The Ramparts We Should Guard and Guide


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The Ramparts We Should Guard and Guide




Omo Omoruyi

Advancing Democracy in Africa, Abuja



Being a Charge to the EDO Delegates to the National Political Reform Conference at the Edo Summit held at the Oba Akenzua Cultural Centre, Benin City on February 26, 2005.


I am glad that President Obasanjo had made my work easier when I was thinking of what to say in London as I was planning this short paper. I was able to access the address in London. It is quite comprehensive.

President Obasanjo said on February 21 2005 during the inaugural address to the distinguished ladies and gentlemen and members of the National Political Reform Conference that there are certain issues in Nigerian political development that should be called the "the minimum issues that must be taken as given". He named them as follows:


  1. The oneness of Nigeria;

  2. Federalism and federal system of government;

  3. Presidentialism;

  4. Multi-religiosity;

  5. Federal Character;

  6. Popular participation;

  7. The Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy; and

  8. Separation of Powers.

I recall when President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida described the same issues, as "settles issues" in 1987/8, Nigerians went to town that IBB was restricting the Members of the Constituent Assembly by making some issues 'no go areas' even though he never used these words. These are what the Americans call the "ramparts we guard and guide". I'm being invited to speak to you on how best to guard and guide the ramparts of Nigeria. Let me make some preliminary statements as an introduction to my address.


How do we place the National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) within the universe of conferences in Nigerian history? This will be done later. Let me first deal with the question, how is this Conference different from the highly canvassed phenomenon called the National Conference or the Sovereign National Conference (SNC)?

A National Conference is a phenomenon that grew out of the French political culture. It was copied in the Francophone countries in Africa after the Fall of the Berlin Wall first in the Republic of Benin and later in 7 other Francophone African territories. (See the attached). It was used to address a crisis in the political order and used to fundamentally resolve it. I had canvassed this option twice in the past and in my view Nigeria missed these two opportunities in her history when a National Conference of the Francophone type would have been used to resolve a political crisis in Nigeria. First was after the annulment and the second was after the death of General Sani Abacha.  

On these two occasions the nature of the Nigerian State or what I chose to call the British Design in this part of Africa was called into question. Unfortunately, the Nigerian political class failed to adopt the Francophone type National Conference as a means of resolving the issues. Why the Nigerian political class did not adopt this measure is part of history. This is not the subject of my contribution today. I spoke and wrote about this in the past.


On the buzzword, Sovereign National Conference, there is a lot of misconception of the term, "Sovereign". From the empirical study done by Professor Pearl T. Robinson one would find that "Sovereignty" was claimed by the Conference after it commenced and not bestowed on the Conference by the President before it began. The President is right when he told the Conference that a Sovereign National Conference only occurred in states that were collapsing unlike in Nigeria when the State was in tact. From Robinson's study one would find that it was the National Conference that declared itself sovereign and proceeded to take other actions in consonant with the act of sovereignty. See the following:

  1. In the Republic of Benin, the delegates declare the Conference sovereign, dissolve National Assembly and strip President Kerekou of most of his power and appoint an Interim Government.
  2. In Congo, Delegates declare the Conference Sovereign and strip President Debi Sasso Nguesso his power and appoint a World Bank official, Prime Minister and head of Interim Government.
  3. In Mai, delegates convene as a Constituent Assembly and adopt a new Constitution and electoral code and a charter for political parties.
  4. In Niger, Delegates declare the Conference sovereign, suspend the Constitution, strip General Ali Saibou of all powers, dissolve the National Assembly, etc, etc.
  5. In Chad, Conference declared itself sovereign but agreed to maintain the President in office,

You can find more detail analysis in Pearl T. Robinson, "The National Conference Phenomenon in Francophone" in Society for Comparative Study of Society and History, 1994).

President Obasanjo misconstrued the political change that the National Conferences brought about in Benin, the Congo, Mali, Niger and Chad with democratization that would follow the political change.

Only two countries, Togo and Zaire (DRC) where the reigning Presidents, Eyadema and Mobutu respectively manipulated the National Conference that are still the two countries out of the 8 countries where National Conference could not succeed. The problem was not with the idea of a national conference; the problem was with the powerlessness/impotence of the delegates and the relative omnipotence of the President.


In my essay titled "Sovereign" in "National Conference" published recently and now available through the web, I discussed the two senses in which the concept of 'Sovereign' in the Sovereign National Conference could be used and why it is not applicable to Nigeria under democratically elected rulers.

One, if the National Conference such as yours declares itself 'Sovereign' that would amount to a "civilian coup'. This means that your act should be made applicable to the other levels of government.

Two, if the President bestows his power that he has in Section 5 of the Constitution on the National Conference that would mean that the President is abdicating his power only of the Executive. Abdication is not provided for in the Constitution. It will be unthinkable that President Obasanjo short of impeachment, death or resignation would abdicate office for other reasons.

The President cannot surrender the power that he does not have that rightly belongs to the National Assembly and of the Judiciary in Section 4 and Section 6 respectively under the Constitution. The President cannot surrender to anybody the power that he does not have that the Constitution rightly gives to the States and the Local Government.

Fellow Edo political leaders, may I advise you that a "Civilian Coup" or "a Presidential Abdication" would be unconstitutional under our current democratic practice. In the past, Edo military officers and civilian leaders had never been involved in a coup of any type except during the famous treason trial in the First Republic.

My advice to you is do not be dragged into subscribing to the thought that a National Conference could declare itself sovereign, as was done in the five Francophone countries above in the past.


Looking at the membership of the current conference only two members, Chief Anthony Enahoro and Chief Richard Akinjide can claim to have experience to tell from their experience from the pre-independence to the post-independence period. Both were major actors in the pre-independence conferences and Chief Akinjide was a major actor in the military inspired conferences.

I can see the two sides of the divide in the north from the Constituent Assembly of the 1977/78. I can cite the presence of Chiefs Paul Unongo and Chief SD LAR from the middle-belt and representing the minority caucus or the Fourth Dimension on the one hand and Alhaji Uba Ahmed, Dr. Umaru Dikko and Alhaji Garba Ja AbdulKadiri from the far north on the other respectively.

I notice the emergence of and the official recognition of two new zones of influence in Nigeria. I am referring to the emergence of the Ijaw National Congress and the Middle-Belt Forum, as majority players. They are now in the category of the Arewa Consultative Forum, the Afenifere and the Ohaneze. Whither the Edo! Whither the Urhobo! Whither the so-called South-South Consultative Assembly!

Whither the Edo or whither the South-South should be a question that the Edo delegation should try to address. What the composition tends to tell us is that the Ijaw and the Middle Belt have moved into another category and away from the minority group in Nigeria. Is this not the policy of divide and rule or divide and conquer?

I also notice that there is a near complete absence of the past from the composition from the rest of the south. The South-South is completely full of new comers in the debate about the political order in Nigeria. It is tragic that those who were instrumental to the landmark decision of the 1977/78 that formed the basis of the Presidential System were not included either on the Federal list or in the list submitted by the State governors. This is not so in the north and in the southwest. I'd want to use this occasion to pay tribute to Professor Ambrose Alli and Barrister Alegbe who are no more and Barrister Aghimen SAN. They with me were in the forefront in the development of the issues in the Presidential system of government.

Maybe what the Government should have done is to first identify the issues that are of interest to the State and then find out how the issues were resolved in the past and then identify the role played by their past representatives. You can still do so by reading the Proceedings of the 1977/78 Constituent Assembly. You will find how the foundation of the current Presidential System and more was laid.

On the Sharia and how it was resolved in 1978, can one forget the role played by Chief Dr. Mudiaga Odje (SAN)? See The Proceedings of the Constituent Assembly 1977/78 Vol 2.

On the fundamental restructuring of the political class can one forget the debate generated by yours truly for two days in the Constituent Assembly? See Volume 3 of the Proceedings of the Constituent Assembly 1977/78.

On the issue of geographical spread in the election of the President and the Governor, can one forget the contribution of the minorities, especially the leadership of Paul Unongo? See The Proceedings of the Constituent Assembly Vols 2 and 3.

On the Presidential System, can one forget the role of the minority caucus in the Constituent Assembly especially in early 1978?

On the revenue allocation can one forget the role of yours truly who doubled as an appointed Member of the Technical Committee on Revenue Allocation and an elected Member for Oredo in the Constituent Assembly? That the Local Government can boast of receiving its revenue at source can be attributed to my dual role in these two bodies. See the Report of the Technical Committee on Revenue Allocation, 1978.


An important issue that should be resolved is the issue of mandate. One hopes no member would wave the flag of a particular locality as its representative. Without trying to denigrate your exalted position, you cannot claim to have a mandate from any location in the State. Nigerians woke up one morning to read of names of persons in the newspapers that were nominated to represent them in the Conference.

