A recent encounter with the elder Statesman, Chief Anthony Enahoro, brought out the grey areas of the present political structure and government system and here, our Editor-in-Chief, Sam Onimisi, recounts the words of one of Nigeria’s wisest statesmen.
On the absurdity of the present ‘federal’ structure …
The Independence Constitution of 1960 and/or the Republican Constitution of 1963 were more ideal laws than what we are presently saddled with. They prescribed in clear terms the powers of the centre and that of regions in a way as to give each tier of government due respect and regard. It is not because that constitution was bad that we had a coup in 1966. The constitution didn’t contribute to that.
If we had had a clean election in 1964/65, the coup of 1966 and the succession of coups thereafter would never have occurred. How on earth would somebody sit in Abuja and decide that he is going to decide what goes on in my home area or how many or the type of local councils we should have at Ishan? He doesn’t know the place; there is nobody in Abuja who knows the place unless someone takes them there from here.
You will then begin to understand the arbitrariness and absurdity of the present local government system. Why, in any case, must we have a uniform local government system throughout the whole vast country? Who is injured if, for example, the Hausas decide that they want to administer themselves on the basis of emirates? I am not, you are not. And that’s why I can’t see why somebody who comes from there, sitting there as a Minister in Abuja now decides for us, what kind of local government system we should have in my area. That’s where our diversity begins.
And you ought to allow people to administer their own affairs at certain levels. What binds us together is just this big Nigeria, not local government systems, not chieftaincy systems, not the emirates, not the emirs or the traditional rulers. Each distinct area has its own local government system. And I think we all know what goes on in these artificial local government councils that they created. I don’t know how they behave in your own area, but it’s shocking how they are behaving here. It is because in most cases, these are people who only came to the forefront because of the system that those people foisted on the country. I don’t know where we can find a professor now who can become a local government chairman. Where is he going to get the money to contest the election to the local government chairmanship down here in the South; I don’t know about the Middle-Belt.
If he hasn’t got about N10 million or more, he is not anywhere near that office. So, in other words, we can’t even get our best qualified sons and daughters to take charge of our affairs. One could go on and on about what is wrong with the present structure and our present system. We have discussed this system or structure over the years and finally arrived at an ideal constitution, which we shall propose to Nigerians in due course.
On the imperative of restructuring …
When we talk of restructuring, it may seem strange to people who have not given the various issues that binds us together or sets us apart, very serious thought. And that’s why we shall have to publish our findings, after intensive research, debates and arguments, what appear best suited to a multi-national and multi-ethnic country like Nigeria.
If you take the Middle-Belt as an example, the very fact that things are different there, strengthens us in our belief that uniformity is not the answer to Nigeria’s multifarious problems. You have got to allow the people to develop practically at their own pace in many respects, bearing in mind their own values, their peculiar approach and worldview and so on.
When I said two years ago that if Sokoto State, for example, gets their federal allocation and decide to spend it on Hajj, well, that is their choice and there is nothing the rest of us can do about it. Because that is what they prefer and we must allow them in a democracy. You cannot have a federal government who will tell them that, well, this is your money but this is what you must spend it on. That would be wrong and that is not federalism at all, that is over-centralization.
We may have our views on the propriety of what they are doing, but if this is a federation and we claim certain rights ourselves – the right to do right, do I say that they also have the right to do what pleases them, hoping that, in due course, opinion will change and modernization will set in; but you cannot force your values on others.
The consequences of over-centralisation is that everybody have seen that real power is concentrated in the centre, but the centre is so over-loaded that it has dragged the whole country down and backward. You cannot move any faster than the centre is prepared to move, and so the country is stuck. Even a small matter such as borehole or water dam, which should ordinarily be a village matter, is decided from Abuja, to approve a subject, which in a place where I spent the last few years in exile, it is an urban matter, not even a state matter at all.
If you come to the military, it is the same. It has been destroyed by those who, through contrivances, managed to take control of it and then put it to selfish use. It is the same thing with religion, an emotive issue, but one used to divide and incite the people against their neighbours, all deriving from over-centralization – having become an instrument for political action. These are some of the damages done by the military during their three decades in power – because that is the only style of administration they understand.
