Nigeria Needs A New Constitution 1 – By Anthony Akinwale, Guest Writer
The realities that confront those who encounter Nigeria either as citizens of Nigeria or citizens of other nations residing in or visiting Nigeria are intriguing in their complexity. What readily comes to mind is news of insecurity, of poverty and corruption in a supposedly oil-rich country. But there is also an effervescent religiosity that makes some people refer to Nigeria as the most religious country in the world.
Nigerian religiosity is not only seen in the large number of places of worship that dot every square centimeter of Nigeria, it is also seen in how Nigerians seem to pray at every available opportunity.
When, for example, Nigerian athletes excel, as Nigerian women athletes have been doing recently – think of the heroic exploits of Tobi Amusan, or of the exploits of the Nigerian women football teams, the Super Falcons and the Falconets – it is a matter of interest that they boldly tell journalists who interview them that their success in sports is, “only because of God”.
Contrary to what proponents of a same-faith presidential ticket would want us to believe, a consideration of the Nigerian context, of the Nigerian picture, would be incomplete without recognizing the fact that religion, for good or for ill or for both, is woven into everything Nigerian, that is, in politics and in economic and family life. Since I have written in the past on the value of Nigerian religiosity, I would not want to dabble too much into that here.
Geo-politically, Nigeria is vast and diverse. Her vast land is inhabited by diverse ethnic, regional and religious communities. Again, what readily comes to mind is the frequency and ferocity of altercations among these diverse communities, altercations rooted in mismanagement of Nigeria’s diversity. But to speak of these altercations and mutual suspicion is to speak of symptoms, of effects and not of causes. We must inquire as to the cause or causes of these symptoms, and, to make such an inquiry leads us to take a look at the history of Nigeria.
In the early 1970s, in the years immediately following cessation of the Nigerian Civil War, Nigeria was awash with oil wealth. She had become the seventh largest producer of crude oil, possessor of wealth that has turned out to be a blessing mismanaged. In fact, without ignoring other factors that led to the war – factors such as political unrest in western Nigeria, the first military coup that took place on January 15, 1966, the second on July 29, 1966, the ethnic cleansing that took place during those first two military coups, the killing of southeasterners resident in northern Nigeria, and more killings during the war – it needs be stated that, without the discovery of crude oil in the Niger Delta of Nigeria, there probably would have been no Nigeria-Biafra War. The war was a struggle for control of Nigeria’s crude oil deposits which, at the time in question, was located in the Eastern Region, the region that was later proclaimed as Republic of Biafra. The military government in Lagos wanted the oil, while Biafra saw the oil as its own. It was a war in which innocent lives were needlessly and avoidably lost.
At the end of the war, struggle for control of Nigeria’s crude oil shifted from the battlefield of bombs, guns and bullets to the battlefield of writing a new constitution. The July 29 faction of the Nigerian Army, having “won” the war and having fulfilled the task “to keep Nigeria one”, promised to return Nigeria to democracy. This faction of Nigeria’s military imposed the 1979 Constitution on Nigeria, and also imposed its replica, that is, the 1999 Constitution. This Constitution has turned out to be a legitimized recipe for insecurity, corruption, waste, poverty and undevelopment. Although General Yakubu Gowon famously declares, “no victor no vanquished” at the end of the Nigeria-Biafra War, it seems Nigerians were vanquished by the military. For the “victorious” faction of the military, the class of July 29, 1066, ensured that the constitution it imposed on Nigeria gave more powers to the central government over state and local governments, placed security in the hands of the government at the centre, and placed control over Nigeria’s mineral resources in the hands of the central government.
Living in the Nigerian context compels one to experience consequences of this strange constitution. It is important that we highlight these consequences so that we know where the rain began to beat us. For, if there was discontent before the first two military interventions in Nigerian politics, and if the discontent had been latent for decades, recently renewed secessionist and separatist agitations have shown that all is not well with the political arrangement called Nigeria, and some people, rightly or wrongly, feel they are at the receiving end of an arrangement that marginalizes on the grounds of ethnic, regional or religious identity of the citizen.
To be continued…………………….
Rev. Fr. (Prof.) Anthony Akinwale was pioneer Vice-Chancellor, Dominican University, Ibadan, Nigeria.