Nigeria, “Flying Without A Black Box,” Says Bishop Kukah
Matthew Hassan Kukah, the Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Sokoto, has challenged Nigerian lawyers to compel the Judiciary to breathe life into Chapter 2 of the country’s constitution on the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, as a way of eliminating poverty in the country.
Its provisions, he told the Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) at the weekend, should be a basis “for stirring up a sense of moral revulsion as to how and why a country so richly endowed could allow so much poverty to continue to exist.”
Delivering his keynote address in a paper he called “Nigeria as an Emerging Democracy: THE DILEMMA AND THE PROMISE,” he said his approach was to attempt to raise some fundamental questions.
“First, I will try to ask why after 50 years, we are still talking about an emerging democracy in Nigeria,” he said. “I will ask why, after over 50 years, we still have no Constitution. I will ask why, after 50 years, almost 80% of the population is still poor. I will ask why, after over 50 years, we are still far from the goal post of free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria.”
In his conclusions, Bishop Kukah said that beyond the focus on leadership, it is time for Nigeria to address the issues of how justice can become a cardinal point of reference in governance.
“Here, I still insist that judicial activism is one way of interpreting the mind of the Constitution but also of extending the frontiers of justice,” he told the lawyers.
Below is the full text of the Bishop’s address.
Nigeria as an Emerging Democracy: THE DILEMMA AND THE PROMISE- Matthew Hassan KUKAH
Nigeria is an economic miracle waiting to happen…..the missing link is the right framework and the commitment to succeed….Charles Soludo
The theme of your Conference is, Nigeria as an Emerging Market: Redefining our Laws for Politics and Growth. On the surface, this could pass for the theme of a conference organized by the Ministry for Commerce and Industry to attract direct foreign investment to Nigeria. The interest of the lawyers in this subject is welcome in view of the terminal condition of the Nigerian state. What is more, the interdisciplinary nature of the law profession makes central and indispensable its place in the polity. Amidst the encircling gloom and violence, with Nigerians themselves behaving as if they were under foreign occupation, we require a new jurisprudence to engender hope in our country. We require a new jurisprudence to ensure that Nigerians can laugh again, that Nigerians can embrace the future and its promises.
I am neither a lawyer nor an economist but clearly, with the nation tottering dangerously on the precipice, with the increasing central role being played by non-state actors and institutions, with the political class treating our politics as a national bazaar, it is clear that the matters of the survival of our nation are too serious to be left to the political class which behaves as if there is neither a teacher nor a class. But before we progress, we must seek clarification by posing more questions.
Evidence suggests that countries in transition remain quite prone to backsliding and failure. This is why we must never take it for granted that our democracy is secure. We may pride ourselves with having survived four back-to-back elections and create the illusion that our democracy has been strengthened. This is misleading because first, the elections are still massively fraudulent and our level of success is not measured by international best practices as such. Secondly, with very little evidence of changes in the lives of our people, our democracy remains risky, volatile and vulnerable to internal and external shocks.
For example, empirical data on transitions to democracy show that democracy can be expected to last for 8.5 years if a country has a per capita of under $1000, 16 years if it is up to $2000, and 33 years if it is up to $4000…above $6000, democracy becomes the rock of Gibraltar. The study concludes that democracy has not fallen in any country with a per capita income of over $6000! This data is generous because up till date, we have not come anywhere close to the per almost $3000 capital income that was bandied during the Shagari era.
Is there really and truly an emerging market in Nigeria? If so, where is the market emerging from and what is its destination? Furthermore, what are we marketing and who is our target? Which set of our laws do we believe require redefinition? Is it the Constitution or the laws in our statute books? Will redefinition compel obedience to these laws? Does taking your clothes to the best dry cleaner necessarily improve your looks if you do not have a good body to hang the clothes on? Do we have consensus over our political life and future? Is it a different kind of politics or the one that the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, has promised that it will hold on to power for another 60 years? Does redefining our laws necessarily guarantee an end to politics of the belly? Will the new politics in Nigeria end the regime of thugs, godfathers and mothers, cronyism and clientelism? Will the new politics end our demo-feudalism, that is, a government in which the political class merely uses their offices to share power and resources with prebendal institutions?
Finally, when we speak of growth, what do we mean? Elsewhere, growth is measurable and there are existing tools for measuring governance and its effectiveness. These tools are tied to a range of weighting matrixes which Nigeria does not possess and has not even begun to contemplate how to design or apply it.
For example, how many are we in Nigeria? Beyond the guesswork, few political actors know their constituencies beyond the major Local Government Headquarters or the exotic country homes of their political cronies. Our projected growth has often been measured by what I call, Power Point civilization. This was a favourite toy of the Obasanjo economic team. Discovered by the United States military, we are daily inundated with dazzling, mesmerizing and psychedelic slides that project growth in Road and Railway mileages, megawatts and kilowatts of electricity which never leave the screens. Billions of dollars later, the Consultants pick up their briefcases and return to Washington or London leaving us with more death traps and darkness.
