By Aare Afe Babalola, SAN,
the previous editions, I identified the incidence of incessant kidnappings in Nigeria and the consequent closure of schools.
I have equally made copious references to the comments of some stakeholders as well as media reports on the spate of kidnappings in Nigeria which, unfortunately, has caught the attention of the world.
As I had previously noted, the collapse of education is one sure way of destroying a nation. A South African university posted the following remarkable writeup at its entrance: “Destroying any nation does not require the use of atomic bombs or the use of long-range missiles. It only requires lowering the quality of education and allowing cheating in the examinations.
Patients die at the hands of such doctors. Buildings collapse at the hands of such engineers. Money is lost at the hands of such economists and accountants. Humanity dies at the hands of such religious scholars. Justice is lost at the hands of such judges. The collapse of education is the collapse of the nation.” No doubt, the foregoing succinctly captures the importance of education to any nation and the effect of its collapse which will occasion catastrophic effects on every sector of the nation. Sadly, the attack on the education system, particularly in Northern Nigeria, by the incidences of incessant kidnap of students and teachers is gearing the nation towards this unfortunate course.
Origin of the problem
Nigeria is made up of many amalgamated nations by the colonialists. Knowing that Nigeria contains more than 250 ethnic nationalities with different cultures, languages, religions and customs, Nigeria’s founding fathers, after sitting together in Lancaster House in London for almost 10 years, fashioned out a constitution that united the different ethnic nationalities. This was one of the main reasons why both the 1960 Independence Constitution and 1963 Republican Constitution worked well before the military made a forceful incursion in governance following the military coup of January 15, 1966.
The by-product of military intervention in Nigeria is the 1999 Constitution. Although the Constitution was called a federal constitution, it has fathered all the problems we have in the country today including failed leadership and the emergence of politics as the only lucrative business in the country.
The current structural arrangement on which Nigeria is built and administered have both political and economic deformities. Politically, Nigeria’s federal system is more unitary than federal; it is unbalanced and unsustainable. Power is over-concentrated at the centre at the expense of the other two levels of government (state and local government). As I earlier noted, the 1999 Constitution upon which the country is presently running is basically a military, unitary and imperfect constitution which does not have much bearing to the will or wish of the people. Also, there is a lack of social justice or the rule of law; while the tussle for power is not motivated by service, rather by self-accumulation of wealth and greed by the elite.
In economic terms, production is what drives conventional capitalism. In the case of Nigeria, politics, corruption, political patronage and unproductive consumption are the driving forces of our economic system. As summarily noted by Nsongurua Udombana, LL.D: “The 1999 Constitution has the imprint of authoritarianism written all over it, with no consideration to the genuine desires of the Nigerian people.
There was not even the civility of a Constituent Assembly, let alone a referendum, thereby making the ‘We the people’ in the preamble a lie and fraud. It is an illegitimate document and will remain so notwithstanding the number of amendments, though it may make for a good POL 101 Course on ‘The Making of an Undemocratic Constitution’”.
Certainly, no amendment to the present Constitution can cure its inherent defects. There is an urgent need for restructuring through the platform of the Sovereign National Conference as any election under 1999 Constitution will end up with recycling of the failed leaders. This will create an avenue to effectively discuss and resolve paramount issues of resource distribution, insecurity, effective political representation, among other contentious matters. It is also paramount that the Conference considers the inefficiency of the 1999 Constitution in addressing the ethnocultural and socio-political diversities in Nigeria. No doubt, the only Constitution that will endure is the one that is truly expressive of the supreme will of the people.
There is a need to revisit the structural foundation upon which Nigeria’s political future, ethno-cultural unity, and economic sustenance are premised. Nigerians must have a voice in the Constitution which governs them, otherwise, the propensity to fall into more chaos is more within-reach than ever.
The Way Forward
By and large, a return to the 1963 Constitution with necessary amendments is the light at the end of the tunnel for Nigeria. Under the 1963 Constitution, sovereignty was non-centralised and was shared between the Federal Government and the regional levels which, in essence, enabled the regional units have authority on some matters including economy and social security. In my article,‘Nigeria in Search of a Nation’, I succinctly captured the decentralised and people-oriented nature of the 1963 Constitution thus:
“Our forefathers spent over 10 years deliberating on a people’s constitution that would accommodate the nation’s diversity. They came up with 1960 Constitution which was later substituted with 1963 Constitution. But would this Constitutional framework accord significant respect to the derivative principle? The areas which produce the bulk of the nation’s resources have the right to a significant proportion of the revenues extracted from the region.
Under the 1963 Constitution, the Federal Government was entitled to pay to each region a sum equal to fifty percent of the proceeds of mining rents and royalty in respect of minerals derived from each region. The Federal Government was obliged to credit to the Distributable Pool Account 30 per cent of the proceeds of the royalty and mining rent received by the Federal Government after it had given 50 per cent to the producing state. The Federal Government was only entitled to keep for itself 20 per cent.”
Under the 1963 Constitution, power was shared between the federal and the four regional governments being the East, North, West and Mid-West. In reality, the four regions were constitutionally more powerful than the central government that was limited to less and specific exclusive legislative powers. Undoubtedly, Nigeria witnessed her greatest and fastest economic, political, social and educational development under the regional system of government.
Each of the regions were largely autonomous and could legislate over a number of items which have, today, been taken over by the Federal Government. It was during this period that each region began its own regional developmental efforts and the period occasioned mutual, healthy rivalries to compete for development.
While I advocate a return to the 1963 Constitution, however, I recommend we introduce six regions, as against four, to operate a regional parliamentary government, not presidential government.
The proposed six regions are North Central, Northwest, Northeast, South South, South West and South East. Without a doubt, a return to the 1963 Constitution, which better factored the diversities in religion, language and ethnicity, will engender far greater developments in Nigeria, including curbing insecurity and restoring the education system of the nation to its former glory.