By Garba Shehu
It gives me no pleasure coming to terms with glaring facts that the on-going attempt to amend or change the subsisting constitution of Nigeria has degenerated into a plot to preserve the privileges enjoyed by a few, or divide Nigeria using political chicaneries.
An opportunity for massive amendments and legislations for fulfilling the wishes of the citizens is thus being sacrificed on the altar of selfishness and greed. Instead, it has become one big opportunity to settle long-standing scores between the North, East, the West and the South-south. Senator Ekwerenmadu who leads the entire amendments process, the hub of which is the National Assembly, manifests a tendency of aligning with the South-Eastern agenda. At all cost, the East wants one more state to rival the South-South and the South-West which parade six states each.
But the country’s President Dr. Jonathan Goodluck was the first to foul up the waters by raising an early hand for an extended term of office, whether six or seven years, different from the current position which allows two four-year terms.
The President of the Senate, General David Mark parades himself as the “pride of the Idoma”- instead of pride of Nigeria which I think he richly deserves considering his contributions to national stability – a title and insignia he displays on branded Mont Blanc pens issued to visitors to the Senate President. His own people, the Idomas want a state, Apa State at any cost, to liberate themselves from the dominance of the Tivs in Benue State. For them, there is no better opportunity to gain this than now, when their son presides at the Senate.
I read the resolutions of the Northern Governors on the proposed amendments and they seemed to stand against whatever the South say they want. They spoke for their people on a majority of issues – revenue allocation, derivation, state police etc. My problem with them is that they seemed struck to 19 century idea of the Republic and fail to see the momentum centripetal forces have gathered thus far. This country will either break into pieces or at best remain a weakened Federation. Things will not remain as they are in the long run.
The Governors seemed totally uninterested in addressing the other saliencies on the public’s mind, such as the issue of their increasing powers vis-à-vis the lack of accountability to the general public. Governors are like emperors nowadays who carry on as if they own our rights and liberties. It is this failure to make them accountable that makes them to give a short shrift to our priorities such as education, security and health. If Governors in the North are doing their work as they should, would there have been Boko Haram?nWould there have been rampant cases of robbery and kidnapping in the South?
Unfortunately, this scramble for personal and political advantage has given rise to a process that is at best, clouded and unresponsive to the aspirations of the general public. As a result, there are a thousand problems lying underneath that nobody wants to talk about.
This country’s judicial infrastructure is in shambles. The lower levels of the courts system have so deteriorated that it is hard, if not impossible for the poor and the illiterate to get judicial remedies for wrongs done to them. They are often victims of greedy law officials. The higher levels of the judiciary are, in the view of many compromizable and unproductive. Now, Nigerians look to U.K. courts for any high-profile convictions and the return of stolen wealth.
In Nigeria, justice to the poorest is the biggest challenge because here, the rule is “Might is Right”. Truth is, the richer you are, the more likely you can get or escape justice. The criminal justice system has virtually become a vehicle for the miscarriage of justice.
How about cyber-crimes for which Nigerians are gaining world-wide notoriety? Is anyone concerned about all that? How many times have you been forced to pay bribes or to pay for service that is well below par? If constitution amendment is not about these, what is it for?
Electoral reforms have remained a wishful thinking and key issues in that regard are still outstanding. Under the present conditions, even hard core criminals can contest and win elections. How can they make good laws for the country?
The best investment for any country is in human development. In that respect, our very high young population warrants a system in which investment in human development is compulsory. Nigeria indeed has a long way to go in the coming decades. It is the coming generations, not this one that will take Nigeria forward. In line with this, changes in law and the constitution must aim at boosting education infrastructure to fuel the aspiration of the youths. The youths need to understand the country’s problems and come forward to rectify them. The challenge is beyond this crop of leadership.
It is up to those leaders at the centre and the states to follow the principles of good governance to save Nigeria from further decay or we just take it easy and surrender ourselves to their common desires of becoming rich and powerful.
The new laws that the country needs must ensure that religion, language, region and ill-gotten wealth are not used to divide Nigeria. Corruption must be dealt with; to be reduced it to zero or somewhere near that otherwise no system or constitution can improve Nigeria.
Can this democracy thrive on the culture of selfishness and greed by leaders? Constitutional amendments are designed to promote the larger good of society. In our own case, public interest is almost always superseded by private political ambitions. In 2006, important constitutional amendments died on account of Obasanjo’s obsession to rule perpetually.
Can we or should we continue like that? When legislators and leaders at other levels manipulate the constitution for selfish gains, do you expect the citizens to trust their leaders, let alone be convinced that those they “elected” are working in their best interest? As brilliantly argued by a former Minister of Justice in the Second Republic, Chief Richard Akinjide, the problem of our democracy has nothing to do with whether we are operating a presidential, parliamentary, unicameral or bicameral systems. He said the character of the people being elected is largely the drag on our democracy.