Nigeria: Towards a Perfect Union

“In my heart I know you didn’t come here just for me, you came here because you believe in what this country can be. In the face of war, you believe there can be peace. In the face of despair, you believe there can be hope. In the face of a politics that’s shut you out, that’s told you to settle, that’s divided us for too long, you believe we can be one people, reaching for what’s possible, building that more perfect union.”
Barack Obama (“A More Perfect Union, March 18, 2008)

Many, if not all, agree that Nigeria is at a critical juncture where it requires careful intervention. We also all nearly agree that the foundations of our country were weak; certainly, we all agree the post-independence rancorous history of Nigeria has bred hatred in a poisoned atmosphere: suspicions and problems that have risked the ship of state. It is true also that irrespective of who is in charge- one or more group nearly always feel marginalized in the scheme of things. More so, our political history is replete with injustice and inequity especially the manner in which minority ethnic groups has been treated in the context of our national politics and social interactions.

Well, what we never seem to agree on is the solution! But before we worry too much on our points of disagreements, perhaps you might still be wondering how Nigeria has managed to survive in spite of these diagnoses. Well, quit wondering; it is obvious that an unseen hand of fate is at work here prodded by sheer human greed, ambition, determination mixed with raw Darwinian instinct ditto the elite political class who have no interest in changing the status quo and they span all ethnic groups! We cannot begin to address the faulty beginnings of our country without putting those beginnings in context.

Nigeria came to be after an amalgamation by a colonial power that was devoid of participatory styled deliberations. But this was just the beginning; a lot of water has passed under the bridge since 1912 when the united geographical area called Nigeria was born. This history of forced union by Nigeria is not unique; nations have bonded together under the jackboots of emperors and conquerors. India, China and Russia to mention a few, are products of age-old bloody victories and unification drives. The European settlers in Continental North America decimated the Indians, enslaved the blacks and united the continent under three viable nation-states: The United States, Canada and Mexico with comparable ferocity, violence and sheer bellicosity. These unification drives may be unjust or unethical, but it nonetheless doesn’t void the union thereof.

Hence, Nigeria is no less a union of people because it was amalgamated by Lord Lugard without recourse to the people over whom the British Crown lorded. No, the question of an arbitrary amalgamation is one better left to historians- the national question of unity based on negotiated treatise is more relevant to our discourse. Those of us living today, not those living in the 1900s, have to decide which kind of union we wish to live in. We are responsible for the kind of future we leave for our children so that they may live life more abundantly. Drown away your hatred of the past pals, let us get to work. Examples of successful forced and arranged marriages abound; so also is there millions of failed voluntary marriage that started seemingly well. What makes the difference is the hard work all parties are willing to put into the union to make it workable.

Speaking of where we are now; forty eight years after independence we have a constitution. It is true this constitution is fatally flawed on two grounds: it was never a product of any form of minimum negotiations by Nigeria’s constituent units and it is riddled with clauses that put the most vulnerable- the poor and minority groups – at disadvantage. The second flaw is a product of the second. An immediate viable solution to this problem is a return to the original constitution of Independent Nigeria of 1960 as revised in 1963 while accommodating the new constituent units as the current 36 States structure. This perhaps may be a transitional arrangement.

Why transitional? It is true that original constitution was achieved by negotiation in a series of conferences starting with the London Constitutional Conferences. Furthermore, it is also true that this particular constitution includes elements of fairness and justice that is absent in the present which makes it viable for use during transition. For example, the independence constitution was more respectful of the diversity of the country and has true federalism imprinted all over it. It is also, more federalist in its revenue sharing clauses- putting derivation at its heart and addressing the concerns of resource rich states which are largely minority ethnic nationality dominated.

However, this constitution was devoid of the level of participation and consensus one will expect from a national treatise. It was more or less an agreement between the majority ethnic groups to the exclusion of the minorities. The concerns of the minority ethnic nationalities of the Niger Delta and Middle Belt are as such better addressed in a proposed conference of ethnic nationalities – a new dialogue for Nigeria by Nigerians. Also lacking in the 1960 constitution is an attempt to address some fundamental questions of a nation state: the premise and vision of a country. This particular flaw led to the demise of the first republic irrespective of the strengths noted previously.

What then are the issues that should be addressed in the conference of ethnic nationalities? First is the fundamental necessity of a union. Nigeria and Nigerians must find a reason to co-exist. We cannot just be united for unity sake. My suggestion is that we focus on the external as discussed in part two of this submission, but doing so while honing in on the economic necessity of our union. I propose the foundations of a Commonwealth of Nigerian Nations. Where every state is a member of an open ended but sacrosanct Commonwealth of Nations bounded together for economic reasons and focused on expansion from the heartland of Africa to the Mid-Atlantic. This commonwealth is open ended in the sense that willing nations outside the current state structures can willingly surrender their sovereignty and subsume such to the commonwealth. It is sacrosanct because once you are in- it is a declaration of economic and military war when you attempt to back out of the commonwealth.

The product of the conference of ethnic nationality should not be a constitution; rather, declaration of a Commonwealth and the broad principles guiding the union will be more appropriate. The commonwealth should be based on an economic union and geopolitical need to be big and strong. Should secession be discussed as part of the alternatives at such conference? I say absolutely! Again, I am of the opinion that giving every state in Nigeria a single vote and aggregating the vote for or against secession, I believe secession will not see the light of the day: because there are more things that unite ordinary Nigerians than what the elites use to divide us.

