A PAPER PRESENTED BY SEN. ANYIM PIUS ANYIM, GCON, AS KEYNOTE ADDRESS SPEAKER AT AN INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON ‘50 YEARS POST NIGERIAN CIVIL WAR’ ORGANISED BY THE CENTRE FOR HEALTH AND ALLIED LEGAL AND DEMOGRAHPICAL DEVELOPMENT RESEARCH AND TRAINING OF THE NNAMDI AZIKIWE UNIVERSITY, AWKA ON TUESDAY, 6TH JULY, 2021.
I am indeed very delighted to be invited as the Keynote Speaker at this International Conference. I am excited by fact that Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka found it necessary to identify with the on-going national efforts to find answers to the current challenges facing us as a country by organizing a conference of this nature with a theme that speaks to one of the burning issues in our country today. Mr. Vice Chancellor, after reading your letter of invite to me, my spirit was uplifted and I felt reassured that with the kind of zeal you expressed this university is on its way to becoming a center of excellence and will continue to make us proud.
The theme of the conference “50 years post Nigerian Civil War: issues, Challenges and prospects towards national integration, justice, peace and security” is as loaded as it is topical and timely. I guess the reason behind the choice of the theme is to challenge participants on a deeper introspection on the factors that led to the civil war; the cost, human and material, of the war, the consequences of the war, lessons Nigeria has learnt or failed to learn from the civil war and how Nigeria has fared since after the war in her efforts to build a peaceful, just, prosperous and secure nation. The Nigerian civil war, no doubt, is easily the most outstanding epoch in Nigeria’s history only next, perhaps, to securing independence from the British colonialists.
After over 50 years since the end of the civil war, it is worrisome that Nigeria has hardly moved away from the sentiments and feelings that led to the civil war, at least, in the minds of many of some people from the many constituent parts of Nigeria. And for Nigeria to make progress in her efforts at nation building, it is very necessary that care is taken to constantly review the circumstances and or causative factors that led to the war, with a view to avoiding the mistakes of the past. I am also minded to believe that the current level of insecurity, the harsh economic situation, the strident voices of agitation, from almost every part of the country, many of them turning violent and threating to run out of control, the rising wave of crimes and criminality, disharmony amongst different peoples of the country are looking very much like the prevalent conditions or state of affairs prior to the outbreak of the civil war. Such a situation is very unsetting and calls for concern by every well-meaning individual or institution in Nigeria. I believe this conference with this theme at this point in time will add to the plethora of ideas, views, suggestions and voices of reason from within and outside Nigeria, all in efforts to steer Nigeria away from tipping over the edge.
The history of the Nigerian civil war has been captured by many eminent scholars from Nigeria and abroad, including many people who participated actively in the events leading to the war, the prosecution of the wars and efforts at national healing after the war. I will therefore not attempt to repeat the stories here, but focus on the state of affairs in Nigeria over 50 years after the war; the real issues, challenges and prospects towards national integration, justice, peace and security. In order words, how has Nigeria fared in building a just, peaceful, secure and inclusive nation after the civil war.
Many have observed, albeit with consternation, that Nigeria is still grappling with the very basic issues of unity, harmony and accommodation as a country after over sixty years of independence and over 50 years of the civil war. If Nigeria’s development and nation-building efforts are to be accessed on the basis of inter-ethnic harmony, peaceful co-existence, accommodation and inclusiveness, I am afraid that the outcome will be an abysmal failure. Nigeria’s development would certainly have been faster and deeper if not for the intractable inter-ethnic disharmony, rivalry, intense feeling of discontent, whether openly expressed or suppressed, by the many different peoples that make up the Nigeria Nation. It has been argued, by many scholars, that the leaders of Nigeria, especially after the civil wars, have consistently misconstrued nation building as a one-off project that can be sustained by force, or coercion or political maneuvering. This misconception of what nation building entails by majority of successive leaderships in Nigeria since after the civil war is what has denied Nigeria the creative energy and collectivism that propels rapid and sustainable development. To my mind, nation building must include the process of managing and strengthening the relationship between and among the various peoples that make up a nation, in a just and equitable manner so as to engender and inspire faith, trust, and guarantee pace and security for collective involvement of all in the development and progress of a nation. In essence, it is the willing participation of the people in the development process that drives rapid and sustainable development. The people can only step forward to serve willingly and committedly if they feel a sense of belonging, accommodation and protection, which in turn will guarantee peace and harmony in the society. These are fundamental requirements for development and progress. Part of our collective responsibilities as a people is to build a nation where all and sundry feel secure and wanted. Our ultimate aspiration, as Prof. Jeo Irukwu captured in his book ‘Nigeria at 100 what next’ should be “to build a modern African nation founded on justice and fair-play with genuine democratic institutions that place the people above all considerations. The kind of nation that would be a source of pride to all its citizens so that every citizen would be anxious and ready to make the supreme sacrifice for the preservation of the security and integrity of the nation against any form of external aggression because of the peace, security, protection, justice and opportunities that his country offers him and his family”. It is obvious that given the Nigeria of today, we are not where Prof. Irukwu would want us to be. How to build and sustain a Nigeria of our collective dreams, where citizens are happy and fulfilled is the focus of my discourse going forward.
