“I want it written in the Constitution of Nigeria in capital letters, that he who will not work shall not eat: May he be the son of a Christian, a moslem or a heathen; may he be the son of the President of this country or that of the Judge of the Supreme Court.”
Although his book is currently in circulation and generating a lot of controversy, Chief Abdukareem Adebisi Bamidele Akande (82) had earlier narrated the story of his life on November 17, 1977 at the Constituent Assembly in Lagos. It was an emotional story told by an emotional man, long before he held any public office, at the age of thirty-eight. The Chairman of the Assembly then, Mr Justice Udo Udoma could not interrupt Chief Akande’s testimony, inspite of the short time allocated to each member to speak. Chief Akande spoke from his heart on that day.
In his own words, he had declared then that:
“My name is Bisi Akande from Ila/Odo-Otin Constituency, Oyo State. I will start by telling this House that my hope is not in this Draft Constitution, which is under debate. My hope is in the standard of representation in this House. The standard is very impressive. It represents intelligence, experience and patriotism. Sir, you may want to know that my parents, during their life times, belonged to the class of the most hard-working Nigerians. Yet, they died as poor and wretched people, not because the gods were angry with them, but because our system was very bad. It was like the law of the jungle, where there are rats and cats, and the lions and the cattle had to live together. One was just eating up and swallowing the other. Unless I am allowed to refer to the history of the development of my people, I mean the people of my constituency, within the context of the past Constitutions, I may find it a little difficult to give suggestions on the type of Constitution I would like to be fashioned for the peoples of this country.
“My own town, a major historical town within my constituency, actually within Oyo State and Yoruba land, is known as Ila-Orangun. Traditionally, our major occupation was the production of palm-wine in commercial quantity. In short, we were palm wine tappers. My own father was a palm-wine tapper for upwards of about forty years. Daily, he had to climb about eighty palm trees, three times all over. In other words, he climbed palm trees about 240 times everyday, throughout the last forty years of his life. Yet, he lived and died as a very poor Nigerian. Sir, you may be able to appreciate his level of poverty if I tell you that by special arrangement between himself and my mother, he was able to produce the tuber and the grains for our food, while my mother was to supply the soup for the family. In one year, we might not have meat in our food, except during Sallah festival, when neighbours may be generous to give us some ram meat.
“In spite of all this austerity, in 1953 when I gained admission into a secondary school and when I was to pay only N40 a year for school fees, boarding fees, books et cetera, my father, my mother plus all their extended family connections could not afford the cost, and the idea of my going to the secondary school was dropped. My father inherited a large piece of land and landed property within my community, but this could not attract reasonable rent because land was not in demand in my area.
“But my father’s friend in Lagos, a Lagos man, who inherited the landed property of his forefathers throughout his lifetime was idle, but because the tax-payers money of this country was spent in developing Lagos, and the surburbs, he (coud) lead an idle life and yet apart from the fact that he was able to live not only comfortably but in luxury, he was able to train his children who are now my counterparts, in the special pre-primary, primary schools, secondary and post-secondary educational institutions. And what is more, because there is plenty of money in their family, they are too lazy to practice in any trade today. Like their father, they too are idling away their time in luxury. The irony of my life today is that his children, who are my counterparts, look down on me as too inferior and too unfashionable to continue with them the friendship of our parents. Now they occupy a house in Victoria Island. You will remember that Victoria Island was reclaimed, planned and developed with about N200 million naira of tax-payers’ money, before it was unjustly allocated to their father by our heartless successive governments.
“Some of my father’s children who now work in Lagos are living and scattered across the slums of Aguda and Ikate areas of Lagos. In these areas, which house over one million Nigerians, there are no schools, not a single primary or secondary school, no health care centre, no recreational facility, no roads, no drainage. It is a big slum, and the plots of land allocated for these amenities by the government have now been seized and encroached upon by the members of the idle family of the rentier class. They have now built commercial houses for the further exploitation of the people of my own tribe. I will suggest proper provisions to remove these atrocities at the Committee Stage, but in the meantime, the Constitution of my mind is the one that will reward hard work maximally, but punish idleness, as opposed to what obtains under the past Constitutions. The motto of the Soviet Union says, and I quote: ‘The man who will not work shall not eat.’ And Paul the Apostle of Christ in 2nd Thessalonians Chapter 3, verses 10 to 12 says and I quote: ‘We toiled and drudged, we worked for a living, day and night, rather than being a burden to any of you. We set an example for you to imitate, for even during our stay with you, we laid down the rule; the man who will not work shall not eat. We mention this because we hear that some of your members are idling their time away minding everybody’s business but their own.’