Pardon me if I am starting on a cynical and philosophical note. In presenting this Keynote address, I believe my role is to apply some brush strokes around some key issues which should hopefully occupy your attention. In doing this, I will divide this paper into four sections covering many more questions. First, I will try to ask why after 50 years, we are still talking about an emerging democracy in Nigeria. I will ask why, after over 50 years, we still have no Constitution. I will ask why, after 50 years, almost 80% of the population is still poor. I will ask why, after over 50 years, we are still far from the goal post of free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria.
My intention in this paper is to raise a few issues around some sub themes and hopefully provoke some thoughts. I do not have answers as such, but I am hopeful that we can continue to debate these issues. Finally, I will finally summarise my questions and attempt to point a way forward for all stake holders in the political future of Nigeria.
1: Nigeria: Flying without a black box:
There has been a nagging concern as to how and why our country has found itself in this state of immobility and decay. This is not the place to reel out the statistics concerning our rut. Everyone, young and old, in the city or in the remotest part of the country knows and feels the pain of what is wrong with our country. How do we explain the fact that after over 50 years, we are unable to generate and distribute electricity, supply water to our people, reverse the ugly and avoidably high infant mortality, set up and run an effective educational system, agree on rules of engagement for getting into power, reverse the circle of violence that attends our elections, contain corruption, instill national discipline and create a more humane and caring society?
Although this is not the place to advance the reasons for our tragic condition, it is important that we treat our malady as a symptom and not a disease. What is most disheartening is the fact that these ugly indicators are actually the fruits of an investment in a theory which a scholar has referred to as the instrumentalisation of failure. The idea behind this reasoning is that even though things are not working, in reality, their failure is an investment. The popular argument is the correlation between our failure to generate and distribute power, process and refine our crude oil and the rentier political economy that we have adopted which feeds only a few. Nearer home, the failure of our electoral system has thrown up a lucrative culture of electoral tribunals which have now become the latest cash cows in our democracy. Many lawyers and judges are now making fortunes from our electoral failure in the same way that the coffin maker benefits from death.
The fact of the matter is that we have never really exited from the stranglehold of the military state that displaced our post independence experiment with democracy. The period of military rule must be held responsible for a significant phase of the tragedy that is Nigeria today. For, although in the early 60s and 70s, Nigeria was at a higher rung in the ladder of development than the Asian tigers, over thirty years later, those nations have since found a seat in the comity of respectable and developed nations. They were all under dictatorships of sorts, but their dictatorships produced results and while freedom may have been in suspension, their leaders laid a foundation for growth and development. Here, we lost both freedom and development.
We are a nation that seems to despise our history and heroes/heroines. I am not aware of any country that despises its leaders the way Nigeria does. In a way, we are reaping what we have sown over the years. This is because, today, we do not have a coherent history of our country that can serve as a take off point.
Globalisation has caught us off guard and it is hard to tell what our cultural identify and future will look like, fifty years or so from now. We now have over 17m Nigerians in Diaspora not to talk of the children of our elites from Nigeria, who do not speak their native languages and also do not think about Nigeria in the way an Asian in the diaspora might think or feel about their home country.
The lack of both cultural roots and a sense of nationhood or patriotism are now testing our resilience. For example, a friend shared his frustration with me recently. He is a Nigerian-American. He said when he introduced his first son, Obinna to his guests back in New York, they gladly greeted him in Igbo, but the young man said to them: That is my father’s language. They said, aren’t you from Nigeria? He said, No, that is my father’s country. I am an American!
We have the greatest turnover of leadership anywhere in the world. For example, most African and Asian countries who gained independence at about the same time as Nigeria have an average of 3 or 4 Presidents. For example, Singapore, Botswana, Malaysia for example each has produced just 4 Presidents since independence. Nigeria has produced a staggering 14 Presidents, harvested over ten military coups, and not counting those who were aborted by failed coups. Propelled by greed, these laid a foundation for a nation that I refer to as flying without a black box. Thus, today, we have nothing to draw from, no inspiration about the past to engender sacrifice and patriotism
2: The military legacy and its consequences:
The nature of the military legacy and its cumulative impact on our polity has never really been studied. Some military apologists find this interrogation to be akin to hatred of the military and they also argue that so much time has passed and therefore the military should not be held responsible. Perhaps if the military had left us with working institutions and infrastructure, as the apartheid regime did in South Africa, these institutions would provide some mitigating circumstances. More than anything, it is the negative cumulative impact of their legacy and the persistence of the rut that makes it imperative for us to address this issue. This is important for two main reasons; first, it will help us to identify the weaknesses or strengths of the legacy and secondly it will provide us a means of redemption, correction or consolidation.
