Nigeria Urgently Needs A New Constitution 3 – By Anthony Akinwale, Guest Writer
Fifthly, still on the consequences of the current constitution, the constitutional provision for an overbearing government at the centre amounts to a constitutional provision for a large government bureaucracy often manned through nepotism. Big government attracts corruption, and corruption further impoverishes the people.
Sixthly, and this militates against national integration, a country of ethnic and regional diversity such as ours cannot be well-governed without a constitution that is federal in label and in content. For, without a truly federal constitution, our diversity would be mismanaged, and, where our diversity is mismanaged, there will be a struggle for control of the country by the different ethnic and regional and religious communities. Nigeria is a country where ethnic, regional and religious communities want their members to be in charge of the federal government because the federal government is in charge of Nigeria’s security and oil wealth.
Nigeria’s diversity is mismanaged, perhaps one should say unmanaged by a federal government that is too strong and too overbearing. Instead of good management of our diversity, what we have is a pact of the elite who posture as representatives of ethnic, regional and religious communities and use the pact to share offices to the detriment of members of their ethnic, regional or religious community. Through those offices, they gain access to Nigeria’s wealth while ordinary Nigerians fight each other over the crumbs.
Seventhly, with the mismanagement of our diversity has come a real and perceived injustice, real and perceived domination of other ethnic groups by one ethnic group or by ethnic groups forming an alliance to marginalize other ethnic groups. Perception of domination and marginalization provides an inspiration for separatist and secessionist tendencies as we see in the agitation for Biafra and Oduduwa Nation.
Eighthly, and this is where religion comes in, at the time of economic difficulties brought about by poverty, religious fervor attained a summit that is related to the level of poverty. Within those who are familiar with the history of Catholicism in Nigeria would testify that a “vocation boom” began right after the war. Added to that is the fact that all manners of places of worship began to spring up in Nigeria, especially since the 1980s, the decade that witnessed the second coming of the military and the economically debilitating Structural Adjustment Policy of the Babangida-led military junta. Within the Catholic Church in Nigeria sprang up all manners of religious communities without canonical status.
Political and economic conditions of Nigeria became major factors that altered the religious landscape. Poverty, aggravated by misappropriation of Nigeria’s wealth provided a fertile ground for a religiosity that promised but has failed to deliver material prosperity. Religion became a tool used to provide an opium that sent people to sleep. The pain and trauma of poverty and political uncertainty have led many into looking for solace in the Gospel of prosperity. The cacophony of doctrines that accompanied proliferation of churches in Nigeria means religion itself has been corrupted by those who would like to use it to secure economic advantage.
Nigeria witnesses the introduction of a religion that wears the garb of Christianity but neither preaches nor practices the Gospel. Not to be ignored here is that this kind of religion has invaded our Catholic space, and parishes, dioceses, as well as many of the candidates we are recruiting into religious institutes and seminaries are under the heavy influence of this religiosity. It is visible in the liturgy and in many a homily. A people traumatized by deprivation and insecurity are manipulated by word without Gospel, miracles without sacrament, and religious populism.
What I am describing here is a Nigerian context made difficult for human habitation by a constitution that was predicated on federal control of endless flow of crude oil. The constitution, as many commentators have pointed out, institutionalizes a government bureaucracy that is too expensive to run, a bureaucracy that is to the disadvantage of the population even as it gives political office holders an undue advantage of holding on to the wealth of the land. The consequences are poverty, corruption, insecurity. In the midst of this, a religiosity emerges that nurtures fear rather than liberate from bear.
For reason stated above, Nigeria’s current constitution needs to be replaced or at least undergo extensive modification. A constitution that empowers the government at the centre but weakens state and local governments is out of sync with the principle of subsidiarity which stipulates that a higher authority should sublate and not subvert a lower authority. The government at the centre, the federal government, as we often call it, ought to support and not impede state and local governments in the exercise of their constitutional responsibilities. The problem, however, is that the constitution has already disempowered state and local governments.
Ironically, the “federal” constitutional framework in Nigeria already provides for and supports an overbearing government at the centre by virtue of an elongated exclusive legislative list on which features security and mineral resources, to mention but these. Yet, there are other examples to cite.
Nigerians can neither obtain nor renew a driver’s licence without the consent of the Federal Road Safety Corps, a federal parastatal based in Abuja; admission into tertiary education cannot be obtained without the consent of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, another parastatal based in Abuja; a university cannot be licenced without the National Universities Commission, a parastatal based in Abuja; no university can introduce a new programme without the consent of the same parastatal based in Abuja. The list is illustrative and not exhaustive of instances where services that can be rendered by lower authorities are appropriated by federal parastatals.
By establishing a government at the centre that is too big and too powerful, the 1999 Constitution provides an incentive for a cut-throat competition of ethnic, regional and religious communities for control of the government. Where this is the case, whichever of the ethnic, regional or religious communities is able to seize control of government at the centre will put other communities at a disadvantage. Where government at the centre controls security, there is the temptation for any ethnic community that seizes control of the government to be in control of security. Similarly, where government at the centre controls minerals resources, and where government at the centre is controlled by an ethnic, religious or regional community, unless the head and functionaries of such a government are angels unaffected by original sin, the largest beneficiaries of wealth accruing from the minerals will most probably be elite members of that ethnic, religious or regional community. Ordinary citizens who are affiliated to those ethnic, religious or regional communities will have nothing to show for their community’s “control” of government at the centre.
To be continued…………..
Rev. Fr. (Prof.) Anthony Akinwale was pioneer Vice-Chancellor, Dominican University, Ibadan, Nigeria.