Nigerians in the Diaspora

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Nigerians in the Diaspora and the 1999 Constitution

                                        by

                                 Mr. Kanu Agabi (SAN)
                             Attorney-General of Nigeria


Being the text of a speech given on March 23, 2000 at a Conference
entitled "Preventing the Breakdown of Democracy in Nigeria: Strategies for
a Living Consitution" at the Colin Powell Center, City University of New
York, New York, USA, March 23-24, 2000

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I thank you for this privilege. I thank you for your sacrifices without
which this seminar might never have taken place. It gives me great hope
that, so far away from home, there are men and women like you who have
taken our burdens upon yourselves. I thank all those of you who stood by
us in those dark and seemingly endless days of military rule. I thank you
for your present vigilance to protect our young democracy I commend the
courage and determination of those of you, my countrymen and women, who
left the land of your ancestors, the land of your spirit and language to
seek your livelihood in foreign lands. Some of you may have been driven
here by despair. In that case I apologize to you for the disappointment of
the hope that you invested in our country. Be consoled, however, that we
have in office today a government that is committed to ensuring that your
hopes shall not perish nor be disappointed forever. Even now a nation
that, until a few months ago, sat in darkness is beginning to sec a great
light. This seminar, at which you in America demonstrate your
determination to share in our distresses, gives us hope that our dream of
one man and one world without boundaries shall one day be realized.

Our country distinguished itself in the past by the corruption of its
leaders and the suffering of its people. It became hated by its own
citizens. I come to plead for your patience and understanding I bring you
our yearnings and aspirations. I come to appeal to you to unite with us to
change what seems to be our despicable fate. Our fatherland calls you. You
are called upon to reconcile yourselves to the destiny that cast us
together. May God open our eyes to recognition of our duty to our country.
Do not be distracted by the comforts of America but remember the
wilderness that is our ancestral home. May God guide our footsteps away
from the house of feasting to the house of mourning. Our country is in
tears. Weep with her. She demands our love. Love her. She demands our
benevolence. Be generous to her. We need at this time all the devotion and
sacrifices of our citizens. We have had enough of condemnation. What we
need now is encouragement and understanding. As the evil of a few was
ascribed to the nation as a whole so ills our hope that the good works of
a few devoted men and women like your selves shall wipe out our shame and
our frustration.

I urge you to join the crusade for national redemption. We cannot afford
to stand by and do nothing as the nation bums. The more we witness the
remarkable achievements of other nations like America the more it should
distress us that our own affairs have for so long been governed by
squalor. With the knowledge and the skills that you have acquired here you
can make the needed difference.

As for you our black brothers and sisters in America, more than anyone
else, you know the uses of suffering. Come over and help us. Come over and
teach us the uses of suffering. Only then shall we understand the purpose
of God in permitting the enslavement of our forefathers in this country.
It is more than 100 years since Edward Blyden went from here to give
inspiration and hope to Africa. In spite of his great efforts and the
efforts of others like him Africa remains, in many respects, a Dark
Continent. Nevertheless I share his faith that:

         "God intends out of all this darkness to bring a great tight; to
         rectify all these crooked things to the greater glory of His name
         and to the humbling of the pride and wisdom of man."

I share his dream for Africa that;

        "Soon shall all those beautiful valleys, now lying in melancholy
        loneliness, be peopled by a happy and thriving population. Soon
        shall all those charming hilltops all over the land now trodden
        by the foot of man be crowned with temples to the Most High. The
        vast wilderness and the solitary places, yielding to the hand of
        culture, shall blossom as the rose. Genius and learning and skill
        shall revolutionize the land.  Ethiopia in all her length and
        breadth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the
        waters cover the sea; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."

In order to achieve this we must be vigilant to protect the freedom that
we have won at so high a price. Nor should we fall into the illusion that
there now lies before us an open and free highway that leads to the
paradise of peace and progress. On the contrary we should never lose sight
of the fact that dictatorship, when it took root in our country, did not
reside in the person of the dictator alone but also in various
individuals  and  departments.  Those  individuals  and departments are
still very much at work to destabilize the nation We cannot therefore
afford to be complacent.

The transformation of our country requires the joint efforts of us all. It
does not depend upon the leadership alone. No nation can achieve any
significant growth without the sacrifices of generations of its citizens.
Elsewhere men and women are daily laying down their lives for their
countries. We are not called upon to sacrifice our lives. All that we are
required to do is to give up greed and corruption.