The Nigerian military did not vacate the scene voluntarily. In a way, General Abdusalam’s spectacular show of patriotism, an appreciation of the frustration and a sense of fairness and moral rectitude enabled him to guide the military out of the Augean stable into which they had turned the nation. This is what turned General Babangida’s stepping aside into a shunting aside. Our transition was not the product of negotiation, bargaining, trade offs and elite consensus. We set out on a road with no clear maps, with a controversial Constitution given to a motley crowd of greedy businessmen and political contractors and a coterie of individuals who had honed their skills in manipulating the levers of power and could survive either under the military or civilian administration. To this extent, what we had was a transition from the military but not necessarily a transition to democracy.
The military left behind a country severely fractured by a bitterness engendered by coups, a rash of human rights violations, a wounded, compromised and weakened Judiciary, and a prostrate intellectual and academic community. Significant portions of the Constitution were suspended. Tribunals and Decrees replaced the rule of law. Other security agencies were subordinated to military culture with the Police force losing most of its respect. Some of the consequences of military rule and its impact have been discussed in my new book, Witness to Justice.
Without a Constitution, the threads of nationhood, the institutional mechanisms of restraint begin to give way to individual caprice as rule of man replaces rule of law. Today, post military Nigeria is paying a high price for overcentralisation of the threads of power in the hands of the military dictator. Today, most of the frustration of the political class with this baggage finds expression in the debate about various shades of federalism.
Corruption was rife not because the military was made up of a band of thieves. No, there were quite a lot of good men and women in the services and there are still many. The growth of corruption under the military was the direct result of the destruction of such institutions of restraint as the national assembly, the muzzling of civil society and the media among others. The Sovereign governed with abandon and was accountable only to a tiny circle of like minded cohorts.
For Nigeria to turn the corner, win public trust and consolidate its gains in our fledging or emerging democracy, there is need to unbundle not only power supply but take the hands of too many bandits who have held the economy captive, those who are growing while the country is diminishing. Strict laws relating to the attainment of a people oriented budgetary system, removal of the veil of secrecy on such areas as public procurement, contract awards and so on will help us deal with corruption and open us up for international business and investment, a key guarantee for growth. We should work hard to open up the political space and free our political processes from the throttle of carpetbaggers who continue to compromise the system by using slush funds to dilute the political process.
3: Institutionalising a Democratic Culture:
We need to appreciate the fact that Nigeria did not have a transition to democracy. Our transition route was simply connected by nocturnal trips between the Villa, Yola prisons and Ota farm. When the deal was struck, General Obasanjo was released from prison with the sole purpose of being the President of Nigeria.
Everything else that was done in the name of a transition, from forming political parties, funding the elections and so on was all tailored to fit that outcome. Even the birth of the largest political party in Africa was choreographed to meet this end. The result is that today, even the PDP knows that it is a unity of takers but not a party founded on any conceivable or perceived ideological commitment.
At the best of times, transitions are always a contested concept. From Afghanistan to Exodus, the possibility of backsliding is the greatest threat to democracy. It is clear from what I have stated that Nigeria was not really ready for a transition. Thus, our inability to create the necessary environment for the emergence of a democratic ethos accounts for why we are still unable to emerge from dictatorship to democracy.
Many of us will recall the tragic situation between 1999 to 2003 when right across the entire country, we witnessed so much convulsions which climaxed with series of impeachments. The President was threatened with impeachment, the National Assembly leadership suffered severe leadership hemorrhage.
The result is that rather than growing, our democracy was sliding into a glorified dictatorship. Things have piped down now but not because the politicians have imbibed the principle of democracy. Rather, we are enjoying some respite now because the politicians have gradually learnt the philosophy that in Abuja; You do not talk when you are eating and secondly, that there is an agreement that it is our turn to chop and if you are patient, your turn will also come.
Finally, a measure of the fact that the military did not surrender is to be seen in the fact that up till date, the military is still contesting every available political space in the land. Our Senate President is a retired General, the National Secretary of the Party is a retired military officer, and, a general is still contesting the office of President. On paper, I have nothing against any of these persons and indeed, at the level of the Senate for example, Senator David Mark has been doing a great job of holding that house together and he has also conferred some measure of discipline. But I am making the point to illustrate the fact that the levers of power and democracy are still in military hands, evidence of the fact that we are indeed still in an emerging democracy!
Political Parties are the foundation pillars on which the architecture of democracy is built. However, the story of political parties in Nigeria is a manifestation of the corruption in our system. Political parties are run by and funded as private fiefdoms. In the course of our work with the Electoral Reform Committee, we discovered that most of the 60 political Parties which had been registered ahead of the 2007 elections literally vanished after the elections. Individuals and groups had registered these parties simply to gain access to state resources. Those parties in power are also largely funded by state funds. A leaked letter from the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, some two or so years ago, instructed all Ministers to make payments into the coffers of the party! Is there any wonder that elections still generate so much anxiety in Nigeria?
