By Wilfred Eya
Former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abba Gana has urged Nigerians to ensure truth, justice, equity and fairness in the efforts by the National Assembly to review the 1999 Constitution. He spoke on various issues that would unite the country.
What is your position on the ongoing public hearing being conducted by the National Assembly to amend the 1999 constitution?
The 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) which is now undergoing very comprehensive review by our National Assembly has been criticised or even refused recognition by some few individuals and interest groups, saying that it was imposed on the Nigerian people by the Nigerian military and not made by the Nigerian people. It’s a well-known fact that all the countries of the world got or produced their constitutions through different processes and in different circumstances.
There is simply no one standard process which fits all. From U.K. to U.S.A., France, Germany, India, South Africa, Rwanda, Uganda, Cameroon, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Australia, Canada, Brazil, Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, etc., all have different kinds of constitutions.
All these countries are also respected members of the United Nations. And their peoples are also living and thriving in the same world we, Nigerians are living. Therefore, let us in Nigeria, embrace our brotherhood, be patient with ourselves and avoid extremism and bigotry, so that we move on to solve our existential crises, which we can do, if we pursue truth, justice, fairness, being our brothers keepers and are not occupied by inordinate ambitions, unnecessary and unhelpful politics and distractions. May Allah (SWT) guide all of us along the right path. Amin.
But do you think the review of the constitution would address the myriad of challenges facing the country?
It has to be stated that no constitution of any country is a perfect document for eternity. Hence, the necessity to review or amend it from time to time. This is because we human beings are not perfect; only God our Creator & Sustainer is perfect. Therefore, nothing human is so good that it cannot be improved upon. This is due to the fact that a lot of things change over passage of time. Just think of how new technologies, new inventions/discoveries/innovations in science, engineering, biotechnology, agricultural practice and medical practice, ICT, internet, artificial intelligence etc., have changed the world in the last fifty (50) years or so. In the next 50 years, changes in workplaces and how we work, housing systems, transportation systems, new sources of energy, how new wealth and prosperity are created and distributed and even what we eat and drink may change. Therefore, it’s human and logical for any country’s constitution to be amended as human conditions and circumstances continuously change.
It’s also important to point out that sometimes the provisions of the constitutions may be good enough, but the problem comes from the attitude of the state actors who operate or work with constitution. It’s like having a good car and good road but a very bad driver. The car would not last. Therefore, there is urgent need in our country for major changes in our attitude to politics, government, ethnicity, religion and business, so that governments at all levels truly work for the security and welfare of the people under their jurisdictions without leaving millions of our citizens behind as now happening.
At this junction, it’s important to state that restructuring as now discussed definitely means different things to different people. But for me, what is really urgently needed are political, institutional and economic reforms to ensure good, accountable and transparent government at all levels with the rule of law, free press and freedom of citizens to hold and express their opinions with majority of Nigerians happy, secure, contented and having reasonable prosperity. I would like to recommend what John Stuat Mill, the famous British philosopher and social reformer said about government actions and policies. He said the goodness of an action or policy is measured by the amount of happiness it produces in the large majority of the people living in a given jurisdiction. It means any action or policy that does not result in making large majority of people happy, secure and contented has not served the purpose of government.
Now talking about constitutions, just like every human being is unique as shown by the biometric so are each and every country of the world different from each other in respect of their constitution which are derived from their history, peculiarities or diversities, cultures and traditions, attitudes and values, levels of their political, social and economic development. So, countries make their constitutions to reflect and take care of such history, peculiarities and diversities, values and attitudes, need for political stability, need to ensure security and welfare of all citizens etc. This is the reason why every country’s constitution is a little different from others because of their special needs and well-known peculiarities. The saying that one’s mans meat is another man’s poison applies. Therefore, we in Nigeria must provide for our special needs like political stability, economic and industrial development, removing millions of people from severe poverty, massive improvement in our education and health care. Our basic laws must address pillars of our existence.
As an elder statesman, what is the best way to unite the nation especially in view of the increasing level of distrust among various ethnic nationalities in the country?
In my memo to the Committee on National Dialogue saddled with preparations and in charge of 2014 National Constitutional Conference set up by former President Goodluck Jonathan, I submitted that the spirit and brotherhood with which General Yakubu Gowon (rtd) GCFR, our former Head of State ended the unfortunate Biafran war by his famous declaration that there was no victor and no vanquished was not properly sustained by successive administrations except late President Shehu Shagari. Just 9 years after the Biafran war ended, Shagari picked Alex Ekweme as his Vice President and they won the general election. Late President Shagari also pardoned the Biafran leader Ojukwu. He was brought from exile with pomp and pageantry. He even contested the 1983 senatorial election. But he did not win because the NPP was more popular than NPN in the Southeast at that time.
The 31st of December 1983 military coup which removed former President Shehu Shagari from office also slowed down the progressive and deliberate political integration of the Igbo ethnic group. Had the good example and attitude of Gen Yakubu Gowon (rtd) , former Head of State and late President Shehu Shagari been continued by successive regimes or administrations, groups like IPOB and MASSOB would not emerge to become irritations and subversive elements in our country.
That was the idea and reason behind my recommending in my memo to the committee on national dialogue and the 2014 constitutional conference and also in my 2020 memo to the NASS committee on review of 1999 constitution the creation of only one more state for the Southeast zone. This brings the final number of states to 37. Northwest zone has 7 states; all the other five zones, each has 6 states. There would be no reason to complain if such balance and fairness had been maintained. Young people from the Southeast zone would continue to believe that they were discriminated deliberately even after 50 years the Biafran war ended. Also, there is need to create at least 100 more LGAs in some states from both the Northern and Southern part to address some anomalies in the creation of LGAs in the country. All these must of course follow due constitutional processes and enjoy absolute national consensus.
With my proposal of 37 states and 874 LGAs structure and provision for rotation of the position of the President among the six geopolitical zones and rotation of the position of the governor among the 3 Senatorial districts in every state, an enduring era of peace, unity, security, political stability and widespread prosperity and economic opportunities would surely begin.
Since 1960, the North has produced 10 Heads of Government of Nigeria. And the South has produced 4. In the Northern part, after producing about 10 Heads of Government who ruled for more than 40 years, our lot has been pervasive and extreme poverty, widespread insecurity, poor education and health care, high unemployment, poor economic infrastructure/facilities etc.
Therefore, we from the Northern part of Nigeria, must look for leaders who will bring us real economic, social, industrial, agricultural and mineral resources development. This will guarantee us lasting peace, unity, security and prosperity for the largest majority of our people. All politics is about real development of the people. We in the North have been playing politics without development for too long. Just see what happened to Ajaokuta Steel Complex and Mambila Hydro Electric. For decades, they are ongoing. But we are grateful to God for the excellent efforts of our 1st Republic leaders. Our leader from the North also kept Nigeria one and united for generations to come and as guardian of all the black people of the world. And also, another leader from the North built Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city. Built in Lagos Third Mainland Bridge, built Shiroro Hydro Electric and other facilities. These two are Gen. Yakubu Gowon and Gen Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. Constitution is after all to serve as a vehicle to achieve good governance for all the people of our country to live in peace, unity, security and prosperity.
Finally, questions are being asked and critical voices raised about the integrity of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by some critics, politicians and elders. Their contention was that the constitution was imposed by the military. But some Nigerian highly respected legal luminaries like Chief Femi Falana, SAN and Mike Ahamba, SAN both said that the 1999 Nigerian Constitution was in fact 99 per cent derived from the 1979 Constitution produced under the chairmanship of Chief Rotimi Williams, one of the greatest legal minds of Nigeria and Africa.
I want to say that at the present level of our Nationhood, it’s really too late for us to wish away the Nigeria military’s involvement in government and their enormous contribution to the political, social, and economic development of Nigeria. They created first 12 states, then 19, then 30 and finally 36 states of Nigeria. At every stage, no ethnic group has rejected to my knowledge these states on the basis of being created by the military. The military again came up with far reaching local government reforms, removing the powerful but unelected Emirs, Obas, Obis, Ezes, Chiefs etc. from the local government administration and introduced elected chairmen and councilors. Now, there are 774 LGAs in Nigeria all created by the military. No ethnic or interest group has rejected any of these 774 LGAs on the basis of being created by the military. The military has created and largely built the FCT Abuja. No ethnic or interest group has rejected it, as far as I know on the basis of being created by the military.
Again, the military governments both at the federal and state levels had made thousands of top-level appointments, mostly civilians, into government ministries, departments and agencies. I am not sure if significant number of people had rejected such appointments on the basis of being offered by the military. And military governments in Nigeria both at the federal and state levels at various times had conducted diverse kinds of transactions involving billions of dollars. No country had refused doing business with Nigeria on the basis of being controlled by the military from time to time.
For now, we have duly elected members of NASS and the 36 State Houses of Assembly. And citizens from their constituencies have not recalled any of them for any reason for the time being. Therefore, it’s their constitutional duty to go ahead with ongoing amendment of 1999 Constitution.
The states & and LGAs, all created by the military, are still existing. No individual or group has gone to court to challenge their creation by the military through the instrumentality of decree which means the people’s acceptance of the military’s creation of states and LGAs by decree. Since no individuals or interest groups had challenged the integrity of the 1999 constitution in court and got court ruling in their favour, we should all accept it and continue our amendment and move on.
Therefore, Nigeria military’s past involvement in our governance processes have become part & parcel of our Nation’s history and their actions and signatures when they were in government must be accepted and had become dejure de facto for all intents and purposes.
Some argue that there should be two tiers of government -the federal and state; do you subscribe to that?
The first set of LGAs were created in 1976. And subsequent ones were created to bring government closer to the people. The local government headquarters are now centers of rural development and serve as modernising agents.
As growing urban centers, they create a lot of business opportunities and so there are thriving private sector operators creating thousands of jobs. So the 774 LGAs system in Nigeria provide livelihood to about at least 5 – 10 million people directly and indirectly.
And all the existing constituencies, 109 Senatorial, 360 House of Representatives and hundreds of state Houses of Assembly (state constituencies) are determined using LGAs as reference or building blocks.
If for any reason the LGA system is dissolved apart from the millions of rural jobs to be lost, there will be chaos as the states are also determined by their assigned LGAs in the 1999 constitution. The present set of 774 LGAs actually took/occupy the position of native authorities of the colonial times. And the former colonial regions of the 1st Republic consisted/comprised of the native authorities within their jurisdiction. So, the existence of the former native authorities and now the 774 LGAs are not really arbitrary. They were part and parcel of the federal system since amalgamation.
Again, the 774 LGAs system can be used as centers of development, industrialisation and jobs creation. I was a member of the federal task force set up to connect all LGA headquarters to the national grid of NEPA in the 1980s. The LGA headquarters were enjoying good electricity supply until the power sector reform resulting in the painful and troubling privatisation of the power sector. So what we need to improve is to ensure that the LGAs get autonomy, responsible, accountable, transparent and democratically elected leadership. The LGA staff should be regularly trained in modern management. Proper budgeting, accounting and auditing procedures and financial reporting and control systems to be developed for them.