making them more powerful than the party and a threat to our democracy. At present you cannot become party candidates for elections without the consent of state governors and the presidency. This situation undermines internal democracy and encourages nepotism and cronyism. It also denies the electorates at all levels, of the candidates of their choice. This trend frustrates our attempt at democratic governance and the electoral process. When political party leadership in cahoots with some powerful members in the society foist on the people their own preferred candidates, some of whom are their offsprings, in-laws, relations and cronies.
It is curious that state governors after completing their tenures work themselves into the National Assembly as senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Whereas this in itself is not undemocratic, some, including ministers and powerful politicians, have used their positions to interfere with governance in their states as they struggle for the control of party structures in the states and at national level at the expense of party internal democracy.
This notwithstanding, I implore all Nigerians of voting age to make sure they go and register and collect their permanent voters card, PVC. Your PVC is your right to determine who represents you at all levels. It is your power to exercise your mandate in voting leaders of your choice. You must, therefore, guard this choice with your life.
The uncharitable manner in which we practise our faith in the country as Christians, Moslems and traditionalists seem to be fueling acrimony and intolerance amongst our people; thus, breeding religious extremism and extremists in Nigeria – a major danger signal that must be dealt with decisively. We should not allow our people to be used or manipulated for the selfish interests of some religious and political leaders to cause unrest. Our religious and political leaders should be encouraged to preach peace, unity and love to the people. And to particularly speak out on the ills of our society. Further delay could be costly.
On corruption, we should change the narrative that we are a corrupt people. Not all Nigerians are corrupt. Nigerians should not fight shy to defend the integrity of the majority of Nigerians that are not corrupt. While just a few Nigerians (compared to our teeming population) engage in corrupt practices, we must not all be tarred with the same brush. Those that are corrupt, like their counterparts in other parts of the world, should be found and decisively dealt with. Meanwhile, our new mantra should be that Nigerians are essentially excellent people with a few bad eggs. Those representing us are duty-bound to carry the message of the goodness of the majority of our people to the world. We should tell the world who we truly are and of our determination not to spare defaulters.
Democracy focuses on how countries select those who govern them while the rule of law is concerned with the application of the law and accountability. It is important to note that, respect for rule of law is paramount in any democratic dispensation. The underlying premise of rule of law implies that every citizen is subject to and accountable under the law, including law makers and those in government positions.
In this sense, the rule of law is to encourage governance through democracy created for and by the people, as much as it stands in stark contrast to the concepts of dictatorship, autocracy and oligarchy where those in positions of power and governance conduct their affairs outside and above of the purview of the law.
Today, democratic governance is measured by adherence to the rule of law. Just as the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and movement and fundamental human right; so, the rule of law guarantees that power is exercised with accountability and respect for human kind.
Human rights, equal rights, the rule of law and democracy are interlinked and mutually reinforcing. They belong to the universal and indivisible core values and principles of the United Nations. By strengthening the rule of law, we protect the rights of all people, advance inclusiveness, and limit the arbitrary exercise of power, which are the cornerstones of modern democracy. We must, therefore, uphold their tenets and guard them jealously.
On separation of powers, Nigerians should support the doctrine of separation of powers with the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary acting independent of each other yet complementary with one and another. It is only good, that, that should be so to check the abuse of power at all levels. In the same vein, there must be a clear separation between religion and governance. Our ability to manage these two main issues will ensure peace, better understanding and better representation as indeed better accountability in our country.
Therefore, it is sad and unbelievable that Nigeria, that I was born into, that was tolerant of our diversity, ethnicity and religious leanings and traditional values have degenerated, in my older age, into a country where ethnicity, religiosity and nepotism hold sway over the excellent values of good neighbourliness, tolerance, hard work, merit and loyalty upon which our progenitors had built our traditional societies.
The upcoming generation must strive to correct the mistakes of the past, in other to save our country from becoming a failed state. They should build a stronger and better society for all, regardless of ethnicity, religiosity, gender or creed. For, any threat to the common man is a threat to the common good.
General Ike Nwachukwu, a member of the First Senate(1999-2003), wrote from Lagos in commemoration of his 78 birthday.