Apart from his Thursday meeting with the Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASUU)., there are no signs that President Muhammadu Buhari wants to amend his approach to governance in a manner that gets his leading critics off his back. The most significant move in that direction would have been a meeting with General TY Danjuma ahead of the meeting with ASUU. Though of different ideological orientations, General Danjuma and ASUU are the two most serious critics of the regime. General Danjuma is the one who rattles the government most because of his framing of the situation.
A few days after his “If I speak, Nigerians will not sleep” statement in Ibadan on December 19th, 2019, the government made both spoken and unspoken moves. While the unspoken move was the sudden release of two detainees, Omoyele Sowore and Sambo Dasuki contrary to earlier statements to that effect, there was the spoken move in President Buhari having to speak again on certainty of his departure in 2023. It was then the question arose as to whether General Danjuma is an anti-thesis or a synthesis.
In other words, if he is an anti-thesis, then something will happen which would resolve the situation he has been talking about, whatever it is. The two calming moves of the Federal authorities referred to above suggests it was also reading the Ibadan outburst along this line.
But, instead of engaging General Danjuma, the government engaged in mirror-imaging, convincing itself that releasing Sowore and Dasuki were what could undercut the atmosphere the General’s “if I speak, then…” created. The problem with mirror-imaging in this situation is that the government has no mechanism of knowing whether Nigerians are sleeping or not even as General Danjuma has not said what he claims to know to be happening.
Meanwhile, the government continues to do what angers its critics , replacing much of those leaving government service with persons from one ethno-religion identity in a manner that embarrasses even the northern standard in that.
Two, electricity bill went up in a manner that says to Nigerians: forget about industrialisation, because when the cost of energy is high, goods will be so costly compared to those of other countries with lower energy costs.
Third is the regime’s monotonous announcement of how high public service institutions have raised their revenue mobilisation capacity. If it is not JAMB, then it might be Customs and so on. This is to the point that even such more service oriented types as the Road Safety Corp or the Vehice Inspection Officers have imbibed that, all at a time of incredible misery.
Of course, cited necessarily is the security situation. From Boko Haram’s worrisome inward push in Borno and Adamawa to banditry in Katsina where a lecturer was killed, to Kogi, Niger and the attack on a Kaduna-Abuja train, it is all so scary. This is particularly so if added to the existence of enclaves that security agents cannot go to because such areas have been cordoned off. Add to all these the sheer incoherence with ministers and governors belonging to the same ruling party slugging it out for all to see: Kwara and Edo being the most explosive ones. The case of Kogi, Niger, train attack and so on were coming after a meeting of the Commander-in-Chief and the security chiefs at which the decision to withdraw troops was announced. It simply raises the question of what the basis upon which the troop withdrawal were.
As the president knows very well, if Nigeria were an Islamic polity, every condition for a jihad can be said to be present now. That is jihad in the sense of a popular revolt, not a theological one. No where is safe – the house, the road, the neighborhood, the market, the farm and even schools. Domestic violence is at an all high!
Understandably, self-help arrangements are emerging. How great it would have been if they were popular neighborhood defence units of the people. Unfortunately it is along ethno-regional lines. Even then, such consciousness sends a signal of a morbidly unraveling state. As soon as there is any sign of success of such initiative anywhere, that will be the beginning of the withering of the Nigerian State as we know it today. Both liberals and radicals, in spite of their differences, agree that the state is an umbrella which must be in a position to shield everyone from insecurity. An exclusionary state or a state perceived to be so will necessary begin to have problems. That the Nigerian State is in that condition today is the summary of what the General Danjumas and their own intellectuals are saying, using different levels of analysis.
The volume of the agitation, given the performative force of narratives, is such that, unless the government wants the state to unravel, something must give. One such thing would have been a Government of National Unity, (GNU). There are no signs of that even as that would have created the situation for the government to mobilise the people against forces of insecurity. Without such a sign, the government suggests, consciously and unconsciously, that it is itself the problem rather than a situation of being overwhelmed by a combination of crises.
It is interesting that no critics have suggested that the Buhari regime wants the Nigerian State to wither away naturally. What they are alleging is state capture by their Fulani brothers. In other words, they are saying that Buhari is injuring Fulani interests on the long run because he cannot be in power for ever. And even if he succeeds in installing a successor of choice, no two persons are the same. So, it is puzzling why the president might be moving along the track he has been moving.
Against this lengthy background, an Afe Babalola proposal for a National Conference would seem to be the best safe landing for a Buhari that is losing everything of whatever mystique he ever had, giving what are happening under his regime. As things are, the regime is so thin on legitimacy and so vulnerable to being misinterpreted on even the most innocent move it makes. Such a situation is dangerous for everybody because a strong, legitimate state is still the only way up for a country such as Nigeria.
