Many discerning and privileged Nigerians have seen the handwriting on the wall, and they have been perfecting some form of “PLAN B” for themselves and their immediate family members. But those of us who have no Plan B of any sort, must now take the bull by the horns, and summon the courage to address the major cracks and crevices in our structural arrangements, in our perception and regard for the rule of law and equal citizenship, in our leadership recruitment processes, and in what priority we accord to leadership integrity and accountability. Nigeria was not designed to be the monster it has become today, recklessly devouring its children, and callously inflicting pain and distress on the most talented and patriotic of its people. The original terms agreed upon by the founding fathers of Nigerian (the result of the painstaking negotiations at the constitutional conferences held in Nigeria and in the U.K. between 1953 and 1959), have been severely violated and senselessly brutalised by both military adventurists and civilian conquerors. Many legal experts today believe that the constitutional arrangement which the military bequeathed us by way of the 1999 Constitution, has little semblance with the 1960 Independence Constitution or the 1963 Republican Constitution, by which Nigeria became a federal republic. This explains in large measure why 62 years after independence, and after fighting a bitter civil war, where we lost millions of our brothers and sisters, there is today a renewed clamour for not only self-determination, but even outright secession by significant elements from some of our ethnic nationalities that came together in October 1960 to form the independent Nigerian federation.
Time for a critical dialogue towards 2023 and beyond
In the run-up to the 2023 general elections therefore, those of us who have not given up on Nigeria must start asking – and we owe it as a duty to ask: National Unity – at what cost? And on what terms? What really are the fundamental bases of our being together? What do we hold in common? What do we agree should be our core national values, and the basic rules of engagement for our corporate existence? As individual politicians and political parties jostle for positions, come 2023, some of us recognise that just a change of ruling party or ruling persons (which the 2023 elections will hopefully achieve) is not enough, and it cannot take us far. A re-negotiation of the terms of our union (as a matter of utmost urgency and priority national imperative) is to me the most viable path for salvaging our failing and collapsing nation. Meanwhile, Nigerians have held several profound conversations in the past, including Ibrahim Babangida’s 1986 Political Bureau, Sani Abacha’s 1995 Constitutional Conference, Olusegun Obasanjo’s 2005 Political Reform Conference, and Goodluck Jonathan’s 2014 National Dialogue. We have produced tons of documents from previous dialogue sessions, whose recommendations have been ignored by a succession of leaders. We need to revisit the outcome of these dialogue conferences, and indeed the Savannah Centre has done some useful work in this regard, with the support of a number of agencies, including my own Lux Terra Leadership Foundation. The recommendations for structural reforms from these previous dialogue events must now be considered among the low-hanging fruits from which to start the project of salvaging our collapsing nation. The changes we require to bring about are not superficial, but massive, fundamental, and far-reaching. But in my view the required changes can be summarised under the three broad themes of RULE OF LAW, EQUAL CITIZENSHIP, and SELF DETERMINATION or what has often been described as DEVOLUTION OF POWERS, to reflect our true nature as a federal state and not a unitary system that is claiming to be a federation.
We must trace our steps back to the federalist route negotiated by the founding fathers and understand that the basis of the existence of Nigeria is mutual respect for the religious, ethnic and cultural diversities of all those in the union. The 1999 Constitution appears to have vested too much power in the centre and emasculated the federating units. There is widespread call today that we dust up the 1963 Constitution and amend it for our present-day circumstances. This implies that we go back to embrace the parliamentary system, adopt no more than six or seven viable regions or states, and grant a good measure of self-determination to those regions, thereby reducing to the barest minimum the items on the exclusive legislative list. We need to cut down massively on the cost of governance by merging ministries, departments and agencies (perhaps in a more radical manner than the Oronsaye report recommended). We must now summon the courage to discuss openly and frankly the thorny issues of religion and state of origin, agree on what place if any religion should play in governance, and resolve on whether we want to live under a monarchical theocracy of some sort, or we want to live together as a modern federal democratic, multi-ethnic and multi-religious entity, founded on the principles of justice, equity, equality and mutual respect. If we are not able to resolve these thorny issues once and for all, I would humbly submit that we allow any geo-political entities desiring to secede, to do so peacefully, before it is too late; for quite frankly, as presently constituted I see that time is running out for Nigeria.
We need a national network of thinking Nigerians
We need a network of thinking Nigerians, from North to South and from East to West, who are prepared to engage in a wholesale peaceful revolt against a degenerate governance system that is daily inflicting fatal wounds on the people and turning the impoverished masses against themselves in an orgy of violence. We need a network of thinking Nigerians to engage in a peaceful revolt and the mobilisation of grassroots people, against a leadership recruitment process that has been suffocated by street thugs, cult gang leaders, internet fraudsters, ex-convicts, ethnic bigots, religious extremists, known rogues and treasury looters, and such remnants of primitive feudalism that we call political godfathers; because a society cannot have credible and honourable leaders, when the process that leads to their emergence is corrupt, bankrupt, decadent and degenerate. We need a network of thinking Nigerians, from among the Christian and Muslim populations, and from the diverse ethnicities across the country, to help salvage our country and its people from the politics of bloodletting, greed and acrimony, that is largely superintended by shameless prostitutes of power, who often have nothing to show for their stupendous wealth, except that they have held political offices as legislators, governors, ministers, board chairmen, chief executives of federal parastatals, or party chieftains; during which time they often so callously and recklessly looted the state resources entrusted to them, that many soon became richer than the institutions which they superintended.
They habitually use these often ill-gotten wealth to further enslave the already emasculated people, constantly recycling themselves in positions of power, habituating corruption and normalising violence in our national landscape. Only a few days ago, Nigerians witnessed the ignominious spectacle of the open auctioning of delegates votes at a Political Party Primary event, with bundles of dollars or GhanaMust-Go bags of naira. Many of these agents of our national ruination are also seeking to position some of their sons and daughters in key political positions, and to place others in such strategic and juicy federal agencies and institutions as CBN, NNPC, NLG, NDDC and NCC, thus entrenching a set of family dynasties, which is a form of historical and multi-generational injustice that will only end in violent revolution.
Need for grassroots education and mobilisation for real social change
The restructuring Nigerians need to engage in as a matter of utmost urgency, is one that will demolish the ignominious system which props up such base characters for high public office and begin to work on a new system that is to be founded on sound knowledge, unassailable integrity, and demonstrable competence. We must do all we can to wake up the sleeping giant called Nigeria. The ignominious system has endured for so long, largely because of the appalling state of illiteracy and political ignorance across the country. Schools and colleges, religious institutions, progressive political parties, and all manner of civil society organisations, must begin to invest heavily in civic and political education at the grassroots level. Democracy presupposes a certain measure of enlightenment and civic awareness among the people who have the right of periodically choosing their leaders. Without such enlightenment and awareness on the part of the masses, majority rule can often camouflage the dictatorship of primitive feudal lords, whose poor subjects have accepted their deplorable state as God’s design for them and are unable to see how things could ever be different. Yes, as the Prophet Hosea says, “my people die for lack of knowledge.” Those of us who desire wholesome change in Nigeria, must get into the trenches quickly, and engage the poor victims of the Nigerian leadership misadventure in the empowering process of critical social analysis for grassroots political emancipation.
• Rev. Fr. George Ehusani is the Executive Director, Lux Terra Leadership Foundation, Abuja