27 February 2013

Nigeria: Many Questions, No Answers

What is happening now is not funny. It is scary. It makes one feel like crying, not the elephant's cry that my friend Aniebo Nwamu wrote about in The Sunday Column this week. It is a real cry that even tears may not come out. But Nigeria is worth crying for and Nigeria is worth dying for.

Not only because it is the only country we can call our own but because it is the anchor nation of the black race and any dysfunction here has an automatic repercussion across the continent of Africa. The rest of Africa is anxiously waiting for us to lead the continent effectively. It is our manifest destiny to do so. History, not to talk of geography and demography, has conferred that on us. But what is really happening?

The 2013 budget was passed by the National Assembly in record time. It was duly passed on to the president for his assent to make it a law. But, two months into the year, it was only this week that President Jonathan signed it "behind closed doors".

The PDP controls more than two-thirds of both houses of the National Assembly. In any case, who is a better link between the executive and the legislature than a former Senate president who is now the secretary to the government of the federation? What is happening?

As citizens, we are products of a historical experience that is as valid as that of any other people. It is only by coming to terms with this experience and its products in the field of culture and technology that we can build an authentic basis of national and African existence.

Thus, education, the basic medium for imparting culture, must be transformed. But how do we transform this key sector when, last week, a report came out saying that only 24 per cent of the federal universities' budgets was released to them last year? Are we really serious?

The president has solemnly sworn to an oath of office to treat all manner of people "without fear or favour, affection or ill-will". The constitution has defined his primary responsibility as providing for the security, welfare and wellbeing of the people of Nigeria.

"Welfare and wellbeing" means managing the national economy for the benefit of all citizens. But, in a clear show of lack of interest or indifference to his powers, President Jonathan designated his finance minister as "coordinating minister for the economy". So, what is his role as president in the nation's economy then, if he is not the overall coordinator as president? I pray he does not delegate his powers to someone in other sectors such as the security and foreign policy too.

Last week, one Mr. Ben Onwuka of the Biafra Zionist Movement (I have not heard that before) spoke to the BBC -- which was carried by some national dailies -- where he declared that he has appointed some serving government officials into a "Biafra" cabinet. He also gave the Nigeria armed forces two weeks within which to vacate Biafra territory. There has not been any reaction from any quarters so far. But, it is a very interesting and curious development.

It is interesting in the sense that there are discordant voices from there. Prof Ben Nwabueze is calling for a sovereign national conference -- whatever that means -- of ethnic nationalists to "re-negotiate" the "basis" of our existence as a nation.

Yet others are saying that it is the south-east that requires an additional state in the current constitution amendment process. Then, there are those who want to form a Biafra republic again. And yet others are saying it is the turn of the south-east to produce the president of Nigeria in 2015!

In this space, yours sincerely has written so many articles on this so-called sovereign national conference of "ethnic nationalities" of Nigeria. First, these ethnic champions have not defined what constitutes an ethnic nationality and when that has become the basic unit of our federation.

Secondly, if they are true democrats, why don't they form a political party and make the convocation of this "sovereign" national conference their main agenda to get the mandate of the people to come and do that? Because no one should represent anybody without a prior mandate even if it is an ethnic group.

One of the main issues that is agitating the minds of these people is about the structure of the country: that the defunct Northern Region with 72 per cent of the land mass and about 60 percent of the population has a slightly higher number of states, 19, than the south which has 17 states.

On the issue of geopolitical zones which they want recognised, these are really unconstitutional because they are not recognised by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So, the issue of equality or equity of states among zones does not even arise because the zones do not really exist constitutionally.

In any case, the current south-east zone was known as East-Central State under the late Dr Ukpabi Asika during the Gowon administration when states were first created. It is today divided into five states. But, Kano, which has greater land mass and more population, has been divided into only two since then. And the then North-Central State is still only Kaduna and Katsina states.

So where is the justice or equity? If Bayelsa with eight local government areas - and 70 per cent of it is water - is a state, what stops Kano with 44 LGAs being divided into 4 states and, of course, Benue, Plateau, Delta, Ogun, Edo, Oyo, Rivers, Kaduna states etc? There should be criteria and any area that fulfils them should be given a state.

However, the forging of national unity within Nigeria cannot be achieved only by creating states. At the level of identity and consciousness, it requires an unambiguous African policy which places us in the forefront of the struggle for the building on a new self-reliant Africa. It is only in this way that our people can be conscious of themselves as a political community with a defined and clear role in the international system, especially given the challenges confronting us.

As for the 2015 presidential contest, whether President Jonathan has ambition or not is immaterial. The constitution is very clear: no one can go beyond eight years, and, by 2015, he would have done almost six years as president and he has been sworn in twice already; so it is another third term in disguise.

Of course, no third term bid has ever succeeded in Nigeria and, with the cancer afflicting the ruling PDP, I do not see it going anywhere again. The zoning principle in the PDP Constitution and the agreement with governors are not the issues, because those can be violated anyway. The constitution of Nigeria is the issue and there are already subsisting Supreme Court judgements on that; so no one should lose any sleep on this.

What gave Chief Abiola an edge in June 1993 was his national outreach and network. He was for all. What gave Obasanjo needed support in 1999 was his national platform and national network. They behaved as true Nigerians and took the whole country as their constituency.

Thus, they had name recognition all over. There are very few politicians from the south-east such as Senator Jim Nwobodo, Senator Ken Nnamani and Governor Orji Uzor Kalu who maintain any national network.

Even former VP Dr. Alex Ekwueme only comes to the north when there is election. That is not the way to endear one to the electorate. No one will ever be president by zoning, insults or threats again. Only by building trust and working hard can anyone achieve his or her desire. God save Nigeria.

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