“I want it written in the Constitution of Nigeria in capital letters, that he who will not work shall not eat: May he be the son of a Christian, a moslem or a heathen; may he be the son of the President of this country or that of the Judge of the Supreme Court.
“First of all, I will be scared by any Constitution that may give blessing to haphazard measures. An example is the sending of soldiers to schools. If soldiers can make better teachers, why not replace the teachers with the soldiers in the meantime? So, while the soldiers train in the art of teaching through in-service courses, the teachers might be sent to the barracks to train as soldiers.”
“Nigeria is presently made up of two major tribes: “the tribe of the red eyes” and “the tribe of the comfortable idles”. Those of us belonging to the “red eyes” tribe, who are in the majority, pray earnestly for the arrival of the day of total liberation. I would like to continue with the history of the development of my people within the context of the past Constitutions, in order to be relevant in my contributions to the Draft Bill under debate. The people of the old Ila-Orangun constituency were cajoled to leave palm-wine tapping and to go back to the land by the government of this country. The people of the whole of Ila/Odo-Otin Constituency were cajoled to leave their palm wine tapping and go back to the land by the various governments of the country. My people eventually developed very high skills in farming. In the process, through communal efforts, they have built numerous bush paths and tracks that linked them with some towns and villages in Kwara and Ondo States and with some towns and villages linking them with the rest of Oyo State. The experiments of trading in exported goods led them to the development of wider roads to link them with the railway stations in Osogbo and Offa, and the widening of the bushpaths and tracks to link them with the original economic and political associates of the immediate neighbouring towns and villages.
“During the period of self-rule, the central governments at both the state and the federal levels took over these roads from the community. But since the past fifteen years, these roads had been left in a terrible state of disrepair, so much that the people of my constituency, which is situated at the gateway between Kwara and Ondo States and which is a large farm land within Oyo State, can no longer link themselves with any of the outlying marketing areas of Oyo, Kwara and Ondo States. It has become a desolate Island surrounded by roadless lands. You need an excursion to the area to be able to guess what happens to the social and economic life of the people. No matter the remoteness of a people from the seat of government, and no matter their remoteness from the source of authority, the Constitution of my mind is the one that would cater for even development of all the communities within the State, whether rural or urban.
“And where the government operating the Constitution fails, the Constitution should provide a means of redress for the neglected community. On the authority of one Dr J. O. Popoola of the University of Lagos, I understand that one commissioner in Oyo State, who perhaps has his eyes on the 1979 return to politics, was put, in October 1975, in the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Within the six months in office, the only Brick Industry he worked upon was sited in the his village. He was transferred from the Ministry of Trade and Industry to the Ministry of Education. There, in the last nine months, the only College of Arts and Science he worked upon is being sited in his village. I would like the Constitution to prevent the use of the tax-payers’ money to pave way for the boosting of any commissioner’s political chances at the expense of the rest of the members of the State. Whereas at present there are no sufficient secondary school places for over 80 per cent of the primary school leavers’ own constituency, what is funny is that the governor of that State had to go out to the people and declare the area of that commissioner as the educational zone of Oyo State, while my own area, my constituency, where no leads to is declared as an industrial zone. Palm wine industry, I suppose!
“First of all, I will be scared by any Constitution that may give blessing to haphazard measures. An example is the sending of soldiers to schools. If soldiers can make better teachers, why not replace the teachers with the soldiers in the meantime? So, while the soldiers train in the art of teaching through in-service courses, the teachers might be sent to the barracks to train as soldiers.
“Before 1979, both teams would make adequate numbers of trained military teachers necessary for the national need. After all, we at present have soldiers on the surplus and teachers in short supply. Talking seriously, of course, I support Mr Abraham Adesanya, who would like all school leavers to train as soldiers before picking up any job or proceeding to the University. However, I want the Constitution to make all the first level schools, that is the primary schools, to run for nine years, instead of the present six years. I want all the secondary schools to be abolished and I want the number of years in the University to increase to six or seven years, depending on the course. In other words, a child will enter the first level school in his sixth year, and he will come out in his 14th or 15th year. Then he will serve as a soldier in training for one year. At 15 or 16, he will either pick up a job or proceed to a vocational school or to the University.
