A rear mirror view of the so-called public hearings on constitution amendment shows that nothing of a national consensus was achieved on any serious issue. Whether it is the much talked-about structure of the federation and the serious issue of revenue sharing or frivolous ones like state and local government creation, we just ended hearing a cacophony of tribal and sectional voices. This was shadow boxing at its lowest. Would anyone risk saying that Nigeria has spoken from the outcome of the merry-go-round? No.
The short shrift given to public opinion by the National Assembly makes you wonder whether they truly set out to carry the people along. The whole exercise took the country to a point half-way between democracy and fascism. The fascist politician swears his love for the people but in reality, he bows before an all-powerful political leader. We are half-way between democracy and fascism because the executive arm of the government under President Jonathan is, in all fairness, relatively liberal but the same cannot be said of all the other arms and even more notoriously, the governors in the states who govern as if they are emperors with iron hands. The procedure adopted by both the Senate and House of Representatives ruffled so many political feathers such that a cross-section of the country’s labour and civil society movements cried foul. The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA shouted the loudest against the hurried and disjointed arrangements. They argued that these were clustered and unwieldy and therefore, deliberately designed not to carry the Nigerian people along.
The National Assembly spanked the NBA and proceeded haughtily with their schemes, in a way suggesting that it was up to the public to take advantage of the little window opening or lose everything. It is as if the people belonged to the government not the other way round. With this alone, you need no further evidence that the political class has never been so cut off from the common citizen as it is today. The signs of this are all around us. People are being treated as the property of the ruling parties and governments. We elect people who behave as our rulers not servants. Unless this mentality is changed, it is hard to imagine this attempt at constitution amendment having a happy ending. It was evident that the top-down way of doing things is the method they have chosen. This never worked in the past and it is not likely to succeed at this time. The Senate brought a handful of people to a public forum in Sokoto, pretending that this was an assembly of the 30-40 million people residing in the North-Western zone. You need no further evidence this was a scheme to shut out the people.
A British scheme to re-structure and re-order their society began and succeeded beyond the imagination of even those who conceived the idea because it was well planned and executed. Upon a national consensus in 1978, that government embarked upon a programme of extensive national consultation tagged “The Bare Knuckles.” The big idea was to rediscover “what is Britain? And who are we?” It was their equivalent of the constitution amendment in which we in Nigeria are pretending to be rendering. The British are governed by laws and conventions, being a country without a written constitution. This programme was televised on BBC. It was anchored by Anthony Simpson, famous for “Simpson’s World” on the BBC and now of the Aljazeera network. A cross-section of the length and breadth of the British society was asked the tough question about what has gone wrong, and what can be done to right it. It was the question of Britain not of personality or political party or a section of their country. Compare this with the emotion-laden sectional and selfish demands that dominated the fiasco called public hearings we are talking about here. Of the more that 200 demands for state creation before the Senate and House committees, Dr. Abubakar Mohammed of the ABU reported that one zone alone asked for 100.
From the beginning, all the British political parties were bought into their own version of this project so it was a non-partisan scheme. And because it was the question of Britain, not a section thereof, parties agreed beforehand that they would abide by the outcomes of the nationwide consultation. They even resolved to draw their manifestoes therefrom. At the end of this exercise, it was agreed by all that “Britain had spoken”.
Among the questions that were resolved was that Britain would overcome its imperial hangover, much loved as it was. They voted that the state would no longer harbour the sentiment of an empire. They said much as there was value to the special relationship between Britain and Europe on the one-hand and Britain and the United States on another, it was important that these be redefined. Britain also resolved to change community and family values and to in particular accept diversity and pluralism as features of the British society. This meant a place for the Asians, the growing black population and all the others who took residency in the United Kingdom. Again, compare this with the ongoing struggles of the white-dominated American Republican Party following their recent loss of the presidential elections to the Obama-led Democratic Party. It is significant that the British society foresaw a multi-cultural future for Britain, a matter that the Americans are trying to understand or address nearly 35 years after. In that Bare Knuckles exercise, Britain also laid the broad framework for dealing with Scotland and Northern Island as well as the country’s future relationship with Europe. From here, Britain moved forward with the framework for driving the process of the agreed changes.
I have already reached the conclusion that the constitution amendment going on as spear-headed by the National Assembly cannot save this country. Quite apart from burdening the country’s harassed and harangued people with a lot of unwanted emotional rubbish, the modus operandi is one that engenders division and acrimony instead of consensus and social harmony. The ill effects of these negative traits have already started to stress the fabric that holds the country as one. When you all add these tensions to the volatile and destructive war waged between government and the Boko Haram sect, Nigeria looks more and more like a glorified Somalia or Afghanistan.
A perceptible federal government should read the writing on the wall by ending this expensive jolly ride and refocusing the nation on the basic issues of security, the right to life and infrastructure. This constitution amendment has only succeeded in driving the country further apart.
If no on cares to do this, the common people of this country will come together to fight these malicious people for the common good of Nigeria.
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