Being a paper delivered by Mr Seye Oyeleye M.A, LL.B (LOND), Director-General DAWN Commission at the launch of the National Agenda by the National Prosperity Movement on Tuesday 19th April 2022 held at the International Conference Center, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Oyo State.
The Nigeria Agenda
I am delighted to be in the midst of you all to deliver this lecture titled The Nigeria Agenda. I appreciate the invitation from the National Prosperity Movement, for the opportunity to express my perspectives.
The unity and progress of the Nigerian-Nation-State has been heavily marred by the systemic and structural deficiencies evident in the country prior to independence which was subsequently worsened by the intervention of the military.
For my presentation today, I will begin by providing a brief history of Nigeria while exploring the failed attempts to address the national question in the country. I thereafter explain the failure of the 1999 Nigerian constitution in pursuing the Nigeria Agenda. This is followed by a section that emphasizes the importance of an inclusive constitutional development process to a united and prosperous country, citing the 2014 National Conference as an attempt akin to a participatory and inclusive constitutional development process in Nigeria. International good practices in constitutional development and inclusive governance structures are thereafter cited. This is followed by an attempt to establish a relationship between the Nigeria Agenda, Civic Nationalism and Leadership. I conclude by harping on the need for a broad-based constitutional development process for the sustainable development of our country.
The National Question
A national agenda is inconsequential without thoroughly investigating the ‘national question’. The national question in this context simply refers to deliberating on the efforts that will accommodate the competing and often, diverse interests and ideologies of several ethnicities, tribes, religions, cultures and some would say class, existing within one geographical entity (Blaut, 1987). It is the debate as to the order of the relations between the different ethnic, linguistic and cultural groupings so that they have the same rights and freedoms, access to power and an equitable share of resources (Prof. Ajayi (1992) in Prof. Eromosele (2020)).
As with many countries around the world, Nigeria was a victim of European colonialism and imperialism. Pre-colonial Nigeria consisted of various ethnic groups and tribes. There were kingdoms, empires, statelets, principalities, city-states and acephalous societies (Iweribor, 1982). From as early as the 12th century it has been documented that many different groups lived and governed in the area later to be known as Nigeria. In the Nigerian area, there were a few specific groups, which include the Songhay Empire, the Oyo Empire, and the Kanem Borno Empire, with a slight presence of the Malian Empire as well (Pennsylvania State University, 2014).
These Empires were largely distinct with different cultures, customs and traditions although they traded, interacted and waged war against each other. However, the decision of the British, who at different points were trading with the aforementioned Empires, to directly interfere in the governance of the Nigerian area changed the course of the territory’s history. British direct interference in the area escalated with the bombardment of Lagos in 1851 and continued with the formation of the Northern and Southern Nigeria Protectorate, the amalgamation of the Lagos Colony and the Southern Nigeria Protectorate in 1906 and ultimately, the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914.
This seemingly innocent act has continued to plague the socio-political-economic development of the country. Bigotry, tribalism, and ethno-religious biases have coloured the political, economic, and social relations amongst Nigerians to the extent that it has stalled our progress.
The consequences of the illegitimate unification of the country began to unfold as early as 1945. Although, the emerging nationalistic political elites of the new country, Nigeria, all collaborated to work towards its freedom from British rule as early as feasible, ethnoreligious and tribalistic identities plagued the quest for political power once a pathway to independence was established (Remi Adekoya, 2018).
It could be argued that the initial attempts to address the national question entrenched ethno-religious and tribalistic politics. On the 1st of January 1947, the Richardson Constitution came into effect. It was the constitution that created a central legislative council where regional assemblies were to choose from their members those who will represent their interests at the council. The colonial government argued that this was done to promote a more representative government. However, it was what ultimately led to the domination of ethnicity and religion in Nigerian politics. It should however be mentioned that foremost nationalists at the time, criticized the constitution for ethnizing and ignoring the ethno-diversity of the country.