4: The Kalashnikov vs. the Ballot Box:
How did it happen that the return of democracy in Nigeria has been marked with so much violence? There are many reasons but I imagine that they must be connected to the legacy of our past. In Nigeria, military rule glorified violence and lawlessness. The philosophy behind a coup is not different from armed robbery. For, by the power of a gun, a man has the ability to make what is yours his without negotiation. Gradually, the military therefore sanctified violence and since they did not do much to deliver on goods and services, ordinary citizens were compelled to take to the gun either to defend themselves or to enforce their will. In Cyprian Ekwensi’s novella, Survive the Peace, he tells the story of the dramatic exchange of roles between the Biafran soldiers at the end of the war. As they threw away their guns and struggled into their civilian clothing’s, the youth in the village appeared, took the guns and took to the streets. Thus armed, they took to the streets and recycled as armed robbers!
Vigilante groups emerged with sophistication to settle community squabbles and gradually, these same young men and women realised what they could do with a loaded gun. From the Abacha years, small arms became a big business in Nigeria. Sadly, the government did not do much to set up a programme for the retrieval of these small arms. Local blacksmiths began to enjoy massive patronage and with time, every community began to raise its army to defend itself and its territory from foreign incursions. These vigilante youths would later become the enforcers for the political class, recycling as thugs and ballot box snatchers.
Thus armed, when news of the return to power began to filter in, the South West responded by calling for Power shift. The prospects of the return to civilian rule was greeted with an upsurge of militant groups who, armed with small weapons embarked on a reign of terror. The Odua Peoples’ Congress, OPC, emerged in Lagos. On the South eastern and South South flank were the Bakassi Boys, the Egbesu Boys and The Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB completed the pack. Years of military violence on the polity were now bearing fruit. Would we have democracy through the ballot box of the Kalashnikov, this was the question. After almost ten years of intermittent violence, the Niger Delta would later boil over. The rest is history, but there is now the temptation, can the Kalashnikov or the ballot box fast track access to power?
Now, with Boko Haram on our doorsteps, we have now come full circle. Sadly, although they are also a reaction to the inefficiency and violence of the Nigerian state, more than any other situation, this group has posed the worst threat to national unity. This is not the place to take on the issues of Boko Haram, but in whatever way and manner we see the case, what we have on our doorsteps are the fruits of years and years of degradation by the Nigerian state, years and years of unconscious sanctification of the gun.
From the point of view of the theme of this Conference and it objectives, Boko Haram poses the worst threat to everything we stand for as a country and as a people. The challenge could not have come at a worse time. However, the rather sad thing has been the seeming lack of clarity as regards roles. There has been a lot of buck passing by the political class and security agencies. What was clearly a political problem and evidence of the failure to build consensus has come back to haunt us. When scholars raised this dark specter even before the elections, they were accused of being enemies of Nigeria.
Clearly, Boko Haram is the failure of governance and it s a symptom of what happens when the architecture of state are weighed down and destroyed by corruption and inefficiency. A weak state leaves itself open to these dangers. The essence of politics is the building of elite consensus which provides the framework for peace and stability. The political class believed that Boko Haram was a religious problem and when the violence broke out, the federal government resorted to a military solution. For a country coming out of a legacy of military rule and violence, this was not the right option. Gradually, the military has dug its heel in and there is now little room for political negotiation and maneuver. Whatever happens, the problems will only be resolved by political trade offs.
Perhaps we can make a proposition. Now that the big three, the Igbos, Yorubas and Hausa-Fulani have all contributed to our pool of blood and violence, and no one can claim any level of innocence, can we now settle down to discuss the prospect of a non violent future for Nigeria? This is a great possibility because, first, the minorities of the South-South have been adequately compensated especially as we daily hear stories of erstwhile militants turning into billionaires now. The Minorities of the Middle Belt unfortunately or fortunately do not have the culturally homogenous and cohesive capacity to inflict injury on anyone. They did their part for one united Nigeria. So, truly, we are set for a new dawn. The challenge is how to bring that about.
5: Unity by Division: Balkanisation of the State.
Whatever may have been the circumstances of our union, our history is not different that of other nations which were forcefully created or manufactured. The real challenge is how and why we have not been able to imbibe for example, the E pluribus, Unum, philosophy that has gathered a complex web of humanity like the United States is, into one nation. Under this principle, the Americans admitted their differences but argued that although we are many and diverse, we can aspire to be one. The challenge is to find the institutions to support this unity. Today, the United States with all its difficulties is a fine testimony of how a nation with differences can find common cause by creating a time tested Constitution.
With hindsight, it is important for us to look back and appreciate why our difficulties have persisted. So far, it is not due to lack of good men and women, good will, good intentions, enthusiasm, even patriotism that Nigeria’s growth remains stunted. We have had our own fair share of good men behaving badly, but the problem is that we have relied on the dubious quest for good men and women rather than relying on creating institutions to support and make it possible for these humans to act rightly or to stop them from acting wrongly.
Faced with the challenges of nation building, Nigeria did not choose the path of statesmanship, courage and resilience. Rather than follow through the roundtable discussions in Aburi, Ghana in 1966, clarify the issues and seek accommodation, we resorted to states creation as a solution to the problem of national unity. After slicing the nation into states, we then began came up with the mantra that; to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done! Even when we fought a war with no winners no vanquished, rather than return to the barracks and use politics to create consensus and rebuild our nation, the military stayed on, corrupted politics and destroyed the foundations of the unity it had preached and fought a war to protect. Thus the mantra, to keep Nigeria one was replaced with, To your tents o Israel!