They turned Nigeria into a vast barrack with one commander to give instructions down the line. You are not supposed to take your own decisions in your own sector of the barrack; all you have to do is to obey the instructions of whoever is the commander.
Don’t you think that if we are now far more politically backward than at independence, something must be gravely wrong, which I attribute to the system, which since 1966, has been imposed on the country. Then, take the presidential system, which after a long debate, we said is wrong for a multi-national country like ours.
What it means is that your governor can travel and stay at overseas for as long as he pleases and nobody can do anything about it; because under this system, even incompetence is tolerated, as you cannot remove him for it; he has to commit a crime, but under a parliamentary system, his party can remove him. All you need do is go to the House, move and pass a motion and that would be the end of him.
I hear that a deputy governor had to resign because his governor spends all his time overseas, while the machinery of state lay grounded. Perhaps, the thing that could have been done was to impeach him; but then, loitering abroad may not be an impeachable offence, and so you can’t impeach him, forcing his deputy to become frustrated in the running of the administration. If the governor claims that he is administering the state from London, with tons of fax messages containing instructions, there is nothing you can do about it. The court may well decide that he has not committed any offence worthy of impeachment.
The country is too vast for such a system. In fact, some of the states are not economically viable at all, and that’s why their governors go cap-in-hand to Abuja, seeking for funds to run the states. That is why we in MNR believe that the system has to change to make each decide the type of local government they want.
This uniformity must be done away with if we are to make progress. As far as we are concerned, it is the business of the Regions to decide the type of local government system that best suits them. Our own local government system here is such that the traditional rulers are incorporated because they are the ones closer to the rural and ordinary people, and so, they know the local needs to be met by the grassroots authority.
Areas that have a different social-cultural set-up should have the right to decide and choose their own system of local administration. It is not the business of Nigeria as a whole to decide what type of local government the diverse ethnic groups should have.
We must remember and not forget the ethnic nationalities in their own rights. Like in the Middle-Belt area, the very fact that we, have the Middle-Belt does not mean that the ethnic nationalities such as the Tiv, the Idoma, the Ebira, etc., are no more. They are there and they are real. They must have some platform to decide certain matters for themselves, even if only to decide their own chieftaincy system according to their own values and traditions, which has nothing to do with a minister in Abuja or with anybody else for that matter. So, it will be wrong for us here, or at the centre, to prescribe what the local government system should be at the various areas of Nigeria. It has to be the business of the regions to do so.
How do we restructure, I mean how do we begin?
The real question is, given the present system, how do we implement or transit to the new system? Timing becomes important in terms of what to do first, and this deals with the structures that best suits Nigeria. How we do what is to be done is another matter entirely.
Nobody is suggesting that, on day one, you scrap everything; and on day two, everything will be in place – that’s not how it works. There would be transitional provisions as to what needs to be done. But the key factor to restructuring is the regions, and we are trying to say that there are two criteria for regions. One, there is the ethnic criteria; two, there is the need for numerical viability – and in my own view, both are important, because there is no use asking an ethnic group of 1000 people or so to be a region.
So, there must be a minimum number, and we propose that it should be one million, and if you are not up to one million, you have to join with your neighbor with whom you are contiguous and/or homogenous, as the case may be; otherwise, you cannot exercise the powers of a region and would have to return those powers to the centre. I don’t think the centre, from our own experience and history, has behaved well as to be entrusted with such powers to be exercised for the regions.
I think the centre has been too powerful for the good of the various peoples of Nigeria. And the funds expended at the centre, means, those funds are not available for development down the line. What is the centre after all? There is no human elements in the centre, the centre is a creation of the people in the regions and shouldn’t become more powerful than the people who created it.
The regions are not getting the funds, yet they needed it most. These vast sums that are being spent at the centre, with the greatest respect to the legislature at the centre, how on earth do you give somebody one million naira monthly? It doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world and, besides, we all know what the GNP and GDP, the level of poverty, etc.