Other attempts to address the national question emerged in the immediate years leading to the independence of the country from British rule, as minority groups across the 3 Regions stepped up agitations over the fear that in an independent Nigeria, they would be dominated by the Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa-Fulani ethnic groups. In response to these agitations, a Minorities Commission was established to address their concerns and their demand for new states creation in Nigeria. After touring Nigeria and consulting several representatives and community leaders, the Commission recommended against the creation of new states arguing that new state creation could foster national fragmentation along ethnic lines. Alternatively, the Commission recommended constitutional safeguards guaranteeing minority rights and a strong federal government structure where no single ethnic group dominated.
The major political parties at the time, welcomed the decision arrived at by the Willink Commission, with the exception of Chief Awolowo’s Action Group who had wanted the Yorubas living in the North to join the West, presumably to strengthen the Regions political advantage vis-a-vis the North and the East. In reality, however, the political parties were reluctant to let go of any territory as it weakened them politically. They, therefore, advocated for the creation of new States in each other’s Regions. To put into perspective, while the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) opposed the creation of a Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers (COR) State in the East, it vehemently supported the creation of the Midwest State in the West and the Middle Belt State in the North.
Following the formation of government by the NCNC and NPC coalition in 1959, efforts to address the national question continued with the creation of the Midwestern State in 1963 from the Western Region. Despite this exercise, several minority groups across the country continued to agitate and demand their rights to self-determination.
3 years later, Nigeria witnessed the first of many coup d’etats which derailed the quest to address the national question through the centralization of economic and political power, effectively creating a Unitary Nigerian State with its implications still felt today. Although some would argue that under the military, many more States were created therefore further addressing the national question by giving in to the demands of minority groups. This is however only an illusion as these newly created States had little to no power as is the case at the moment of me delivering this presentation.
The Nigeria Agenda and the 1999 Constitution
Contrary to the hopes and dreams of many, the transition to democratic rule in 1999 did very little to address the national question and pursue the Nigeria Agenda as the Consitution, which still remains in use today and is said to be wrongly drafted by the people, continued to allocate power at the centre leaving the federating units with insufficient residual powers to create opportunities for their residents to prosper.
In the 1st and 2nd Schedule of the Constitution, the exclusive and concurrent legislative list makes provisions for the powers of the federal legislature and state legislature. In particular, the security of the 200 million Nigerians is vested in the hands of the federal government. Mineral and natural resources situated in States and Local Governments are also placed in the hands of the federal government. The provision of infrastructure for the construction and operation of railways is also within the purview of the Federal Government. Of the revenue generated by the whole country, 52.68% is retained by the centre, the State government obtains 26.72% and the local governments 20.60% (Taiwo K. and Veiga, L.G., 2020).
The implications of a constitution skewed in favour of the centre are playing out today. There are farmers-herders clashes, terrorist attacks, banditry, kidnappings and armed robberies. Unemployment still persists at 33.3% according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, Foreign Direct Investment has also declined from $8 billion in 2008 to $1.9 billion in 2018 (World Bank, n.d.). Over 10 million children are out of school in the country and the infrastructure in many schools continues to deteriorate (NBS, UNICEF, 2017). It has most importantly failed to address the national question as agitations for self-determination by several ethnic groups continue with many feeling marginalized and voiceless in the governance of the country.
The Nigeria Agenda, Democracy and Constitutionalism
Democratic institutions backed with a strong and widely accepted constitution has proven to resolve challenges arising due to interactions between the different ethnic, linguistic and cultural groupings in countries around the world, a cue Nigeria can definitely learn from.
Central to addressing the national question and pursuing the Nigeria Agenda is the development of a constitution through a thoroughly consultative and participatory process. A truly democratic constitution would bring contending and even warring communities and personalities together and precipitate a national collective deliberation of burning issues of ethnicity, revenue allocation, religion, rights, and citizenship, amongst others (Ihonvbere, n.d.).
A people-centric constitutional development approach would greatly contribute to the reduction of conflicts and pressures on the State, its institutions, and custodians. A participatory approach to constitutional development is also one of the best ways to prevent instability, public cynicism, alienation from government, coups and counter-coups. When the people collectively create a constitution, they are more likely expected to defend it against political adventurers and other anti-democratic forces. This is one of several ways to entrench a culture of dialogue and consensus over the resort to violence in the political process (Ihonvbere, n.d.).
How governments respond to demands for good governance may determine whether the constitution development process unites or further divides society, whether they help or hinder the creation of a national consensus on fundamental principles and values, and whether the processes and documents that result from them are considered legitimate. (Gluck & Brandt, 2015).
There is no manual for making a constitution, however, the importance of an inclusive and participatory constitution development process cannot be overemphasized. Such a process will address the root causes of conflict and ethnoreligious divisions while ensuring that the political process benefits from the full contribution of all citizens including ethnic minorities, women, youth and Persons With Disabilities.
To achieve this, it is critical that constitution-makers have the political will to carry out a genuine process of civic education and consultations, where the views of citizens are carefully considered. Transparency and inclusiveness should be the guiding principles in the constitution development process. During meaningful constitutional dialogues, historical experiences must also be taken into consideration. This nationwide development process must be well managed to avoid risks and reap maximum benefits.
Recently, an attempt akin to a participatory and inclusive constitutional development process in Nigeria was the 2014 National Conference where delegates representing the different geo-political zones of the country, professional groups, traditional rulers, organized labor, organized private sector, youth organizations, political parties, women groups, religious organizations, civil society organizations, media, diaspora organizations, representatives of people living with disabilities, socio-political, cultural and ethnic nationality groups, deliberated on the socio-political and socio-economic challenges of the country at the time and proffered implementable solutions.
The Conference had up to 20 committees that considered several national issues. Some of these were: devolution of power, human rights and legal reform, national security, environment, labour and sports, political parties and electoral matters, political restructuring and forms of government, land tenure and national boundaries, foreign and disapora matters, and agriculture.
At the end of the Conference, there were over 600 resolutions from the over 500 delegates in Abuja. Some of these resolutions are:
- that the sharing of the funds accruing to the federation account among the three tiers of government, should be done in the following manner:
- Federal Government – 42.5%
- State Government – 35%
- Local Governments – 22.5%
- that local government areas should be stripped of their status as the third tier of public administration, with States given the freedom to set up their own local administrative systems.
- that each State of the Federation should have its own States Charter Commission to protect the interest of minority ethnic groups in the State.
- that government should fund science and technology development programmes up to 2% of the Federation Account while state government should contribute to research by way of research projects.
- that, for any State that requires it, there shall be a State police at the State level to be established, funded and controlled by the States.
- that the Nigeria Railway Corporation Act should be amended giving participatory power to the Federal Government, the private sector and State Governments in rail development.
- that Nigeria should adopt the Nigeria Charter for National Reconciliation and Integration in a bid to promote inclusiveness and build a fully integrated nation. The Charter while being suggested to serve as the basis of the union of our nation, affirms amongst others that:
- the right to self-determination by the States as federating units shall be extended to ethnic nationalities within the State.
- states shall have their respective Constitutions.
- there shall be a revenue-sharing formula established by law in every State.
Although not all of the over 600 resolutions proffered by the Conference would be easy to implement, there are some low hanging fruits that need to be seriously considered in order to take concrete steps towards addressing the National Question and pursuing the Nigeria Agenda. Most importantly are those resolutions emphasizing the adherence to fiscal federalism, state policing, and the transfer of the development and management of railways from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent legislative list.
Notwithstanding the fact that the recent constitutional amendment process initiated by the 9th National Assembly is a step in the right direction, its impact and effectiveness remain limited as only a few of the issues from the 2014 Conference were addressed. Moreover, the constitution despite its amendment would still fail to represent the will of the people. It is an imposition on the people of Nigeria. It is illegitimate and poses a threat to our corporate existence. Nigeria’s unity and progress as a nation-state is heavily dependent on the will of the people as enshrined in a generally accepted constitution backed by strong democratic institutions.
National Agendas: Constitutionalism and International Good Practices
There are several countries around the world that have a widely accepted and protected constitution supported by strong and resilient democratic institutions. There are however a select few, who are multi-ethnic in nature, Nigeria can learn one or two things regarding their constitutional development and governance processes that engender unity, peace and progress. For the purpose of this presentation, my focus would be on Switzerland and Rwanda.