NIGERIA 50 YEARS POST CIVIL WAR: THE ISSUES
Many commentors have tended to apportion blames to those who were directly involved in the events that led to the civil war and in most cases hold them responsible for the consequences of the war and what has become of Nigeria and Nigerians thereafter. Much as I agree that the civil war is regrettable and could have been avoided if things were done differently by our leaders, then, however, I am not persuaded that Nigeria is where it is today, over 50 years after, solely as a result of the civil war. I rather hold our collective failure, as a people, to draw lessons from the civil war, especially the conditions that led to the war, as the major reason Nigeria is yet to realize her full potentials and make giant strides development wise. Let me, however, state very clearly that I am by no means making any excuses for those that plunged Nigeria into an avoidable civil war. In looking at post 50 years of the civil war: the issues, permit me to identify some of the following:
- DISRUPTIVE MILITARY INCURSION INTO POLITICAL GOVERNANCE
The genesis of Nigeria’s political, economic and social problems is traceable to the very unfortunate misadventure of the then young military officers led by the late Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, who toppled the democratic government of Nigeria in January 1966. The failure of that misadventure gave birth to the first military government headed by Gen. J.T.U. Aguiyi Ironsi. From the very first governance action of that military administration, it became clear that the military and indeed the officers who took over the mantle of leadership were totally ill prepared for leadership and had no clue about the complexity of the Nigerian multi-ethnic society. The miss-step of decree 34 of 1966 which changed Nigeria from a federal to unitary republic sowed the seed of confusion and disorientation that still hunts the country till today. The singular act of suspending or discarding the 1963 Republican Constitution, which was a product of series of constitutional conferences, wide consultations, reports of special commissions, serious engagements, compromises, concessions and agreements by the various political leaders representing the various groups, interests, ethnicities and regions over a long period of time, was like, to borrow the words of the revered Chinua Achebe “putting a knife on the thing that held us together…and things fell apart…”
The Ironsi military government, arguably out of naivety and ill preparedness failed to show capacity to pull Nigeria from the brink. Successive military coups in July 1966, July 1975, February 1976 and the military administrations they produced were all caught in the trap of attempting to run a federal system with unitary structures and mindset. Curiously, each of the military coups were justified by their planners and executors as interventions to save Nigeria from problem or another.
The pioneer misadventure led by Nzeogwu had this to say on the reason for their action “The aim of the revolutionary council is to establish a strong united and prosperous nation, free from corruption and internal strife…our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10%, those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as minister or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before the international circles, those that have corrupted our country and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deed…what we do promise every law abiding citizen is freedom from fear and all forms of oppression, freedom from general inefficiency and freedom to live and thrive in every field of human endeavour, both nationally and internationally…you will no more be ashamed to say that you are a Nigerian. (Humphrey Orjiako, Nigeria: The Forsaken Road to Nationhood and Development).
Well-intentioned as the coup plotters of January 1966 may believe they were, the fact remains that, that misadventure sent Nigeria on a tailspin socially, politically and economically. It disrupted the process of building a cohesive country with a political culture and processes that are peculiar or unique to her, regardless of the slow rate and bumpy nature of its progress. Nigerians had developed a culture of positive engagement, debates and consensus building which built confidence and trust amongst the many nationalities in Nigeria. If the democratic process was not disrupted in January 1966, the political maturity exhibited by the then Nigerian political class would rather predictably have placed Nigeria on firmer grounds to contend with the centrifugal forces usually inherent in a multi-cultural and ethnic amalgam like we have. Humphrey Orjiako captured the perversive sense of loss occasion by the military misadventure of January 1966 thus: “…The process and efforts of building a multi-nation state always remains work in progress, they never really end. Therefore, seeking to conjure, command or coerce it as Major Nzeogwu and his colleagues tried to do in 1966, and the various military government attempted for three decades thereafter, was bound to be investment in futility. The present status of the Nigerian Union after those many years should be enough proof of the misadventure that commenced in January, 1966”.
- FAULTY CONSTITUTIONS
For the sixty-one years Nigeria has existed as an independent nation, the country has been governed twenty-nine years without a constitution. (Those are 13 years from the first military intervention in 1966 to return to democratic governance in 1979. Again another 16 years from January 1984 to May 1999). The remaining 32 years during which Nigeria was governed with constitutions, were staggered in bits of 6 years (from 1960 to 1966) another 4 years from 1979 to 1983 and the final and current ‘semester’ of 22 years from 1999 to date. For the three separate episodes of governance, four different constitutions were in use; the 1960 Independence Constitution, the 1963 Republican Constitution; the 1979 constitution and the current 1999 constitution. Apart from the 29 years the country was run without constitution, the only constitutions that followed known and acceptable process for its promulgation were the 1960 and 1963 constitutions.