I was told in the U.S. when the law-makers were given N5 million furniture allowances that, given the exchange rate of the dollar to the naira at the time, it means giving each Senator 574 million to buy furniture; and if you do that in the US, the people could shoot the senators at sight. If the level of poverty and the minimum income in the US is $20,000 a year, and a senator gets about $400,000 a year, and here – where we are reeling in poverty, a senator gets N5 million as furniture allowance only; in the meantime, no motorable road, no potable water and other social amenities are lacking, does it make sense?
These are the issues. The money should flow down where the people will decide what they want the money to be used for. Our policemen are not paid, teachers are not paid for months, and yet they have so much money at the centre as to be constructing a N38 billion stadium!
What are the rules for self-determination, in order to prevent succession?
On secession, it is true that a country such as Ethiopia has a clause for secession in her constitution. I must say that I am not very comfortable with such a clause. But I also observe that although the clause is there, nobody in Ethiopia has evoked it, the country goes on, but it does mean that the rest of the country will be interested in fairplay for all the component areas, so that nobody feels sufficiently aggrieved as to want to secede from the federation.
But that is something for the ethnic nations to consider.’ But I think that for stability, there ought to be a minimum period of, say, twenty years after the restructuring, before any group can opt out or so.
Even though, knowing human nature as it is, if a people is sufficiently armed and are determined to go, you can’t stop them. Look at Kosovo, East Timor, etc. So, provision for secession in the constitution is for or against, and is neither here nor there.
If people are aggrieved within the federation and nothing is done to ensure that their grievances are redressed, you wait until they have enough arms, they will go. We have seen it happen again and again. But here, we are suggesting … let’s have twenty years of stability. Here is a country where nothing is certain or even seems to have been done right. We have no reliable figures of census, we don’t know how many we are, still literally speaking, living in the bush.
And so, we cannot really pin down any aggrieved segment of the people when we have no solution to their problems. Do you realize that the big countries in the world have not succeeded in stopping the little ones? Little Chechenya is still fighting the Russians, Timor is gone and, in Spain, certain people were given their region; in fact, the whole world has become conscious of the need to accommodate the ethnic groups and nationalities as such.
It is foolhardy to assume that because certain world powers succeeded at one time or the other, amalgamated several groups into one country, then you are supposed to have forgotten your roots. Nobody has forgotten; it just doesn’t happen.
On the exploration of mineral resources …
The issue of natural mineral resources ought to be viewed with a distinction between the individual, his community, the State, region or whatever. We suggest that offshore oil be determined by those living around the area and in whose territory the oil is found. The community is a very strong thing in African societies and a way must be found to involve the community in the exploration and sharing of the income from their soils.
These communities have been there for generations and centuries, long before the present artificial units of government were created and, therefore, cannot just be ignored. The bigger units’ existence must not wash away the communities, their nationalities and their rights over the resources in their territories.
The need for English as a lingua franca …
It is fair that all Nigerians be entitled to have access to the records of their governments’ activities, and you need to use English for that purpose. But that relevant local languages will be used in the appropriate legislatures will be prescribed by the regional constitution. However, where a region is made up of several nationalities, they will also have to use English for official communication.
What of the debate on indigenes and citizens?
One funny question concerning us in Nigeria now is the issue of citizenship. We have been told recently that Nigerians should forget about their ethnic roots and just regard themselves as citizens of Nigeria. What they failed to add is that, practically everyone living in Nigeria can become citizens regardless of their countries of origin.
What is going to stop one or two million people from Niger Republic or wherever – there is an influx already – what will stop them tomorrow if they decide to be regarded as citizens of Nigeria? They could just move down here through the porous borders and claim to be Nigerians and their votes could pervert the choice or decision of bonafide Nigerians on very sensitive issues.
Every Nigerian has a home, a root and belongs to one ethnic group or the other with definite and distinct territories, families, villages and towns. Just because in Europe, people can wander about now does not mean we have gotten to that stage in Nigeria or Africa. And there is a particular danger from one direction, and that is Chad, Niger, Sahara, etc.
The danger, which is already here, is that if there is an earthquake or cyclone or natural disaster as there has been drought in the past, they can just move down into Nigeria and then, we will be expected to regard them as citizens of Nigeria. In fact, there are more or less no frontiers with those countries and they are already so many in the North, and this will be increasingly so, given the bad shape of the economy of those countries.