There is no knowing what the motive might be but Chief Afe Babalola’s suggestion at this point in time is what Nigerian activists of yesteryears would call a concrete suggestion, with excellent chances of rescuing the country from a relay of salvos of anger, threats, brickbats and ethno-regional brinkmanship.
He might not have got everything right but he responds to the plausible resolution of the portrait of Nigeria with which he began the piece. Having talked in 2014 does not make talking again in 2020 unnecessary because the fears of 2014 are not the fears of 2020. It is only from talking that meanings are produced, not through any false brilliance. That makes a National Conference tempting again.
His argument is reproduced below for those who want to deconstruct it to do so but not in the right or wrong binary reasoning we are used to in Nigeria. Rather, it has to be in the context of the situation Nigeria has found itself:
Convocation of Sovereign National Conference Before 2023 General Election
By Afe Babalola
AS 2019 was winding down, Nigerians in different places, including schools, universities, offices, churches, mosques, market places most deservedly discussed what Nigeria would be like in 2020 having regard to the multifarious problems that afflicted Nigeria in 2019.
Glossary of some of Nigeria’s Problems
Such ills include, but not limited, to unpaid salaries, pensions and other emoluments, spiral unemployment, different shades and shapes of violence, armed robbery, poverty, grossly underfunded institutions, poor infrastructure including deplorable road network, insecurity at home, on the road and on the farms as well as killings for different motives.
In 2019, Nigeria witnessed many cases of kidnapping of Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike, High Court judges, justices of Court of Appeal, governors and deputy governors. The problem of insecurity came to a head around Christmas last year when the country’s immediate past president, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, was brazenly attacked at home in Otuoke, Bayelsa State, despite the intricate web of security woven around him.
The common currency in the discussion by people from different strata of the societal ladder was where do we go from here? What should we expect in 2020? While most were pessimistic about the resolution of the problems identified above, there were some others who were conversely optimistic. They expect that some miracles could happen and that 2020 would indeed be a better year than the preceding year.
Two miracles in 2019
As if the prayer of the few optimistic ones was heard, two miracles happened towards the end of 2019:
The first was the closure of Nigerian borders with Niger Republic and Benin Republic which has brought a modicum of hope to the economy. For example, many Nigerian farmers have now gone back to their farms with the firm belief that they now have a ready market for their farm products, unlike the practice before the border closure when their farm products were pushed to the back burner because of illegal importation of items like rice, fish, maize and others from neigbhouring countries;
The second was the sudden change of mind by the Federal Government when, like a bolt from the blues, news filtered in on Christmas Day that President Muhammadu Buhari had released Colonel Sambo Dasuki, President Jonathan’s National Security Adviser (NSA) who had been incarcerated since December 2015 and Mr Omoyele Sowore, the founder of Sahara Reporter and proponent of #Revolution Now, who has been in the gulag for four months before his eventual release.
Commendation for President Buhari
I joined millions of Nigerians in commending President Buhari for obeying court orders, thereby firing the hope that this government believes in the Rule of Law. It is trite to emphasise that the Rule of Law is the solid pillar on which democracy properly so called stands.
Identification of Nigeria’s Problems
But no matter how well-placed the intention of the president and other Nigerian political leaders to tackle the problems highlighted above may be, such intention might come to naught unless Nigeria identifies the root causes of the problems and proffer workable solutions to them properly and quickly too.
There is this time-tested Yoruba aphorism, to wit: “Ebi kii wonu, ki oro miran wo” which translates roughly to “when a man is poor, he becomes hungry. When he is hungry, he becomes angry and when he is angry, he can engage in any vice like kidnapping, larceny, outright robbery and all forms of violence that were alien to our land in the days of yores”.
Convocation of Sovereign National Conference Before 2023 General Elections
Those of us who are over 80 years old will recall that there was no poverty in Nigeria in those days. This was simply because everybody was gainfully employed. Even those who were engaged in other vocations like bricklaying, barbing, trading and carpentry still engaged in agriculture, if only to feed members of their immediate families. That was the trend in those days. It is my humble view that it is only when our problems are identified that we can proffer solutions to them.
Knowing that Nigeria contains more than 250 ethnic nationalities with different cultures, languages, religions and customs, Nigeria’s founding fathers, after sitting together in Lancaster House in London for almost 10 years, fashioned out a constitution that united the different ethnic nationalities. This was one of the main reasons why both the 1960 Independent Constitution and 1963 Republican Constitution worked well before the military made a forceful incursion in governance following the military coup of January 15, 1966. In essence, when the 1960 and 1963 constitutions were in operation in Nigeria, poverty and other problems afflicting Nigeria today were virtually non-existent in the country.