The 1960 was not entirely a Nigerian made constitution as it was enacted by the British Order-In-Council, although with adequate input from the constitutional conferences which involved every constituent part of Nigeria. The 1963 constitution is easily the only constitution that can be described as a Nigerian constitution by the people of Nigeria. That constitution followed the due process of consultation and was enriched by the inputs, views and positions of the various ethnic nationalities, groups, interest and findings and recommendations of special commissions. Only the 1963 constitution reflected the wishes and aspirations of Nigerians of all ethnic origins and political persuasions.
The 1979 and 1999 constitutions were midwifed by departing military administrations that were either unwilling to relinquish power or did not consider it a priority to go through acceptable processes of constitutional making. The assembling of people, most of them appointed by the military administration to rush through constitution drafting which was subjected only to another rushed approval process and promulgation by a disinterested military administration, cannot stand the test of acceptable process of constitution making.
The 1979 constitution and the current 1999 constitution were products of rushed military ‘trial and error’ and therefore, none of the constitutions, especially the current 1999 constitution, which is a merely and adjusted 1979 constitution, has satisfied the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerian citizens from across the federation. Both constitutions adopted the federal system but the states are not, in practice, federating units. By definition a “federal system of government is a system in which the powers of government are constitutionally shared between the central government and regional units in such a way that each level of government is independent and autonomous”. In paper, the Nigerian Federal System meets the very basic requirements for a federation, e.g., supremacy of the constitution; division of powers between the central government and the federating units; written constitution; bicameral legislature at the centre etc. However, easily the most important of these basic requirements i.e., division of power between the central government and the federating units has remained a contentious issue in Nigeria. Adjunct to that is revenue sharing and the criteria or principles governing it. Many commentators and scholars are agreed on the fact that due diligence was not exercised in framing the content of the 1979 and 1999 constitutions, with regards to the two contentious issues of division of powers and revenue sharing. That grave challenge has resulted in amendment of the constitution becoming a permanent and recurring agenda of every session of the National Assembly since 1999. Almost every four years huge resources, time and energy are spent by the National Assembly going round the federation, holding consultations and public hearings on the same sore points of the 1999 constitution. Until the right things are done, which are: i)going back to the 1963 constitution, with adjustments to meet current realities in Nigeria and globally as will be agreed by majority of Nigerians from every shade of opinion, ethnicity, culture, background, etc under an atmosphere devoid of intimidation, manipulation, coercion, blackmail or subterfuge or ii) empaneling a committee of representatives of the various people of Nigeria, chosen by them in a fair and free process, to sit down to agree on the very basic terms of the relationship between and the among the various peoples that make up the Nigerian federation. Such a committee, or whatever name it may be called, can benefit form the reports of the various committees and conferences that have been established by past administrations. Of particular interest would be the report of the 2005 Political Reform Conference and 2014 National Conference.
CHALLENGE OF CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT
With growing discontent all over the country on the structure of the Nigerian Federation, the National Assembly has continuously engaged on constitutional amendments. The outcome of the various efforts, over the years, have been piecemeal alterations of the constitution that have failed to address the main contentious issue of division of power between the central government and the states. The difficulty in amending the constitutions stem from the nature of the constitutions themselves. It will serve the purpose of this discourse to look at the various constitutions and the peculiar challenges that have attended to efforts to effect amendments on them.
1914 – 1959 Constitutions of Nigeria
Permit me not to bother about the colonial Constitutions (such as the Clifford Constitution of 1922, Richardson Constitution of 1946, Macpherson Constitution of 1951 and Lyttleton Constitution of 1954) that were used to rule Nigeria from 1914 to 1959 as they do not by any stretch of constitutional parameters, qualify to be called Constitutions. I can, at best, call them Administrative Regulations made by the Crown for the governance of Nigeria as a crown colony. So, their amendments faced no challenges as the Crown was at liberty to amend the Constitutions at will.
1960 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
Though the 1960 Constitution was enacted by a British Order-In-Council, it had clear provisions for its alteration by Nigerians. Therefore, this Constitution faced no challenge in upgrading to 1963 Constitution which mainly removed Queen Elizabeth II as the titular Head of State of Nigeria and provided that Nigeria shall be a Republic. Other major alternations include the replacement of the British Privy Council in 1960 Constitution with the Supreme Court in 1963 Constitution as the highest court in Nigeria and the abolition of the Judicial Advisory Committee.
1963 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
The 1963 Constitution also had clear provisions on its alteration. Under this Constitution, Nigeria faced no challenge in altering the Constitution. An example of such alteration was the amendment of Section 3 thereof to create the Mid-Western Region from Benin and Delta Provinces in 1963. The motion was moved for the creation of the Mid-Western Region by an Action Group member (James Otobo) of the then Western Region House of Assembly. Two-Third (2/3) majority of the Federal House of Representatives and Senate, followed by majority approval in two-thirds of the regions were secured to conduct the referendum. Referendum was conducted and the Mid-Western Region was created. Ladies and Gentlemen, can you easily alter the 1999 Constitution today to create an additional State? The answer is no.
WHAT THEN ARE THE CHALLENGES
The loss of human lives as a result of the 1966 coup and the subsequent coups blinded us on the fact of the real damage done to the framework of our nation by those coups. I want to say that Nigeria will find it difficult to recover from the effects of Decree No. 1 of January 1966 (Constitution and Suspension and Modification Decree) and the subsequent Decrees in this regard namely: Decree No. 2 and Decree No. 5 of 1966 (Constitutions Suspension and Modification), Decree No. 1 of 1983 (Constitution and Suspension and Modification Decree), Decree No. 17 of 1985 (Constitution and Suspension and Modification Decree), Decree No. 26 of 1986 (Constitution and Suspension and Modification Decree), etc.
The truth of the matter is that the above Decrees killed the nation, dug the grave and refused to bury the carcass. For the purpose of this discourse, let me mention a few of the challenges posed by the said Decrees to our constitutional and indeed, national progress as follows:
- The Decrees altered the federal structure of the nation as agreed upon by the founding fathers under the 1963 constitution and imposed a unitary system.
- The Decrees amended the Constitution in breach of the provisions and modalities for amendment as provided by the 1963 Constitution.
The above, to my mind, are the real challenges of constitutional amendment in Nigeria. All other factors we are talking about are symptomatic manifestation of these real challenges. I shall explain the challenges as follows:
- Amendment of 1963 Constitution in breach of its provision for amendment
Section 1 of Decree No. 1 of 1966 (Constitution and Suspension and Modification Decree) suspended parts of the 1963 Constitution and modified other areas of the Constitution in breach of the provisions of Section 4 of the 1963 Constitution which details the procedure and modalities for amending the Constitution. Other Decrees such as the Decree No. 2 and Decree No. 5 of 1966 (Constitutions Suspension and Modification also suspended and modified the 1963 Constitution in breach of the procedure for amending same.
Apart from suspending the Constitution and modifying some aspects, Decree No. 1 of 1966 also altered the administrative structure and principles of separation of powers by abolishing the parliament and the regional legislatures. It gave the Federal Military Government the powers to make laws for Nigeria and suspended major provisions dealing with the judiciary.
Attempts by the military to fix the constitutional crisis they had created either through the promulgation of more Constitution Modification Decrees or by purportedly promulgating new Constitutions like Decree No. 105 of 1979 and Decree No. 24 of 1999 which enacted the 1979 and 1999 Constitutions of Nigeria respectively have still not resolved the fact that the operative Constitution for Nigeria is the 1963 Constitution because that is the extant constitution by the people; as the military lacks the legitimacy to act for the people in either amending, modifying or enthroning a new Constitution.
In line with the above analysis, I make bold to say that attempting to repair a constitution so battered by the above-mentioned Decrees through a piecemeal approach as we have seen since the return of democracy appears untenable. The questions to go home with are:
- Has the 1963 Constitution of Nigeria been validly amended or replaced?
- Does the military have the legitimate authority to suspend or modify the Constitution?
- Can the military validly enact a new constitution for the people?
My take is that the 1963 Constitution has not been validly amended or replaced. I further contend that the acceptance by Nigerians of its illegitimate amendment by the successive military juntas does not legitimise the amendment. In a similar vein, I dare say that the purported new Constitutions such as the 1979 and 1999 Constitutions promulgated by the military juntas on behalf of Nigerians are fundamentally flawed and illegitimate as they were promulgated in breach of the provisions of Section 4 of the 1963 Constitution dealing with how the Constitution may be modified or altered. For the avoidance of doubt, Section 4 (10) of the 1963 Constitution provides “The provisions of this Constitution shall not be altered except in accordance with the provisions of this section”. It is therefore up to the Lawyers to test this in court. Until this is resolved, it remains a fundamental challenge for constitutionalism in Nigeria.
- It substituted the Federal System of Governance with a Unitary System
It should be noted that the federal structure of governance was arrived at by our founding fathers through negotiations and consensus building. Thus, to subvert the will of the people through military decrees will certainly throw up a challenge that will be impossible to overcome. This is irrespective of the attempt to retain federalism in name while operating a unitary system in reality. This is because it has created:
- Crisis of principle;
- Crisis of structure;
- Crisis of revenue sharing; etc.
- Crisis of Principle
Substituting a unitary system for federal system has led to situations where some persons have taken hard line postures on certain topical issues. One obvious challenge in this regard is that those who benefit from the unitary system will not support a return to the federal structure while those who are at the losing end will continue to cry for true federalism. The resolution of this challenge can only take a return to the negotiation table and not trying to patch up the mistake made by the military regimes.
- Crisis of Structure
Again, the military has multiplied the number of federating units (states) in breach of the extant procedure prescribed by the 1963 constitution. It will be an impossible task to persuade any region, state or group of people to lose their gains as a federating unit. So, what you will always get will be while some are agitating for state creation, others will be reluctant to concede to creation of additional states because of how it will affect their obvious benefit from the status quo. For instance, it was easy for consensus to be reached on the creation of Mid-Western Region because it was not going to be a burden on the nation or other component region by reducing their entitlements from the federation. So, cries to return to equality of regions cannot be achieved by amendment of the military mistake but through conversations and negotiations.