What the proponents of free citizenship are saying in effect, is that we should just legalise their rights or choice of Nigerian citizenship. There are no easy answers to claims to indigeneity by citizenship.
Before anybody can be granted the right to become a Nigerian citizen, he must go beyond wanting to be a Nigerian. He must disclose where he wants to live in Nigeria, where is he going to be part of. The people of those areas should have a say in the matter. Supposing one hundred thousand Chadians now decide that they want to go and live in Enugu, shouldn’t that state or regional government have a say in the matter?
Is it sufficient for someone to sit down in Abuja and say, oh, you are now a Nigerian, citizen without any reference to Enugu? What of the social welfare schemes, the public utilities that will be over-stretched, the public school and health systems that will be over-burdened – all these to be borne by the Enugu State government?
In Europe, they have fought two World Wars; they have well-developed economy, technology and social welfare system and, so, they have now recognized the nationalities and so, are trying to do something bigger and better; but we are not there yet. Otherwise, some of us will be swamped by others.
On representative democracy and accountability …
There must be a conscious endeavour that, in all national institutions, as much as possible, these should be composed by regional appointments. For example, the Audit Bureau for the federation should consist of all the heads of audit of the regions. If we want to be together, let us be seen to be doing things together freely.
Let us use more regional representatives than we are doing now. It is because the states are so many – 36 in all – it will become almost senseless having that number in certain respects. For example, what do you need a cabinet of 36 for, what job will they do? Some of us have ideas of what governments and cabinets are.
You can imagine that we have more ministers than the United States. Where else in the world do you have as many ministers as we have in Nigeria? Must every State have a minister? Many of them are idle; but yet he must have a retinue of staff, official cars and houses and a host of other privileges; yet we can’t give money for education, for health care services, etc.
So, what we intend is that if we have eighteen viable regions, then the cabinet will have 18 ministers, each representing a region, full stop. The ministers ought to be busy enough, instead of having almost fifty ministers, several senior special advisers and assistants, most of who are doing nothing in particular. The fewer they are, the more busy they will be, while their office and positions become more dignified.
With due respect to the President, Chief Gani Fawehinmi was quoted to have said that Chief Obasanjo by this year had already spent N81 billion on tours. Is it not because you have too much money in the Centre? If the money was not there, maybe he wouldn’t have been tempted to go on such tours.
What type of Legislature is suitable in the circumstance?
Take the federal parliament, for instance. There should continue to be two Houses but the concept of the Senate is meaningless as far as we are concerned. We are of the view that there is little or no difference between the Senate and the House of Representatives.
We feel that the House of Reps should remain while there should be a House of Nationalities where the nationalities as nationalities will be represented. All nationalities that make up Nigeria are entitled to a voice there, regardless of the population of each nationality. It is that House that will decide those country-wide issues such as citizenship and all that kind of things.
If somebody wants to be a Nigerian and live among us, it is not just the business of the federal government; it is the business of all of us. If you want to be one of us, we are all affected and, therefore, interested. It is that body we suggest that will set up a Commission on Nationalities to handle such matters. That should be the structure of the federal parliament.
In the past and early days of this country, the legislature in the Centre was composed from the regions and elected by the regions from among themselves. In the restructured parliament, we also do not like to tight the hands of the region as to who should represent them.
If they choose to have distinguished citizens among themselves who have served creditably in public service and who don’t want to engage in party politics, such as ex-this, ex-that, their hands shouldn’t be tied. We must not say, you need to be a member of the Regional House of Assembly first before you can be elected into that of Nationalities. They should be free to make their choice.
Furthermore, there would be some nationalities that are not represented in the regional legislature or at the federal level. There must be provisions to ensure that such nationalities are represented at the appropriate level in the spirit of representative democracy.
Of course, the regions will have their own constitutions in which they must provide for the nationalities within the region, otherwise some of them may not feel as part of Nigeria just because nature made them few – and that’s not fair. In fact, the House of Nationalities will be the upper house because this is truly Nigeria together; that is the idea.
As it were, if the unit is 200 thousand to one member in the House of Reps, some nationalities may not be represented in that house, whereas they will be at the House of Nationalities.
Culled from Our VISION magazine, Vol.3, No.12, March/April, 2002