Under the military, States and Local Government creation became such a selfish exercise that military officers simply parceled out the country to themselves and their friends as tribal fiefdoms. This diminished a sense of national unity as more and more communities invented new identities amidst cries of freedom from domination. Thus, at the creation of each new state or Local Government area, yesterday’s brothers and sisters who speak the same language and share the same culture became enemies. Location of state capitals and Local Government headquarters, the citing of projects intensified these animosities and yesterday’s majority which became a new minority, now demanded its own space. While the country did not grow, these policies only further created new elites with a bloated and unproductive bureaucratic and political elites feeding off the system at the expense of the people. Even right till today, the debate about a new Constitution is merely a fig leaf for seeking further balkanization of the nation as States creation seems to be the most important item on the table with every Senator seeking to deliver a new state to his or her people! For how long can we survive with this joke?
6: The politics of Land and Taxation:
From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, the issues of land reforms remain a major source of conflict and instability. From the colonial period, the appetite for choice lands dictated the options for settler or transitory colonialism. In places like Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Zimbabwe for example, land has been the main source of conflict. The stories of the Mau of Kenya right up to the Zimbabwean veterans are within the same context. Little wonder the founding fathers of Sierra Leone decided to award the Order of the Mosquito as a sign of appreciation to the anopheles mosquito whose malaria bite kept the white man away from taking over their land.
The issue of land remains a sore point in Nigeria. The conflict around indigene and settlers, land ownership laws and so on are still to be resolved. Closely tied to this is the question of taxation. The infamous Land Use Act of 1978 has thrown up problems that remain unresolved and since the political class have found this very beneficial, it is not surprising that the poor remain the victims of these unjust laws. Land Laws are fundamental to individual and community growth and development. It is even more so for government and investors. We should learn from the mistake of the Niger Delta and ensure appropriate legal measures that protect the investor, citizen and our country. It is one major way of engendering stability, harmony and growth. Every nation seeking development, growth and national cohesion must address the issues of land and taxation.
One of the surest signs that our country has not been serious about democracy and economic development has been the issue of taxation. As the old saying goes, no taxation without representation. If we believe this, then, the lack of effective tax laws is a measure of how disconnected the government is from the lives of the people and their economic endeavours. Sadly, perhaps, aware of how little its impact is in the lives of citizens, the government has seemingly been lackadaisical about enforcing the tax laws. Without services, a government has no moral basis to tax its citizens. Clearly, the example of what is happening in Lagos is a lesson and a metaphor for our country. Sadly, fighting a thoroughly corrupt, incompetent and inefficient bureaucracy should pose the biggest challenge.
The State as a Distribution agency:
Professor Richard Joseph’s old characterization of the Nigerian state as the arena of prebendalism still holds good, then as now. One of the most egregious areas of this assault is the privatization of state power where state resources and their allocation are privatized within a tiny circle. Today, the culture of the state as a domain of patronage persists. The saddest part of this problem is that the military Constitution has actually built this anomaly into the Constitution.
Section 162 of the Constitution specifically states that: The Federation shall maintain a special account to be called the Federation Account into which shall be paid all revenues collected by the Government of the Federation. The official Head chef, known as the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, presides over the slicing of this beef of state. It is further recommended that the distribution of this largesse shall take into consideration…. population, equality of States, internal revenue generation, landmass, terrain as well as population density.
Subsections 3-8 continue with this iniquity which focuses on mere distribution of handouts with no clear mechanism for monitoring whether the allocations are properly used for the welfare of the people. We can understand why any census will always be contested and why communal crises over boundaries and new identities will persist in Nigeria. But what is even more invidious is the decision to tie Local Governments to apron strings of the State Governors. It is now possible to appreciate why Local Government elections will remain at most a charade with the State Governors ensuring that Chairmen are firmly under their control. As can be seen, there are hardly any states with more than a token presence of one or two Local Government Chairmen or Women from the Opposition Parties.
For a long time, the so-called Joint-Account was the area where Governors proved to be even more reckless. The State Assemblies are almost all the same in terms of membership of the party in power. What these present us with is a seriously compromised political atmosphere where accountability and transparency are the first victims. The Governors literally anoint the Speakers of the Houses of Assembly. So, with both Local Government Chairmen and Speakers each struggling to be Governor’s favourite sons, there is no one left to speak out on transparency and accountability. There are no mechanisms for holding government responsible. The occasional hiccups and theatrical attempts at impeachment are merely a symptom of the rumbling of a hungry stomach. This is why our democracy remains so weak at the lowest levels.