The Real Problem
The real and main problem Nigeria has today is the military constitution which was christened 1999 Constitution and foisted on us by the military. Unless the 1999 Constitution is properly addressed and jettisoned in a place of a truly people’s constitution, we shall continue to groan in pain as a nation. The 1999 Constitution should be jettisoned because it encouraged indolence, lack of creativity, greed and avarice, wanton struggle for positions in the central government and the untoward attitude of begging for monthly allocation from the Federal Government. It is a common knowledge today that politics has suddenly and lamentably become the only lucrative business in the country.
Jostling for the 2023 Elections
Already those who are benefiting from the mess created by the warped 1999 Constitution, making billions of Naira at the expense of the massive majority of Nigerians, are already angling for the 2023 elections, instead of addressing the problems inherent in and caused by the 1999 Constitution.
Immediate Convocation of Sovereign National Conference
Truth be told, Nigeria cannot afford the extension of the warped 1999 Constitution and the attendant sufferings it has imposed on majority of Nigerians for another four years. The consequences can only be imagined. I would therefore like to personally appeal to President Buhari to follow up on what he began towards the end of last year by surprising Nigerians with a Bill to the National Assembly asking for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC).
There is an urgent need to replace the 1999 Constitution with a people’s constitution. But unfortunately this cannot be achieved by the present crop of legislators in the National Assembly being the major beneficiaries of the rot. To maintain the status quo, what the present caste of legislators has been doing is to amend, re-amend and further amend the extant 1999 Constitution. They should appreciate that no one can successfully mend a skyscraper which is devoid of pillars: such a skyscraper will simply fall like a pack of cards. In the circumstance, what we need to solve the multiplicity of problems is the convocation of a SNC.
What is Sovereign National Conference?
A SNC is one convened to reconsider the country’s political future. It is designed to carry out political transformation; in other words, to chart a new course. It is appropriate where the economic, political and social structures seem incapable of solving the problems of the country as it is in Nigeria today so that, instead of resorting to arms, a peaceful and orderly change can take place. The distinguishing word, “sovereign”, in a SNC therefore connotes that the body is not merely advisory or consultative. Rather, it is an assembly of elected representatives of the Nigerian people, backed by an enabling law, with the mandate and power to fundamentally restructure the political, economic, social and constitutional future of the country.
A SNC will not have any “no-go areas or non-negotiable issues”. Rather, it will have the broadest mandate to determine the political, economic, social, judicial, legislative and security structures of the federation, which will include issues of state police, fiscal federalism; multi-religiosity; separation of powers, bicameral legislature or otherwise, salaries and emoluments of legislators, fundamental human rights; and fundamental objectives and directive principles governing the coming together of different parts of Nigeria as a federation.
The enabling law would ensure that the outcome of the SNC will receive the status of a draft Constitutional Reform Bill which will be passed by the National Assembly without any amendment. To ensure broad-based representation and efficiency, the SNC should be convened as follows:
Two to three delegates per state, elected on zero party basis; every ethnic group in Nigeria should be represented at the SNC; representatives of accredited professional, religious and non-governmental bodies, who will be distinguished personalities with unimpeachable records. Such organizations will be proportionately represented, based on their numerical strength; 50-50 representation for both women and men; at least, 20 per cent representation of youths in the SNC. Here I adopt the African Union’s definition of youth, which is “every person between the ages of 15 and 35 years”; the principal officers (chairman, deputy chairman and secretary) of the SNC to be elected internally by its members during the inaugural sessions of the body.
I repeat that our constitution is the greatest problem of Nigeria which is a country of nations. To get out of this quagmire and particularly as a follow up to his new mindset of closing Nigeria’s borders with Niger Republic and Benin Republic to save Nigeria’s economy from the influx of illegal importation of agricultural products and the release of the duo of Col. Dasuki and Omoyele Sowore from detention, I humbly appeal to President Buhari to immediately send a Bill to the National Assembly proposing the convocation of a SNC.
No Election Before a New Constitution
The proposed SNC must conclude its deliberations before any election. It follows therefore that there should be no election before the outcome of the proposed SNC. The 2023 general election should be conducted, using the new constitution which will be the outcome, indeed, the product of the SNC. This is the way to go if we are to make it as a nation. I wish you all a Happy and Prosperous 2020.
Aare Babalola, OFR, CON, SAN, is the founder and chancellor of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria.