Ikwerre and the Review of the Nigerian Constitution

Guest Columnists

Nigeria’s National Assembly (NASS) comprising of the Senate and the House of Representatives appears serious to review the 1999 Constitution. They have published it in the dailies and the House of Representatives is arranging a public session to vote on some key issues for the review. This has prompted most ethnic groups in Nigeria to begin preparation to that effect. But let us take for granted that the NASS has the right or authority to review and amend the constitution. What is important is for every group to make its authentic demands known to the NASS by providing answers to the template questions as indicated in newspaper publications (see The Guardian of 7th November 2012 page 36 and Thisday pages 36 and 36A). It is in this regard that the Ikwerre could be pitied- who will fill those answer spaces for Ikwerre: a people thoroughly without authentic leadership in a vulture-like ravaging country like Nigeria. But by the count of one, many will appear as leaders of Ikwerre whom they hardly care for. This is why I have decided to do this article on behalf of the poor masses of Ikwerre, thus providing a voice to the voiceless people of the Ikwerre Ethnic Nationality of Nigeria.

In my book, The Challenge of Ikwerre Development in Nigeria, I did justice on how my people of Ikwerre can develop themselves within an unbrotherly federation called Nigeria. I insisted that Ikwerre, with over 1.5 million heads occupying four local government areas of Emohua, Obio/Akpor, Ikwerre and Port Harcourt in Rivers State of Nigeria, are not Igbo and that they deserve their rights of self determination and political autonomy within the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I insisted that one better way to go about achieving this is by restructuring Nigeria into ethnic states which can in turn congregate into regions as they wish. Nigeria should abolish the current unitary federalism and embrace true and liberal federalism by restructuring Nigeria as suggested above and have the ethnic states contribute 5% of their annual income to the federation account to take care of federal services like foreign affairs, the military, immigration, customs, currency and regulatory/supervisory services.

When this is done, all other issues about economics, socials, education, health, culture, infrastructure, police and development will be the sole responsibility of the ethnic states. The beauty of this proposal is that ethnic states will depend on their efforts and resources for their development, and not on a sharing of money from a federation account. The monthly sharing of money from the federation account actually limits the true progress and development of the states. For example, a state like Rivers State has no business going to Abuja for its share of the federation money when it can make over five trillion naira annually from its human and material resources. So why are we limiting ourselves by collecting about N300 billion annually from the federation account? So which is better: work hard and earn N5 trillion a year or go begging for N300 billion per year?

Going through the items listed by the said publications, only the issues of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), tenure and rotation of the president and governor deserve some comments. Nigeria should be restructured into ethnic states with self determination and political autonomy to the states. The states should be responsible for their internal security, elections and local government creations and indeed all aspects of their development.  Therefore, INEC should be responsible for federal elections only. That is NASS and presidential elections. There should be a unicameral legislature with an eight-year tenure maximum. The president and vice-president should continue the eight-year tenure maximum. The office of the president and vice-president should be rotated or zoned between the North and South of Nigeria. If a president dies while in the office, his/her zone shall complete the tenure by nominating another person from the same zone. For example, if President A from the South dies while in office, another person from the South must be nominated from his political party to complete the tenure.

As long as the federal elections are concerned, they shall be based on rotation or zoning principle. Therefore if it is the turn of the South to produce a president, an understanding which must be enshrined in the constitution must stipulate that each political party in the South must agree which ethnic state should produce the presidential candidate. Ethnic-based states are permanent structures; therefore enlisting them in the constitution becomes desirable. Even when the ethnic states rearrange themselves into sub-regions, such regions must be recognized in the constitution. Thus every state or region has a chance of producing a president; thus repudiating the practice of the exclusive preserve of one group over the others based on a lopsided population arrangee-formula.

But the election of ethnic state governors and their deputies, house of assemblies, local government chairmen and councilors should be based on merit. Meritocracy must rule at this level because this is the level where development work is done. It requires that he who knows it should do it. So, works and positional arrangements should be merit-based. Admissions into schools should be based on merit etc. The understanding here is that the ethnic state is peopled by blood brothers and sisters who should give everyone equal opportunities to succeed. Of course it is always difficult to give strangers equal opportunities because it can be counter-productive in the future.

