•Igbo presidency, a mirage without restructuring
Elder statesman, Professor Ben Nwabueze has warned that the nation that the much anticipated 2019 elections may not hold if the country is not properly restructured before then.
In this interview with VINCENT KALU in Lagos, he equally opened up on a lot of national issues including how former President Obasanjo doctored the nation’s constitution to create the current problems the country is facing today. He also spoke on the near hopeless situation of the Igbo and the tough conditions through which an Igbo can become Nigeria’s president.
Nigeria doesn’t seem to be working, why?
Nigeria is not working; this is the truth. It is not working because of so many things. The first and foremost is bad leadership, which leads to bad governance. We don’t have the right type of leadership in this country, at least at the present time.
This has worsened since the election of President Muhammadu Buhari; I have made it clearly that I don’t think this man was the right type of leader for this country at this time of our history. What kind of leader do you need to govern Nigeria, which is one of the most complex societies in the world, with over 300 different ethnic nationalities? A team of researchers from the University of Ibadan has identified at least, 300 ethnic groups in the country.
To be able to govern it and manage this type of complexity and diversity is not a job for everybody. Not everybody can do this. You need a certain minimum of intellectualism for you to be able to do this.
What does the constitution proscribe as educational qualifications – just Standard Six. In today’s Nigeria, where we know expo, we know fake certificates, how can somebody with Standard Six, whatever may be his experience govern this country; lead this country? It’s not possible. I have stated this time without number, it’s not that I’m prejudiced about anybody in particular; I’m concerned about this country, and what this country needs considering the complexity and diversity. The ideas involved in government are so complex. What do you know to bring about some kind of peaceful coexistence among over 300 ethnic groups in the country? Intellectualism means ideas, people who can think, rationalize and understand ideas about society, about humanity, about human relationships.
This is the starting point. You need somebody who is educated enough; you need somebody with energy, anybody looking at you (the reporter) will know that you have the energy, but anybody looking at me will know that I don’t have the energy anymore. I will be 87 in March, and so, for me to go and put myself in that position, I’m doing a disservice to Nigeria and to my self; to go and take a job that I know that I cannot manage at my age.
I have said this that at the age of 75, nobody can undertake the job of governing or leading Nigeria now. You cannot do it; you can’t mobilize the society. Mobilization is one of the most difficult jobs of political leadership. To mobilize people for national transformation you have to move round, address people at town hall gatherings and at various platforms. Seventy five year old man cannot do this; I cannot do this. This is what Nigeria needs. This is what is involved in political leadership. We don’t have it – orientation and inclination are involved. You must consider the background of our country, emerging from colonialism. What is planted in us, that personality, as Africans had been degraded by colonialism. What is involved in decolonization, you need certain minimum of education to be able to understand what is meant by decolonization. How do you decolonize the mind of our people, whose personality had been degraded by centuries of colonialism? This is the problem of leadership, which is the first issue.
You have been in the forefront calling for restructuring in order to make Nigeria work. Towing your line, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has come up with proposal on how to restructure the country, are their suggestions in tandem with your position?
Restructuring, whether moving from leadership to structures (leadership is about individuals), we don’t have structure. The structure of governance is not right, that is why there is a clamour for restructuring. Essentially, the problem is on individual leadership, but you also have problems of structure. The structures are not right; they have to be reformed to create the right structure.
Regrettably, we have a leader, the president, who rejected restructuring, and attributed it to people who wanted to secede, and dismember the country.
We need restructuring for this country to move forward.
We have taken the first step, which is good in adopting federalism, as a system of governance suitable for this country, but that federal structure is again not right.
I was one of those responsible for the federal system that we have. Of the so-called 49 wise men that drafted the 1979 Constitution, the late Chief Rotimi Williams and I, were really the architect of that constitution. We were thinking of having a strong one Nigeria, with power concentrated at the centre, that is what landed us in the situation we now found ourselves – a strong centre, that is now muffling all of us. Too much power at the centre, then compounded by 28 years of absolute military government. They ruled us for 28 years and then compounded our problems.
Maybe, the problems we have today were created by the military rule, which is again individual problems, not one of structures, so we must get away from that.
Thank God the APC has rejected the position of the president, who had said there was no restructuring. His party if it has any control over him has now come round to say we will restructure after 2019 elections.
You and other elders insist that restructuring must come before 2019 elections, but the APC says it is after. How do we reconcile this?
APC wants to deceive us, but I hope we would not allow ourselves to be deceived again. This country has been run by government of deceit. APC is government of deceit. Their restructuring is the more you look the less you see, that is why they say they were for restructuring, and after Buhari’s re-election then they we will restructure. This deceit has been going on for too long.
Dr. Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Information, perfected falsehood, deceit and propaganda into an art, but our own Lai Mohammed, is trying to outdo Goebbels by churning out lies, deceits everyday. Telling us that they accepted restructuring, but we should wait after the election. If you don’t want restructuring now, then there should be no election. I hope Nigeria would stand up for once and say, no, we have had enough deceit, and say restructure now or never.
You said you and the late Chief Williams were the architects of the 1979 Constitution that came up with the presidential system of government, given our not unpalatable experience, do you regret that action?
