Both the legislature and the executive are representatives of the people and it is the people that will determine what they get, their constitution, their leaders etc. When the people are united on championing a cause they will always pull through.
Chief Solomon Asemota, senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and member of the group of eminent statesmen, The Patriots, harps on consensus as he explains the rash of agitation for restructuring. A member of several constitution drafting conferences and committees from the 1987 Constitution Review Committee to the 2013 Presidential Advisory Committee on National Dialogue, the precursor of the 2014 National Conference, he is also the chairman of the Nigerian Christian Elders Forum (NCCF). The author of the famed Minority Report, which called for a conference of ethnic nationalities, he spoke with NKEM KANU in Lagos that recent restructuring effort have lacked consensus.
WITH the various calls for restructuring, what would a restructuring now entail?
When we had independence in 1960, we had the constitution that was negotiated and it provided for a parliamentary system, it provided for strong states, but now we have a completely different constitution that is more or less unitary.
There is a careful need to find out how and why we left the parliamentary system for the unitary system. So in that case we are having all sorts of problem – Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen, strong agitations by some ethnic groups to pull out etc., so there is need to go back and use political action to ensure that we have a country which everybody accepts as his or her own and at the same time help to develop. The way things are now, we cannot achieve any genuine development with the present situation.
How much faith do you have in the reports of the 2014 National Conference as a means of restructuring or amending the constitution?
That conference developed as a result of a meeting between The Patriot with the former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. I was also a member of the 13 man National Dialogue Committee headed by Dr. Femi Okunronmu and we had a fundamental disagreement. The disagreement was this: that the pillars of Nigeria are the ethnic nationalities and they are about 398 of them. And that if you want a sound and solid country, these ethnic nationalities must form the basis of the conference, either through selection or any method agreed by them. But we recommended that no ethnic group should have more than 10 delegates and everyone should at least have one delegate, then we sit down and thereafter discuss all the details that could be relevant for our constitution.
Unfortunately, the basic principle of Nigeria being founded on ethnic nationalities was rejected and even my own minority report was also not looked into and we then boycotted. So, I will rather not talk about it but the person who attended the conference who knows the details is in a better position to argue on that.
But we said that once you do not look at the owners of Nigeria, which is the ethnic nationalities, and then we sit down and talk about how we can live together, then we have approached the issue in a manner that will not make us have a solid constitution. In making a constitution, the process is as important as the constitution itself.
Any special reasons for the heated demand now for restructuring despite the different forms of restructuring since independence?
The answer is quite simple: because Nigeria is not working, and that most of the restructuring were fraudulent. For example, was there a referendum when we moved from the Parliamentary system to the Presidential system? And why did we move to a system of one man when we had opportunity of having all the people? These are some of the challenges. Why must we keep having one Police Force when we have at the moment not less than 200 police forces of different guises, shapes and sizes rather than call them Police? Why? Some of us know the reasons but the truth of the matter is that the restructurings that took place were as a result of deceit.
The present structure is good for the leaders and you can see they all have mansions, massive wealth, universities, name them. But are all that good for Nigeria? No, I do not think Nigeria is benefitting from the structure that we have now. So, it is partly leadership and partly the fact that we, the people do nothing, we allow them to do whatever they like and get away with it.
Some people have argued that the absence of a good, credible leader is the main reason for the agitation for restructuring?
Well, there is some truth in that. Even the late Prof Chinua Achebe said so. But there is a problem there. Anytime we have a leader, he does not work to strengthen the institution of the people that he is dealing with, rather he works hard to strengthen himself and use all the finances to do everything he wants. And when he passes away or he steps aside, another leader comes and does precisely the same thing. But again, it is our fault too; we tolerate them. It could have been a different thing if the people resist it and say, ‘No! You cannot do this.’
What happens is that with the colonial mentality, which the British left for us, we are still looking for colonial masters and all the leader comes to do is to be a good one and we just follow. As a leader, you are to have the structure that will be good for the people, for the country and not for you. The present structure is good for the leaders and you can see they all have mansions, massive wealth, universities, name them. But are all that good for Nigeria? No, I do not think Nigeria is benefitting from the structure that we have now. So, it is partly leadership and partly the fact that we, the people do nothing, we allow them to do whatever they like and get away with it.
How would you react to a statement by the former governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Bafarawa that Nigeria does not need restructuring, and if we need anything of sort, then it is our mind, orientation and the way we choose our leaders?
Well, Bafarawa should change his mind from Jihad to democracy, because that is the problem. There is a conflict of ideology, he is promoting Islamism in a democracy and when they want to change from democracy to Islamism they are not coming out so that we can argue it. He can say what he likes, he is talking about his opinion on supremacy of Islamism, and all that, there is a bit more than that. I think he is missing the target, he is missing the real issue, and he is perhaps shying away from the truth. Nigeria’s problem is this conflict trying to force Islamism into democracy and that is the big reason for the problem, including himself as one of the Islamists.
Who do you think are afraid of restructuring?
The Islamist Nigerians are afraid of restructuring.
Seeing the absence of any synergy between the legislature and the executive on these issues, do you see a chance that the strength of agitations will yield fruit?
It is the people that will determine the constitution that they want. With a proper political action they will have no choice. Both the legislature and the executive are representatives of the people and it is the people that will determine what they get, their constitution, their leaders etc. When the people are united on championing a cause they will always pull through.