By Wole Olaoye (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Every country is work in progress. No nation came ready-made. Not even the ones in the holy books. They were all disparate peoples at a stage of their evolution. Therefore, where nations comprise disparate peoples, it is the historical duty of the statesmen/women and the enlightened political elite to fashion out a system where the eagle perches and the hawk perches and no bird tells the other, “Don’t!”
APJ Abdul Kalam argues that, “In a democracy, the well-being, individuality and happiness of every citizen is important for the overall prosperity, peace and happiness of the nation.” That was why, in the run-up to Nigeria’s independence, a series of constitutional conferences were held resulting in the Independence Constitution which recognised three regions (Eastern, Northern and Western regions) and gave each region a wide range of powers while retaining on the exclusive legislative list only those items which bound the whole country together such as Defence and Foreign Affairs.
There have been eight attempts at constitution making in Nigeria. Three constitutions were produced following constitutional conferences in London between 1946 and 1959. Other constitutions followed in 1960, 1963, 1979, 1993, and 1999. Then, following agitations for a more perfect union, a constitutional conference was held during the Jonathan administration but the agreed constitutional changes were never promulgated into law.
The most peaceful era in Nigeria, in spite of its own peculiar mess, was the First Republic when each of the three regions managed its affairs as it deemed fit and recorded landmark achievements without the feeding bottle of free oil money. The federal government only coordinated affairs in a selected aspects of national life in the best traditions of Westminster parliamentary system.
There was no ‘winners take all’. The major parties had their areas of influence: NPC in the North, AG in the West and NCNC in the East. The smaller parties had their own areas of influence too — NEPU, UMBC, IAP, etc. There was healthy competition among the regions. Between 1960 and 1964, there was great promise of a rosy future before contradictions within the political system set the nation ablaze with the West taking the lead in widespread anomie.
Since 1966, we have remained stuck in the unitary system imposed by the military and accommodated by subsequent constitutions. Erstwhile regions have been abolished and 36 states created with the centre meddling in matters that ought to be in the purview of local governments. Development has been stunted. Corruption has become a handmaiden of federal administration. The states are individually inconsequential entities beholden to the centre for monthly stipends. Governance in the classical meaning of the word, has gone on holidays.
We have become, as Prof Emmanuel Ayandele, one-time Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calabar, once described the old Cross River State, “An atomistic society perpetually at war with itself”. No section of the country is doing well, except for the few around the corridors of power at the local, state and federal levels. We have become a country of one millionaire to one million beggars. Yet, some people insist that nothing should change because they think the present system favours them. Somehow they believe that we can continue mismanaging our affairs the same way and then magically expect different results.
Sudan is showing us the way. Determined to depart from its habitual instability and its blurring of the lines between theocracy, autocracy and democracy, that country recently announced its decision to separate religion from the state, ending 30 years of Islamic rule.
“For Sudan to become a democratic country where the rights of all citizens are enshrined, the constitution should be based on the principle of ‘separation of religion and state,’ in the absence of which the right to self-determination must be respected,” says the document signed by the Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and a leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North rebel group, Abdel-Aziz al-Hilu.
Ousted President Omar Bashir presided over a divided Sudan with iron fists, implementing a hard line interpretation of Sharia law with the hope of making his country the “vanguard of the Islamic world”. It was a conducive environment for Al-Qaeda elements. Even the notorious Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, alias Carlos the Jackal, a native Venezuelan convicted of a cocktail of terrorist crimes, and currently serving a life sentence in France, found solace in Sudan.
When peaceful protests were outlawed, dissent went underground and a silent campaign to get rid of Bashir began. Rebel forces eventually took over Darfur and refused any deal that didn’t ensure a secular state. Now Sudan is waging peace, not war. The country is realising what Albert Einstein told the world many years ago that, “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”
To reach such understanding between disparate groups, no matter the depth of their differences, you need statesmen and women of goodwill. The Sudanese elite are tired of war. They are fed up with the peace of the graveyard. They put their thinking caps on, got together and fashioned a way forward.
That is what we have been afraid to do in Nigeria.
Instead of statesmen, we have ethno-religious jingoists who detest the arduous task of thinking. It takes some cerebral exertion to analyse where the rain beat us and how we can stay dry in future. Whatever one says about the early nationalists of the First Republic, they distinguished themselves by negotiating a system that served everyone well. “Let us never negotiate out of fear”, said John F. Kennedy, “but let us never fear to negotiate”.
Remember the famous conversation between Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Sir Ahmadu Bello?
𝐙𝐢𝐤: “Let us forget our differences….”
𝐀𝐡𝐦𝐚𝐝𝐮 𝐁𝐞𝐥𝐥𝐨: “No, let us understand our differences. I am a Muslim and a Northerner. You are a Christian, an Easterner. By understanding our differences, we can build unity in our country.”
It takes a statesman to recognise that this unitary contraption that Nigeria operates in the name of ‘federalism’ is doomed to fail. As large as the territory of the Northern Region was in the First Republic, Boko Haram would never have survived because it would have been nipped in the bud by the Native Authority Police or some other lower security outfit even before getting to the Nigeria police.
Now, with central command and control, our nose is being rubbed in the mud by a ragtag band of mindless terrorists who have now exported their terror from the war front in the Northeast to the rest of the nation. How does anyone address issues of development in the midst of this pandemic of insecurity?
To show that we are not deploying our cerebral capacities to solving the problem, opponents of true federalism have been campaigning against the attempt by some states to establish local security outfits to stem the ugly tide of kidnapping and other violent crimes. The police also wants to add the state outfits to its ineffective empire. And you wonder if they have ever come across Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s admonition that, “No nation can ever hold up its head, far less take pride of place amongst the nations of the world, if the individuals of which it is comprised think of nothing but personal gain and self glorification”.
Our case hasn’t degenerated to the level of Darfur yet. But Sudan found sense in good time through a meeting of minds between the contending military, political and ethno-religious elite. In my own country, I can’t help but ask, where have all the statesmen gone?