Creating a new constitution is then a logical next step after the declaration of a commonwealth agreeable to all. This task should be delegated to statesmen who have distinguished themselves in the prior conference. For a constitution to be durable it must be devoid of unnecessary details but must imbibe the spirit of the union which it seeks to direct. The lessons of the First Republic Constitution and its successors on fairness and equity in wealth distribution must be remembered when designing a new constitution for the Commonwealth. This must involve acknowledging not suppressing the diversity of the new commonwealth. It should mean adopting the federal spirit and practice of our founding fathers: with each current constituent state and future ones required to adopt a constitution and an identity before admission into the commonwealth.

Prudence should steer the framers towards devolving power away from the center to the states. The center should accept taxes from the unit states and should be responsible for currency, international trade, defense, and foreign relations. The constituent states should retain most of their revenues, but they should also shoulder more responsibilities for affairs within their states. The Commonwealth central government should retain the power to regulate interstate commerce. As an advocate for a government that works; the lessons for the framers of the new commonwealth constitution will never be complete without an eye on cutting waste, improving government efficiencies, enhancing accountability and ensuring stability.

While I believe a federal and devolved state will tackle a number of these concerns, I am also a firm believer that either a quasi-parliamentary system or a part-time presidential (executive model) system where its participants are not remunerated at the unit (state) level is more appropriate for a developing nation like Nigeria. We spend excessively on elections and government officials. It makes sense for state legislatures to meet periodically- say once a year in a month or two long legislative sessions on a part time basis. Why do we need full time politicians feeding fat on the nation’s scarce resources with fat allowances and entitlements while seventy percent of our citizens live below poverty line?

Last but not the least; the new constitution must accommodate a home grown rig-proof electoral system. We have a winner in the modified open ballot system but this does not mean brilliant minds cannot even come up with some better and brighter. A commonwealth where elections count for something will ensure the stability, survival and continued prosperity of our new union.

The superiority of the idea to restructure Nigeria versus partitioning gets obvious in the details and implementation. I am yet to see a single soul that can tell me exactly how Nigeria will be partitioned peacefully without bloodshed and how the resulting chaos and undetermined consequences thereafter will be contained. But you can be rest assured if Nigerians of good faith continue to advocate reforming the electoral process so that the true wishes of the electorate is reflected in the legislature, I can map a stable and prosperous future for a restructured state based on compromises reached by the true representatives of the people. The future of a nation is just too important to rooted in emotional wrangling; if we want an enduring legacy for our self and our children’s children- then we must focus squarely on what is logical, right and achievable.

Don’t tell me all that have been enumerated above is impossible. Of course, I am aware that it is harder being an optimist than a patriot in my country- as hard enough as patriotism is to come by. Nigerians are cynical. The cynicism directed at our institutions, our government and politicians has fed a cycle of lethargy. Cynicism is the engine that drives the Nigerian malady; it drives the corruption of the officeholder in charge today and the potential ineptitude of the one yet unborn. We have in the process of losing faith in our country, lost faith in ourselves and the thirst to change what is, while focusing on what can be. Far from dreaming and hoping for a better Nigeria, we have deluded ourselves that we are prisoners of a cursed destiny; of a union not by our own making but of some powerful cabals. Hence, thousands of us flee to foreign borders: enjoying the comfort of the audacity of thinking of other folks while our homeland is left to rot.

Being a patriot by the way does not mean supporting the status quo. It doesn’t even mean being against secession. Being a patriot means having an abiding believe in the innate abilities of your country, and her people to make changes for the better. Don’t tell me Nigeria is damned; I refuse to buy into your prophesy of doom. Don’t tell me we can’t correct the ills that beset our nation, because we can. If Nigerians can survive years of kleptocrats, and a crippling economy- we can dig into our resolve and rediscover the ingenuity that we have adapted into our daily lives. It is not enough to dislike the status quo either- we must work hard to achieve the dream of an equitable, just and prosperous union. Doing this will require doing away with vitriolic and insensitive language and posture filled with hate mongering and unproductive anger.

The reason why Nigeria has not reached for real solutions is not because we don’t know them, or we lack citizens who know- we have simply not tried. Perhaps because we have dug into the pit of cynicism- so deep, we have given up trying. Dream my country men- and do so with your eyes wide open. This dream is not one that springs from “slave mentality” as some posit; rather it reflects love for our country and hope for her as a beacon of hope to our continent, race and entire mankind. We are blessed to live in the early life of our nation- when our actions can have tremendous impact on how this world is remade with our hands; perfecting this union and shaping our world as members of one race: the human race. God Bless Nigeria.

Your inputs have improved the quality and content of this last chapter in a series of three. I had written the first two articles about three months ago- in the heat of the summer: save for minor editing. Because of my habitual summer vacation from writing, I had held off their release until the fall. But I refused to write the last chapter in the series because I was not convinced I could do so effectively until I hear the other side. I am very convinced that secession is a bad idea in light of global realities of the 21st century. I am also very convinced that Nigeria is worth saving. However, the ideas on how to save Nigeria can hardly be one of conviction and certainty. In fact, it will amount to intellectual arrogance for me to posit that I know exactly what is wrong with Nigeria and how to cure it without at least hearing first from you my readers- critics and fans alike. Your feedback on the first two articles in the series is very well appreciated.

Written by
Michael Oluwagbemi II
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