Sunday, 19 May 2013
Why The Amended Constitution Will Be Worse Than The Current One By Erwin Ofili
It is said we have an imperfect constitution, hence the need to update it to reflect the needs and aspirations of Nigerians. For this reason, there has been wide consultation across the length and breadth of the country. Constitutional Conferences have been held across the political zones of the country which, interestingly, are not recognised by the current Constitution – indeed the North argued against their recognition in the amended Constitution mainly for fear of greater autonomy and assertiveness of the Middle Belters that could be the result of recognition of the political zones – to get the perspectives of Nigerians on the amendment of the Constitution. This is healthy as Nigeria, within democratic tenets, should consider the citizens in law making.
The conferences held in different zones of Nigeria have tried to get the input of Nigerians on matters that affect them. It is believed, and rightly so, that matters that affect the people must be taken into consideration in making a constitution that would engender development. It is unfortunate, however, that the matters getting most of the attention are those that would ensure an entrenchment of the existing order. It is more of the same old same. Very little of what has been broached encourages change and therefore the amended constitution is unlikely to encourage development, foster unity or reduce conflicts.
One issue than received attention was that of state creation. The issue of state creation received far more attention than any debate on the immunity clause, an impetus to do all that is wrong and run when out of office. Our politicians have still refused to understand that politics and democracy relies on building consensus and alliances. There is still a competition by the various regions to increase representation at the center and draw more federal money to their local constituencies, either for development or for sharing among the boys. The creation of more unviable states, that usually is oiled by internal divisions and rivalry among different or similar ethnic groups, continues the pattern of strengthening the center and weakening the regions that started in earnest after the civil war. It is still feared by some that stronger, more economically viable regions would have too much of a sway on national politics and could fuel separatism and conflict. Therefore unity is desirable even at the expense of development. It is quite unfortunate that this fear has continued to rule our concept of nationhood.
The thought that Nigerians would be more united if everybody can go to their respective tents and not need to interact with others is destructive and sure to promote conflict. One of the contributors in the Niger Delta zone said the federating units should be the tribes. But Nigeria has over 250 ethnic groups, how would that be managed? It is really unfortunate that Nigeria’s history has taught all minorities to be very fearful of one domination or another. If the Niger Deltans are not afraid of Hausa domination, its Igbo domination, if not that its Ijaw domination, etc.. It is so bad to the point that this fear blinds the people to their own interests. It is the reason why, according to Johannes Harnischfeger, the Tiv were more afraid of Igbo domination than Hausa-Fulani domination – despite the Islamisation policy and violent put down of the Tiv uprising by the Northern elite – that they joined in the pogrom against the Igbo. It is the reason why the North still prefers to hire foreign nationals to oversee their educational institutions than fellow Nigerians from the South while their elite send their children to foreign schools that are increasingly dominated by Asians.
We must realise that no matter the extent to which we want to fragment the country into many states, there would always be a majority and one or more minorities. The way to manage this is not to turn to sentiments of petty jealousy. Instead, we must realize that we would live with neighbours we cannot get rid of, we would have disagreements and common interests with them, we must therefore always seek compromise instead of striving for an advantage over neighbours. It is amazing how riled up people can get when you tell them that their kinsmen are not in government positions, the same people that only enrich themselves and their families when they get into office. Nigerians should emphasise private initiatives and meritocracy more than government patronage and quota system if we are to see any improvement in our living conditions. Unemployment and poverty is not going to improve by ensuring our kinsmen get local companies and government institutions to employ more members of certain ethnic groups. All should be allowed to compete for available jobs on merit if the institutions concerned are to be better managed – favouritism has destroyed many institutions in Nigeria and is sure to destroy more if left to continue.
There was little debate on laws to make discrimination in our institutions illegal. The current constitution through Federal Character has engendered discrimination. It is the reason why the Vice Chancellor of a University must be an indigene. It is also the reason why our universities are in the doldrums. If a student studying in University of Lagos shows promise but is not from the South West zone, they would be less inclined to join the academia there as there no prospect for career advancement. This is the same in all the other regions of Nigeria. This is why the government funded universities have lost relevance in Nigeria to private and foreign universities. High-performing universities all over the world make effort to fight against discrimination in order to recruit professionals from all over the world. While talk of salary increase for lecturers is popular and the source of frequent strikes, the talk of discrimination in the Ivory Towers is a third rail even among the academia. So as Nigerians continue to boast of Nigeria academics and professional making progress in universities in Europe, America, South Africa, etc we complain that the new dean in our local universities is not an indigene, and we complain that our best professionals are contributing to the foreign economies and institutions where they are instead of the ones at home. We also moan about our politicians sending their wards to foreign institutions. We must realize that we are a part of the problem instead of insisting on legislation that bars public officials from sending their children abroad for schooling.
The statement by the Senate president during one of the conferences that they would ensure that the constitution ensures uniform development is a desirable expectation. It is also utopian and unrealistic. Nothing the government does will ensure uniform development, except maybe they seek to hamper development elsewhere to allow others to catch up. The rapidity of development is going to be highly dependent on local conditions and cultural values. Why, for instance, is North America more developed than South America despite the advantage South America has in availability of resources or Lagos more developed and richer than Rivers state despite the clear advantage the latter has?
Lagos, being a cosmopolitan city and having been boosted by Federal money while it was the state capital, is more welcoming of a diverse array of peoples from other parts of Nigeria and Africa than Rivers state is. This is why this countenance should be rewarded and encouraged in the rest of Nigeria. Nigeria should seek to protect the lives, properties, rights and personal liberties of all her citizens in Nigeria wherever they choose to reside in order to spread development instead of seeking to encourage ethnic xenophobia. Only then would an Angas seek to entice Ogoni into attending the local schools, making investments in and providing jobs for the people of the community. Only then would development spill out of Lagos state to other parts of Nigeria and lighten pressure on infrastructure in Lagos. A constitution that does not fear economic viability of the regions would bring us closer together than one that seeks to chase us into our various tents.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters