Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
Treatise for a National Forum
Oluwagbemi Michael II
February 14, 2005
Call it any name; a forum for Nigerians to freely discuss the condition on which their national unity would be based is desirable at this point in our national history. It has been laughable for the past week, seeing the hell that has been raised. First, the national assembly had the guts to stand up to baba for the first time- and imagine, to play politics with the future of their children. No wonder we need a national conference! To see dem jeun jeun in Apo quarters saying their legislative duties was being taken over was at best laughable. Are these not the same legislators that would rather have a salary increase and Ghana-must-go bags instead of making good laws? They have had six years, and have done nothing. The sovereignty of Nigerians still resides with them, and they may spend it as they may wish. Nigerians have made their voices loud and clear – give us liberty or we die!
Nigeria is definitely a very difficult country to govern and should acknowledge that none of us envy the position Obasanjo finds himself. But while we may disagree with the method by which the national dialogue has been organized, we should still have faith in the forum the government of the day has opened up. It is an act of courage and statesmanship for OBJ to make an about face, but he did not go far enough and we should make that definitely clear to him. But we should not forsake an assembly of our brethren and play ethnic politics like Afenifere and Arewa want to play. The Afenifere and Arewa are definitely vestiges of our colonial past and are totally irrelevant in the politics of today – Bola Tinubu has validated this theory as well as the new northern elites. We do not need their politics of hate to move forward in our nation and they should be ignored by every one of us. That is what they deserve and our nation would be thankful.
The sovereign conference convened by the PRONACO group should also be supported by truly meaning Nigerians. Moreover, we do not expect to put activists and statesmen in the same room to discuss the future of our nation. Good critics are not necessarily good governors, but they cannot be ignored. We ignore them at our own peril, and the government should pay attention to any final document that would be produced by this forum and should take them very seriously. It would be a very statesmanlike act for the government to constitute an executive-legislative panel of technocrats and academics to consider documents produced by both forums and marry them in the best possible way- dispassionately considering every option available to our nation at the cross roads we find ourselves while ensuring a better future for children. But in order not to reduce the national forum to just another talk shop, members of both the national dialogue and conference should look into some of the areas that are examined in this article among others.
System of Government
There is no doubt that the choice of a system of government for a nation would be a major result of the forums being constituted today. As presently constituted, our brazen presidential system is inherently wasteful and promotes corruption and dictatorship. The forum would have to consider many alternatives including the parliamentary system of government, the reduced presidential system where the powers of the president to appoint and rule would be trimmed or a completely innovative system of government that would be unique to our nation. We also need to consider the necessity of a bicameral legislature, as well as the most economical system of government at the state and local levels considering the minimum resources available at those levels. The issue of rotational presidency or multiple vice-presidencies need to be looked into as well.
Structure of Government
There would be an urgent need to consider the way government is structured in our nation. Should the federal government continue to be the big boss in the polity? Should power be devolved to the states or local governments? What are the pros and cons of local government autonomy? Should states retain the power to create local governments? Should local councils be a singular creation of state governments? Should states have their own identity and as such their own constitution that would spell out their relationship with their local governments? Should we have a regional government system in place? What will be the status of Lagos? What shall be the status of Abuja? Should we create municipal cities governed by mayors to manage our urban centers? How would mayoral councils relate to state and federal governments?
Nature of Government
In addition to the above, the forums need to examine the role of government in our lives. What are the basic necessities governments at all level should guarantee? What are the importance of health, education and security? Should we have state police? What should be the term limits on elected officials? Should we proceed with a five year single term? What is the status of the civil service? Should state government be mandated to operate balanced budget? Should federal government resort to referendum to borrow money? What is the status of our national debt? Should we reduce the size of the federal bureaucracy? Shouldn’t ministers be approved by the senate for specific positions?
Remuneration of public officials
Furthermore, we should consider regulating how much we pay public officers. Is it justifiable for local officials to work on a full time basis? Should their service be voluntary and non-remunerable? Should we consider a semi-annual American styled state legislature that would meet for only two to three months in a year to complete the legislative business? Should we subject the pay of federal legislators and elected officials to a public referendum? Should federal officials be able to enjoy pay raises that was enacted in their term? Shouldn’t appointed federal, state and local officials be remunerated according to civil service scale? Shouldn’t public officers be made to declare their assets in a nationwide publication at least seven days before assuming office? Shouldn’t the immunity granted to public officers be removed?
There are indeed many questions to be answered at the national forums being organized. But there isn’t any more important than the question on how best to distribute our national revenue. The principle of derivation and how best it should be aligned in uniform development and best spirits of national brotherhood need to be addressed. Resource control is very good on paper, but may be totally impracticable given the history of our nation. But a forum to discuss the derivation percentages and how to address the shortfalls of not applying derivation principles to other areas including federal taxes, value added taxes, customs as well as excise duties should be discussed. It is important that the derivation principle be applied across board to benefit everyone and a formula that gives credit to states that strive to increase their contribution to the national purse on how the revenue is allocated monthly should be enacted. In addition, the best formula on how to share allocation between governments need to be worked out – side by side the principles of devolving more powers to the states and as such an increased share of the national revenue, as well as removing local governments completely from the picture. The need to consider new indices for allocating revenue (including population density and percentage occupied area), and doing away with the bogus land mass criteria should also be looked into.
Another contentious issue is the issue of state police. What is the desirability of having state or even local police? How should the new police force be controlled, funded and administered? What is the desirability of electing local sheriffs to administer the various local police units? What should be the role of the military in the new era? Should national military service be mandatory for adult males? Should there be limited rights to bear arms? Should our nation have a national military reserve force for emergency? What is the chain of command in the state of emergency? Should an investigative body be created separate from the police to free the system of corruption and mishandled cases? What should be the role of a local and foreign intelligence service? Should security services be in position to harass and arrest innocent citizens indiscriminately?
The issue of Sharia law would definitely come up at the conference. What is the role of religion in the affairs of state? We would need to answer the pertinent question – is Nigeria a secular state or a multi-religious state? Should government money fund directly or indirectly any form of religious activities including pilgrimage? Should heinous acts committed in the name of religion be protected? Should we regulate the sale and consumption of alcohol and tobacco level at the central or state level? Should beheadings and stoning be part of our penal system? What is the desirability of maintaining the death penalty? Should we reform our judicial process to allow for trial by jury? Should the Supreme Court be transformed to a court of petition like the American and British counterparts?
Federal Character and Minority Rights
Minority rights have been a core struggle since independence in our nation and the need for the federal character need to be looked into. The need to eliminate quota system in our educational system and civil service system need to be seriously considered. Also, the need to apply federal character in political appointment and military service need to be closely examined for best results. There is need to in fact categorize federal character, and differentiate it from mediocrity, quota system or blatant discrimination or nepotism. There is also a need to insert an anti-discriminatory clause in the final document that would protect women, disabled as well as ethnic minorities from discrimination. There is need to set up standards for corporate entities to abide by, especially as it relates to host community employment. In addition to the foregoing, the issue of state residency and indigenization should be considered. How long does one have to stay in a state to become an indigene? Can you claim a state even though you were born in another? Does marriage change your state of indigene for a woman? These concerns need to be addressed.
Charter of Rights
The new document would never be complete until it guarantees basic rights to the citizens of a new Nigeria. The right to life, freedom of movement and association, right to privacy as well as right to have access to government information except they compromise national security should be guaranteed. The right to judicial trial, right to an attorney, right against self incrimination and a right to trial by jury on request should also be enshrined in the document. A limited right to bear licensed arms for educated and certified citizens should be looked closely into. In addition to this a clause to protect the property rights of Nigerians as well as a right against cruel and unusual punishment including torture should be included in the finished document. A right to freedom of religion and a pledge that all governments within the Commonwealth of Nigeria would not sponsor one religion over another should also be included in our constitution. The rights of individual states to assert their identity without breaking up the union should be enshrined also in the final document.
No doubt this would be the most contentious issue at any of the two forums. Through which method should our public officials be elected? Should we stick to the secret ballot system that is heavily tainted with corruption? Should we go the open-secret balloting style? What should be the role of technology and identification card in our electoral process? Should parties be registered or earn recognition by winning election? How many parties are too much? Should cross carpeting be allowed? How much money should be spent in the political process? Who should we nominate members of the electoral commission? Shouldn’t all parties be able to nominate one member each to regulate the political process? Should all judicial avenues not be fully exhausted before a public official is sworn in, as it is obtained in Ukraine? These questions have dodged our politicians for the past six years, and they have got no answers. That is why we need the critics and statesmen to answer them.
For those who see the conference as an opportunity to destroy the unity of our nation- Nigerians have been equivocal in their wishes: we love our nation to be one. In our country, we have been divided too long along ethnic lines- for too long to detriment of the common man have the wicked elites exploited our differences- we are all Nigerians! Our elites are the sole beneficiaries of this arrangement, and while they wine and dine with themselves- they divide us and make us suffer the pain of their fratricidal acts! Once we get our political reform process right, we might begin to consider strengthening our economic union and to usher in and consolidate a New Commonwealth of Nigeria. The time to act is now!
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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.