- Crisis of Revenue Allocation
Under the 1963 Constitution, the revenue sharing formular was such that 50 percent of profits from certain commodities and minerals went to the region of origin, while 20 percent went to the federal government to manage its exclusive legislative functions and 30 percent was put in a distributive pool which was then shared amongst the regions in relation to their population.
However, the above revenue sharing formular agreed to by the regions was changed by the military in favour of a centralized revenue pool at the centre. It is therefore obvious that the present revenue allocation formular will continue to generate discontent. While those who benefit from the current formular will not easily give up, those who feel shortchanged, since the commodities or minerals are from their region, will continue to agitate for a return to the 1963 formular. From the foregoing, it is clear that agitation for resource control will never abate by appeasement. Therefore, there cannot be an easy way through amendment except all parties return to the negotiating table.
There are many crises of interests created by the structure of governance we operate now such that it will be impossible to reach consensus on critical national issues that will advance the growth and development of Nigeria. I have mentioned a few of such crisis above to demonstrate that except the foundation is addressed, the symptoms we are experiencing in our efforts to build a stable, peaceful, secure and prosperous nation may linger for a long time. It is these crises that have made consensus on topical issues impossible to attain. I appreciate the frustration of the National Assembly that their efforts are usually blocked either at the point of the Houses of Assembly approval or at the point of presidential assent or even upon their own inability to reach consensus on certain topical areas. Let me say, with due sense of responsibility, that crisis of confidence will continue to frustrate genuine efforts to amend the constitution until we return to the dialogue table to earn one another’s confidence on the way forward for our nation.
I make the above submissions mindful of the provisions of Section 6(6) (d) of the 1999 Constitution which forbids courts of law from enquiring into the authority of any government including the military government to make laws beginning from January 15, 1966.
DOMINATION OF THE MINORITY ETHNIC TRIBES
Before Nigeria’s independence in 1960, mutual distrust and suspicion defined the relationship between the major ethnic tribes and minority tribes all over Nigeria. While the founding fathers were determined and focused on their collective aspiration of securing independence from the British colonialists, the internal contradictions that are features of a multi-ethnic, religious and lingual nation like Nigeria could still not be suppressed. If the fears of the minority tribes were not addressed, perhaps independence would not have been won at the time it was. It is to the credit of the colonial masters that they considered the matter of the fear of domination of the minority ethnic tribes by the major tribes serious enough to warrant establishing a commission to deal with it. It is instructive that the findings and recommendations of the Willinks Commission of 1958 were incorporated into the 1960 and 1963 constitutions, which, to all intent and purposes, remain the only truly authentic Nigerian constitutions. Subsequent constitutions i.e., the 1979 and 1999 constitutions, made by the military for Nigerians, made provisions that seek to address the issue of domination of the minority ethnic tribes. Well intentioned as those provision may be, experience has shown that they have not solved the problem of mistrust, distrust, acrimony, contention and unending uprising that have remained constant features in the relationship between the different peoples of Nigeria. For example, the 1979 and 1999 constitutions adopted the executive presidential system which vested the powers and responsibilities of the president and the prime minister under the 1963 parliamentary system in one executive president, thus giving the president such sweeping powers that arguably no other president in a democratic setting all over the world commands.
According to Humphrey Orjiakor, “the presumption for vesting such powers on one individual was that such a person would be a symbol of national unity, common hope and aspirations as well as even development. The problem was that in imposing such a leviathan, the decreed constitution also presumed that the desired national unity and common vision was no longer an aspiration; it was already in place. Perhaps, fourteen years of military rule had banished ethnic/cultural differences and religious consciousness from the politic”. In reality, the very powerful Nigerian presidents created by both the 1979 and 1999 constitutions instead of being seen and accepted by all Nigerians as symbol of national unity, have rather been appropriated by their individual ethnic nationalities as their share of national political power and solemn opportunity to enrich themselves and exercise authority over other Nigerians for the duration of the tenure of their ‘son’ president. This unfortunate but real tragedy has fueled two lines of thoughts and actions namely: Nigerians now withdraw into their ethnic origins to agitate and wait for their turn to produce the president of Nigeria or agitate and, as is the case now, resort to moves to secede from Nigeria, if they believe that producing a president of Nigeria of their ethnic extraction will not materialize early enough or ever at all.
Even the federal character principle provided in both constitutions has not eliminated this fear and mutual mistrust. This prevailing atmosphere has tended to paint presidents produced under 1979 and 1999 constitutions, especially in the eyes of citizen from other nationalities other than theirs, as tribalistic, nepotic, sectional and everything but a symbol of national unity. This has been without any regard and consideration of their best efforts, liberal and patriotic dispositions. In some cases where some of the presidents have shown signs of favoritism towards their immediate places of birth and ethnic origin, I believe that pressure and, often times, subtle blackmail from family, friends and tribes people accounts for most of the anti-nationalistic actions of such presidents. Successive governments since 1999 have demonstrated commendable appreciation of the challenge of feeling marginalization by different people from different parts of the country. In response, the various Administrations established agencies and institutions aimed at addressing specific and peculiar problems and demands in some parts of the country. For example, the Administration of President Umaru Yar’Adua created a separate Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, to address the agitation of people of the Niger Delta for attention and compensation because of environmental degradation and loss of economic opportunities, occasioned by oil exploration in the Niger Delta.