You may have heard of certain tribal unions that are beginning to take
root in our country- Ohaneze for the Ibos. Afenifere for the Yorubas Arewa
for the Hausas and Egbesu boys for the minorities of the Niger-Delta area.
These tribal unions are a setback for the nation. The trend has been for
these tribal unions to plead the cause of the tribes they purport to
represent. They often employ violence and intimidation to achieve their
parochial and nefarious ends. Ibos arc speaking for Ibos. Yorubas are
speaking for Yorubas. Hausas arc speaking for Hausas. Only the president
is speaking for the nation. This attitude represents a betrayal not only
of the nation but of the black race as a whole. When we should be speaking
for the African Continent, when we should be pleading the cause of the
race we are instead championing the cause of our tribes And this in the
21st century! The nation shall come to nothing as long as the major tribes
pulling it in different directions. I look forward to the day when the
Hausa man or woman can find employment in Iboland or Yorubaland. I look
forward to the day when an Ibo man or woman shall be Governor of Sokoto
State or any of the States of the North. I look forward to the day when a
Fulani man shall rule in any of the States of the South. I look forward to
the day when a Moslem shall not shed the blood of a Christian or a
Christian shed the blood of a Moslem only because either of them is of
another faith or for any reason whatsoever.  Our Constitution must
guarantee this not only in theory but also in practice. And I appeal to
you my brothers and sisters in Diaspora, particularly, to have nothing to
do with this evil called tribalism. If God has granted you the favor of
finding acceptance in a foreign land as you have found here in America and
else where in the world shall you, on your part, be so lacking in charity
as to treat fellow citizens as undeserving of your kindness and
consideration? Let me not dwell too much on this point since it is so
obvious. You know, as well as I do, that nothing parochial can or shall
last. Tribal unions in our country are doomed to die and shall die. The
nation shall outlive tern all. Their leaders shall never be remembered.
Even now some of them have already been forgotten in their lifetime!

The present government is committed to the restoration of rights. We are
determined that the machinery of the state should no longer be used as an
instrument of oppression. We have entered a new era - the era of the rule
of law. Henceforth the nation shall be ruled by law and by law alone.
Executive action shall not contravene the law and no one shall be exempted
from the duty of obedience of the law.

There has been agitation throughout the country, in the North as well as
in the South, for a review of the Constitution. That is in the spirit of
democracy. We are entitled to give ourselves a Constitution of our own
choice - a Constitution that is a reflection of our culture and
experience. Even as we do so we must not forget that there is in existence
a Constitution. We must not conduct our affairs not on the basis of what
we think the Constitution ought to be. We must conduct them on the basis
of what it is. Some people contend that the Constitution is not a product
of the will of the people and that its declaration to that effect is
false. They attribute the Constitution to the military and reject it on
that ground. Military rule is a fact of Nigerian history. We cannot
pretend that it did not exist. If we reject the Constitution because we
regard it as a product of the military then we will have to go all the way
and reject all the other things they did for the nation. What about the
international treaties into which they entered? Are we going to reject
those too? We cannot undo all that the military did. It is not reasonable
to do so. It is not even possible to do so. The 1999 Constitution is a
product of necessity. It is a Constitution compelled upon us by
circumstance. Nevertheless it is a Constitution. It is our Constitution.
As Shakespeare said, men rather their broken swords use than their bare
hands. A bad constitution is better than none at all.

The Constitution itself recognizes that it is not perfect. It has made
provisions for its own amendment. Since we all seem to be agreed that
there is need to amend it we should proceed to do so. Whatever we decide
to do we must follow the procedure prescribed in section 9 for its
amendment. Unless we use it as the foundation of our efforts the exercise
will become chaotic and futile.

Many people have wondered whether in the present state of the nation it
can give itself a credible and lasting Constitution. We are at the point
when corruption has become a part of the spirit and consciousness of the
people. Our vision has become blurred by corruption.  Under those
circumstances many sensible and patriotic Nigerians have wondered whether
we are in a position to look into the remote future and make laws that
will not only bind this generation but also generations to come. I think
we can. We need time. A good Constitution must evolve with the people. I
concede that the fault is not in the Constitution but in our selves. Laws
alone do not make a nation. We also need people. On the other hand people
alone, without laws, do not suffice to make a nation. Good laws ensure thc
production of good citizens. Good citizens, on their part, ensure the
maintenance of the laws. As we heap all the blame on all the blame on the
Constitution and the laws let us bear in mind that a people cannot have
better laws than themselves.

Because of the  recent outbreak of violence in some of our cities some
people have feared for the survival of the nation. As grave, as
unjustified and as unacceptable as these acts of violence have been they
do not pose a threat to the survival of the nation. We shall
emerge from them stronger than ever before. When you examine our situation
against the background of other nations that suffered similar setbacks you
find tat we have fared better than they did. The French revolution of
1789, which was aimed at ending feudal rule in France, led to the
Napoleonic wars and other revolutions not only in France but all over
Europe. This lasted for more than 100 years. At the time of the First
World War, the French and indeed all Europe had not recovered from the
effects of the French revolution- Recently, thc overthrow of the Shah of
Iran led to bloodshed and internal convulsions in that country which
lasted for several years. Even now Iran has not fully recovered from the
problems attending the end of despotic rule. The overthrow of Somoza was
followed by war in Nicaragua. The overthrow of Mobutu Sese Seko led to war
that is still raging in Zaire. In Yugoslavia the death of Joseph Tito led
to war and ultimately to division of that country. In Somalia, the
overthrow of Siad Barre led to war from which the nation is yet to
recover. The same can be said of the Sudan, the Central African Republic,
Equatorial Guinea, Uganda, and Liberia.  When you look at what happened in
these other countries and compare them with what is happening in ours, you
will find that we have fared better.