On what basis was your nomination made one may ask? Maybe the President and the Governors took certain interests into account before making the nomination. Have you been able to individually ask the President or the Governor why you were nominated and what interests you are to guard and guide? Are the Presidential nominees expected to guard and guide the President's interest? Are the Governor's nominees expected to guard and guide the interests of the Governor? What about the nominees of the political parties, the labour unions etc. who are Edo indigenes? Are thee expected to watch out for the Edo content in these bodies? What is an Edo content in the PDP and in the Labour movement?

Another issue is what do the members take to the Conference? I recall that six of us ran for the one seat from Oredo in 1977. Various bodies as to what I would be doing at the Constituent Assembly quizzed me. What would the members from Edo State be representing? I did not have problem resolving this question in 1977. How would the members resolve this question today?

One could ask what are the Edo Interests or the ramparts that Edo indigenes should guard and guide? This is a subject that we should all try to identify. What is the interest that our Edo members in the National Political Reform Conference expected to defend? Once we know what our interests are then we should decide how we are to defend them. We shall return to these questions later.

Lest I forget; those who were nominated by the President were characterized as "Respectable Elder Statesmen" and those who were nominated by the Governors were called "State Representatives". My dear sister and respected colleague, Christie (Professor Okojie) knows that Edo is not Anambra where a man in the 30s is a godfather of a man in the 50s . She would not mind swapping position with Papa Abebe!


We had many Conferences in the past. Let me review the three types of Conferences in the Nigerian history as a guide to our quest for an agenda for our delegation.


First was the series of Conferences organized under the auspices of the British Colonial administration. These Conferences were meant to address two kinds of problems in the process of decolonization, which were the mode of governance and the mode of living together of the various ethnic nationalities. The mode of governance that Britain only knew from her history was the Westminster system of government also called the Parliamentary System. Nigeria like all the former British colonial regimes in the world inherited the Parliamentary system in the British fashion. The Parliamentary system only favoured the three ethnic nationalities and ignored the minority ethnic nationalities as potential political players in the politics of national leadership. The minority question in Nigerian politics remained unresolved throughout the First Republic until the advent of the military in 1966.

Britain with no experience of cultural/ethnic pluralism toyed with the idea of federalism as a solution to the politics of pluralism, first in Canada and Australia, and later in India and Nigeria and finally in the West Indies. Britain left these countries with some semblance of what it called a federal system at independence. Each country today has a semblance of a federal system and none can be called a 'true federalism'. Each country has been experimenting with some forms of devolution that are different from the US Federal System. I ran courses in the US in the past five years. There is nothing called "true Federalism" that has become a euphemism for 'confederation' and a veiled argument for 'ethnic self-determination' that dominates the plan of action after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election in the southwest.


Second was the series of Conferences sometimes called Constituent Assemblies organized under the auspices of the Military Junta. These were meant to address the issues in the transition, which also centered on the mode of governance and the mode of living together of the ethnic nationalities in Nigeria.

It should be noted that the minority ethnic nationalities were given their 'political homes' during this period. They were made key players in the federal and presidential politics since then.

Of the three Constituent Assemblies, 1977/78; 1987 and 1994 only the Constituent Assembly of 1977/78 could be said to have addressed the fundamental issues in the mode of governance and in the mode of living together as part of the process of transition. It should be noted that all these Constituent Assemblies were governed by specific decrees.

On the mode of governance, the military inspired conference changed the mode from parliamentary to presidential system. It should be noted that this change was a result of widespread consultation and debate. I am glad that President Obasanjo decided to make this one of the 'no go area' for what it should be. This is no different from what President Babangida did in 1987 when he told the Constituent Assembly that this was a 'settled issue' that only needed fine-tuning.


One would recall that I went out of my traditional method of dealing with Chief Tony Enahoro when I lambasted him for not recognizing what Professor Alli and some us did for the minorities in 1977/78 that formed the basis of the Presidential System. You will find this in my essay, "Chief Enahoro should read Alexander Pope", about forms of government. This is still in the www and could be accessed for your information.

May I advise you delegates not to listen to Chief Enahoro's advocacy for a return to the Parliamentary System. This is anti-minorities in general and anti-Edo in particular. A parliamentary System would further make the minorities politically impotent.

I knew Chief Enahoro's historical distaste for the minorities in Nigerian politics. He was never an advocate of the 'small water/pond', called small states in the past. The Parliamentary system was bad in the past for the minorities and would be bad for the minorities today. All the Bendel Delegates to the foundation laying Constituent Assembly in 1977/78 for the the Presidential system because they knew that it is good for the minorities. This has been so since 1979. Edo delegates should fight to strengthen it.