The new and expected constitution of Nigeria should incorporate the issues above. But that constitution must be made by the peoples of Nigeria, it must be a product of a fire-furnace crucible as epitomized by the presence and workings of a temporary national convention or conference of the ethnic peoples of Nigeria. Such gathering must be peopled by representatives of ethnic groups nominated by the leadership of each group, not political parties. All those who had represented the people in the past, that is from 1st January 1914 when Nigeria was created  to date should be disqualified from attending such meeting because they led us to the mess Nigeria had found herself in the 21st Century. Ethnic groups could be up to two thousand or more, it does not matter; what counts is that each group is well represented such that the group’s interest is well discussed by the delegates who endorsed the agreements of the conference at the end of the day. This platform should be free to discuss every aspect of all questions concerning the challenges facing the peoples of Nigeria. The only thing they must not discuss is the breaking up of Nigeria. Nigeria as a country must be; the key thing is to determine how it can be and how all the different ethnic groups can live together in happiness.

It must be stated here that the agreements signed by the ethnic delegates should be made public to Nigerians who will be expected to endorse it through a referendum. Thereafter, the president should constitute a Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) charged with the responsibility of drafting a Nigerian constitution based on the agreements reached at the aforesaid conference and endorsed by Nigerians.

The uncensored draft constitution should again be made public and given three months for further inputs from Nigerians. Thereafter, a draft is made incorporating relevant opinions and made public for another last three months for public vetting. A final public referendum is sought for the approval of the final draft of the constitution. This referendum-approved final draft becomes The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It can now merit and bear the words: We the peoples of Nigeria having….

We must note that the current NASS is not qualified to produce the above constitution. The main reason is that they are part of the leaders who had led Nigeria to an underdeveloped state with ever rising unemployment rate, poor supply of electricity, bad-killer roads and aircrafts, quack hospitals with no good equipment but rich with expired and fake drugs, a consumer nation with consuming corruption, a nation whose central banking is about currency restructuring and management not economic productivity, mind-harassing and fearful siege of insecurity, poor education shown in the massive examination failures year-in-year-out, non-availability of petroleum products even though Nigeria is one of the ten highest crude oil producing countries in the World, collapse of buildings killing Nigerians daily, mass suffering that does not seem any hope of abating, stealing of public funds by leaders shown in their living lifestyles in the midst of a ravaging material and spiritual poverty, general meaninglessness of the Nigerian life and now flood without sustainable solution.

They are the ones angling to review the constitution listing items that will not resolve any of the above stated challenges. They are more interested in state creation, local government creation, derivation percentage, tenure of president and governors, dichotomy between accountant-general of the federation and that of the government or between attorney general of the federation and the minister of justice, state joint local government account, CBN autonomy etc. Can the resolution of these issues stop stealing of government funds by government officials? Can it stop militancy, OPC and Boko Haram issues that have forced insecurity of lives and properties on Nigerians? Can they make the Nigerian police to work well? How can the resolution of these issues put better foods on our tables, give us stable electricity, give us good roads, repair our refineries and let Nigerians have petroleum products to buy at affordable prices? Just last night in Area 11 opposite Police Headquarters Abuja, I bought 40 litres of fuel for N9600 which means N240 per litre. Yet the machines have N97 written on them per litre! So all political leaders involved in the administration of Nigeria’s mess must never take part in any genuine process to correct and sanitize the mess; otherwise, they will frustrate it again like they have been doing.

I am Ikwerre and I believe I am speaking for the voiceless mass of the Ikwerre in Nigeria, and maybe for the voiceless mass in all the other ethnic groups in Nigeria. The level of work to be done to turnaround Nigeria for good goes far beyond these cosmetic issues published by the House of Representatives. If the NASS is determined to force these issues on Nigerians as they are likely to do, let me remind them that the Ides of March is very near. If they insist, please they should have these suggestions as representing the position of the Ikwerre in the so-called constitution review.

 

Okachikwu Dibia

Abuja.