The life of a nation is like that of an individual. There are bad and good times and what determines the final outcome, apart from fate is the human management. Parents that do not respond quickly and appropriately to a child’s ill health could lose that child. So it is with a nation. The making of a great nation has the good and the bad aspects and how the leadership and the stakeholders react to the seasons determine if they will have their dream of a great nation. In recent times, I have been reading and re-reading the history of some of the nations we call great, one thing I discovered is that we share similar experiences in the sense that whatever we are passing through they too experienced it. Sometimes we fear dictatorship could be with us. This is normal. Great Britain, Italy, Russia, Germany and China experienced worst form of tyranny. If it is discordant voices and sectional contentions, America is a good example to study. To agree on the concept of America was a big problem, when they agreed to work out the terms it was another big challenge, many of the component parts of America today clamoured for secession, there was the menace of cultism, religious conflicts, ethnic rivalry and discrimination.
Universal adult suffrage, such an important matter in a democracy was a big challenge. America at a time prided itself as world leader in democratic practice, but it was an issue of the lips and not of real practice. At a point Blacks were not considered as humans at all. American early legislations recognized them as properties of their white employers and as such of no significance. At some point the legislature made a law that it was an offence for a Black not to have a job; on the surface this would appear a noble move but in truth it wasn’t because the rule was made at a time prevailing convention had confined Blacks to work on farms owned by the Whites and it was an era Blacks were seizing the opportunity offered by democratic practice to establish their own independent work places. Sourcing finance, of course was a big issue and the exploiters capitalized on that to enact the obnoxious legislation. This was the situation and I am drawing attention to it because it took public officials who were ideological, courageous and committed to the vision of a new America to take steps even when it was risky and not popular to reverse what was clearly a bad situation.
Our nation since independence has had her problems and the bad news is some of the challenges have transcended decades and they are still with us, provoking divisive contentions and conflicts. The citizens are obviously traumatized and for long have wished to see an end to some of those problems and every time we elect public officials our hope rises that something positive will come out. Unfortunately such expectations have often been dashed. We had thought this era would be different but the more we look it appears every thing remains the same and the latest disappointment is coming from the National Assembly (NASS) and the issue is their attempt to amend the 1999 military-imposed Constitution. Before they went public with voting on 33 items last two weeks, there had been arguments whether this nation has a constitution, if what we call constitution is adequate for our dream nation and if we don’t have a constitution, how do we go about it? Or still if we have and it is inadequate, does the present NASS have the capacity to carry out amendments and to an extent that will make majority of Nigerians happy and satisfied?
Those who insisted we stand on existing political order pushed the argument further that only elected people, in this case the national and state assemblies should have a say and power to amend what the military gave us as constitution. Few months back, NASS began the assignment and few weeks ago they went on a retreat in Lagos, where, as it would seem, they negotiated the fate of our nation and the result was what we saw in the two chambers voting on constitutional amendment without arguments. Nigerians saw their representatives’ vote but till date nobody is aware of the information behind the voting. The task NASS took on was critical and very topical; it was a big opportunity for the NASS and its members to make a name and history but they blew the chance by the manner they handled very sensitive matters. In the country today three big challenges stand out. The first is consensus on whether we all want a united Nigeria, the next is obviously restructuring/federalism and the last but no less important is productive economy. Restructuring and devolution of power in the absence of a sovereign national conference is a signal most Nigerians need at this time to gain assurance that we can successfully negotiate and reach a consensus on some of our problems especially the ones traceable to human commissions and omissions. But NASS lost the opportunity with its outright rejection of devolution and silence on restructuring two key issues central to our current challenges.
Most Nigerians agree the NASS left the major and took on the minor and as would be expected it created its own problems for them and for the nation. One of such is the fact that some of their conclusions rest on one leg. The local governments got economic independence but politically are under the control of states and the question will be what kind of arrangement is this? If we operate Federalism which is what Nigerians want, local governments, their number and finance would be the responsibility of states. Why would land ownership by government stand and critical issues like state police and boundary adjustment fail? Even then who says South-East does deserve one additional state if states in zones were to be the basis for the envisaged federating units? Some of the issues taken up are parts of our problems no doubt but they are mainly fall outs of bad political attitudes. The primary focus we all insist should be on challenges that have structural implications.
The failure of NASS to deal with issues frontally has very serious implications; it has weakened the influence of those we like to describe as organized leaders of the component parts and sectarian agitations are likely to be on the rise. Those who say NASS cannot midwife a new Nigeria appear vindicated. The leadership of NASS has admitted they failed to the forces of sentiments. This admission is a confirmation that many of those there still harbour the old mindset, selfishness, sectionalism, religious and gender bias and worst still, all of us seem to have no vision of the Nigeria we want. When we have one we will find out that it drives and defies odds. We would realize that vision desires to create something new and it has no respect for undue populism and general acceptance, all it has regards for is what is good for the majority. What is more, real patriots are known in times of big crises. Where are the patriots? Are there still any in our midst?