On the mode of living together the military inspired conferences introduced the concept of federal character that institutionalized the use of states as the unit of representation and in the allocation of federal jobs and in the major policies of the federal government. All these were the attempts to reduce the 'political salience' of ethnicity and religion in political life.


Today, we are faced with the third type under the auspices of a democratically elected administration. This Conference is meant to address some issues in the crisis of governance as distinct from fundamental political crisis that the first two types dealt with in the past.

The planners of this Conference assume that the fundamental nature of the political order had been addressed and settled in the previous series of Conferences especially under the military order in 1975-79 and in 1985-93.

It is assumed that this conference is expected to engage in proposing some 'reforms' that would make the existing order work better. No one expects that something fundamental would be undertaken within three months by the kind of assembly that was hurriedly put together under some suspicious circumstances. This is why I am arguing that this Conference is not to change the existing order contrary to what some might be planning to do. The mode of composition of the conference and the length of the period of the conference confirm my view.


The difference between the three conferences should be further made clear if we focus on how the agenda of the conferences were set.

Britain set the agenda of the pre-independence conferences. Britain only asked the representatives of the parties to come to London to debate what British officials had assembled for them.

The military set the agenda of the military conferences through pre-conference committees such as the Drafting Committee or the Review Committee of the 1976 and 1987 respectively.

What is the Agenda of this Conference? The list of the issues still remains shrouded in mystery. I am aware the state has a list of issues that would be raised at the Summit. Do not forget what the convener of the Conference, the President has in mind. You will therefore have to study the President's address to the inaugural session of the Conference. In that address the President states that the Conference should do the following issues:

  1. The challenge of constitutionalism and constitutional reform;
  2. the preferred political path for the nation;
  3. the challenge of building new, accountable, responsive and focused leadership;
  4. how to build, operate and sustain real political liberties, social justice, rights and obligations;
  5. electoral reforms that ensures credibility and respectability of elections;
  6. relations between tiers of government;
  7. performance of government;
  8. how to ensure truly democratic governance;
  9. how to strengthen the social contract between the custodian of state power and the governed.

What is the meaning of the foregoing issues? They defy easy specifications. They are omnibus assignments; they truly belong to periodic review of government. The political class should deal with these from time to time. No one should expect you to tackle them during one session of a national conference. Some of these issues are not mutually exclusive.


This Summit should develop what should be the Edo State position on any of the issues itemized by President Obasanjo at the inaugural address as a guide to the Edo delegates to the National Political Reform Conference.

This is not all; delegates should be interested in the position taken by others. This is where you should use your ingenuity and tact in reaching out to others. Others here mean the fellow minorities in the south and in the middle belt that constitute what I call the Fourth Dimension in Nigerian Politics.

Delegates will also be faced with how the conclusions/decisions/recommendations will be reached in the Conference? Would it be by simple majority vote or by special majority vote or concurrent majority vote or by consensus? This would determine the tactics that you should adopt in your intervention.


Delegates are likely to be faced with what will be the standing order that would guide the procedure for reaching conclusion?

Understanding of the rules governing debate is critical to your success in the Conference. You saw what could happen without a Standing Order known to all on the first day?

This understanding is not based on the level of education. It is based on the willingness of the individual to roll up ones sleeves and work hard.

Those who usually fail to understand the rules of procedure and unable to make themselves heard usually resort to giving press conferences on the corridor of the Conference Hall. We shall be watching for them among you. You should not be that person. Edo people want you to make your views known on the floor of the Conference Hall. Edo State does not want you to play to the gallery or make the newspapers as the mode of making contributions.


Let me cite the exchange of words between a Member of the Constituent Assembly from Bauchi Alhaji Ahmed Kari and the Chairman, Justice Udo Udoma.

Alhaji A. Kari (Darazo): I would like to draw the members' attention

To Standing Order 20 subsection 4, which says: "It
shall be out of order to attempt to raise for
consideration any specific question upon which the
Assembly has come to a conclusion during a sitting
except upon substantive motion for rescission". I
have filed a motion this morning with the Chairman.

The Chairman: Have you filed a motion this morning?

Alhaji Kari: Yes, Mr. Chairman.

The Chairman: You want to move your motion?

Alhaji Kari: Yes Mr. Chairman, with your permission.

The Chairman: And you don't want to be called to move your motion

If you filed one?

Alhaji Kari: My motion is in a form of a letter to Chairman which I hope to pursue.

