April 9, 2024

Who else but Prof Benjamin Nwabueze (4) 

Who else but Professor Benjamin Nwabueze (2), by Eric Teniola

From last week, this is the concluding part of the preamble on the Report of the sub-committee of the Constitution Drafting Committee which was co-authored  by Prof Ben Nwabueze in 1975 

Perhaps the Constitution is in part to blame for this. The Constitution in Commonwealth Africa speaks only in terms of power and of rights, but never of duties. The latter are taken for granted. The Constitution assumes that those who wield the power of the state will be conscious of, and responsive to, its obligations and responsibilities. And so it says nothing of the duties of the government towards its subjects.

Our experiences have shown this to be a wrong approach to constitution-making. As a charter of government and the fundamental law of the land, the Constitution should make it clear that powers are bestowed upon the organs and institutions of government, not for the personal aggrandizement of those who wield them from time to time, but for the welfare and advancement of the society as a whole. It should, therefore, cast on the State definite duties towards its subjects.

A constitution should indeed do more. It should proclaim the principle on which the State is organised and spell out the ideals and objectives of the social order. Every constitution is set and operates in the context of certain organising ideas but these are often left unexpressed. Again this approach to constitution-making is out-dated. A constitution should not be simply a code of justiciable rules and regulations; it is a charter of government, a government involves relations and concepts that are not amenable to the test of justiciability. 

The objectives may be in the nature of immediate, specific policy goals or of long-term ideals. The former are not likely to excite controversy; they are the things Nigerians expect their government to secure for them—food, clothing, water, medical facilities, education, etc. Spelling them out in the constitution provides a yardstick for judging the performance of any government. It invests them with the quality of a constitutional directive to the organs of the state to inform and guide their actions by reference to the declared principles. It would also serve as reminder to government functionaries that their position is one of trust involving powers as well as duties. 

The latter imply ideology. Ideology arouses a certain mysticism and suspicion amongst us. Yet every new nation has a special need of a nationally accepted ideology. For unless the goals and the fundamental attitudes and values that should inform the behavior of its members and institutions are clearly stated and accepted, a new nation is likely to find itself rudderless, with no sense of purpose and direction. By defining the goals of society and prescribing the institutional forms and procedures for pursuing them, ideology seeks to direct the efforts or actions of the people towards the achievement of those goals. In this way it seeks to unite the society into one nation bound together by common attitudes and values, common institutions and procedures, and above all an acceptance of common social objectives and destiny. 

The need for an ideology in Nigeria is all the greater because of the heterogeneity of the society, the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, the growing cleavage between the social groupings, all of which combine to confuse the nation and bedevil the concerted march to orderly progress. Only an explicit ideology which clearly sets the parameters of government and informs its policies and actions can generate a spirit of co-operation, peace and unity.

If the national ideology is enshrined in the Constitution, then this may make it appear less of a political slogan, investing it with the quality of a constitutional, albeit non-justiciable norm, and thereby making it easier for political leaders, and even judges, to establish and show the desired identification  with it. 

It may be argued that the aspirations, goals and values of a society are not unchanging for all times; they may not even be a true reflection of current values but only what the present generation of leaders believe them to be or think they should be; to enshrine them in the Constitution would therefore be an imposition, and would create a false and unwarranted image of popular acceptance. These sentiments might equally serve as argument for not having a Constitution at all. Whilst unquestionably values are relative to time and place, every society should attempt to formulate the values that are relevant to its time and place; their embodiment in the Constitution does not entitle them to any more immutability than the frame of government instituted in the Constitution. The important thing is that the values and objectives declared should be the really fundamental ones widely shared in the community, and not the sectional objectives and goals of particular social and economic policies of a ruling party.

It cannot be disputed that the ideology that is most relevant to our society today and one that is accepted by most Nigerians is that of socialism operating within the framework of a participatory democracy and the ideals of liberty, equality and justice. It is the only effective answer to the conditions of under-development, inequality and exploitation that exist in the country. The long-term objectives of socialism in Nigeria should be to place in the hands of the State and people the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution.

Professor Obiefuna Benjamin Nwabueze served his country the best way he could.