A Talk at the Symposium marking Bishop Bolanle Gbonigi’s 80th Birthday Anniversary, at Akure.
For centuries, the people of Israel lived in Egypt. The policies of Egypt were crafted to decimate their male population, deprive the Jews of their right to true happiness, liberty and choice, and to segregate against them in matters of employment and social mobility. Time, some say, heals all wounds. Yet, centuries in Egypt did not heal the wounds of the Jews; neither did time supply the emollient oil of integration. Time is simply a vacuum; we can only fill it with what we may. So at the age of forty, Moses, who was fortunate to escape the lynching policy of Egypt in his generation, tried vainly to achieve liberation for his people. But at the age of eighty, he received a divine commission to set his people free. For Moses, there was no retirement at the age of eighty; that age only marked the beginning of the long walk to freedom for his people. And I hope that Bishop Gbonigi understands that the venerable age of eighty only marks a new phase in his struggle for a just integration founded on mutual respect and justice, and practical recognition of the constituent nations of Nigeria rather that what the British created.
Self-determination and true nationhood without discriminatory decimation of her constituent nations in whatever form remain the national question for Nigeria. For, at the moment, we have a country without a nation. How can there be a nation without a national spirit? And I say unequivocally, that it would be a historical error to presume that the 2011 elections can resolve this question, neither do I believe that time ipso facto can resolve it without genuine efforts made by progressive Nigerians. Is it independence without unity, or unity without justice? It must be independence with justice. This answer agrees with the aspirations and interests of the constituent nations in Nigeria; for only then can we achieve enduring and genuine unity. The largest African country Sudan has just got the chance to answer that question. Must Nigerians pass through the same path to answer the same question? The actions of Nigerian rulers in the next four years shall determine that.
I have observed certain contradictions in Nigeria in my short pilgrimage so far:
a. Apostles of “zoning” and “power sharing” do not show the same passion about the justice of resource control by host nations within Nigeria. If they claim that their advocacy is inspired by the burning passion for justice, why then do they ignore the other?
b. Apostles of “zoning” and “power sharing” in Nigeria talk about “rotations” between the “North” and “South”. But I ask, “Which North and which South?” Is it the North and South of Lord Lugard and his British collaborators? I recognize only nations within Nigeria and not “North” or “South”, which have no guarantees of perpetuation in the awakening I see closing in upon us very rapidly.
c. Even our language in national discourses always reminds us that we are not one people yet. Our language in such discourses is dominated by expressions and words such as “settlers”, “non-indigenes”, “zoning”, “our turn”, “your turn”, “their turn”, “Muslim-Christian balance” etc. We talk of “federal character” and “quota system”, while we overlook the legitimate rights of constituent nations within Nigeria to develop their resources, compete for excellence among themselves, and fashion out a basis for mutually respectful co-existence. We view professions of ethnic affiliation as “tribalistic”, with an evil connotation. We love to live a lie. We struggle to speak plainly in the open those things we say passionately and effortlessly behind closed doors. We love to stew in contradictions! But I declare that I am first a Tiv man before I am a Nigerian, and there is no contradiction whatsoever. And whatever social arrangements that stifle my Tiv nation’s aspirations, progress and development will forever remain unacceptable to me. Yet, in striving for that, I cannot seek the hurt of Nigeria, but must remind Nigeria that she cannot afford to seek the hurt of my Tiv nation either, and that her success depends on that of each and every nation that composes her.
We in the Nigeria Rally Movement believe that there is an urgent need for a national constitution conference. Any election in Nigeria that throws up legislators and executives that are too easily overcome by the present and transient benefits of office to accord the needed positive attention to convocation of a national constitution conference cannot be a panacea for the national question.
Permit me to present a manifesto for a new Nigeria that works for us all and not just for a privileged few. It is now the collective duty of Nigerians who feel so strongly about nation-building to polish it up and work for that nationhood which has yet remained simply our potential. There are three things that all Nigerians must be aware of:
1. It is not about "Why is nobody doing something about it?"; rather, it should be "What can I do?"
2. Should today's Nigerians fail to build that nation that they desire, their children will wonder why their parents refused to make their burdens lighter.
3. That vision that looks the most improbable is the most possible; because improbable things inspire the most improbable ideas. And when a man is sufficiently challenged by the enormity of the task and confronted with the dangers of failure, then red seas start parting right before their eyes, and Jericho walls come tumbling down.
There are four reasons why all progressives in Nigeria must urgently address the fundamental issue of national re-engineering:
1. Nigeria is adrift: Nigeria needs strong advocates in order to prepare her against potential external aggressors. But only a few speak for Nigeria because the system does not encourage the loyalty and sacrifice of the majority. Therefore, many Nigerian rulers are only champions of their individual nations within Nigeria. This is a dangerous scenario. More worrisome is the fact that those nations have been told in clear terms that they lack the right to establish a police department for their security. Yet, the Nigerian state has demonstrated complete incompetence in providing the needed security.
Crime—unbridled crime is the consequence. Kidnappings, armed-robbery, hired-killings, and lately but dreadfully, the growing incidents of bombings all tell a tale of a state in chaos. Government is to blame. We can’t hold our peace just because we have “democracy”, which in truth is not what we have anyway. Democracy is not a label that all nations must have. If it is simply a label, as it is by our common and present collective experience, then it is a fraud that we have all been engaged in; the content is something else. We must step in to discard the fake pack. Easy money from the federation account without corresponding productivity has only provided a false sense of security to most of the federating units, who do not yet see the dangers.
2. The Nigerian has lost a voice. Public opinion is not regarded by Nigeria’s public officials. The votes of Nigerians don’t count. All these have consequences, not the least being poor governance; this is because a strong motivation for good governance is the consequence of the opposite—rejection by the people through the ballot. A few cannot sit in a dark corner and “zone” a supposedly elective office to a particular region of the country. If it is called “election”, then it cannot at the same time be “selection” and “zoning”, which connote exclusion of the complements.
There is a hypocritical tendency that I have observed. If Nigeria is made up of more than 250 nations, why do apostles of “zoning” act and speak as though there were only three or at most four nations—the Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo, and others?
I strongly believe that the survival and future of Nigeria depends in part on how the minorities of the Middle Belt and the South-South collaborate to engage the big three. This remains a necessary assignment for the intellectuals and progressives from those parts.
3. The cry of injustice in the land has met only either shameless pretentious cosmetic approach or outright tyranny. The issue of resource control is not only an economic matter, but a social matter; it is about justice. Inequality in state and local government creation has an indelible coloration of injustice, especially when this has fiscal implications. Egregious inequality in social wages for equal work done is an injustice. We cannot and we must not hold our peace while less than 18,000 public officials in Nigeria appropriate for themselves more than N 1.2 trillion annually in salaries, allowances, and outrageous overheads.
Brutality of the Nigerian by the state police and other security agencies must be countered by the defense shield of justice. We should be compelled to intervene intellectually, strategically, and unwaveringly because the cry of justice is becoming so faint, being swallowed up by the cacophony of injustice in the land. Constitutional demands for justice are persistently being ignored by Nigeria’s public officials. In the circumstances, refusal to intervene and stem the tide could be viewed as a transgression. The progressives, therefore, must be convinced by conscience and bound in the grip of urgency to act.
4. Our natural resources are ours to explore, exploit, and experience. Our rulers are not keeping with the declaration by even the military-induced Nigeria’s constitution that, “In furtherance of the state social order, exploitation of human or natural resources in any form whatsoever for reasons, other than the good of the community, shall be prevented.”[Section 17(2) (d)] I am not sure that host communities of natural resources in Nigeria can testify that the exploitation of those resources has been for their good. We the Nigerian people, in whose geographical backyards sought-after resources exist, must manage our affairs by ourselves while having regard for our national interest. But we must not be expected to care for the national interest when Nigerian rulers live in violation of even their self-serving constitution.
Nigerians, the following are a few decisions we must take for a start:
i. The national assembly as it is must be dissolved. We have a convenient basis. If the suspension of the 1963 constitution by an illegal military government was never lifted, but subsequent constitutions that have succeeded it were all military-induced, then we have the liberty to insist on the lifting of that suspension and convocation of a national assembly to enquire into a respectful basis of our nationhood. That constitution was partly pre-faced as follows: “We the people of Nigeria, by our representatives in parliament here assembled, do hereby declare, enact, and give to ourselves the following Constitution.” That illegality which supplanted legality cannot bequeath legality.
ii. The current 1999 constitution must be discarded and outlawed.
iii. The current state structure must cease to exist. In its place we should have the following six States:
a) NORTH-EAST STATE; capital is Maiduguri (comprising the old states of Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Taraba, Gombe, and Bauchi).
b) NORTH-WEST STATE; capital is Kaduna (comprising the old states of Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Katsina, Kano, Kaduna, Niger, and Jigawa).
c) CENTRAL STATE; capital is Jos (comprising the old states of Plateau, Nassarawa, Kwara, Kogi, and Benue).