The Chairman: I would ask the Hon. Member to resume his seat. We

have done enough of this today. If the Hon.
Member's motion was in form of a letter to me, it
was not to the Assembly. It was a letter to me. It
was not a notice of motion. Will the Hon. Member
resume his seat?

From the foregoing dialogue it was obvious that the former Principal Secretary to the late Prime Minister Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa did not know the difference between a letter to the Chairman of the Assembly complaining about something and a Motion. This means that he did not understand the Standing Order. The Chairman was being nice to him as he knew him before and did not want to tell him that he was ignorant of the way the business of the Assembly was being conducted.


May I advise that the Edo delegates should not be dragged into walking out unless that would advance your political goal. I hope some of you would read the memoir of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Beckoned to Serve to appreciate the futility of walking out of a Conference when what is left behind can still constitute a quorum. Alhaji Shagari was reacting to the walking out of the Constituent Assembly by those who felt unhappy with the way the Assembly dealt with the Shari after the motion to delete moved and passed the Assembly.


To make your work easier and effective, do not think you can do it alone. Operate in a group and have a study group. You can organize a daily session of Edo delegates; you can also meet with likeminded members from states pursuing the same interests. There is a need to understand the issues coming before the Conference. Before you take a position on the matters coming before the Conference, weigh the implications for the nation and for Edo State. Make sure your point of view has some support.


You are likely to be faced by lobbyists of different kinds. Act in accordance with your conscience and do not be misled to do what would bring you shame.


Do not use the Conference to write yourself into the Constitution or exclude someone in your community that you do not like. I recall how a Chief from Edoland used the Constituent Assembly to plan to exclude someone he did not like in the gubernatorial race. The plan of this Chief would have been left unnoticed but for my timely intervention that brought it to the attention of President Babangida and got it deleted.


Above all, the issues declared 'no go areas' by President Obasanjo are 'settled issues' according to General Babangida as far back as 1988 and they should remain so. They constitute what I'd call the rampart that as minority you should guard and guide.


By way of concluding this address let me go back to the point I made in the past when I reacted to the President's theory of the origin of the Nigerian What I teach my students and what I was taught in school and what is in standard text on Nigeria is that the three British officials who were critical to the founding of Nigeria were Lord Lewis Harcourt (to whom Port Harcourt was name after), Lord Frederick D. Lugard and Sir James Robertson. Is the President trying to tell the Nigerian people that these three White men were the God's agent in Africa? This is my interpretation of President Obasanjo's theory of Nigeria that God created Nigeria for a purpose. Who created Nigeria? It was the devil; not God of justice.

With all the injustice that these three white men inflicted on Nigerians, subsequent Nigerians failed to ask of God the simple request that King Solomon asked of God. See 2 Chronicles and 1 King for the kind of request that King Solomon asked of God. It was simple:

  1. the "discerning heart to govern his people" and
  2. the ability to "distinguish between right and wrong".

God then replied:

Since you have asked for this and not for long life, wealth
for yourself and death for your enemies, but discernment in
administering justice I will give you what you asked for;
I will give you a wise and discerning heart.
I will give you what you did not ask for, both riches and honour.

The Nigerian leaders have been pursuing economic end and not justice for the people that could come through a political end. In my view, the problem since 1960 especially after 1966 is the inability of the rulers, military and civilian to fix the political and paying too much attention to the economic. We failed since 1960 to ask God for a ruler with "a discerning heart" to rule Nigeria with justice and with the "ability to distinguish between the right and wrong" in our political life. That still remains my closing message to the Edo delegations. It is rather late than never; this plan to address the crisis in governance is coming at the twilight of this administration. This should have been the first task of this administration since 1999.

Of course the President took Nigerians as 'parasites', hence he named his first Political Adviser, a Professor of Parasitology. Political Matters is on the back burner of this administration since 1999 compared with the high profile that the Economic team enjoys in this administration. The Soludes, and the Okonjo-Iwealas and the Ezekweasilis of this world have no counterpart in the administration when it comes to political matters. The economic gurus might have been telling the President that he should violate the injunction of King Solomon who did not go to God for riches but for discerning spirit to rule his people with justice. What did God do for King Solomon? God gave him riches and honour. President Obasanjo should have followed this path of King Solomon. The economy would follow the political if the political order had been put right since 1999.

If justice returns to the land, God will give this country riches and honour. My prayer to you all on this occasion is that God should bless you all and Give you delegates 'discerning heart' as you seek justice for this land so that God in His infinite mercy would give our land 'riches' and 'honour'.



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