The National Assembly is tinkering with the 1999 Constitution to see if they can create a new Nigeria. On Thursday, September 6, 2012, the President Goodluck Jonathan gathered members of Civil Societies Organization in Abuja for a seminar to seek their input into the emerging sacred national code. A number of issues were discussed and a communiqué was issued.
But it appears to me that in all these, the fundamental issues seem to have remained untouched, and I do not think Nigeria can make any meaningful progress without dealing with them. Some of them I would discuss below:
The name Nigeria
We know that the name Nigeria was given because Lord Lugard could not find any name for the country he wanted to form. In the course of the confusion in his mind, his ‘concubine’ suggested that the country be called ‘Niger area’ (the areas around the River Niger). Now, we also know that River Niger flows from Senegal: is that country part of the Niger area? If it is not, then where does the Niger area start and end? So, our first step in building a nation must start from considering a name that the country should bear.
Who is a Nigerian?
All those who claim to be Nigerians know in their hearts that they do not believe in the country. Otherwise, why must they steal the wealth of the country ‘they believe in’ and stack them away in other countries? Why must their children go to school in other countries? Why must they visit hospitals in other countries? Why should they prefer other countries’ currency to theirs? Please, who is a Nigerian? In those days it was said: North for the North, East for the East, West for the West, and Nigeria for all. It was equally said that Nigeria was a mere geographical expression.
Someone may say that was in the 1960s. But has the tribal psyche left us? It was the comedian, Uche Ogbuagu, who first asked the question: who is a Nigerian? You hear of a Yoruba man, an Hausa man or an Igbo man, but you do not hear people proudly saying, ‘I am a Nigerian.’ Apart from Herbert Macaulay and Nnamdi Azikiwe, all the others who fought for independence apparently did so from their tribal points of view, and we have continued to see ourselves from that perspective.
Freedom and equal opportunity
Listen to lyrics of the first national anthem: (1) Nigeria we hail thee / Our own dear native land / Though tribes and tongues may differ / In brotherhood we stand / Nigerians all are proud to serve / Our sovereign motherland. (2) Oh God off all creation / Grant this our one request / Help us to build a nation / Where no one is oppressed / And so with peace and plenty / Nigeria may be blessed.
Good anthem! Lofty ideas! But how far did it go? If we want to build a nation where no one is oppressed, then this pretence must stop. We must all change our mindset and begin to build a nation of equal people with equal opportunity, no matter where they come from. Does a situation where you cannot be promoted beyond a certain level in the civil service of a state because you are not an indigene help in building the nation of our dream? What type of nation are you building when you cannot be regarded as a citizen of a place, though you were born and bred in that place, and you do not know any other place of abode in your life? If the United States of America were to be Nigeria, certainly Barack Obama would never have become the president.
When Lord Lugard amalgamated the two separate protectorates (North and South) he created, he did not ask for the opinion of the people. He lumped together the various peoples he met into three regions. None of these regions knew true peace until the collapse of the First Republic. This was mainly because of the heterogeneous nature of the people in each of the regions (except the West). This situation was made more difficult by Ironsi through the decree 34 of 1967 that brought a unitary state. But since 1967, the ‘country’ has been run on that basis irrespective of the creation of states that cannot stand on their feet.
While trying to adopt a national outlook, the current six geopolitical zones should be recognized by the new constitution as federating units, with the citizens allowed to make a choice of where to live, and be regarded as national citizens instead being seen from the tribal microscope.
Type of government
The conference I mentioned earlier adopted the presidential type of government with a bicameral legislature, the type we have now. The truth is that presidential system gives much more room for looting because those in government have too much power and resources to themselves. Our experience from 1979 shows that once elected, politicians become too powerful and power drunk, and so alienate themselves from the electorates who lack the power to impeach or recall them. Because there is no collective parliamentary responsibility, the president or governor cannot account to the people. All he can do is to reshuffle his cabinet when he faces serious criticism. But if the president/governor knows he can be sacked because of the failures of his ministers/commissioners or when he takes the wrong decision, his attitude will change. The new country we want to build should have a unicameral parliamentary government both at the national and state levels.