Remark: Southern Zaria part of the present Kaduna State, may choose to join the proposed Central State.
d) SOUTH-SOUTH STATE; capital is Port-Harcourt (comprising the old states of Rivers, Bayelsa, Cross-river, Akwa- Ibom, Delta, and Edo).
e) SOUTH-EAST STATE; capital is Enugu (comprising the old states of Enugu, Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi, and Abia).
f) SOUTH-WEST STATE; capital is Ibadan (comprising the old states of Lagos, Ekiti, Ogun, Osun, Oyo, and Ondo).
ABUJA remains the Federal Capital Territory, co-owned by all six states, with equal relevant representations.
iv. All the 774 local governments shall remain. However, the states shall have the power to create as many local governments as are administratively required by them. The federal government shall have no powers over such matter. However, with respect to revenue sharing at the national level, only the States and Federal governments are recognized.
v. Each town or city with a population of 1000 and above must have an elected Town (City) Council headed by a Chief or Mayor, whose tenure shall be 5 years (There shall be no term limit). The Mayor and elected Town council shall be responsible for revenue generation, physical and environmental planning, development and maintenance of the town, health standards and service delivery, education through an Education Board, which shall institute and enforce standards, and town security.
vi. REVENUE: Each town shall keep 50 percent of all revenues generated; 30 percent shall be paid to the respective local government; and 20 percent to the state.
50 percent of all revenue obtained directly from natural resources (licensing fees, royalties etc.,) shall be kept by the state of derivation; 30 percent shall be paid to the federal government; and 20 percent shall be paid into the Nigerian Trust Fund (NTF) created by an appropriate law under an Emergency Act Regime (EAR).
Local government areas of derivation shall be given 20 percent of the state’s share, while the host communities shall take 30 percent of the state’s share.
Revenue from federal government’s investments shall be shared as follows: 50 percent shall be for the federal government; 50 percent shall be paid into the NTF kept with the Central Bank of the federation.
States, individuals, companies, and organizations shall be free to make contributions into the NTF. Amounts in and allocations from the NTF shall be announced quarterly; and allocations from the NTF shall be in the form of intervention grants (or interest-free or low-interest loans), and according to an agreed formula between the six states and federal government. All tax laws shall be made to ensure compliance with the general principle of fiscal federalism.
All sea and airports built by the federal government shall remain the assets of all the people of Nigeria, and revenues generated by the ports shall be shared as earlier prescribed for federal investments.
Determination and collection of taxes shall be by Town councils under the leadership of respective Mayors. They may enlist the assistance of the local, state, or federal governments as they choose and pay appropriate charges as relevant tax laws may prescribe. But there shall be no multiple- taxation in Nigeria.
vii. We must compose a Truth and Recovery Commission (TRC), which shall operate under an Asset Forfeiture and Recovery Act, which shall be put in place. Members should be people of proven integrity who have never been in government.
All men and women who have ever served in government will be directed to submit their traveling documents (normal and diplomatic passports) to the nearest police station and sign and collect a deposit form that shall be designed for the purpose.
They are forbidden to travel outside Nigeria until they have kept their appointment with the TRC and are cleared.
viii. In order to guide the federal government, there shall be convocation of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) to frame a constitution of the people. Representatives shall be chosen by various interest groups and elected by the people to examine the various proposals we have received at different periods of our national history, and to receive new proposals. The SNC shall start off and sit for at most nine months. Its outcome shall be taught to the people within one year and then put to a referendum.
ix. Before a new constitution of the people is made and passed through the vehicle of a referendum, the EAR shall establish a People’s Court (PC), which shall comprise one representative from each ethnic nationality; one student representative; representative of labor; representative of the disabled; and one representative from each of the Armed forces. The PC shall be responsible for lawmaking on per diem basis. Once the constitution of the people is passed, elections as prescribed by the new constitution shall be held within one year. The PC shall be dissolved 24hours before the swearing in of the new president, state governors, state and national assemblies. It must be noted, however, that Nigeria shall not have a bi-cameral legislature. There shall be a House of Representatives whose representatives shall be according to ethnic nationalities, and shall serve only part time and remunerated on per diem basis.
xiii. The Land Use Act shall be abrogated. People must own their land and claim royalties on whatever resources may be discovered on their property. If government needs right of way, it must be understood that the owners of the land have rights and can negotiate terms that are beneficial. The nation belongs to all of us. Sacrifice cannot be extracted from anyone; then, it would be oppression. Nigerians love their country and would give up what they feel is in the public interest. But that is a choice we all must be allowed to make.
