The State of the Nigerian Nation By Ahmed Joda
Last week two of our former Presidents, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and General Ibrahim Babangida, issued an unprecedented statement drawing our attention to the danger facing our national existence and urging that we face our problems from the grass roots. This is the minimum we should expect from our past leaders and all those who claim or aspire to lead us.
This country must look forward to the positive contributions of all our past leaders and all those who have held high public office. The debate about our future cannot be left in the hands of only those who now hold public office.
Our country has passed through difficult times, including a civil war and has survived. We must not mistake the fact of our survival to anything such as military might. The truth is that we have survived because the ordinary Nigerian overwhelmingly desires to live together in one united country under some commonly acceptable arrangement.
It is quite clear from all we are passing through and from all the political debates in which we have been engaged in, that there is a sufficient body of opinion around the country that the present arrangements are not adequate and need to be discussed further. Some have gone to the extreme by suggesting the convocation of A Sovereign National Conference to renegotiate the terms and conditions of our continued Corporate Existence
Many; some of them well meaning, in every part of the country, are very fearful that this is a formula for disaster that will lead to the disintegration of the country as we know it and a descent into interminable political and social crisis and violence, the like that has existed in Somalia for more than two decades now. Although such an outcome cannot be ruled out the problems we face, do not permit us to ignore the fact we need and must address these problems in order to safeguard our future either as one unit or some other form of arrangement. It is much better to face the issues frontally, discuss them frankly in an open forum, and come up with solutions that can endure and ensure for us a peaceful existence.
Many in positions of in authority in the Executive and in the Legislatures are understandably, fearful of opening up the Pandora’s Box. In my opinion we cannot keep the Box shut forever. There will always remain a substantial and influential body of opinion that will reject any Constitutional tinkering that does not address some of the more important issues pertaining to our common existence. Not addressing these issues openly and frankly in a free and fair debate between our true representatives will not permit the orderly continued existence of Nigeria and or engender the potential for us to resume the rapid economic and social development that we all desire.
I suggest that we should immediately begin to address the very important issue of how to constitute the body that will review our Constitution. Both the Executive and the Legislative branches of our Government maintain that Nigeria is a Sovereign Nation governed by an elected President and bicameral legislature, in whose hands all decisions lie and who, therefore are the bodies entrusted by the people to take all decision including those affecting their existence and their fate.
The above stance may, as far as the law stands and is concerned, be the legalistic position. But we have issues of credibility and therefore moral recognition and acceptability to contend with. What the advocates of a Sovereign National Conference, are saying is that the elections that brought these people into office were not credible. The court verdicts, that maintains them there are also questionable. Even opponents of the Sovereign National Conference do question the credibility of the elections and the verdicts of the courts.
In this situation, it is clearly not safe to leave matters of the review of the Constitution in the hands of those now in power. In order for us to undertake a comprehensive review of the Constitution, a body different from the present National Assembly, State Houses of Assemblies and the Presidency should be empowered to undertake the task.
This contribution is only concerned in drawing attention to the need to devise an acceptable way of approach towards a solution of our constitution and the political crisis associated with the exercise.
It appears that a likely more acceptable arrangement will be the establishment of a Constituent Assembly, with a full mandate to comprehensively review the Constitution. The Constituent Assembly should be composed of an entirely elected membership. No representation should be permitted for special interests. The election should be on zero political party bases. Serving Members of any legislative body should not be eligible. Public Servants, who wish to serve, must resign from their offices.
The Constituent Assembly should be brought into being by an Act of the National Assembly.
Now the important question of defining the powers, the duties and the responsibilities of the Assembly, including that of drawing up the Agenda and the duration of the Assembly. It is the suggestion of this contribution that, the serving President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; should be the Chairman of the body to draw up the instruments that govern the creation and functioning of the Constituent Assembly. Other members should be all former Presidents and Heads of Government, former Vice Presidents including those military who served in the capacities of number two, Former Chief Justices of the Federation; the Presidents of the Senate and the Speakers of the House of Representatives as well as one governor from each of the political zones. It should be provided in the Act of the National Assembly creating the Constituent Assembly that it should complete its work in twelve months; provide a Draft Constitution and the enactment legislation. The Draft should not be subject to review either by the Executive or the Legislature but must be subjected to a nationwide referendum. If approved it will be brought into effect by an Act of the National Assembly.
The Independent National Electoral Commission should be empowered by the Act bringing into being of the Constituent Assembly to conduct the elections into it on the basis of the existing Federal House of Representatives Constituencies. The composition, the procedures as well as the outcome of the Constituent Assembly should not be subject to any legal challenge.
All these processes should be synchronised with and taken into account the 2015 Elections.
For the purpose of ensuring the credibility and, therefore, the acceptance of the work of the Constituent Assembly, the 2015 elections, it is recommended that the present dispensation including the political parties should adopt a Code of Conduct that must be observed by all players. The following basic approaches should be adopted:
a) The President should restructure his Cabinet; appoint more credible people, complete his present mandate to continue the work of Governing the country to preside over a free, fair and transparent General Election, in 2015;
b) Immediately impose an Austerity Budget and reduce Government waste
c) Work with the judicial system to undertake an accelerated fight against corruption;
d) Visibly demonstrate that all awarded Government Contracts are faithfully
e) and actively being executed;
f) Become more visibly and more actively engaged in solving present security challenges
Most importantly, the President should defuse the present political tension that now pervades the country. This should begin with his renouncing any intention he may have of contesting the 2015 elections and devoting his entire time, energy and the resources of the country in order to give Nigeria a Credible and acceptable Constitution; a free, transparent and fair election.
Finally all recognised Nigerian Political Parties should subscribe to a Code of Conduct committing everyone of them to pledge to preserve the unity and integrity of the country; to subscribe to free and fair elections and to accept that for the highest post of the country, the competition should be open to the best and not based on any formula whatever. The people of Nigeria should be enabled to choose those who they wish to lead them at all level
Yola, 6th August, 2012