No, I don’t. I should believe that it is better than parliamentary. What I regret is the amount of power that we put at the disposal of the Federal Government, which was too much.
We believed wrongly, as it turned out that strong centre was what is needed for one Nigeria; that if you have a strong centre you would be able to achieve the dream of a strong united, progressive one Nigeria. We were so enamored of the whole idea of strong one Nigeria.
Regrettably, the amount of power we put at the centre has been so enlarged by the military that the thing has been turned, virtually into a unitary system. We have unitary system tagged, euphemistically, Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is not a federal system; it is unitary system. We must go back to the original thing, the true federalism of 1960 and 1963 Constitutions.
We must let each constituent unit; each federating unit manage its own internal affairs; internal self government, either alone or in combination with related groups. Let them manage their own affairs and leave matters of common concern at the centre.
All this do or die struggle to control the centre should go. That is part of what is killing us. Everybody is struggling to control the centre. We have to reduce the powers at the centre to the barest minimum than what we have in 1960 and 1963. The Southern Leaders of Thought sat and agreed that we must reduce more the powers that we have at the centre in the 1960 and 1963, and let each unit, state or zone go and manage its affairs, and the centre will manage the little that is left there. That is the only way you can have coexistence.
Still on the 1979 Constitution, we were told that the military handed you what they wanted and you towed that line, and not what the people wanted?
It is an exaggeration. The military told us that they wanted presidential system. They didn’t tell us the amount of power to be at the centre. They wanted the presidential system, we bought the idea, but the amount of power to be at the centre was our own making.
As I said, we believed that a strong centre would give us one Nigeria. It was a misconceived idea we had at the time. It’s part of the fault of the military, the presidential system, but the amount of power at the centre, which has led to the do or die struggle to control the centre was our own idea, not the military.
It is true that when we finished, our report was sent to the Constituent Assembly, and I was a member, not by election, but because I was a chairman of one of the sub-committees. The Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, Chief Williams, and the chairmen of all the sub-committees, were by decree made members of the first Constituent Assembly. That is how Chief Williams and I got into it, and we guided that Constituent Assembly, and we produced the draft constitution. Obasanjo was then the head of state, and went ahead and inserted so many things into it, which neither the Constitution Drafting Committee nor the Constituent Assembly considered, and these things they inserted became part of the problems we have today. That is how we have the 1979 Constitution – partly the recommendations of the CDC, partly the recommendations of the CA, and the partly the insertions made by Obasanjo’s military government.
Why didn’t you people protest that this was not what you recommended?
We saw it as a final constitution in a decree, and you can’t do anything then. It took me time to read it word by word to see the additions, and I tabulated them. I’m not sure that Chief Williams went through the way I did to find out what these people had done. Our problems didn’t start today.
What are the Southern Leaders of Though doing to convince their Northern counterparts that restructuring is not about breaking up of Nigeria?
In my statement on behalf of Southern Leaders of Thought, I made it very clear that breaking up of Nigeria is not part of the object of restructuring. The object of restructuring is to keep Nigeria one; to make it possible for the over 300 ethnic nationalities in Nigeria to live in peace, and not to break up. Those who are taking this view are trying to be mischievous; to create misunderstanding.
This country must be kept together, but it must be restructured. It is only those who refused restructuring along the lines that I have just indicated are the people who will break up this country.
If the country is not restructured along those lines there will be trouble. There may not be 2019 elections, and it will be the result of their own doing.
I was mandated by the Southern Leaders of Thought, after the Southwest had done its own summit; the South-south has just done its own summit, and the Southeast has done what it called, its own summit, I was mandated to get in touch with Governor Tambuwal of Sokoto State, whom, they say is the chairman of the Northern Leaders of Thought, for a national summit, where we will agree on a common platform for restructuring.
I haven’t written the letter yet, because I have just been briefed on the outcome of the South-south summit. I will write to him for us to agree on a meeting for restructuring, and a framework for such a meeting. That is the next stage of the work.
The APC, as it recommended, even the Federal Government has accepted the state police, which is the central part of restructuring. You can’t have true federalism with states not having their own separate police. It is a contradiction.
Federalism means separate governments at the centre and at the level of the constituent units. You can’t have a government without a cohesive force. Now that they have now agreed, the Vice President has spoken on this. The state police you must do, but you must do it as part of restructuring.
You can’t do it by word of mouth or by ordinary legislation, it involves changing the constitution, and that is where we run into another problem. My own idea about restructuring involves a new constitution, that is what this country needs; a new beginning.
But the National Assembly is there to give us a new constitution National Assembly can’t give you a new constitution. A new constitution involves the entire people of Nigeria. The constitution that we have now, though it says, ‘we the people of Nigeria’, was made by the military Decree 24 of 1999. It is not the peoples constitution. Constitution is not the work of government; it is the work of the people.
That is where another problem is.
The NASS doesn’t not believe in a new constitution. What is going on is their constitutional amendments; I don’t know how many they have done. So, if you want to know what the constitution of Nigeria is, you can’t find it in the 199 Constitution, you have to go through the large number of constitutional amendments made by the NASS, and they think they can implement this restructuring by constitutional amendment, which is a perversion of the whole idea of restructuring.