Why should we have a Federal Road Safety Agency that pretends it can man all the roads in Nigeria and issue licenses that have no integrity? The Federal Roads Safety agency should be a regulatory agency that will give matching funds to State Safety administrations that will have the function of maintaining presence at all the State roads to ensure safety. The state Licensing offices should be linked with the FRSC as Vehicle registration and Licensing will become a State and Local government matter but with a reporting requirement to the FRSC to ensure a national database and make it easy for People to get new vehicle registration or license when they move to another State. This will effectively provide a second national identity and provide a database for proper car insurance and a source of local car tax to fund transportation needs of the local government. It then means that while your drivers license is valid for use all over Nigeria it can only be an effective identity in the State of residence and needs to be changed once you change your state of residence, same for your vehicle registration, which must be registered at the State of domicile.
Why do we need federal government Colleges, as islands of excellence? The government should hand over those schools to State governments and insist on a standard for the accreditation of secondary schools for the whole country. A minimum set of standards that will require appointed certification agencies to conduct bi-yearly certification exercises to ensure compliance. The certification process should include State ministries of education to ensure that they have the capacity to regulate education. We should also have a program for handing over Federal Universities to the State governments with the federal Ministry of Education through the National University Commission evolving to a regulatory Agency for ensuring standards and adherence to federal regulations.
What of Federal Fire Service? The federal government should use it as a regulating agency requiring all local governments to have a Fire Service Department and ensure that water is available for its use in a defined distance for every defined number of people. This will relate to overcrowded classrooms, houses and building regulations and make the safety of Nigerians an issue of federal regulation but local implementation.
These are just a few examples of how we can deepen our Federalism and build institutions through executive and probably legislative engineering. The federal government should use the power of the purse and its regulatory and supervisory powers to ensure national standards and local capacity building. If the federal government frees itself from most of this concurrent issues it will then concentrate energy on the exclusive list and deliver more policing, for instance. The current state of things where the federal government is expected to maintain the road that passes through Obosi, my village; which is curiously a federal road, is to say the least ridiculous.
The sheer logistical and financial incapacity of the federal government to keep up with these tasks creates a continual depletion of social capital and trust, two pillars of development. This also have the impact of creating a certain aversion and revulsion at the mention of the federal government. In some states where the Governors, not distracted by the gigantic bureaucracy that the President has to contend with, are able to rebuild some infrastructure it increases this romantic vision of a Nigeria without Nigeria, a geographical space just made up of independent ethnic groups. A fallacy because they all conveniently forget that the money that drives the development in the states comes from Nigeria as presently constituted.
The President should, since the National Assembly has proved incapable, propose a constitutional amendment and see it through before 2007. The amendment could be on any non contentious issue like Preservation of national monuments and arts, just to show that any group that feels strongly about any issue should go through the National Assembly, build coalitions, advocate and fight its case through. There should be no short cuts to national renewal; we must learn to build state institutions and build bridges.
The American constitution was written with the exclusion of Women, Blacks and landless or Poor Americans. Yet the authors proclaimed the equality of all men as a self evident truth, this had not led Americans to call for another constitutional conference rather it created an ideal which all the discriminated groups latched on to in their fight for equality. So if some Nigerians feel that the words “We the people” that preface our constitution is not true they should see it as an ideal and fight for necessary amendments to reflect any national consensus that is not in the document. After 27 amendments the American constitution is still going through metamorphosis to reflect the current understanding of the ideals of the framers of the constitution.
Should it be that the President wants to collate the views of Nigerians and to reflect it in his proposal for constitutional amendments? If so I still think the national dialogue route is the wrong way to go. He should have used the General Babangida format of Political Bureau. This would have made it possible to organize State dialogue sessions, listen to the authentic voices of Nigerians, collate the responses and reflect areas of national consensus in his proposal to the National Assembly. That would have been a politically and statistically relevant route of listening to Nigerians. It would have generated strong national consciousness and acted as a vehicle for mobilizing the masses as the true protectors of the constitution. President Obasanjo betrays his supporters and the Nigerian people when he falls into the trap of assuming that a congregation of treasonable felons, an ex this or ex that, elder statesmen, retired civil servants or newspaper pro democrats are the custodian of the will of the Nigerian People. This is an assumption that undermines the legitimacy of the democratic process and provides shelter for those who while refusing to engage the political process are enamored of its outcome.