Leadership Recruitment and Capacity in Nigeria:
Elsewhere, in a paper I wrote for the Nigerian Leadership Initiative, I spoke on what I called, Power without Authority. My interest was to show that the leadership crisis in Nigeria persists because we do not as yet have criteria for ascent to leadership. From my analysis, it is clear that right from the first republic till date, every Nigerian President has literally come to power by good luck. More often than not, those who have prepared for office either by way of the quantum of resources accumulated, have never managed to make it. The result is that the country has not been able to develop a sound political culture.
The real test that a country’s democracy is deepening lies in some level of unpredictability about electoral outcomes and fortunes. Thus, the issue of who or which Party will win the elections and who might win or lose a Gubernatorial or Senate seat should not be based on predictable outcomes such as patronage, god-fatherism, capacity to manipulate electoral body, its agents and results, the size of the political war chest, the recruitment and control of well heeled legal gymnasts or anointing of any sort. The notion that a state should look up to whom the President or Governor will anoint as a successor, institutionalizes corruption, indolence and cronyism. It kills ideas and principles and makes political contest a violent enterprise. By now, politicians would have come to appreciate the fact that this so called anointing is a waste of time because even before the oil of anointing has dried up, the godfather and godson are already at war. This is the story of our anointed Governors right across the country and as we know, only a few have mended their fences! But these quarrels are taking their toll on our people as supporters are constantly forced to move wherever and whenever their patrons change direction.
Anyone familiar with the political history of Nigeria will appreciate the fact that somehow, when it comes to the Presidency of Nigeria, God’s rules of engagement for Nigeria are different. In the whole of our history, from Alhaji Tafawa Balewa till date, political power has always been a gift of charity from God. No one has become the President of Nigeria from the size of his war chest or connections. I am not sure whether this will remain our fate, but at least, if we are to take any lesson from all this, it is that we need to be more circumspect.
Those in power therefore should remember that God has not changed His place on His throne and stop playing God by spending resources, bending the rules and deciding that they must anoint or appoint their successors. I am not saying we should leave everything merely to chance, but that it is important that we appreciate the fact that in nurturing our democracy, there is need to instill peoples’ confidence in the process. So far, for us, elections have always been a war or sorts. Although we are quick to blame the ordinary people and thugs, the truth is that it is the political class that is responsible for criminalizing the process. The lack of internal democracy among the parties, refusal by those at the top to respect the rules of engagement and the Party guidelines, forcing anointed candidates leads to the manufacturing of consent.
All these merely stunt our growth and leave the process open to violence and abuse.
We need to create the kind of space that can allow for people with ideas to persuade and influence public opinion to support their ideas. Although talent is important in any society, clearly, it is important that a nation creates institutions that can enable this talent to flourish. Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg are clearly extraordinarily gifted and talented men. But they would not have nurtured their dreams if they did not have an environment that was wide enough and had the institutions to support and contain their visions which may have seemed crazy at the early stages.
Mrs. Chioma Ajunwa was a natural talent, but it took the foresight of someone in the Police Force to rally around her and later, the vision of a Segun Odegbami to have nurtured that talent. Compare that with the situation today where we focus more on funding prayer warriors, sorcerers, magicians and some form of voodoo as the means for winning medals and other laurels in international competitions.
Godatherism and cronyism have destroyed and are destroying Nigeria. Today, it is almost impossible to convince any young man or woman that a first class degree can guarantee you a job anywhere including the areas in which you have excelled. Hardly a day passes that a young man does not send me a text to say, I have heard on good authority that they are recruiting at X and Y establishments, but, I am told it depends on whom you know. I initially dismissed these young people by telling them to go, sit for the examination/test and to pass before they come to me. They laughed at what they considered to be my innocence or ignorance, until I woke up to the situation.
Right now, we are faced with an uncertain future in which, some ten or so years ahead, we shall have a generation of young men and women running the bureaucracy or in public life who owe their future to a godfather, not a country that offered them a chance to excel. This is dangerous because what we are doing is investing in an unproductive system of clientelism which destroys excellence, stunts national cohesion and compromises our public ethos.
How can we have a country in which the future is being mortgaged on the altars of prebendalism and feudalism? How can the President preside over a country in which his children rely on others for their wellbeing and welfare? We are going to end up say, twenty years ahead when we shall have Ambassadors, Permanent Secretaries, Directors, Ministers, Governors and Presidents who came to prominence not by dint of hard work or the transparency of their environment but men and women who will be running a country that is not the primary basis of their allegiance. The reason is because they were pushed to a job with no qualifications other than that they came from a list presented by a man or woman with connections. In life, we have all been guided by others, but in our situation in Nigeria where public officers are openly engaged in the most non transparent ways of recruiting into public service, we face a future that is in mortal danger and a country that will be a mere shell with only such shallow symbols or flags to which command no respect. Are we therefore surprise that communities and states are creating distractions by hoisting their own flags? This is just the beginning of the mess that lies ahead.
