First, it was the late Abubakar Rimi. Then it was Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah and now it is Ambassador Sarki, all united by the view that the starting point is making Chapter 2 of the subsisting Constitution of Nigeria legally binding and we would have basically said good-bye to the bad and incompetent governance tearing the country apart. So, why this obsession with looking for what we want in Sokoto when it is already in our ‘shokoto’?
By Ambassador Usman Sarki
“It must be obvious that no Nigerian can be contented so long as any major sector of the economy is controlled by foreigners” – The Rt. Hon. Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, speech to the Federal House of Representatives, Lagos, 1964
“Economics have an awkward way of overriding all other considerations” – Mr. John Buchan, (The African Colony, 1903)
Throughout history, the fortunes of nations are made or marred by the organisation of the forces of production and exchange and the capacity of the state and government to control the distribution and circulation of the means of survival and sustenance of the people. Where these are impaired or made haphazard, the survival of that nation is imperiled and put into question. On the other hand, where they are managed competently and efficiently, the nation thrives and grows from strength to strength.
Thus, it is in this light that the current situation of Nigeria should be seen and analysed. In doing so, we are not approaching the matter from a blank canvass perspective, but from the actual reality of the foundational instrument of the country itself, namely its Constitution. Therefore, we are premising our approach on the provisions of Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended) which outlined the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy. In essence, this Chapter provides in no uncertain terms the principal purposes of the Nigerian State and the raison d’etre of the Nation itself.
The 1999 Constitution prescribes frameworks for defining the nation and the principal objectives of the administration and governance of the country. In it clear guidelines were enunciated for the organisation of the state and the prescribing of its tasks and mandates as well as its responsibilities towards all Nigerian citizens. Therefore, ab initio it becomes imperative that we define what Nigeria is, who is a citizen of Nigeria and how the provisions or guidelines of Chapter 2 in particular, should impact on the governance of the country and the overall wellbeing of the people.
Nigeria must not be understood in abstract concepts but as a reality in terms of its being a defined and concrete entity occupying a spatial zone that has been defined by history and enforced by legislative arrangements and treaties that brought it into being as a Nation. Its sovereignty, its territorial extent and defined contours and shapes that emanated from treaty arrangements are all matters that have been conclusively established by its history, geography, ethnographic configurations, natural features and other tangible and verifiable factors. Its physical boundaries including maritime delimitations have been established and recognised by both municipal and international laws.
The Nigerian Constitution itself has clearly defined Nigeria and its situation. As for the classification of who a Nigerian citizen is, this has also been laid to rest by the Constitution where citizenship was defined and elaborated. To all intents and purposes, a Nigerian citizen is any living individual at any given time who is conceived as being a Nigerian national by virtue of clearly observable and determinable factors, mainly by ethnic affiliation, linguistic or biological attribution, status conferred by law such as acquired citizenship, adoption and conferment of rights and privileges, and any others that might be determined by popular consensus or the subsisting laws of the land.
These facts of the clear delimitation of the Nigerian nation and its citizenship configuration should now form the basis of the application of the provisions of the National Constitution mainly its Chapter 2 which should be considered as the official “Manifesto” of the country and the directive principles of the organisation of the state and fundamental purposes of its governance. Any deviation from this understanding is to negate the main and fundamental essence of the existence of the country, and in doing so to enfeeble the state and the country especially in their expected or assigned roles as the main providers of sustenance and security for the Nigerian citizens.
The single most important task of the Nigerian state therefore; is to determine the character and nature of the organisation of the economic system of the country which serves as the basis or foundation of its being. Without this understanding, without the grasp of this prerequisite, any discussion of the Nigerian condition will be an exercise in futility because it will only lead to addressing of superficial issues and not the fundamental matters of the realities of the country. The discussion of all other matters becomes secondary and subservient to the clear understanding and appreciation of the economic system of the country that is determined by its mode of production, exchange and consumption.
Whether these processes are independently determined by the Nigerian Nation or are in reality under the control of other forces external to the Nigerian Nation, should determine the issues of the true or imagined independence of the country, and its ability to provide wholesome and decent livelihoods to its citizens. Translating Chapter 2 of the Constitution into reality would therefore first and foremost, require the determination of the level of control and supervision of the national economy by the Nigerian state and its appendages including the relevant institutions of governance and administration.