The agitation by the Niger Delta youths at some point almost crippled the Nigerian economy completely. Again, in response to that problem, the same president Yar’Adua’s Administration, either out of wisdom or exigency, established the Amnesty programme, which created opportunities for rehabilitation and economic empowerment for the Niger Delta youths who had turned militants and engaged in kidnapping and wanton destruction of oil installations and facilities.
The Amnesty programme and perhaps the Niger Delta Ministry has given Nigeria and the government some respite. The spate of destruction of oil installations and facilities and kidnapping of oil workers in the Niger Delta has reduced very considerably and activities in the oil sector has normalized. Wise and productive as the twin government response to the Niger Delta challenge appears to be, it has not completely solved the problem of feeling of marginalization and exploitation by the people of the Niger Delta. What may be working for the government at the moment is that the warlords that led the youth rampages have been sufficiently settled and made economically comfortable and socially relevant in their various communities, states and even nationally. However, it has put in the minds of the young people that taking up arms against the state can be a rewarding enterprise, judging from the sudden prosperity of the warlords. The danger is that the moment the present warlords who have managed by whatever means to keep the ‘boys’ in check are displaced, the possibility of resurgence of agitations, crisis and violence in the Niger Delta is very real. A better and sustainable solution to the Niger Delta militancy challenge like all the present challenges in various parts of Nigeria, be it Boko Haram insurgency, Herdsmen killing and rampaging, banditry, kidnapping, IPOB secessionist threat, Oduduwa secessionist threat, middle belt marginalization cry etc. will be deliberate and structured engagement with the people of Nigeria to frankly dialogue on the fears, demands and expectations of all ethnic nationalities and constitutionalizing the outcome of such engagements. The recurring efforts of amendment of the constitution, will continue to be hampered by handicaps imposed by the 1999 constitution, politicking and the rather toxic religious and socio-cultural atmosphere in the country at present. The present administration will score a bull’s eye by initiating this move and driving it with sincerity and commitment.
LOPSIDE DISTRIBUTION OF NATIONAL RESOURCES, INCLUDING APPOINTMENTS INTO POLITICAL LEADERSHIP POSITIONS.
I have tried to establish above that who occupies the high and very critical political office of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has been reduced to a contest by the various ethnic nationalities for access to the national cake. Therefore, whenever a president emerges, people of the same tribe, religion and language with him appropriate him as an opportunity for them to take their turn to enjoy the resources of Nigeria. There is usually a display of arrogance and a feeling of entitlement by people who come from the same ethnic origin with a sitting president. That attitude breeds resentment and disdain, in the minds of people of other ethnic nationalities, against the president and people of his ethnic origin, with a longing for their ‘turn’ to produce the president. The above has eliminated competence, capacity, track record and experience as the essential criteria for choosing who to put forward for election to the office of president by political parties and who to vote for by the electorates. That is why geo-ethnic sensibilities and balancing has remained a nutty issue in party politics in Nigeria. Arising from the above, any action or decision of any president is first viewed from the point of ethnicity before any objective considerations. It is common practice among many Nigerians, either consciously or unconsciously, to scrutinize any list of political appointments to identify the ethnic nationalities of the appointees. Successive governments had been forced to publish lists of their political appointees on zone by zone and state by state basis in efforts to douse the feelings or accusations of marginalization of some ethnic nationalities.
It is one of the major challenges to the development of Nigeria, that most Nigerians pay scant attention to the qualifications and suitability of individuals appointed into political leadership positions, provided their ethnic sentiments are assuaged. Unfortunately, evidences abound to prove that most presidents favoured people from their ethnic stock in the appointments they made, which could not be explained to have been based on the qualification or suitability of such individuals.
The present administration has been heavily criticized on this score. The cumulative effect of this kind of feeling and disposition towards any government in power is that patriotism, citizen ownership and participation is the governance and development process is severely weakened to the hurt of the country.
50 YEARS POST NIGERIAN CIVIL WAR: THE CHALLENGES
The challenges of Nigerians post 50 years of the civil war can easily be inferred from the issues as have been discussed above. The challenges we face as a country in our collective effort to build a stable, peaceful, secure, and prosperous nation are essentially the fallouts from the way and manner we have handled the issues identified above and many more. Undeniably, Nigeria is faced with challenges of grave proportions which have continued to fester over the years. In sum, the faith of many Nigerians in our collective ability to surmount these challenges is beginning to wane. In one sentence, I can summarize the challenges of Nigeria thus; the love, commitment and allegiance of Nigerians to our country has dimed in favour of our individual ethnic nationalities. This has found expression in the many crises bedeviling us as a country. They manifest as Boko Haram insurgency, Herdsmen/farmers/communities’ violent clashes, banditry, kidnappings, violent separatist agitations with the attendant killings, corruption, decayed infrastructure, mass unemployment, poverty, youth restiveness, crimes and criminality, weak governance institutions, loss of prestige and respect on the international stage; poor political leadership and bad governance etc.
