What I found missing in President Buhari’s independence anniversary speech is the fate of the 2014 National Conference report. That confab cost the nation at least N20billion. It was far from perfect, but its resolutions, if implemented, could make Nigeria a better country. The conferees, drawn from all corners of the country and from all social strata, achieved what the 469-member National Assembly has not been able to attempt in 16 years.
As the then opposition party, the APC did not send representatives to the conference. There was a plot to frustrate the dialogue which Asiwaju Bola Tinubu called a “Greek gift”. Many rightly considered the proposal by President Jonathan selfish and meant to give him some mileage in an election year. Other well-meaning Nigerians believed it would be a jamboree just like all other previous conferences.
It is unfortunate that the sceptics are being proved right. Perhaps Jonathan truly wanted to use the conference’s report as a bargaining chip in the south-west: if they voted for him he would implement the report during his second term, he must have promised. As it turned out, he failed to win a second term.
All the reservations expressed then should not matter now. Patriotism beckons on the new leaders of the country, for Nigeria’s restructuring is a matter of WHEN, not IF. And the earlier it is done, the better for all of us. It is the only antidote to the ills of tribalism, nepotism, injustice and poor leadership that have caused a civil war, election rigging, and now terrorism. We simply cannot continue on this ruinous path. Change must come.
An alternative is not to convoke another conference as someone has suggested. The nation is already conference-weary; no one would support another conference without implementing the recommendations of previous ones. Besides, the legislative arm remains a stumbling block: Grossly unproductive, it claims to be the only legitimate body that can make a constitution.
We all know that the 1999 Constitution is a fraud. It is not the product of any people’s conference, even as it lies in its very first sentence: “We the people…” Filled with loopholes, it offers a flawed form of presidential system that is unsustainable. What have we had since 1999? Idle lawmakers who determine their own pay. Widening inequality. Deep-seated injustice. Monumental corruption. Expanding educational institutions and shrinking job market. Rising population, rising crime, rising poverty and growing frustration. All these have indirectly invited the ultimate nightmare: terrorism.
This is a time that calls for statesmanship. I monitored the 2014 conference closely and know that some of the resolutions reached were good. A benevolent legislature should now adopt them wholesale or make some minor amendments. In particular, Nigeria should be split into six or seven regions, each of them semi-autonomous. There would no longer be 36 states, all but three distressed. The revenue allocation formula has to change: no allocation for local governments. I would also vote for a part-time unicameral legislature at the centre.
Reforms will not lead to Nigeria’s breakup. In any case, it is not Nigerians that have been working to break their country up; foreigners are the culprits. We need one another. But if Nigeria is a nation of laws, it should enforce its own laws. What, for instance, is a ghost worker? Only on newspaper pages are hundreds of thousand ghost workers caught and yet nobody goes to jail. Nigeria is one of the most corrupt countries on earth, but no corrupt person is serving a jail sentence today. Our prisons are filled with chicken thieves, pickpockets and other defenceless people. Those that should have been in jail are worshipped and even pose as leaders of the country.
Whatever needs to be done should be done now. We should not wait for another election year – there is no money to be wasted on electioneering anymore. And let no one be so hypocritical as to regard the introduction of a new constitution as a mission impossible. Just a few people sat down for a few days and gave us the 1999 Constitution. It won’t take more than a few weeks for the National Assembly (which passed 46 bills within 10 minutes in May this year) to produce a constitution based on the 2014 conference.
As I have always stated, those opposing change because they wish to retain the privileges they enjoy now are being myopic. If things went awry or if the economy collapsed, those privileges would disappear instantly. Who knew that suicide bombing, kidnapping for ransom and terrorism would reach the Nigerian soil? We are paying for the sins of yesteryear – what we did wrongly or left undone in the hope that change won’t come.
–By ANIEBO NWAMU