Dispute Resolution Mechanisms:
The Nigerian environment is still largely hostile to such indicators for modernization and business as, rule of law, due process, transparency, contract enforcement etc. This is a legacy of our authoritarian background. For Nigeria to redefine its laws to be able to grow and attract investors, it must rethink the nature of the legal system it wishes to adopt. We have not paid much attention to the inherent problems in the legal system that we have adopted in Nigeria. For example, even as a layman, serving at the Oputa Panel opened my eyes to the great injury of the legal system that we have for a largely communal, poverty stricken society like ours. We watched as highly paid lawyers took the stage and turned the platform for articulating the grievance of ordinary victims of injustice and abuse into a legal gymnasium. It is time for us to wake up to what many people in the world already know; that conflicts and disputes can be resolved as if there is no tomorrow, they can be resolved in less hostile terms.
Rwanda provides Africa with the best test case. The country has become a model for reconciliation with a leadership that has focus and is prepared for sacrifices. Recently, a journalist asked a Rwandan if he expected Paul Kagame to go in 2017. The man replied: Yes, I hope so, and if he does, I will cry.
This is not the place to review the legacy of Mr. Kagame, but the man has become the cynosure of many eyes around the world and has shown that it is better to have talent and honesty than to have oil and dishonesty. Now, Nigerians are hovering around him as a model of leadership. I went to Kigali on a field research in 2004. In the course of my work, I sat through the Gacaca traditional courts which had been set up to resolve some of the issues that were pending in a country where over 200 thousand people were awaiting trial. In less than ten years, 12,000 Gacaca courts have disposed of 1. 2m cases at very minimal financial costs. The Gacaca courts have not replaced the conventional courts in the land, but what we have is evidence of a country that its leadership is determined to ensure justice through the adoption of some creative means that guarantees integrative and restorative justice.
Needed, a Constitution:
As usual, with eyes on 2015, the politicians are angling for the best strategy to position themselves for power. Ordinarily, there is nothing wrong with this. There are calls for the amendment of the Constitution while others are calling for a Sovereign National Conference. The general belief is that this is what we need to redress the injustice that is in the system.
How do we account for constitutional mortality? The American Constitution has survived for over two hundred years largely because it has focused on how to reduce the power of the sovereign. There have been three key concepts guiding Constitutions; amendment, suspension or replacement all aimed at guaranteeing Constitutional endurance, resilience or longevity.
The focus of all Constitutions must be to limit the power of government by ensuring that those who have power use it well and that those who do not have power are adequately protected so that they do not resort to unconstitutional means. This has been at the heart of the social crises in Nigeria. To the military, the Constitution was a distraction to their ambition to hold on to power. Thus, without one, the Nigerian Sovereign appropriated power to himself and the result is what we see today with the dictatorial and intolerant postures of public officers to principles of Constitutionalism, order and process.
Individual citizens usually have competing identities and interests that are based a variety of identities.
These include ethnic, communal, religious, regional, class and so on. The duty of a Constitution is to serve as a vehicle for transferring the allegiance of these citizens from these narrow interests to the higher interests of the state. To do this, the state must, through the lofty ideals of the Constitution hold up a higher goal of protection, security, welfare and so on to the citizen. It must command his loyalty and respect.
The next challenge is to create the institutions that will align with the ideals encapsulated in the Constitution.
These require maturation and the political elites must never be allowed to apply the principles of quick fixes to turn the constitution into a tool that merely accelerates their political climbing. Thus, there is need for courage, patience, disciple, maturity and statesmanship. Although there is a case to be made of the how a Constitution comes about, popular participation is not necessarily the litmus test. Some of the most enduring Constitution were crafted in smoke filled rooms by the elite, the result of disciplined bargaining and negotiation. There is clearly a causal relationship between constitutional longevity and political, economic and democratic growth of a nation.
Constitutions must be self-enforcing, they must possess and inherent equilibrium from which none can deviate without consequence. They must possess a quantum of incentives that are sufficiently appealing to all the constituent units and penalties that serve as disincentives to infringement. By way of judicial activism, some unforeseen aspects of the Constitution can be brought to the fore by judicial rulings by radical judges.
Here, we recall the roles played by people like the late Gani Fawehinmi or the Bar under the leadership of the combative and assertive late Aka Bashorun. In the United States of America for example, such land mark judgments like Brown vs. Board of Education or the Civil Rights Act, are all evidence of what the Bar and the Bench can do if we are committed to judicial activism.
Constitutions must also include the whole issue of hidden information that is not available to all parties at the time of the framing of the Constitution.
Our Constitution must include the right to rebel and this must be clearly spelt out. Rebellion and public interest litigations help ordinary voices to serve as mechanism for restraint against the excesses of the state. Nigerians have often asked, can we have an Arab spring in Nigeria? The answer is not yet because so far, we are weighed down by petty allegiances and hiding behind little mole hills of ethnicity erected by our village and town crooks who continue to ensure that we do not see the big picture of our collective agony.
Summary and Conclusion: Where
I believe that we all agree with Professor Soludo in his vision of a Nigeria that is a dream waiting to happen. This is not the place for us to enter into a debate as to why this miracle has not happened. I believe most of us are familiar with the reason why this is so.