The focus of this discussion is rather to identify some of our miss-steps, in terms of policies and actions that have been taken by the various governments over the years, the consequences of such mis-steps both now and for the future, and the opportunities we have to pull Nigeria back from the brink. It will not serve the objective of this presentation to rehash the gory details of our needless and avoidable loses in human and material terms, and by so doing inflame passions instigate hate and amplify our fault lines. The challenge I see before us is to rise above our individual, ethnic, sectional, religious and cultural, biases, sentiments and misgivings to rebuild a Nigeria in which all of us can find accommodation, and opportunities to realize our individual and collective dreams and aspirations. I am by no means condoning injustice, unequal treatment, intimidations, emasculation and suppression of the views of some parts of Nigeria. Coming from the South East geo-political zone which has been in the news in recent times as a result of the activities of the IPOB, I would want to place on record, one more time, my view on IPOB and the unfortunate blanket labeling of every Igbo person from the South East as a secessionist.
INSECURITY IN THE SOUTH –EAST
A cloud of restiveness among the youths in the South East which started gathering some years ago has, very unfortunately, resulted to a rain of violence, killings, and destruction of property in the South East. The situation has been made more precarious by the federal government pre-disposition to treating the activities of IPOB, at best, as terrorism or, and at worst, as war against the state that most be crushed at all cost and the defiance, intransigence and irreverence of IPOB, in not listening to alternatives views on how to go about their agitations, whatever they are. The above scenario has put the various leaderships in the South East in a quandary as to how best to wade in to stern the rising insecurity and the resultant senseless killings in the zone. The twin dangers of being tagged a collaborator, sponsor or funder of IPOB by the federal government and the risk of being declared a saboteur and marked for attack and possible elimination by IPOB have made it very difficult for leaders in the South East to intervene decisively in the unfortunate security situation in the zone. There is an adage in Igboland what “it is with wisdom that elders run away from a rampaging cow”.
Every patriotic and right-thinking Igbo man or woman is worried and frightened by the wider implications of the escalating violence and wanton killings in the South East. it has proved very challenging to find a way out of the mess. Truth be told, there are legitimate reasons for the youth in the South East to feel frustrated and angry at the governments at the national and sub-national levels. However, I agree with other Igbo people at home and in the diaspora that it is not in the best interest of Ndigbo to go to war against the federal government as a response for whatever anger, pain and frustration we may be going through in Nigeria. I say this with every sense of patriotism and responsibility. I feel the pain and frustration of the youth in the South East and indeed all over Nigeria. Life can surely be made better for our youth. Regardless of the prevalent situation, I am convinced that Nigeria holds bigger and better promises than the challenges we face today as a nation. For us in the South East, let us always count our teeth with our tongue. Without fear of contradiction, I make bold to say that where we are going is nearer than where we are coming from. We need to sit down and look one another in the eyes and tell ourselves the home truth.
It is an incontrovertible truth that Igbos of the South East have been excluded from the commanding positions in the federal government post 2015. But by our indomitable spirit, sheer dexterity, industry and creativity we will always be in a good place. If we keep our heads down and our eyes on the ball, our situation can only get better. We may not be where we want to be, but most certainly we are not where we used to be. I have argued in many fora, like other Igbo men and women, that the President of Nigeria come 2023 should come from the South East geo-political zone. I cannot find any argument, logic or position that will defeat that legitimate demand. Our compatriots, friends, associates or even traducers from other parts of Nigeria are well aware that our demand is most legitimate and timely, our arguments are solid and incontrovertible and our will and collective resolve to see that justice, fairness and equity is upheld in dealing with the demand of the South East with regards to the President of Nigeria in 2023 is rock solid and unshakable. We however understand that it is politics we are playing. And like ever game, politics has its rules and processes. We are prepared, willing, able and ready to all that is needed and necessary to put our case before Nigerians, and trust that reason will prevail.
50 YEARS POST NIGERIAN CIVIL WAR: PROSPECTS.
I want to be on record to have maintained that I staunchly believe in the promise that Nigeria holds for every citizen of this country. I remain an unrepentant optimist that Nigeria will wade through her present challenges and emerge a stronger, more peaceful, harmonious, cohesive and prosperous nation. I trust the ability, commitment and patriotic spirit of many well-meaning Nigerians to work together for the re-emergence of a Nigeria, where every citizen, without regard to ethnic origin, language, culture and religion, will be accepted, recognized and treated on the basis of equality, fairness, justice and dignity.
Admittedly, Nigeria has gone through rough experiences in her 61 years of independence. Unfortunately, most of these rough experiences were needles and avoidable. However, this great country of ours has all it takes to bounce back and regain her position of honour among the comity of nations.
The prospects for Nigerian’s recovery are enormous. Permit me therefore, to list some of them as follows:
- Nigeria’s rich human and abundant natural resources, when properly harnessed and exploited and judiciously managed will place the county on the part to rapid and sustainable development.
- The sincere desire of majority of Nigerians to continue to live together in peace and harmony.
- The resilience of ordinary Nigerians and our capacity to survive under harsh conditions. In many nations of the world, citizens would have long taken to the streets in mass protest against worsening economic, security and social conditions.