“The merit of this suggestion is that nobody will be an illiterate again after the first level of school. The present system allows for pupils in their millions to leave primary schools as illiterates. Nobody will be too young again to pick up a job after the primary school. As at now, you leave the primary school at the age of ten and you cannot pick up a job. There are no secondary schools for you to attend, and the very many stages of bottlenecks for entering school will have to be reduced to one.
“There will be no bottleneck for…school leavers in entering secondary school. The only bottleneck will remain between the first level of school and the university or vocational institutions. Above all, because of the military training for all the school leavers, there will be no domination of one ethnic group over the other in the art of soldiering, and if military training, as people say, can infuse discipline in the body politic of this country, it will have to run across all disciplines, that is, all engineers, all accountants, all labourers, and people in all walks of life would have been trained as soldiers.
“It is a good Constitution that declares, defines and entrenches Fundamental Objectives. It is a good Constitution that prescribes the structure of the governmental institutions with the procedures for establishing them, as a means for the effective pursuit and achievement of the set objectives. It is a good Constitution that states clearly the relationship between one governmental institution and another…”
“One other important and serious matter on the issue of higher education is that because of the monetary attractions in the professional fields, while more and more students opt to read law, accountancy, architecture, engineering, et cetera, less and less are now opting to read mathematics, physics, biology and chemistry in our universities. These subjects, people claim, are reserved for school teachers, as if the teaching job is a disease.
“Applied sciences can lead to scientific inventions and industrial growth. Without natural sciences, I am afraid, there can be no applied sciences. Something must be done to arrest this ugly situation, which may knock the bottom out of our hope for greater tomorrow and the leadership of Africa. I share the sentiment of Chief Akinjide and Mr Awoniyi on the need for a constitutional financial strength and greater autonomy for the local governments. While I want the Constitution to provide for an independent guideline, supervision and control of local governments against corruption, inaction and unnecessary excesses, I would not like the state government to have powers to dissolve the local governments.
“I was born into a moslem home. The Constitution must, by its provisions, specifically abolish the state services in any of our churches. It must abolish the opening of parliament by the clergy. It must also abolish all the religious services in connection with the opening of the assizes. I share the sentiment of Mr Alagbe on the demand that only those things that affect all Nigerians, irrespective of religion or ethnic groups, must be promoted to the federal level, while sectional demands, religions or otherwise, must be relegated to the states. Not until then, our federalism will not conjure true unity in diversity. If a state wants feudalism, let it have it. Sharia, to my mind, is an instrument of feudalism. It should not be made a federal matter.
“In the hands of a powerful dictator, experience has shown in Africa that all measures of control were always suppressed and these are, the parliament, the so-called independent judiciary, the opposition, the political parties and the press itself. In the case of Nigeria, experience has shown that where others withered away in a feeble way, the press always fought relentlessly to (hold) the various successive regimes (to account). Because of this, I would not support state ownership of the press. It is a clandestine way through which leaders boost their personal aggrandisement, and through which tyranny can be perpetuated. I want provisions in the Constitution to paralyse and present the re-enactment of such laws, as the existing obnoxious law of sedition and the Press Law of 1964.
“It is a good Constitution that declares, defines and entrenches Fundamental Objectives. It is a good Constitution that prescribes the structure of the governmental institutions with the procedures for establishing them, as a means for the effective pursuit and achievement of the set objectives. It is a good Constitution that states clearly the relationship between one governmental institution and another, between the government and the citizens and makes provisions for the legal enforcement of the duties of the citizens to their government and the responsibilities of the governments to the citizens to avoid drift, instability and turmoil.
“I support, whole-heartedly, as stipulated in the Draft (Constitution), the Executive Presidency system. An elected minister may be popular among his people, yet he may be unintelligent. He may be inexperienced and corrupt. The end result is that he will always be leaving things to the civil servants to decide. Please let the President help himself by appointing a set of crooks in beautiful dresses, if he so desires! He will either rise or sink with them.
“The struggle to politicise positions in the civil service has always been occasioned by the attitude of the senior civil servants themselves. They have power to appoint junior staff and to influence the appointment of the senior ones. You discover tribalism governing their decisions in playing those roles. Take a count in any office headed by an lgbo, Yoruba or Ijaw-man, you will find that the majority of junior staff will either be lgbo, Yoruba or Ijaw, as is the case with the senior civil servants in that office. Now that unemployment is higher at the junior staff level, who would not like his kinsmen to be equally employed?”
Eric Teniola, a former director in the Presidency, writes from Lagos.
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