What is most disturbing is the fact that we have completely taken the intellectual contribution to politics out of our process. We are only concerned with how to capture raw power, how to get into the engine room, how to share in this life changing booty called oil money which is gradually looking like blood money in our country. We need to turn the corner and do so with confidence and assurance. I will make five quick points.
First, we need to fix the economy and I believe that we cannot do better than what we have now under the President and Dr. Ngozi Iweala. We hope that sooner than later, our economy will not only grow, but that we the people shall also grow. This is no easy task. According to the Vision 20-2020 report; The pillars of the Nigerian economy are extremely weak and the continued economic viability of the Nigerian state and the continued economic viability of the Nigerian state is perpetually at risk.
Of great concern is the need to create the leadership to support this vision. Although every government official has taken the transformation agenda as a mantra, it is important that this message percolates through the other crevices of our national life. This is why the idea of a performance bond is important. However, this performance should not be confused with sycophantic cooking up of figures and power point slides. There is need to clearly lay out the programmes to be measured. For a country that is used to monitors being compromised, the President must ensure that these measuring mechanisms are clearly explained to the people in a way and manner that they can understand. We will also require at least an annual review of the scorecard and this should go right down to the President. This show of good will in my view will go a long way in ensuring confidence in the system and process.
There has been the nagging issue of a Sovereign National Conference as a solution to our problems. Nigerians keep saying we need to talk as if we are not talking. The real challenge is the content of these talks and whether indeed, that is the way to solve our problems. It is important to note that we have never been short of talking points. Those who are calling for a Sovereign National Conference made up of representatives of the various ethnic groups must say whether this is different from what the late Anthony Enahoro and Professor Wole Soyinka worked on and they might also honestly tell us the fate of the final document.
I hold a slightly different view. First, I believe that we need to talk but the talking needs to be of a certain quality that is founded on scholarship and a proper understanding of the issues of statecraft. We also require a level of maturity and an understanding of these processes. It is clear that our problems are not documents but the issues relate to whether we can ever find the political will to focus on how to build our country and how to develop the required time lines and so on.
Everyone keeps talking about Leadership, Leadership and Leadership. We create the impression that somehow, leadership will simply drive an unwilling band of horses to a river and getting them to drink water by force. We believe that political leadership is the only form of leadership. We all ignore the challenges in our own leadership levels whether it is in the churches, mosques, civil society and professional groups. The curious thing is that what we all accuse the political leadership of exists in our own midst. If we borrow the example of the Fulani man and his herd of cattle, we get an interesting view of leadership. In that scenario, it is interesting to note that it is the cattle that actually lead, after all, the leader who leads them to the grazing field does not eat grass. It is they who eat grass, they know which grass has poison and so on. The shepherd only guides them and also ensures their security, but it is they who know what they want. So, there is need to close in the gap between our perceptions of leadership.
My view is that we must now address the issues of how justice can become a cardinal point of reference in governance. Here, I still insist that judicial activism is one way of interpreting the mind of the Constitution but also of extending the frontiers of justice. I use just two examples to illustrate the point I am making.
First, we have the famous story of Rosa Parks whose singular decision on December 1, 1955 not to leave her seat for a white man turned the course of the struggle of black people for freedom. This is one of the events that threw the Rev Martin Luther King into prominence. For, by December 3rd, the bus boycott which would change the tide of history had started.
Secondly, the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling in 1954 by the Supreme Court, struck down the policy of state segregated education. Other events such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 followed, but perhaps the case of James Meredith was more phenomenal. An ex air force veteran, he was denied entry into College in Mississippi. He took his case all the way to the Supreme Court whose ruling marked a turning point in the struggle against segregation. It took the courage of both President John Kennedy and his brother, Robert, the Attorney General to enforce the ruling. In the process, lives were lost, but on the day of the enforcement, some 2,500 people turned up to protest. The federal government had to send in some 20,000 troops along with 11,000 National Guards. He finally graduated amidst all the difficulties but his life changed the course of history.
Finally, the famous I Have a Dream speech contains some assumptions that we have often ignored. The speech was anchored on both the Emancipation Proclamation and the Constitution of the United States of America. What is significant here is the fact that the speech drew its inspiration and a sense of righteous indignation from these two historic documents and the reluctance of the leadership to live by its own laws.
He spoke about a promissory note that these documents had promised ordinary Americans but which was not available to the black people. He continued: It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice….Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
From our own Constitution, the provisions of Chapter 2 on the Fundamental Directive Principles of State Policy, should be a basis for stirring up a sense of moral revulsion as to how and why a country so richly endowed could allow so much poverty to continue to exist. It is sad that all we have always said about this very important segment of the Constitution is that it is not justiciable. It is the duty of our lawyers to compel the Judiciary to breathe life into this very significant section of the Constitution. This is the challenge and I do hope and believe that the Bar and the Bench in collaboration can indeed, bring about the realization of our own promissory note. Thank you very much for your kind attention.
+ Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Sokoto,