Switzerland is a democratic federal republic. It is an ethnically diverse country comprising of different nationalities such as the Swiss, Germans, Italians, Portuguese, French, Kosovo, Turkish amongst others. Switzerland has long been a model multiethnic, multilingual society, a place in which diverse peoples can live in social harmony and unite in common interest. The Swiss justifiably take great pride in this.
Switzerland’s constitution was first adopted in 1848 following the Swiss Civil War. The warring parties had initially rejected the propositions made in the constitution. However, after several deliberations, a compromise was reached and the first constitution of the federation was agreed upon. The new constitution was accepted with a majority of 15 ½ Cantons, the administrative sub-divisions of the country, (“History of Switzerland: Federal Constitution 1848”). The constitution has subsequently been revised in 1874, and 1999.
One of the unique aspects of Switzerland’s constitution is the number of decisions it requires citizens to make through referenda and initiatives. Sovereign power ultimately rests with the people, who vote on proposed legislation several times a year at the national level and often more frequently in the cantons; indeed, Switzerland has held more than half of the world’s national referenda.
According to its constitution, Switzerland is defined as a federal state composed of 26 cantons, that have far-reaching autonomy. The Swiss federal constitution in principle reserves the areas of foreign relations, the army, customs examinations and tariffs, value added taxes and the legislation on currency, measure and weight amongst others to the federal government.
The cantons on the other hand have their own constitution, legislature, executive and judiciary. Certain cantons have preserved their age-long democratic practices. For example in the Glarus and Appenzell Inner-Rhoden Cantons, citizens of full age meet annually for the purpose of legislation, taxation, and the election of an annual administrative council and of the members of the cantonal supreme court. In other Cantons, the legislature is composed of representatives chosen through elections and usually by proportional representation. These Canton legislatures usually deal with legislation and all questions not reserved for the federal government. They decide on cantonal taxes and appoint judges as well as cantonal representatives to the federal government.
The Swiss Federation consists of some 3,000 communes, which are responsible for public utilities and roads and, like the cantons, are largely autonomous. From the multiplicity of small communal republics stem a special quality to each and, paradoxically, a basis of national unity, for each citizen treasures and supports the freedom of the commune, a shared conviction that unites a citizen with the rest of the population in a way that transcends differences of language. It is the communes rather than the country that grant Swiss citizenship.
Switzerland’s decentralized structure guaranteed and protected by a widely accepted constitution is largely responsible for the peace, prosperity and unity it has experienced for decades. Access to political rights and civil liberties is very high in the European country. Freedom House in its Freedom in the World 2021 Report rates Switzerland 96/100 in that regard (Freedom House, n.d.). Switzerland is also regularly judged to have among the world’s highest standards of living. According to the World Bank (2018), Switzerland is ranked 3rd, just after Norway and Qatar in terms of wealth per capita. Life expectancy in Switzerland is one of the highest in the world as children born in the country are expected to live up to 83. Switzerland is a global political and economic power hosting several United Nations Agencies, the Zurich Financial Center and high-quality, specialized manufacturing of items such as precision timepieces, optics, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals.
Although it is not as ethnically diverse as Nigeria and Switzerland, its history, constitutional development process, and governance structure serve as beneficial insights for the inclusive and sustainable development of most countries.
Rwanda has a long history of adopting different constitutions. Following the independence constitution of 1962, there has been the 1978 constitution which effectively turned the country into a one-party state permitting only the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (MNRD) and its Chairman to run for president. Following pressure from the international community and domestic opposition, a new constitution in 1991 was adopted by the President recognizing multi-party democracy. This new constitution was amended after the Government of Rwanda and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) signed the protocol of agreement on the rule of law at Arusha, Tanzania in 1992. However, the continuous fighting and the subsequent infamous Rwandan Genocide of 1994 left little room for the actualization of the principles in the Constitution.
Following a 9 year transition period and the setting up of the Legal and Judicial and Constitutional Commission in line with the Arusha Accords, Rwandan’s current 2003 constitution was developed.
The Legal and Judicial and Constitutional Commission was set up in the year 2000 to prepare a new constitution and revise the laws of Rwanda. The Commission was charged with preparing the draft bill of the constitution, searching for, receiving and collecting thoughts on the constitution from the population while making use of examples from other countries. It was also responsible for explaining to Rwandans what a Constitution is and its components and collating all laws that must be modified in order to adapt them to the Constitution. These and more were the responsibilities of the Rwandan Legal and Judicial and Constitutional Commission.
The Commission comprised of 12 Rwandan Commissioners who were elected by the transitional National Assembly. Eight of the members of the Constitutional Commission were representatives of the coalition of eight political parties that formed part of the unity governments following the aftermath of the genocide. Two of the members of the Commission were CSO representatives, one was a representative of the Armed Forces and one member was appointed on an independent basis.
After the initial familiarization meeting of the members of the Commission, a constitutional building seminar, which attracted a broad-based participation from both local and international participants, was organised. At this seminar, the Commission’s work was broken down into 6 phases:
- Training and sensitization of the population about the constitution
- The consultation of the population on the content of the constitution
- The writing and validation of the draft text of the constitution
- The referendum on the text of the constitution as approved by parliament
- The management of the last period of the transition
- The harmonization between current laws and the new constitution.
Following this seminar, In 2002, Members of the Constitutional Commission and thousands of their trained assistants fanned out to spend six months in the provinces so that constitutional education and discussions could become an integral part of community life. During these periods, the main ideas of constitutionalism in Rwanda were explored. A 60 questions questionnaire was developed around issues that were considered to be potentially controversial areas for the constitution. Such issues included land, marriage, divorce etc. Literate Rwandans completed the questionnaires and for the largely illiterate population of Rwanda, the members of the Constitutional Commission and their staff facilitated group discussions.
The Constitutional Commission developed a database in which the responses from the population were recorded. The Commission made available free telephone lines, and email addresses to obtain feedback from the population. A website was also developed. All answers received from the populace were summarized in a booklet and taken back to the people of Rwanda in a period of one month.
The Constitution Commission took 2 months to draft the Constitution. The two months drafting period ended with a three days seminar that drew the participation of 800 people including those in the Diaspora. International experts were invited to study the constitution and ensure that it conformed to current international standards. Thereafter, another three months period was used to receive further comments and amendments to the constitution.
The draft was then presented to the cabinet and given to the transitional parliament to debate. The parliamentary debate took 2 months and agreed on further amendments to the draft constitution. Amendments made by the parliament were again taken back and presented to the Rwandan people. The constitution was thereafter put to a referendum on 26 May 2003 and it obtained an overwhelming 93% support. It was promulgated into law in June 2004 (Priscillia Ankut, 2005). This new 2003 constitution emphasized the need to eradicate ethnic, regional and other divisions and promote national unity.
Articles 140 and 141 of the 2003 Rwandan Constitution make for the provision of a National Umushyikirano Council and an Abunzi Committee. The National Umushyikirano Council meets at least once a year. and debates issues relating to the state of the Nation and national unity. Resolutions of this Council are submitted to the relevant institutions to enable them to improve their service delivery to the population. The Abunzi Committee is responsible for conciliating parties in conflict with the aim of consolidating national unity and peaceful coexistence among Rwandans. The Committee is comprised of persons of integrity who are recognised for their conciliation skills.
The new constitution also formally recognizes the traditional Gacaca legal system. This is a system of participatory justice where the population is expected to participate in the search for truth. People take part in telling the truth, prosecuting and punishing perpetrators. It was believed that the system would accelerate the trials of accused persons in post-genocide Rwanda, eradicate the culture of impunity and reconcile Rwandans to each other. Article 152 of the 2003 constitution recognizes the jurisdiction of Gacaca as part of the laws of the land to help address the question of impunity.
Rwanda is a democratic unitary republic. The Rwandan Consitution only recognizes two spheres of government, the national and local government. The Ministry of Local Government (MINALOC) oversees the local authorities, which are structured in four tiers: 30 districts, 416 sectors, 2,148 cells and 14,837 villages. Local government can raise revenue through user fees and property taxes, and receives a core funding grant from the national government as well as grants for specific services and one-off development projects.
The district council is the policy-making and legislative body at the district level. It is the authority through which the people, via their representatives, can exercise their decision-making and planning powers to determine the development of the district. The sector council is a political organ for policy-making decisions; it is elected by all sector residents over the age of 18. The number of council members is determined by the number of cells within its boundaries. Cell councils are elected for a five-year term to identify, discuss and prioritise issues, and take decisions on behalf of their electorate. The cell executive works through its technical committee, the cell community development committee (CCDC), to identify and prioritise needs, draw up development plans and mobilise development resources. Village authorities are committees elected for a five-year term to identify, discuss and prioritise issues, and take decisions on behalf of their electorate (Commonwealth Local Government Forum, 2018).
As a result of this participatory approach to the constitutional building process which guaranteed broad-based development, Rwanda has experienced relative peace and poverty in Rwanda has declined from 77% in 2001 to 55% in 2017. Life expectancy in the East African country improved from 29 in the mid-1990s to 69 in 2019 (World Bank. n.d.). Economic growth averaged 7.2% from 2009 to 2019, while per capita gross domestic product (GDP) grew at 5% annually within the same period (World Bank, n.d.).
There are certainly no two countries that are the same, however, I remain confident that Nigeria can learn from the experiences of both Switzerland and Rwanda in developing a widely accepted constitution with strong governance structures that improve the standard of living of average Nigerians.
Nigeria Agenda, Civic Nationalism and Leadership
It is without a doubt that a strong constitution, widely accepted by the peoples of Nigeria would bring about far-reaching positive changes including the entrenchment of unity, peace and progress.
This is however only the first step. Nigerians are largely responsible for the outcomes and impacts of the constitution. To guarantee a strong constitution that protects the rights and promotes the freedom of every Nigerian, we must find a balance between civic and ethnic nationalism. Nigerians should be free and even encouraged to associate and identify themselves with their respective ethnic group, although this should be done in tandem with the recognition and awareness that Nigeria’s prosperity as a country is the goal we are all working towards.
In the past, our political and social life was dominated by ethnic nationalism and it has consequently stalled our progress. A total disregard for the ethnic identities and histories of the different ethnic groups in Nigeria is also set to produce similar outcomes as Nigerians will resist the attempt to alienate them from their cultures and traditional identities.
Going forward, all efforts must be geared towards reconciling the need for Nigerians to be loyal to their ethnicity and the country. A central aspect of civic nationalism is the idea that there is strength and unity in diversity. As I have highlighted previously, Switzerland and indeed many other countries around the world are made up of different ethnic groups and religions. It was however their conviction to work towards forging the bonds of unity amongst themselves that has led to the human and economic development successes these countries are enjoying at the moment. Unity is not given on a platter of gold, it is an objective that must continuously be worked towards, and in Nigeria’s case without disregard to people’s ethnicity and traditional institutions.
The task towards a more unified Nigeria is in all our hands. The electoral cycle is once again upon us and campaigns are well underway. Conversations about who should be the Governor of a State should not be about the fact that he/she is a Christian or Muslim, or from a particular constituency or in the case of the President, whether he/she is Hausa or Igbo, rather more emphasis should be on the competency of the candidate, his/her philosophies, values, ideologies and experience.
The country needs leaders who owe their loyalty to the people’s welfare and prosperity regardless of their ethnicity or religion, who resolve old and ongoing conflicts, and create opportunities for the inclusion of all ethnic groups within the geographical entity called Nigeria in decision-making processes.
Leadership is not a one-way street. Citizens must also play their role in securing the future of the country by exercising their democratic rights to vote and hold leaders accountable while demanding transparency and other dividends of democracy. Nigerians must begin to vote for competent leaders with character and relevant experience. As citizens, the leaders we produce are a reflection of our values and principles as people.
Nigeria’s present and future needs to be determined by the will of the people. The country is currently being run against the will of the people, as the constitution serving as the social contract of the country is illegitimate without any input from Nigerians. Addressing Nigeria’s constitutional deficiency is the first step to addressing the national question and consequently pursuing the Nigeria Agenda. All other efforts aimed at solving our challenges are tantamount to putting the horse before the cart. The structural and systemic inefficiencies would continue to stall progress and breed disunity.
For to achieve one’s destiny, one must know thyself. A country knows itself when it recognizes its history, when it acknowledges its diversity and when it knows what its constitution is (Aidan O’Neill in (Green, 2019)).
Thank you for listening.