For those, and this includes ethnic groups, professional pro democrats and the eternally dissatisfied, who feel strongly about any issue in the constitution including tearing it, there is an option open. Form a Political Party, win the Presidency, control two-thirds of the National Assembly, State Houses of Assembly and then do to the constitution whatever you deem fit. Should that be a difficult task for you, build alliances with Parties of like mind and mobilize support from the politically irrelevant ethnic organizations that support the idea of a conference. If those prove difficult still then know that your views are only popular in your head and should be modified. That is the truth of the Nigerian condition; urban elite that have no base with the electorates or the masses and these are the People the President have gathered in Abuja.
President Obasanjo has rewritten the Nigeria political equation with the victory of the PDP in the South west despite Afenifere posturing. Before Obasanjo, General Abacha had effectively demonstrated the power of the Nigerian State as the inheritor of the sovereignty from the British government, (the idea of sovereignty has been well articulated by Bala Usman). Some of his very bold acts put paid to the posturing of ethnic and religious organizations that want to share sovereignty with the Nigerian State. The evolution of a modern Nigerian State is on and should be complemented by reforming our electoral process, increasing the integrity of systems through state capacity strengthening and building social trust through devolution of powers; these are not constitutional but ethical and administrative issues.
The President should please disband this assemblage of geriatric and expired old men or get NAFDAC to check their shelf expiry dates so we can be assured that their ideas are fit for human consumption. If he does not, I hope he will be willing to contend with a legitimate body that can mischievously call for an interim government to conduct fresh elections and write a new constitution for Nigeria. They can cause further division by asking that the Senate President to head the interim government while legislators and some of them act as Ministers. The world will give them audience and will demonize the President if he tries to teargas them or surround them with armored tanks. Even if this is a far-fetched scenario, not forgetting the Abacha conference 1996 handover date debacle, the distraction of this national dialogue is too expensive for a retreating government to afford.
As for Nigerians in Diaspora I find it unconscionable that they will be genuflecting before the charade that goes on back home. What manner of immigrants do we have that is only waiting for the day when they will have access to the Nigerian till? How else can I explain the inability of the renowned Nigerian entrepreneurial spirit to be manifested by the legal Nigerian immigrant population? Where is our own George Soros, poor immigrant Greek boy turned international businessman? Why we are only interested in returning to Nigeria to participate in the looting? Should the Nigerians in Diaspora not be in the vanguard of the quest for institution building and due process hallmarks of the societies they live in? Why are we afraid to reveal the names of our government officials who buy houses in cities we reside? Or are we saying we don’t know them? Is it not true that the latest job amongst Nigerians in Diaspora is the handling of the financial and commercial interest of government officials for a fee? Yet we have a cream of Nigerians abroad, leaders in academic fields and responsible citizens of their host countries. They should be able to witness truth to power and not allow a few office and lucre seeking masqueraders to lead them to the path of dishonor.
The National Dialogue or whatever name it goes with should be rejected by all right thinking Nigerians. It is a poisoned chalice covered with honey. It is a brutal rejection of due process; state building and smacks of the usual Nigerian quick fix syndrome. There is no holy grail for building the Nigerian State; it requires only consensus building, focused leadership and incremental development of our constitutional experience. The national dialogue is a betrayal of a Presidential mandate.
Text Of A Paper Presented By Osita Chidoka At The Pre National Dialogue Conference Hosted By The Nigeria In Diaspora Organization At The Nigerian Embassy Washington DC On Saturday 19th February, 2005