And it is important to know that we are not different from other people.
Given the same circumstances other communities would behave exactly as we
have done. We certainly were not born corrupt. Circumstances have made us
what we are.  What are those circumstances? First there was the slave
trade which destabilised the African Continent. Before we could recover
from the effects of that trade we had to contend with colonialism.
Colonialism led to the introduction of laws that were incompatible with
the culture and Consciousness of the people. Those laws still govern our
affairs till now. We are compelled to choose between the lesser evil of
applying those laws and the greater evil of evolving new ones. We chose
the lesser evil.  While we were grappling with those laws the army
intervened and seized power  In  1966 the army seized power. Military rule
gave rise to civil war. During the civil war States were created. To begin
with States have become nations unto themselves. It is virtually
impossible for indigenes of one State, however competent or patriotic, to
secure employment in the Public Services of other States notwithstanding
that they may have lived in such States all their lives or otherwise
contributed to the growth of that other State. It is immaterial that they
may even have been born in the States refusing them employment. The
creation of States has led to lesser interaction between citizens. The
opportunities for growth through interaction and imitation are thus lost.

The other consequence of the creation of states is the needless
multiplication of offices. Where before we had 4 ministries now we have
37. At the time of the commencement of the Civil war the nation had
altogether 5 legislative houses. Today we have 38. Throughout the country
we have over 2000 legislators. We have 774 local government councils and
over 8000 councilors. Some local governments have as many as 800 staff. We
have over  600 ministers, commissioners and advisers. It is no wonder then
that much of the nation's revenue is spent on recurrent matters leaving
little or nothing for capital investment. There is urgent need to look at
the structure of the country with a view to minimizing our recurrent
expenses.

We are today also paying the price for hasty indigenisation.  This was our
attempt at doing things ourselves.  We wanted to put the economy in the
hands of Nigerians.  It was a laudable thing to do.  But again it gave
rise  to corruption because we were in haste and implemented the program
wrongly.  This, in brief, is how we came to acquire the bad reputation
that we now have.  So we appeal to the rest of the world for
understanding.  And when other nations realize that they have in some ways
aided and facilitated corruption in Nigeria they will be more considerate
in their judgement.  It is in Europe and the United States that our
officials keep their loot.  They come here assured of protection.  So far
they have been protected.  Your laws entitle you to question those who
make windfall deposits in their Bank accounts.  Question them.  Your laws
entitle you to return stolen monies to their owners.  Return ours.  Europe
and America should be safe for known thieves.  No part of the world should
be a safe refuge for thieves.  We require as much assistance from you in
this regard as in the formulation of our Constitution.

There have been calls for a sovereign national conference.  Their
sponsors, because of their notion that Nigeria is made up of several
ethnic nationalities, describe this conference as sovereign.  The aim of
the conference is to agree to restructure the country so that the new
units can either become independent states or achieve greater autonomy
from the Federal Government than the present states enjoy.  The attention,
which this agitation has received, is not owed to its merits but to the
rank and position of the agitators.  It is particularly to be regretted
because it comes at a time when we should be offering leadership not only
to the African continent but also to the black race as a whole.  At a time
when we should have taken the initiative and provided that leadership we
instead set for the continent a bad example.  It was our bad example of
dictatorship and corruption that was followed in Zaire and elsewhere in
Africa where corruption reigned supreme.  We could not complain about
atrocities in Uganda under Idi Amin as long as were were committing
atrocities of our own.  So deplorable were conditions in our own country
that the apartheid government in South Africa felt consoled that its
inhuman treatment of its black citizens still left them better than our
own people.  Had we been ourselves united we would have been able to
prevent or at least minimize the genocide in Rwanda and Burundi. 

So this is not a time for division in our country.  It is a time for unity
on the basis, at least, of our common experience of dictatorship, or
corruption, of poverty and injustice.  We should look around us and see
the rest of the world uniting.  America has united.  Europe is uniting.
Asia is uniting.  Africa must unite.  It cannot do so unless we offer the
required leadership.  There is absolutely nothing that the Yoruba nation
can get from being on its own which it cannot get, a thousand times over,
from being part of a united Nigeria.  The same with the Hausas.  The same
with the Ibos.  If God had intended that you should use your talents and
your potentials just for yourselves alone He would not have endowed you so
abundantly.  You have been given so much precisely so that you can be your
brother's keeper.  So stop your petty tribalism.  Stand up and speak for
the African continent and the black race.

Finally, all said and done, we need assistance.  We need assistance to
build our schools and hospitals.  We need assistance to build our roads
and to provide other basic infrastructure.  We need assistance to provide
employment.  Once we get tangible assistance to do these things, we shall
be able to take care of the rest.

Thank you.

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