This then should become the real “Manifesto” of any Party or Government in power that is driven by patriotism, commitment to the Nigerian Nation and people, as well as an appreciation of Nigeria’s place in history. Sir Abubakar’s prescription about the control of the economy therefore; becomes both an assertive and aspirational declaration relative to the fundamental evolution of various policies on the economy of the country with which successive administrations have been grappling.
Chapter 2 of the Constitution and its lofty ideals and aspirations cannot be realised without addressing this fundamental premise and correcting any lapses in ensuring that the Nigerian Nation and its people assume an appreciable control of the levers of the economy, and how the resultant fruits from the exploitation of the country’s endowments will translate into a better life for the majority of the citizens. This then becomes the single most important task of a transformative government or political party in the organisation of the Nigerian state and governance systems and structures.
Rather than chasing after the phantom of “restructuring” and other subjective matters of undefined nature and importance, the Nigerian people should hold such institutions as the National Human Rights Commission, the National Assembly, the Judiciary and other norm-setting and supervisory organs responsible for making Chapter 2 justiciable and enforceable at all levels of governance particularly at the local and state levels, where presumably all the country’s population resides. Aspects of the provisions of this Chapter should also become the guiding principles and objectives of all corporate entities including the multinational companies operating in Nigeria, rather than allowing them to have discretionary entitlement to indeterminate provision of services under the generalised concept of “corporate social responsibility” or CSR.
The concrete and evidential implementation of Chapter 2 will ensure the equitable distribution of the national wealth even if in modest and incremental terms, rather than the way budgetary allocations are made to the three tiers of government, including the Ministries and the National Assembly, that have remained rather opaque and questionable in their impacts on the lives of the majority of the people of this country. Even the elusive proposal of having a “National Development Plan” can only be captured and translated into policies and programmes if correctly crafted around the fundamental philosophy of Chapter 2 of the Constitution.
The degree to which contentment, self-esteem and patriotism can be instilled into Nigerians will rest upon the capacity of the state and the government to render adequate services to the people, and chart a course of prosperity for everyone and not just a few privileged individuals randomly thrown up by manipulation of the system and the exploitation of opportunities. The state of insecurity that has become so pervasive and worrisome in recent years, is the offshoot of the general malaise in the country engendered by the way and manner the organisation of economic system of production and distribution of wealth are conducted.
General discontents and distempers will naturally result in such chaotic and insensitive arrangements of exploitation and careless attitude to the fortunes and wellbeing of the vast majority of the citizens. While Chapter 2 has defined the issues and provided the remedies within the limitations of the capitalist system that the country has been operating since independence, succeeding rulers of the country belonging to the political and bureaucratic elites, have failed to appreciate and translate its provisions into concrete deliverables, and consequently, endangered the safety of the state and country by their absent minded omission and commission.
One of the key provisions of Chapter 2 is the commitment that the state shall “abolish” all corrupt practices and the abuse of power in Nigeria. To what extent this has been conscientiously observed and fulfilled is a matter for debate and contention. Rather than the realisation of this aspiration, it would seem that the state or its agents have been responsible for the perpetuation of corruption and the abuse of power in the entire system of government of the country.
The fundamental rights and freedoms of Nigerians that have been prescribed in detail in Chapter 4 will remain elusive, mere declarations and empty aspirations so long as they are not buttressed on the implementation of the provisions of Chapter 2. As such, instead of Nigerians agitating for the abrogation of the Constitution and its replacement by some other yet undefined instrument, they should press and agitate for its faithful observation and the implementation of its provisions that are in direct correlation to their lives, dignity and happiness.
These are all spelled out in Chapter 2 of the Constitution. Nigerians should therefore stop looking elsewhere to make their elected representatives and elected governments at local, state and federal levels accountable and responsible for their happiness. Instead, they should insist on the delivery of all the prescribed rights in Chapter 2 which are their entitlements and genuine rights as bona fide citizens of this country. They should not dissipate their energy on the quest for some indeterminate and ill-defined “rights” that are mere gestures of bourgeois politics that have neither substance nor meaning in the true attainment of dignity and worth of the Nigerian citizen.
Making Chapter 2 justiciable and enforceable should ultimately be the objective of all progressive politics in this country. In doing so, Nigerians could at least hold the state accountable for concrete and determinable omissions rather than the vague pronouncements about “holding power to account” or “speaking to power” that have not changed their fortunes one bit since independence. In doing so, the progressive forces will bring about the existence for the first time of a real “social contract” between the people of this country and the state, and put in place a movement towards the true emancipation of Nigerians and their country.
The author used to be the Deputy Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations in New York