By Joyce Daniels
It is impossible to have a building with no foundation. The longevity and durability of structures depend on the quality of their bedrock. When there is a deviation from the original structure and a tweak in purpose, it is wise to align the bedrock to bear the weight of the proposed structure.
Nigeria made this switch on 29th May 1999, when Major General Abdulsalami Abubakar stepped down, and the former military head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo, became the civilian president. We had switched from the militarist structure to a civilian structure but retained the same building plan from the past. That has been the cause of the agitations across Nigeria for decades.
I was privileged to attend the nationwide public hearing organized by the Nigerian Senate committee on the review of the 1999 constitution which was held recently at Asaba, Delta state.
This came as a response to the continued widespread agitations across the country on the need for a new constitution, owing to the several inadequacies the present constitution contains. Grand Hotels Asaba, Delta State played host to both Edo, Delta and Bayelsa States and virtually all stakeholders across sectors converged to be heard.
Representatives of various cultural groups, NGOs, the press, clerics, labour and other unions and numerous other delegates took turns to express their concerns. Some of the points raised were as follows:
- The constitution’s preamble which reads; “WE THE PEOPLE of the Federal Republic of Nigeria having firmly and solemnly resolved to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation under God dedicated to the promotion of inter-African solidarity, world peace, international co-operation and understanding and to provide for a constitution for the purpose of promoting the good government and welfare of all persons in our country on the principles of freedom, equality and justice, and for the purpose of consolidating the unity of our people: DO HEREBY MAKE, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THE FOLLOWING CONSTITUTION”, was questioned. The constitution, foisted upon the Nigerian people has come to be accepted without question. Stakeholders at the public hearing stressed the dictatorial and masculine nature of the constitution.
2. That a constitutional amendment won’t be as effective as crafting a new constitution.
3. Stakeholders, especially clerics, stressed the total removal of all Christian and Islamic terms from the constitution to reflect on the secularity of the Nigerian State as well as the abolition of Sharia law.
4. It was suggested that a maximum age to run for office (pegged at 65) be enforced as well as putting a clause on the immunity of government officials while in office on grounds of corruption and other related offences.
5. That a young Nigerian isn’t deemed fit enough to give consent until having attained the age of
6. Resource control and land ownership of sites containing natural resources should be 100% managed by the State and a stipulated percentage be remitted to the federal government.
7. Stakeholders stressed the need for internal security, state and local police as well as funding and welfare for the armed forces and veterans.
8. That a Youth Representative Council is set up at the local, state and federal levels and the continued operation of the Local Government Councils as it is the closest form of government to the people.
9. Stakeholders agitated for the slashing of the cost of governance by at least 50%. Also, the maximum number of representatives (both at the senate and house of representatives) from each state at the federal level be pegged at 5.
10. The enactment of free primary, secondary and tertiary education as well as adult literacy programs for all, especially Persons With Disabilities [PWDs] and representation of young people and PWDs across sectors, including public offices and government agencies for inclusion.
These and more issues were raised and reports submitted to the various senate committees for proper documentation and deliberation.
You could literally look around the hall and see the unity of purpose and a clear understanding of what Nigerians wanted. Everyone felt special because their representatives listened to their demands. An air of trust laden with excitement wafted across the hall where I sat. I felt happy that this was happening after many years of radio silence.
As I journeyed back home, I couldn’t help but wonder what the country would look like if the opinion of its citizens were prioritised by the government of the day, in line with a solid national vision and blueprint. The people would be patriots by default.
At the Governor Seyi Makinde National Democracy summit, my submission was “TOWARDS A MORE EFFECTIVE FEDERALISM IN NIGERIA”.
Federalism is defined as a mixed or compound mode of government that combines a general government (the central or federal government) with regional governments (provincial, state, cantonal, territorial or other sub-unit governments) in a single political system.
True federalism in Nigeria can be made more effective if approached from four (4) angles, in no particular order;
1. ACHIEVE BUY-IN OF THE PEOPLE
Via communication, education, demonstration, modelling, persuasion, teaching, training, mass enlightenment, sensitisation, national orientation of the entire populace. Many Nigerians understand the drive for restructuring in negative terms – in terms of loss and division; it is, therefore, our prerogative to sell the rewards of true federalism – customised laws, increased productivity, healthy competition amongst Federating Units, improved education and more. Mass education is a must for effective federalism to thrive.
2. THE RIGHT CONSTITUTIONAL FRAMEWORK
The law should be clear on the powers that belong to the federating units (States) and how they contribute to the centre. The centre should maintain responsibility for foreign affairs, social security, industrial relations, international trade, immigration, currency and defence, while the States should be responsible for health, education, state security, income and revenue generation, as well as contributing their quota to the centre. The laws have to change.
I am still a staunch advocate for the writing of an entirely new constitution, as against the reviews and amendments we have witnessed for decades. One major reason for my advocacy is this; it is likely to win the total and complete buy-in of the Nigerian people. It will give Nigerians a sense of presence, partnership and ultimately confidence in the process that reenacts true federalism.
Everything that will guide the law and guide our living together as a federal republic, must be drenched in respect, empathy, compassion and inclusiveness. A major area for inclusiveness is STATE OF RESIDENCE. For effective federalism, decisions will need to be made based on the State of residency, not origin. I and my opinion should matter in the State I reside, work, play, and pay tax to. We must now begin to mentally erase these 36 walls built in our minds and embrace ourselves because we share a common destiny.
3. Income Generation & Economic Growth of Federating Units via beneficiation of natural resources, agriculture, industry, trade and human capital development.
4. THE RIGHT LEADERSHIP COHORT
We need representatives who are of diverse interests, yet consistent in a vision of working together to gather and motivate mass, willing followership of the Nigerian people, towards shared prosperity and belief in Nigerian greatness.
If these are missing, effecting true federalism in Nigeria will be herculean indeed. The move to restructure our currently operated constitution couldn’t have come at a better time in Nigeria’s history. As former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi aptly puts it, “Restructuring the country will bring out the comparative advantage of every State and our natural resources that are lying waste will be fully harnessed”.
It is therefore imperative that the representatives do not take the represented for a ride.
They must insist and ensure that the wishes of the Nigerian people are not swept under the carpet.
At such a challenging time in our history where the Nigerian people are earnestly demanding an all-inclusive leadership and trust, there is no other action of the government that can restore confidence in the process and system which will, in turn, give the people the courage to play their part in the process of rebuilding, rebranding and making Nigeria better.
This is a wake-up call for every stakeholder in governance (every Nigerian) to be part of the engineering that will birth the New Nigeria.
We must be involved in the electoral process and decision making that produces quality leaders. We must be involved in the education of the uneducated amongst us, ensure that order is maintained and development is sustained. Nigerians must develop a new taste for quality that reflects on the quality of acceptable leadership.
When we have a crop of our leaders who are empathetic, visionary and excellent, coupled with a guiding document (constitution) that aligns with our shared visions, we will truly experience exponential growth and unmatched development.
Do we truly have such leaders in government??
•Joyce Daniels is a Social En eerinPractitioner