Reforming For Sustainable Development & Democracy


Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues




October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Reforming For Sustainable Development And Democracy




Joseph Ohiaba Suleiman




culled from THISDAY, May 06, 2005



The greatest thing in the world is not so much were we stand as in what direction we are moving. – Oliver Wendell Holmes

Anyone who has closely and passionately followed the trends in our nation's political evolution in the last few years could easily cut the air with a knife. Such social reading presents a benighted country on the perilous precipice of disintegration. The twilight of the atmosphere precedent to the political reform foreboded a disconcerting bedlam that if not vigorously contained could spell disaster for the country and render it a proverb and a byword in the comity of nations.

Vices of frightening description characterised the nation so unprecedently that superior democracies like America gave travel advisory to her citizens wishing to come to Nigeria to be cautious. There was mutual suspicion, ethnic chauvinism expressed through militia groups. There was insecurity of lives and properties as armed robbers and hired killers held the nation hostage. There was strident allegation of marginalisation by almost every tribe and everyone with the resultant clamour for equity, fairness and balance in the distribution of power and resources.

As if these were not enough, our politicians became turncoat patriots who elevated thuggery to a fine art and grew fat from morbid corruption. They imported arms into the country without let or hindrance to undo political opponents. We saw a government that became unrittingly paranoid of the opposition. We saw government officials who flagrantly violated the "due process" imperative in the award of contracts.

The Delta region "combusted almost inextinguishably on the issue of resource control and alleged government dereliction on the persistently thorny issue of environmental degradation. It was so serious that an activist, Asari Dokubo, confronted the government frontally in a militaristic manner leading to urgent exit of multinationals like Texaco, Total Fina ELF, Chevron and so on from the country.

The movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) and the movement for the Actualisationof the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Odua Peoples Congress (OPC), Ebira Youth Congress (EYC) were vehement in their agitations.

The scenario painted above was a pathetic reality of the state of the nation. But for the fact that Nigerians are tired of the tyranny and dishonesty of the military, a sanguinary putsch from revolutionary military officers would have been timely intervention.
Violence, restiveness and frenetic agitations are an implosive response of the people to implicit shortcomings of our leaders.
The citizens' call for sovereign national political reform conference pleads justification. It is not an entirely new development because conflicts had trailed the existence of Nigeria. The Constituion Drafting Committee of 1975, the Constituent Assembly of 1978, the Justice Anthony Aniagolu Constituent Assembly mooted by Babangida and the Constitution Drafting Committee headed by Justice Niki Tobi under General Abdulsalami in 1999 were all expression to mollify a disenchanted people.
But when a phenomenon that agitates a people becomes a recurring decimal, when it appears the evolutionary process is being advertently and flippantly tampered with, we must come to terms with the reality that the roof may come down if pillars are not erected immediately.

One of such pillars in the current trend and dispensation is the need for a holistic political reform that will address critical issues capable of rendering the nation moribund.
Democracy, as esoterically tantalizing as it is, can never thrive in  a chaotic and dissonant ambience.
The issue of power rotation is first of the octopus problem that must be resolved. Succeeding constitutions of this country mouth egalitarianism and equal opportunities for all. But we know, from historical hindsight, that this is all a charade. One section of the country or State must not dominate the other on the matter of power equilibrium. If that State or the country belongs to all of us, power must go round to ensure a sense of beloging. The pivotal representation of power is the presidency at the Federal, the Governorship at the State, and, Chairmanship at the Local Government level. Anybody from any part of the country should have access to the higehst political office either at the Federal, State or Local Government level.

The notion behind yester-years' geo-political restructuring of the country into six namely: South-East, South-south, South-west, North-east, North-west, and North-central, is to break the myth of the 'big-brothers' syndrome. In other words, no particular part of the country will use size and population as demanding parameter to capture the seat of power or persistently insist on it. This certainly conduces to the practice of democracy and ensures even development in the context of true federalism. Power rotation must also apply to states and local government councils. It is a criterion for peace and progress. It may not be a perfect democratic arrangement but it is a necessary safeguardto preserve our corporate entity as we transit to true democracy/stable polity. Afterall, every nation has its own brand of democracy. This may well be a Nigerian brand of democracy to take care of our peculiar problems.

Next that will help democracy and development thrive in this country is the issue of resource control. I personally believe that the federal government, if manned by integrity-conscious and value-eager leaders can control the resources of this country to ensure even development. But this it can by faithfully meeting the demands of the communities naturally endowed with these resources. Resources are providentially located. The communities endowed with robust resources must realise that other parts of the country not so endowed need to be taken care of. So demands must be modest and not selfish.

But the mordant irony besetting the Nigeria nation is that even the constitutionally guaranteed 13 per cent derivation formula meant to accrue proceeds to community hosting them seems not being faithfully implemented. Even if this is done, the extra-constitutional demands occasioned by environmental perils as oil spillage that wastes lands, farms, properties and lives or gas leakage that pollute the air and affect the health of the people, seem not often met. This is the crux of the fervid and torrid agitation in the oil rich Delta region of the country.

