By Charles Onunaiju
DESPITE sustained and uninterrupted civil rule in the nearly past two decades, the Nigerian state is essentially wobbling and even growing hollow. The ideals of the state expressed in its constitutional provisions are considerably constrained by institutions that should ordinarily facilitate its realisation. With the state increasingly rendered hollow, its institutional infrastructure is upended with a consequence of serious critical deficit in the regular function of processes outlined in the constitutional framework. A hollow state is characterised by institutional weakness and re-configuring its structural framework as agitators for restructuring have vociferously espoused cannot compensate for institutional inertia and dysfunction. In fact, only a strong state, with sufficient institutional integrity and credibility can guarantee the fragmentary structure of a federal framework.
However, the simple reason that institutional inertia has hobbled the Nigerian state and rendered it grossly incapable of matching its expressed ideals with concrete service delivery of improving the living conditions of the vast majority of her population, despite the manifest abundance of resources to do so, is because the institutions are not rooted in the reality of the country and its people. To the extent of its alien nature, operators of the institutions are free to undermine or even co-opt it, in the pursuit of criminal activities or any other thing except for the purpose, it was formally designed to fulfill or achieve.
With a false start that has stretched over half a century, growth in the economy and advances in democratisation has not translated to any substantive improvements in the living conditions of the people. Even routine and periodic political competitions through multi-party process that should have regularised with little or no friction has grown lethal and even more explosive. At the recent presentation of certificates of return to winners of the National Assembly elections, the Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, urged the incoming lawmakers to process legislation that will improve the electoral laws and make elections less susceptible to violence and manipulation. Such exhortation is forlorn and non-starter because it is not the electoral process that is the problem, but the institutions of the state that would be accessed through elections.
When institutions are re-defined and re-invented for purposes linked to the people and rendered in such manner, in which the people are substantially engaged to it, through holding it responsible and accountable, operators would either shape into its purpose or ship out for incompetence or inability to deliver on its promise. Only in this context would democracy and democratisation capture the finest enthusiasm of our people, translate it to constant modernisation of the state, while maintaining steady momentum in the advances of institutions and its capacity to process growing sophistication of a changing society.
Clearly, any meaningful “next level” of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term must consist essentially in re-founding the Nigerian state through elaborate review, re-definition and re-invention of the institutions of the state. This is not a call for constitutional review or a summon of any national conference. Re-framing the conditions for the existence of the state is not political jobbery and would have nothing to do with the razzmatazz of any normal political festivity. It is serious work of political thought and theory, requiring an unusual hard thinking.
For this purpose, President Buhari should quietly and without fanfare assemble a presidential think-tank to be composed by eminent and not-so-eminent scholars and intellectuals with an unusual depth of thinking drawn from history, philosophy, law, social science, natural science, humanities, literature, art and cultural studies. They would interrogate Nigeria’s unique reality, deploy strict scientific method to deconstruct the realities and construct or build relevant theories to understand its complexities and arrive at its pure objective outcomes. The purpose of these inquiries is to find connections and linkages between public institutions and the public they serve, and bring them, in tandem with the purpose of state and why it should exist.
The law, which in its broad sense is a social instrument for the regulation of society would be put in a context, and not a life-less machine manipulated to serve pecuniary interests. Democracy in the sense of institutional synthesis between our aggregate norms, values and attitudes would radiate our realities, put our shortcomings in context and expose the relevant instruments for addressing and tackling it, while endowing us with the prerogative to manage our progress.
With elections just over, the posturing and jostling for plum public offices, or struggles to occupy public institution is intense. In all desperation to occupy public institutions, it is customary now, that not many would give a thought to the responsibilities accruing from it but only the benefits and rewards. It will be another four years to use public institutions to position for the capture of even higher institutions. By 2023, when the presidency shall be officially vacant, the brigandage of the 2019 elections would be a child play. President Buhari can alter all that if he sets out immediately to take the unusual measure of re-founding the Nigerian state.
When a state institution aligns with the vision and purpose of the state, discharges its duty in pursuit of the high ideals of the state, society would not become paradise on earth but can proceed in an orderly fashion to address itself to the routine challenges of its very existence. In contemporary Nigeria, the fabric of collective existence is under intense stress and good leadership in the subjective sense cannot alter the tenacity of the intensity.
History and society are governed by natural laws that unfold inexorably, despite the subjective intervention of wills and wishes.
Societies that have uncovered these laws, address their existential challenges to its course are better able to seize opportunities and convert it to advantages. Those societies that ignore or refuse to understand the laws would most likely continue to stumble and fumble without grasping the basic straws through which it find the navigational tools for growth and development. The natural laws of history and society are not mysteries but are certainly understood through the scientific interrogations of reality.
Nearly 60 years after independence, Nigeria has hardly and thoroughly looked itself in the mirror and now President Muhammadu Buhari with a second mandate and a promise of a “next level can just do that. But sheer goodwill and honesty of purpose are definitely inadequate tools to engage in any meaningful process to reach the next level and the time is now to summon the intellectual capital of the nation to address the historical missing link and chart a new course.