As I conclude, permit me to address the progressives:
In order to achieve the vision I have tried to explain, we need urgently to establish a Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) whose membership will require a written agreement with the vision. From all present political parties, progressives who are inclined towards the general outline of the vision for self-determination and true fiscal federalism shall be welcome. I call on all progressives and their movements in Nigeria to give careful consideration to the formation of such a party, with such focus and vision as I have tried to explain here.
The coherence and formation of a nation begins with a superstructure whose substructure is made of a sterner stuff than ethno-religious fraternity. The promise of a nation delays in its delivery as long as those twins remain either the talking issues in national discourses or the defining niggle in national consciousness. As society advances, it must slough off those rudimentary bases of relationships without under-rating either their strength or relevance, and take up a new beacon by which it identifies its members. Usually an awakening is required to foist on its members a higher awareness, a broader awareness, and refreshing understanding of who our neighbor is. When the majority of its citizens can answer with unpretentious clarity, the question, "Who is my neighbor?" then the journey towards greatness becomes less tedious. Religion becomes a personal individual choice of relationship to a higher power. It is not used to bludgeon men into submission or as a weapon of oppression and division. Its rightful uses are rather explored for a more humane society.
In order to divert attention from their ineptitude in governance, oppressive rulers encourage actions that accentuate those differences. Such rulers do not actively pursue knowledge for their subjects. They fail to consciously ingrain in their people the virtue of possessing a nobler global view of our common humanity, which makes us more accepting of people who are different from us racially, in religion, language, accent, and even socially. Through the practice of divide and rule, those rulers have perfected the art of keeping their society in the belts of ignorance and thereby within their manipulative fields of calculating influence. Although this serves their end for a while, it delays social progress. As a red herring, they excuse their inability to deliver the fruits of good governance on intruding externalities upon their society. They exploit differences and refuse to serve as agents of global conviviality. Even within their inner groups they must shine the light on those things that set apart.
Societies that have developed, in the sense of dominance of their environment, have always found a way of overcoming internal draw backs whose centers of gravity are dividing differences among its members. They have found and emphasized those commonalities that are more inclusive. The measure of true civilization is its attractiveness to the complements who seek inclusiveness. A national spirit is born and endures, which is the life, not of austere religion—which defines my neighbor in a narrow sense, nor of race—which is superficial in definition, but rather of a movement based on ideals that many can understand and adopt through an enlightening process. The borders of such inclusiveness are not inelastic and its fabric is neither coarse nor brittle.
A society that erroneously hopes to achieve cohesion through a rotation formula of representation rather than through a seamless representative formula succeeds only in creating chasms in its network of synergy. The rotation formula may seem to serve a purpose at infancy, but it chokes excellence with time. With time, it frustrates aspirations and dreams. Taking turns only excludes a whole lot. Competition is the purveyor of excellence; and no nation grows that holds a scant view of it.
For an excellent nation to be born, it needs a defining vision that prepares it to give an answer for the hope it holds and the reason for the belief it shares. A rotation representation distracts from a viable vision as it replaces nobler expectations. The eyes are no more set on turning the corner on the common quest of nationhood but on when it is their turn. For a society to develop, it must reduce those distractions that oft keep it at war against itself. Contentions on resource sharing or allocation distract from the meat of the word—socialization of society. Such distractions should be handled with care by leaders of society.
For instance, the people must be permitted to choose for themselves and among themselves people of honest report and ability who will represent them in the material distribution. In other words, a transparent and non-obstructive process of election or selection must be agreed upon and sustained. Whenever people lose their right to choose or those rights have been corrupted in matters affecting them, they lose faith and confidence in the output of a supposed election process. And without the confidence of the people a modern society cannot be built. Corruption and misgovernance, which thrive when power to choose has been seized from the people and kept in custody by the godfathers, exacerbate this crisis of confidence.
January 14, 2011.
Leonard Karshima Shilgba is the president of the Nigeria Rally Movement (www.nigeriarally.org) and Associate Professor of mathematics with the American University of Nigeria.