- The rather strange but fortuitous ability of Nigeria to pull back from the brink. The civil war, June 12, 1993 political crises, the various religious crisis in the North, the Boko Haram insurgency and even the IPOB Separatist agitation are examples of combustive experiences Nigeria has continued to survive.
ROAD MAP TO NATIONAL INTEGRATION, JUSTICE, PEACE AND SECURITY.
- AN ENDURING CONSTITUTION.
Nigeria needs a constitution that will, to a very reasonable extent, address the major concerns, expectations and even fears of the many ethnic groups that make up Nigeria. A National dialogue in the hue of the 2014 National Conference or a review and consideration of the Reports of the 2005 Political Reform Conference and the 20014 National Conference by a committee of representatives of all ethnic groups in Nigeria is recommended. The recurring piecemeal constitutional amendments by the National Assembly has not assuaged the agitations and clamoring by most Nigerians for an entirely new constitution.
- True federalism that gives federating entities adequate say, authority and resources to manage their affairs. As Humphrey Orjiako noted “the first Republic Politicians agreed on a federalist constitution that gave the federation units a degree of freedom and platform to dream and act out their own dreams, to reap the reward if they succeeded and try again if they failed. The central government would guarantee stability and security, forge institutions and processes that nurture national consciousness and grow national cohesion organically.”
- Government should pay more attention to the clamour for restructuring by the South-East, South-South, South-West and the Middle belt region of the country. Restructuring should be clearly defined and understood by every constituent part of Nigeria and the process, extent, terms and the time frame for its actualization clearly stated and accepted by all ethnic groups and interests in Nigeria. To continue to wish the clamour away or intimidate proponents of it or still frustrate it with political maneuvering, by especially the National Assembly, is not the way to restore peace, trust and confidence, guarantee security and promote development in the Nigeria of today.
- The process towards restructuring and true federalism should be started with efforts and actions that will clearly demonstrate governments genuine commitment towards its realizations. This process needs to take off way before preparations for 2023 general elections get on the way, to forestall a likely voter apathy capable of marring 2023 general elections.
- The Administration that will success the present Administration after 2023 general elections should keep faith with and conclude all the processes initiated and started on restructuring and true federalism, but uncompleted, by reason of time constraint, by the current Administration.
- The federal government should intensify efforts in tackling and eradicating banditry and kidnapping to restore peace and security for normal economic activities, particularly farming, to resume fully all over Nigeria.
- The federal government should engage/dialogue with separatist agitators in the South-East to stop the killings and general insecurity in the zone. the recent moves by the government along this line is highly commendable and should be sustained and concluded in good time.
- Government should propose a time table with time lines for commencement of national engagement and actions on restructuring and true federalism.
- Federal government should address, in a pragmatic and impartial manner, the herders/farmers clashes and conflicts. To this end government should re-consider her position on the resolution of the Southern States governors on open grazing in Southern Nigeria. A legal or political tussle that pitches the federal government and all the 17 states of Southern Nigeria will further divide Nigeria along regional lines and worsen the crises of confidence and mutual mistrust between the Northern and Southern divides of the country. The fact that all 17 States Governors across party lines, endorsed the resolution is indicative that the matter is beyond politics and capable of plunging Nigeria into, again, other crises of monumental proportion.
- The federal government should demonstrate sensitivity and responsiveness to the unending cries of marginalization and allegations of lopsided appointments into government political offices and positions. Doing that will help diffuse and or de-escalate tension which has almost reached boiling point in the country.
- Nigerians, of all political persuasions, should consider, very favorably, the compelling need to choose the president of Nigeria in 2023 from the South -East geo-political zone. This, among many other compelling reasons and justifications, will take the wind out of the sail of the Biafran agitation by some youths in the South East.
Let me restate, even at the risk of repeating myself, that Nigeria is a viable and workable project. The challenges we have faced and still facing, although some of them avoidable and self-inflicted, are part of the process of national evolution and consolidation. The benefits of belonging to a huge country with such abundant human and natural resources are awesome.
Conflicts, frictions, disagreements and even fights are normal experiences in any relationship. It takes the wisdom, maturity and commitment of the entities in any relationship to make it work to the mutual benefits of all. Nigeria belongs to all Nigerians. No part of this country is less or more important than the others. If we want to make Nigeria work, Nigeria will work. I have no doubt that an overwhelming majority of Nigerians want Nigeria to work. My appeal is to the youth, mostly. Even in the face of the painful reality of dwindling opportunities and many frustrating experiences you encounter in Nigeria every day, please see Nigeria as a land of great promise and possibilities. It may be difficult to convince you along this line with just one sentence but trust me you will understand it better bye and bye.
Mr. Vice Chancellor, Distinguished ladies and gentlemen. It has been many years I left the four walls of the university. I wonder if I still remember how intellectual engagements are done here, I have taken your time talking like the politician I have become. I pray and hope that I have not wasted your precious time. I hereby tender my unreserved apologies if I did. In all honesty, it has been a great pleasure talking to you and I thank you for your attention.
Sen. Anyim Pius Anyim, GCON