The preamble to the 1999 Constitution as amended has been cited as the foundation that gave it away as a document that made sweeping fraudulent claims.
“We, the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, having firmly and solemnly resolved to live in unity and harmony,” the constitution proclaimed, “provide for a Constitution for the purpose of promoting the good government and welfare of all persons in our country, on the principles of freedom, equality and justice, and for the purpose of consolidating the unity of our people, do hereby make, enact and give to ourselves the following Constitution…”
Of course the 1999 constitution is not the product of any discussion or conference among the federating units to evaluate and fashion the terms of a new nation. It was a unilateral document foisted on the country by a military dictatorship that appropriated to itself the power to determine the terms under which the nationalities that make up Nigeria would coalesce. Being the product of a select group propelled by the military doctrine of command and control and inspired by less than altruistic perceptions and interpretation of equality, freedom and justice, the 1999 constitution has, in reality, become an albatross and a jaundiced attempt at federalism.
On Monday, May 21, 2018, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex non-political organisation in Igboland, held a summit on restructuring of the federation at Alex Ekwueme Square, Awka, capital of Anambra State. It was the latest in the series of formal talks to unravel options in the search for a constitution that truly reflects the aspirations and dreams of the nationalities in the country.
Prior to Independence in 1960, leaders of the regions in the country had held several conferences to adopt a system of government that would birth a nation where the regions are able to co-exist, enjoy an agreed level of autonomy and be free to develop at their own pace. The federal system of government that was adopted was expected to unleash the potentials of each region in a healthy and competitive manner. That was the spirit behind the 1960 Independence Constitution. It was an arrangement that was acceptable to each nationality and region and even when the military scuttled the process with its ill-advised intervention in 1966, the federal constitution was not used as an excuse.
From the point of creation of, first, the 12 states, the federal government became an administrative entity where it, contrary to all the known attributes of federalism, applied a vicious choke hold on the federating units. The additional balkanisation of the country through the arbitrary creation of more states and the concentration of even more powers at the centre turned the federating units into mere adjuncts of the government at the centre, condemning them to regularly negotiating monthly handouts from a federal government that became a godfather.
States progressively lost more powers while mundane indices such as the dubious implementation of federal character principle turned the country into a behemoth on clay feet with a very distant centre that had lost touch with the people. The cost on the nation in terms of development is incalculable. That Nigeria, 50 years after Independence, has considerably lost ground on all indices of development compared to its peers is down to the overbearing administrative structure that has stifled the basic elements of nationhood.
From striving to outdo each other that saw Nigeria become the first African country to introduce television and first class universities established by the different regions, every group now looks to how best to rape the country. This mentality found expression in the rigging of the federal system by successive military regimes to favour the dominant group in the decision making process. Thus, the 774 local government areas are so inequitably distributed among the states that the Muhammadu Buhari administration has further rigged the system by using the councils as basis for distribution of resources as the president did in directing that the ongoing recruitment of 6,000 additional police men and women be conducted using the local governments.
A country built on inequity where the leaders are inspired by the desire to rig the structure for the benefit of their region cannot aspire to greatness. This was the crux of the resolution and stance of Ohanaeze at its Awka declaration. The group clearly spelt out the path to regenerating the country and giving it a more perfect union that will engender sustainable growth and harness the latest natural and human resources every zone is uniquely blessed with.
The resolution is a comprehensive template for what, in our view, is the urgent need to convoke a constitutional conference for the different nationalities and zones to negotiate an acceptable and workable terms for a new federal system that should devolve more powers to the states.
It is incumbent on President Buhari and his ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to live up to their manifesto which expressly promised a comprehensive restructuring of the country. The parley should be convoked even before the 2019 general elections and the process concretised. Until that is done, the country may just subjecting itself to prolonged arrested development. Nigeria is on a cliff hanger under the present dubious federation.