Both Houses of the National Assembly Have the Powers to Come Up with a New Constitution Document for Debate, Review by Constituents of Nigeria – Says a Political Scientist

There are only a handful of Nigerians who can be said to fully understand politics and governance as they apply in developed Western democracies whose system of government the post-colonial countries like Nigeria have adopted since the attainment of self-rule. Views of political scientists are often sought by transformative political leaders, either for good or bad. Even during the era of autocratic military rule, the strongmen in-charge still reached out for these experts even though insightful advice obtained could be misapplied or simply poorly implemented. At a time when there is a very divisive public dispute between the executive and legislative arms of the government in power as we witness today, the average citizen is best served to hear and learn directly from nonpoliticians who are nonetheless well-versed in the science and nuances of politics.

Elder Uma Eleazu

Elder Dr. Uma Eleazu OON, a political scientist, was pioneer Research Director, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos.

It is to offer this unique insight on politics Nigeriana at this critical epoch in Nigeria’s history that we have reached out for an accomplished and experienced Nigerian political scientist, Dr. Uma Eleazu, to help our guests and readers to navigate and hopefully, to better understand the twists and turns that abound in the shared political fortune of citizens of Africa’s most populous country.

The full text of Dr. Uma Eleazu interview:

  1. Some people finger the 1999 Constitution written and put into effect by General Abdulsalami Abubakar military regime with Decree No 24 of 1999 as the leading cause of Nigerians’ woes. Why was this document, which was not vetted by Nigeria’s constituents, accepted as a legal framework for running Nigeria’s 4th Republic in the first place?

Nigerians did not accept the document when it was promulgated. It was simply imposed by decree. Because it was a military regime, nobody headed to the courts to test the legality of Abdulsalami’s action. Instead, the only challenge I can remember was from Barr. Agbakoba and co who objected to the phrase in the preamble – “We the people…” If I may backtrack into a little history; Gen. Abacha had a draft constitution arising out of the 1996 Constitutional Conference. He sat on it for a while and then it was doctored to make him Life President. Before he could decree that his constitution into existence, he dropped dead.

Chief Moshood Abiola was still in jail awaiting his fate. Then suddenly Moshood Abiola dropped dead in detention under very questionable circumstances. Because of the mood of the nation at the time, General Abdulsalami who took over after Abacha knew he had to do something fast and end the protracted military rule. He inaugurated what he called Constitutional Debate Coordinating Committee (CDCC) ostensibly to debate the Abacha draft. Not many people had seen the draft. Nevertheless, we went through the motions of visiting some states and listening to views of some people on what they expect the new government to do rather than the Abacha draft. While some of the views were incorporated into the draft, some parts of the original Abacha draft were removed. The idea was that the resulting draft should be widely circulated for further inputs from relevant political forces, and then the CDCC would reconvene and produce a final draft.

Later, we learned that Abdulsalami said there was no time for that, and he asked the chairman, Prof. Niki Tobi, to finalize the report. The Provisional Ruling Council (PRC) then decreed what they got as a constitution for Nigeria. The people did not have a chance to accept or reject the document. Let me mention that in a private conversation with Prof. Niki Tobi, his view was that a National Assembly that knew its onions can amend the constitution the way they like.

  1. A new consensus is currently being built around the clamor for a geopolitical restructuring of Nigeria. Can the incumbent National Assembly lead or even be allowed to participate in this endeavor?

On the issue of restructuring the federation, my view is that our Abuja politicians are really not keen on restructuring. They talk about it so as to divert attention from the misgovernment that is going on. The ruling party had it on their platform that if voted into power, they would restructure the federal arrangement. A committee under Governor El Rufai actually produced a report on restructuring; the Afenifere has issued a document on the stand of the Yoruba on restructuring; ditto the Ohanaeze on behalf of Ndiigbo. Similar statements have been made by the leaders of the Southsouth and Middle Belt geopolitical zones of the country. What all the grandstanding by ethnopolitical constituents have in common is that they do not say or even have a clue as to who is going to do the restructuring. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have Committees on the Amendment of the Constitution. Not one bill, to the best of my knowledge, has come to the floor of the House or Senate to amend the constitution except the section that affects their remuneration. Is it President Buhari who will initiate a bill to restructure Nigeria? He will not; because, for him, restructuring means secession.

Yes, the National Assembly is given the power to make laws for the “peace, order and good government of the federation”. I have written elsewhere, that it is the duty of both Houses to compile the views, opinions and suggestions already expressed by major stakeholders, especially the ethnic nationalities, and then come up with a new constitutional document, which will be widely debated.

Killing fields of the Middle Belt

Well-organized and equipped militia has been unleashed by the Fulani aristocracy in Nigeria to intensify ethnic cleansing in Middle Belt region where thousands of indigenous people have already been killed in first 4 months of 2018. National Assembly has the powers to intervene to restore “peace, order, and good government” as per the present constitution.

Each geopolitical zone should organize a Constituent Assembly made up of all its elected officials and two or three knowledgeable persons from each Local government. The main function of this assembly will be 1.) to take a position on the draft from the National Assembly and 2) to review the present structure (number of states, number of LGA, etc) of the zone and propose changes and 3) to prepare a draft constitution for the zone. Any proposed separation or mergers, whether of LGAs or contiguous states, will form part of the Report of the Constituent Assembly.

Can the National Assembly spearhead the restructuring process? Yes, they can. They even have Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution on their side, because right now, we do not have “peace, order, and good government”. But as presently constituted and given the fat salaries and perquisites they have legislated for themselves, it is doubtful if they will summon the political will to do it.

  1. Some incumbent governors in the ruling party have already rallied to endorse President Buhari for his re-election in the INEC-scheduled 2019 general elections. Should the 2019 general elections be allowed to proceed in face of what General Theophilus Danjuma (Rtd) called ethnic cleansing against the Middle Belt indigenes by the Fulani herdsmen militia with the active collusion of the country’s security agencies?

It is not only in Benue and Taraba States that the ethnic Fulani herdsmen are causing mayhem on the sedentary farmers; the Fulani bandits appear to have run amok. They are in Zamfara and Southern Kaduna, they are all over the place in the Southeast. They look for where there is a military cantonment and camp in a nearby bush or behind the barracks. One does not see much of them during the day, but they come alive at night.

Besides the herdsmen, there are political bandits who play bodyguard for “big men” of both APC and PDP. The infighting within APC has led to parallel primary elections in the same constituency; each faction fighting for their patrons. All these portend a disorderly election come 2019. If the powers that be would let us drift like this into 2019, it shall be worse than the mayhem of 1963 in the Western Region.

What baffles is that in all these happenings, there is no single case where the Fulani herdsmen have been apprehended, tried and jailed for the atrocities they cause in several communities. This lends credence to the charge that the national security apparatus is there to defend the Fulani herdsmen rather than the citizens in the communities they ransack. Moreover, President Buhari, neither by utterances nor body language, does he seem perturbed by what is happening in the country. I doubt if, on his own, he can order the suspension of the election. He wants it badly. The INEC chairman has the ear of the president, and he is the one who, having assessed the situation, should advice President Buhari on the advisability or otherwise of going ahead with the elections as planned.

  1. Some have proposed that the South African model, where the apartheid government of Frederick de Clerk remained in power until the new all-inclusive democratic constitution was derived, should be proper for Nigerians at this juncture. Others wish to see President Buhari out of the Aso Rock Villa as a first order of business in salvaging whatever is left of Nigeria. Is it necessary to defer the 2019 general elections as already scheduled?

If we were to start the process of restructuring the country as suggested earlier, one could make a case for prolonging the tenure of current office holders until the end of the process, of course, assuming we state beforehand what constitutes landmarks in the process and a timetable when each activity is to start and end. It will equally be risky to leave the change to an incoming administration which may come in with a different agenda.

  1. The Southwest, Southsouth and Southeast geopolitical zones have called for a Referendum to ascertain the future of unitary Nigeria. When is the best time to conduct this Referendum and why?

All these calls for a Referendum will not hold water until “we the people” decide to use people power to force things to happen. I will like to see a situation where the leaders of the SE, SS, and Southwest call a mammoth meeting to consider the future of Nigeria; and rising from such a meeting, issue a joint communiqué to the effect that they call on the UN/OAU/ECOWAS to come and help Nigeria avoid another Civil War, by conducting a Referendum to resolve the “NATIONAL QUESTION”. THE REFERENDUM WILL BE PRECEDED BY FORMAL CONVERSATIONS AS TO THE CONDITIONS OF VARIOUS LEVELS OF ASSOCIATION – FEDERAL, CONFEDERAL OR DISSOLUTION OF THE PRESENT ARRANGEMENTS.

  1. The Joint Session of Nigeria’s National Assembly, in its recent public release, had threatened to wield its Constitutional Powers (to impeach) if President Buhari fails to stop the rising insecurity nationwide. How possible is it to impeach a head of state in a polity like ours?

I don’t believe the National Assembly has the backbone to impeach the President. In fact, they were divided on that day. Some Northern senators meeting in another room charge that the resolution was PDP-sponsored. They even let it be known that they will not support any attempt to impeach the president. Apart from that, the president is effectively using the EFCC as an attack dog on the opposition. And since many of them have skeletons in the cupboard, they will rather let sleeping dogs lie. Impeachment?  It won’t happen.

  1. The South, comprising the Southwest, Southsouth and Southeast, had recently sent a delegation to ask the Senate President, Saraki, for immediate Restructuring. What role can the National Assembly play in enabling the South’s request under the prevailing circumstances?

Politicians are strange animals. They are one thing during the day and another during the night. If the Southern leaders can stand together and demand something, the country will sit up. If the leaders of the South go to the Senate and demand “NO RESTRUCTURING, NO ELECTIONS” and mean it by recalling all their representatives and instructing them to spearhead the restructuring, the country will wake up and know, for sure, that dance tune has changed. The fact is we are not using our power to vote because of “kwaruption”.

  1. As an Igbo, who rightly belongs to the ethnic nationality’s elite corps, how shall an Igbo presidency assist in calming down the agitations for self-determination by IPOB, MASSOB and other self-determination groups in the Lower Niger and elsewhere in the South and the Middle Belt?

I am one of those who believe that having a titular Igbo man sitting in Aso Rock and behaving himself the way his sponsors want him to behave, is not going to assuage the demand for self-determination. What we need most is good governance at both federal and state levels, maintenance of Law and order and efficiency in administration. In this, I must say that Anambra state is head and shoulder above the other SE states. The marginalization which takes place at the state level vis a vis the Local Governments is amazing. I know a state where the governor withholds the federal allocation to the LGAs, only to dish out pittance from it and still require the chairman to sign that he has received the whole amount, and the Local Government chairmen dare not complain loudly. If such an Igbo become president, do you think he will remember where he comes from?

That is not to say that Igbo people should not strive to become President of Nigeria. We should encourage our young people to go for it, but we should also let them know that a nesi n’ulo mara nma pua n’ezi (pua n’ilo) – {charity begins at home}.

  1. One of the joint session of the National Assembly’s demands is for President Buhari to do something soon to bring about a turnaround in the national economy and thereby reduce mass unemployment and mass poverty. How realistic is this demand at this point in time?

In countries like ours, agriculture is the mainstay of the economy. Developing agribusinesses is the right way to go rather than developing the whole value chain for each product. President appointed a very knowledgeable person (Audu Ogbe) as Minister for Agriculture. But due to the former’s love of cows, he is undermining the green revolution started by Audu Ogbe. If farmers plant and before the plants reach harvest, they are eaten by Fulani cow herds and the farmers killed, it seems to me like cutting off one’s nose to snub one’s face. Unemployment among the youths, including high-school and university graduates, is said to be in the region of 65%. (I have stopped following these statistics since one is not in a position to do anything about it.)  It is a time bomb in the hands of power-hungry politicians who have the wherewithal to hire thugs.

See what happened in Offa (Kwara State) recently. One of the armed robbers boldly tells the world that the gun they used was given to them by the Senate President Olusola Saraki) and the governor of the state, (Bello) and that they work for them as political thugs, even though he quickly added that he (Saraki) did not know they were going for a robbery. Last week. The Customs Department showed on TV (both Channels, NTA and TVC) news about a large cache of ammunition (3.2 million packets) being smuggled into the country through Seme border. Well, that is the one they caught. What of those that have slipped through unnoticed? In 2017, the Customs Department impounded a vessel loaded with small arms originating from Turkey with trans-shipment paper to nowhere in particular, which means Nigeria was the destination.

Like most things in Nigeria, thereafter, nothing more is heard from the government. Were the consignees arrested? Were they tried? Was the origin of the shipload determined? Where was the ship registered? What eventually happened to the small arms they were carrying? Don ask, don’t tell. Hello, general election year, 2019!  God help us.

  1. Some fear that a second Civil War for Nigeria is no longer as far-fetched as was believed only a few years ago. What are the practical things that can be done by the government and the citizenry to obviate such a catastrophe from seeing the light of day?

The essence of my response to a preceding question on the Referendum ought to be recalled here. For those who saw or lived through the first Civil War, it is a real nightmare to see what is happening now in Alaigbo. Hear this:

NEEC is the goose that lays the golden eggs for Nigeria

Territory encompassing Nigerian Eastern Economic Corridor (NEEC) outlined in green has been effectively sequestered away from direct access to global maritime trade by denying the construction of deep commercial seaports along the eastern Atlantic coastline.

Last Easter, I went to the village to persuade my relations in my paternal family that we need to form a cooperative society and pool the farm strips of land we have into one large farm so that we can use it to borrow money from the Agric Bank. We decided to go to a particular piece of communal land some 4 to 5 km from the village. Since we practice shifting cultivation and the land has been lying fallow for over seven years (the old people can trek that far any more), we thought it would have turned again to a thick forest. It was decided that we should hire people to go and clear the bush before we send in a surveyor to survey and register the land. The young men went there but before noon, they were back to announce that a portion of the land was occupied by cows. Cows, how many? They said they did not count but it must have been more than twenty they saw.

Cow Fulani were occupying our land and nobody in the village knew! Who gave them permission? Do the village chiefs know? In the olden days, that was enough provocation to war. The state has no anti-open-grazing law. So, what do we do? There is trouble brewing as we approach 2019.

  1. How united is the Igbo ethnic nationality in confronting the complex challenges facing Ndiigbo in this era? Some sections of Alaigbo, such as Enugu and Ebonyi states, resent the thought of reverting to the 1963 Republican Constitution and Regional federalism. Why is this?

Igbo Unity is a problem all Igbo leaders or pretenders to leadership have had to struggle with. It is difficult to situate the origin of the problem. Immediately after the war, we were herded into East Central State and given an Igbo leader in the person of Ukpabi Asika. He had power over Igbo land but no authority or loyalty of the people. People considered as the legitimate leaders of the people were without power to enforce any decision on behalf of Ndiigbo. That situation continued until the creation of Imo and Anambra out of the East Central State. The acrimony that followed the sharing of assets made our leaders then think twice. In one meeting the late Ezeogo Dr. Akanu Ibiam espoused the view that creation of states for political reasons, though politically expedient at the time, will eventually be at the expense of unity among the Igbo.

Dr. Ibiam was so irked later when Enugu and Abia were to be created, (Okpara for Abia, Onoh for Udi/Wawa; Ume-Ezeoke new Anambra) that he started asking for what is now Ebonyi State. Thus, the surviving political leaders of the people went their separate ways. Political party affiliations did not help matters. At that point in time, Ohanaeze was still in its infancy. The Igbo stalwarts in NPN and Igbo stalwarts in NPP could not agree on the proper role of Ohanaeze. What some of us have tried to do is to find ways of insulating the Ohanaeze from partisan politics and focus it on the larger Igbo interest in the context of Nigeria. To take that stance requires a certain amount of sacrifice, independent-mindedness and independent means of livelihood. It is difficult to be in partisan politics and at the same time lead Ndiigbo. We have lost the cohesiveness that characterized the defunct Igbo State Union. One would have thought that given the precarious position of many Igbo villages and Alaigbo, in general, regarding the creeping Islamization of Nigeria, that the elected leaders – governors of the five states – will be working in concert to protect Alaigbo. There is no such meeting of minds.

Even in national affairs, one governor is in APGA, one in APC and the other three in PDP or nPDP. They cannot agree on what constitutes Igbo interest, let alone pursue it. Onye na nke ya, onye na nke ya (each to his/her own). The old dictum of onye aghala nwanne ya (being our brothers’ keepers) is gone. That is why I advocate that we all go home and restructure the governance system of the Igbo hearth.

  1. Shuttering the Nigerian Eastern Economic Corridor (NEEC) is the main reason why the Igbo elite corps have trooped en masse to live in the Lagos metropolis. How can Ndiigbo best deal with the rising Yoruba nationalistic fervor which threatens to eject Igbo “migrants” out of Yoruba territory as soon as possible?

Way back in 2005 when we saw the outlines of Obasanjo’s policies and their impact on Igbo businesses, under Chief Joe Irukwu’s leadership of the Ohanaeze, we invited the governors of the East to recreate something like the old ENDC to undertake the development of infrastructure for industrial development – serviced industrial parks, inland dry port etc. They were to be setting aside just 100million every month for the corporation. It did not fly with them. Later, Engr. Chris Okoye elaborated the idea into what is now SENEC and the governors gave it very desultory support.

So, Umuigbo turned to Lagos and Ogun states. What we need to do is to be good citizens wherever we find ourselves. The Yoruba have been nice to Ndiigbo and we need to reciprocate and be good compatriots to them. Those of them who know, know that they cannot uproot the Igbo without completely ruining the Yoruba land.