Nigeria: Where is the sovereignty? By Ikechukwu Amaechi

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THE critical questions that all Nigerians must answer going forward is whether Nigeria is beyond a reset? If it is, what next? Must we continue like this and for how long? Those who ask these fundamental questions, I dare say, are not less patriotic than those who insist on preserving the status-quo willy-nilly. Truth be told, the status-quo is not fit for purpose and Nigeria is not working.

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In his article, “Can Emeka Anyaoku’s Patriots reset Nigeria?” Anthony Kila, a Jean Monnet professor of Strategy and Development and the Institute Director at the Commonwealth Institute for Advanced and Professional Studies, CIAPS, Lagos, said: “The Patriots will show the world on Monday if they can stimulate speakers and audience to proffer solutions and workable roadmaps on how to get a new people’s constitution under an elected government and a sitting parliament.”

Kila was writing about the national constitutional dialogue with the theme, “Lawful procedures for actualizing a people’s constitution for Nigeria,” organised by The Patriots, a pan-Nigerian group of eminent national leaders of thought, in honour of the late Prof Ben Nwabueze.

Nwabueze co-founded The Patriots with his late friend, Chief Frederick Rotimi Alade Williams, the first chairman of the group, and when he died on March 26, 2005, the mantle of leadership fell on Nwabueze. Today, the group is led by Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Secretary General of the Commonwealth – a testimony of how eminent the group, indeed, is.

The national dialogue was the least the group could do in honour of Nwabueze, Nigeria’s foremost constitutional lawyer, who spent his entire adult life advocating for constitutional equilibrium, political stability, unity and good governance of Nigeria through restructuring.

In a chat I had with him on March 29, 2017, he bemoaned the state of anomie and insisted that restructuring and transcendental leadership were pathways to Nigeria’s viability.

“The country is not what I had expected it will be or what I thought I would leave behind when the time eventually comes… I regret that we don’t seem to have learnt from the point of view of good governance. I don’t think we have learnt what good governance means, what its demands and challenges are. Our founding fathers meant well but since that time, leadership that we have had, has been disappointing,” he moaned.

“Justice has been destroyed, truth has been destroyed, honesty has been destroyed, integrity has been destroyed, principled leadership has been destroyed and regrettably, the younger generation who we all look up to as leaders of tomorrow seem to have imbibed the evils of the past and the present. They are clamouring to be given a chance but all looking for opportunity to partake in the looting.”

Yet, he was hopeful that despite this gloomy picture, if the advocates of “restructuring” win the battle, then the viability of the Nigerian project is enhanced. “I think the project should be predicated on if we get most people to support restructuring. But if we can’t, that is when the project will not be viable.”

The national constitutional dialogue was, therefore, an attempt by The Patriots to push the envelope. Can we then say that Nigeria is finally on the renaissance path? I doubt!

After reading Kila’s article, someone that I am not at liberty to mention his name, sent me a text message: “The dangerous demagogues we instituted in 1999 have deeply rooted themselves and have institutionalised this current criminal political system. It took nearly 60 years to get rid of class 1966 with the departure of Buhari, just imagine how long it will take to get rid of class 1999… There is no resetting Nigeria soon, am afraid … the concept of democracy is a failure in Nigeria.”

I agree and therein lies the problem. At the NIIA, one of the former governors who engaged me before the event started echoed the same sentiment. “There is nothing to reset. Nigeria is a lost case and I blame former President Olusegun Obasanjo for the mess. And there is nothing Tinubu can do to reset Nigeria even with a so-called people’s constitution,” he said. But when he was called up to make his remarks, a privilege accorded all the former governors, he didn’t express his doubts publicly.

But for the conferees, if only Nigeria can jettison the military-decreed 1999 Constitution for a people’s grundnorm either by adopting the recommendations of the 2014 National Confab organised by President Goodluck Jonathan or a directly elected constituent assembly on non-party basis, the redemption process would have started.

It goes beyond that. Agreed, the 1999 Constitution even with the numerous amendments is not up to par and as Chief Anyaoku noted cannot effectively serve the purposes of a pluralistic country such as Nigeria in dire need of assured political stability and progressive socio-economic development.

But we need to have an authentic, sovereign Nigerian state with leaders imbued with what Prof Nwabueze called “passion for revolution” and “not all these ones shouting ‘change, change’ without even understanding what change means.” Which explains why the conferees mandated Chief Anyaoku and the leadership of The Patriots to seek audience with the president to get his buy-in into the project. To imagine that a President Tinubu will need to be persuaded to support a constitution that will promote fiscal federalism, restructuring and devolution of powers, causes he claims to have fought for all his political life, is a proof of the hypocrisy of the Nigerian elite.

Beyond that, the Nigerian state is dangerously hobbled. In its Wednesday, March 13, 2024 editorial titled, “Nigeria’s kidnapping racket is a symptom of the failing state,” the Financial Times, a British daily business newspaper, came to a damning conclusion: “Much of Nigeria is in effect ungoverned.”

Beyond the 36 state capitals and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, non-state actors run the show in other parts of the country, which in most cases remain ungoverned territories where law and order are virtually non-existent.

A sovereign country is one whose government has a supreme authority over its population and territory, including adjacent waters and associated airspace. And the first duty of a state is the protection of its citizens.

A country where non-state actors will walk into a community and abduct over 287 people or slaughter, literally, 17 military personnel, can never claim sovereignty. Despite the huffing and puffing of Abuja and so-called marching orders of the president to his commanders to rescue the Kuriga pupils and their teachers, none of the abductees has regained freedom. Instead, since then, there has been no less than four attacks in the same Kaduna State.

Last weekend, gunmen kidnapped 87 people in Kajuru community, including women and children. These abductions came a day after 16 others — 15 women and a man — were taken in a separate attack in the nearby Dogon Noma community. The non-state actors have become so emboldened in their nefarious acts that rather than balk, they are raising the stakes by demanding ransom in billions of Naira and giving ultimatums. That is the audacity of impunity!

The inconvenient truth is that today, for instance, the most powerful man in the Niger Delta is neither the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, highest ranking public official from the region, or any of the six state governors, but a non-state actor, 52-year-old Government Ekpemupolo – Tompolo – former commander of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND. When he sneezes, the entire country catches cold and to ensure he does not sneeze often, the Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari in August 2022, awarded his company, Tantita Security Service Nigeria Ltd, a pipeline surveillance contract worth N48 billion per year (N4 billion per month).

Shortly after assuming office last year, Tinubu renewed the contract for another three years.

Those who are complaining forget that the only way the Nigerian state can minimize, mind you, not stop pipeline vandalisation and crude oil theft, is to hand over the work of the Nigerian Navy to a non-state actor.

Truth be told, Nigeria is not working. And it is high time we asked the hard questions. Can we afford to go on like this? My answer is no. Rather than slaughtering ourselves everyday in the name of an illusionary country with common destiny, can’t we agree on what works for all? The idea of a people’s constitution is good, but we need to have a country with all the paraphernalia of sovereignty first.

 


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