By Obi Nwakanma
The Nigerian media is very guilty of profound levels of ignorance about the significance of Nigeria as a “republic,” and its choice of “democracy” as a system of government. Going by its use of language, the Nigerian media is guilty of limiting public awareness of the true meaning of these concepts; of the place of citizens, citizenship rights, and citizenship obligations in a “republic.” The kind of language used by the press to describe political power and political institutions often alienates people.
It certainly has often resulted in the mis-characterization, and improper ascriptions of significance to individuals elected, as envisioned in the founding principles of this republic, to represent the people by popular suffrage.
As a matter of fact, where the media should lead in its use of the language of power, it obscures, and fails to teach or inform its reading public about the system of governance Nigerians chose for themselves at the foundation of this nation in 1959, following the various negotiations leading to the establishment of the independent federation of Nigeria, from the Ibadan conferences of 1950 and ’51, to the London constitutional conferences of 1957/58. Many young Nigerians do not even know these aspects of Nigeria’s political and constitutional history.
That on November 16, 1963, and in honour of the birthday of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, its founding president, and leader of the nationalist anti-colonial movement from 1937-1957, when independence was actually won, the elected Federal Parliament of Nigeria, by the Act of the Republic, declared Nigeria a full republic, free completely of the British Commonwealth. It did not choose to be a constitutional monarchy like Britain, else Dr. Azikiwe would have been “coroneted” and “enthroned” King of Nigeria. But Nigerians actually consciously chose to be rid of the governance of the Queen, and the monarchy of Great Britain.
It followed the path of India, which chose to maintain a symbolic, but not a political affiliation with the Commonwealth of Nations. Nigeria could have chosen, given what some might have argued as “our culture” to adopt a constitutional monarchy. But the elected parliament of Nigeria agreed, given the historic imperative of Nigeria as a modern nation, to create a Republic by 1963. That meant a number of things: Nigeria assumed full sovereign autonomy of its institutions. It established its own sovereign parliament which were no longer subject to English laws.
Rather than seek constitutional interpretation from Her Majesty’s Honorable Privy Council (simply “the Privy Council,”) a rather secretive advisory institution for the monarchy, it created its own Supreme Court, and in the place of the office of the Governor-General, Her Majesty’s representative in the colonies, it established the distinct office of President of the Republic, and endowed the Executive power of the state on that office. The Prime Minister in effect became the President’s Chief Minister and leader of the business of the elected government in a republican Parliament.
One of the key facts that most Nigerians often miss was that from 1963, as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, executive power resided in the office of the President, not on the Prime Minister, according to the 1963 Republican constitution. The Prime Minister’s power became largely advisory. And this was a great source of constitutional friction between Sir Abubakar who was leader of government in parliament and Dr. Azikiwe who was Head of state and Chief Executive of the federation. I shall elaborate this in greater detail in my on-going biography of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. But Nigerians often thought quite wrongly that the Republic had adopted the British system simplicita. But the government of Nigeria, going at least by the 1963 constitution, endowed executive power on the President, rather than on the Prime Minister, and it was all part of the negotiations of 1960. In any case, Nigeria adopted more the French system of the Republic than the British system of constitutional monarchy.
In effect, while we could “enthrone” the Governor-General as a representative of the monarchy, we did elect the President, by the provisions of the 1963 constitution, by electoral college, because the constitution required that the candidate for president, just as the Prime Minister be elected from among any member of the House of Representatives. Now, the point I am making is that it seems that most Nigerian journalists do not seem to know the language of the discourse of the republic. In a democracy, we never “enthrone” anyone.
And there are no “monarchs” anywhere in a republic. It is a contradiction in terms. It is thus often both infuriating and amusing, and frankly misleading when newspapers, particularly many of them now employing ignorant sub-editors who are increasing neither aware of the stylistic imperatives of newspapering, nor the conceptual underpinnings of the systems they describe to the people, talk about the “enthronement” or “coronation” of democratically elected politicians!
No politician in a democracy ever sits on a “throne.” It was precisely to destroy the meaning of “thrones” that men struggled over time to establish the government of the people through elections, and authority based on popular mandates rather than on “royal” or exclusive preferment. An elected public official stands before people, and sits with them. And please, there is no “monarch” anywhere in Igbo land, not to talk of the “monarch” at Umuofor in Orlu.
The very idea of the “Ofo” in its signifying mystery to the true Igbo forbids an individual from assuming any pretention to any throne, even that manufactured by primitive Nigerian “Generals” intent on checkmating Igbo who model the republican idea of individual liberty, freedom of choice, and equality of citizenship.
Now, I have read in this past week, various newspaper commentators and headlines talking about the “enthronement” of Mr. Atiku Abubakar as the Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party. The first thing to know is that Atiku has only just been “nominated” by his party, through a process of internal selection.
He will stand before Nigerians with the various other candidates, including the incumbent president, Mr. Muhammadu Buhari, to seek the votes of the people, based on his programs. He will not be “enthroned” were he to be elected. He will be sworn-in following an inauguration ceremony in which he will swear allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and to uphold its constitution, and govern by the rules of law.
He will not, like a monarch, “govern” by edict or proclamation. This is one of those aspects of reality that the incumbent Mr. Muhammadu Buhari seemed to have forgotten, or abjured since his election, and swearing in. And he was not properly checked by the parliament elected to contain his excesses. Now, since the party selection that threw him up, Atiku Abubakar has thrown up a challenge which seems now to excite a very wide swath of Nigerians.
This group of Nigerians now feel “Atikulated;” that is, ignited, and expectant of more hands-on leadership, a more unifying public leadership different from the leadership which the current president Buhari has modelled which has widened the ethnic and regional divisions in Nigeria with his public gestures, appointments, and what has generally been described as his unfair dealings with other Nigerians. Indeed Abubakar presents that challenge. He has a great national following and linkages. He has friends North, Central, East and West, and unlike the current President, has never pretended to be anything other than a shrewd operative. Nigerians understand that he was not the product of an immaculate conception.
Nigerians also now know that they do not have any saints to vote for. They do not need saints. They need visionary, fair, and compelling leadership; politicians who, in spite of their personal failings, have the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians at heart, and are connected to them, and could mobilize them to great acts of citizenship.
In due course, this column shall write a comparative profile of the presidential candidates, to examine their strengths and weaknesses, and their appeals, but here is the meaning, of “Atikulation”: Nigerians now have a powerful choice – a contrasting persona – to weigh against President Buhari’s person and mission in power.
Atiku has been a loud proponent of “restructuring.” What manner of “restructuring” does he propose? Any constitutional restructuring of Nigeria will require a move in parliament. It does not require the President, although it would need a dynamic president as leader of his party, who could work with his party’s legislative leadership and push an agenda for restructuring before the National Assembly.
Atiku has also promised to continue the Obasanjo-era policies, and among these, Nigerians should be aware is the very corrupt policy of “privatization,” which has hobbled Nigeria’s national industrial development, and enriched few individuals to the detriment of the nation and her public. Even as many Nigerians feel “Atikulated,” they must confront Mr. Atiku Abubakar with real questions, otherwise Nigerians again will be taken for a ride, with a president who feels, “enthroned” and therefore “entitled” to be the King of Nigeria. And we all know that those who contradict their kings, lose their heads. That is why we are a republic: all men are born free and equal (with whoever is president), and must be so treated.