MOSOP leader, Ledum Mittee, in a hilarious but punchy submission in defence of the restiveness of Niger Delta Youths once captured the misery of the people. He reportedly said that when the youths requested for water, they were promised it was in the pipeline. When they requested for electricity, they were told it was in the pipeline. When they clamoured for education they were told it was seething in the pipeline. So, the youths then concluded they should open the pipeline to find out.
This submission is a biting sarcasm on the unfulfilling posture of the nation's leadership. It is a barbed criticism of the nation's phantom leadership. It paints Nigeria a groteque caricature of a never-do-well polity. This is what the political conference must address and reform. In essence, the conference ought to make submissiions that will help government put in place a salavaging machinery that will permanently end violent and wasteful agitations. If a democracy is threatened by trends like these, investors cannot sow in the country. And that throttles development.

A polticially reformed country will have an electoral body that is truely independent – independent of government funding, government influence and intrigues. The people certainly cannot have faith in an electoral body that almost always announces results in favour of the party in power almost throughout the country as if the country is a one-party state; as if that party is so popular even in the enclaves where ethnic hegemony entrenches a particular party therein. This practice of 'he who pays the piper dictates the tune', has triggered untold violence in our electoral system. It has made opposition to be unhealthy. It has led to tribunal and court actions that caused the defendant - government to spend the people's money defending herself.
While I believe in the presidential system, it still has to be tailored to the peculiar needs, culture and plurality of our country. Considering the sit-tight nature of our leaders, the avarice and official kleptomania of our leaders, considering the manipulative tendency of our politicians, a single term of five years for elective officers at national, state and local government levels will do. This provides not only a level-playing field for all actors but guarantee equal opportunity for all. It breaks the concept of political dynasty and eternal leadership.

Corruption has assumed the frightening dimension of a bubonic plague. In recent years, Transparency International, rated Nigeria the second most corrupt country in the world after Bangladesh. Corruption became a high profile practice from the top to bottom of the Nigerian social pyramid. You could not see your file except the clerk is 'settled'. You could not pass the police checkpoints until you have parted with gifts. Contractors disappeared with mobilisation fees.
The bribery scam involving key officials of the National Assembly smacks gross irresponsibility on the part of our leaders. First, former minister of the FCT, Nasir el-Rufai, alleged members of the National Assembly demanded bribe from him to approve his ministerial appointment. That time, the lawmakers felt the bold minister had dented their image. Recently, another can of worms was blown open. Professor Fabian Osuji, ex-education minister provenly awarded N55 million bribery to the lawmakers including Adolphus Wabara, Senate President, to increase the ministry's budget. There was the National Identity scam also. That bad. We definitely cannot continue like this!

But government's swift swoop on all the guilty officials must elicit applause. Part of what we envisage from the political reform is a situation where no one will be a sacred cow in this country. Perversion of justice weakens democracy and devlopment. Indeed while the president wielded his executive powers to bring culprits to book, we also envisage a thoroughbred and totally reformed judiciary which is a critical institution that can lubricate the engine of democracy and development in Nigeria.
We envisage, with the political reforms, a corruption-free society, beginning from the top to bottom, where for instance mediocrity is not elevated above meritocracy.

We envisage a politically reformed country that will be free of thuggery. Indeed thuggery from now should be seen as a deliberate felony. Much of it has the potential of destabilisation. It should be punishable with death. My area, the youth tend to view politically related killing or maiming as normal. This is so because of the lack of will on the part of government to prosecute and punish criminals who kill and maim in the name of political thuggery.

As Presient Obasanjo said: "the national political reform conference is not designed to dismember or disintegrate Nigeria. It is not established to encourage mudslinging; or to organise protest or subterranean political activities that could be detrimental to effective discussion. Rather, the conference is about designing the most appropriate and relevant institutional mechanism for managing our diversity". That caution is instructive. I believe the no-go areas spelt out by the president: federalism, presidentialism, federal character, unity for the country, secularity of the nation and so on are meant to sustain the Nigerian project for which many have laboured, fought and lost their lives. To me, this is in order and it is good for our collective aspirations for a united and peaceful Nigeria.

A nation that has lost faith and confidence in the executive, the legislature and the judiciary surely holds this conference close to her chest. The people will hold all of her patriotic submissions sacrosanct.
As a member of the conference, I regard this house in a messianic context. A drowning man, it is said, will clutch at a straw. The nation is almost drowning. But the conference, I believe is stronger than a straw. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, former governor of Anambra State and also a member  of the conference said that the unity of the country depends on the outcome of the conference. True. As Nigerians wait with bated breath, they should return to values of yesteryears of love: of caring and sharing; of being each other's keeper; of communialism; of faith in God as the all-important panacea to our problem.
Democracy, we believe is better than the most benevolent dictatorship. But it is all-participatory, to sustain it and move it from the threadbare defence of nascence.

For this reform to succeed, leadership has a crucial role to play. While the need for a holistic overhaul of our value system is imperative for all of us, it will even be more propitious on the part of our leaders to become moral exemplars. Nothing hamstrings a policy as when those who put it in a place patently violates its tenets. There is therefore need for our leaders to abide by the moral charter implicit in the reform we want. The anti-corruption war of Obasanjo is impacting on the nation's psyche so evidently because the president himself is living his sermon and crusade. When he began the crusade, it was treated, severally, to a satirical lampoon as a Pandora's box. But the Osuji example and the reference of the Wabaras to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commissiion (EFCC) shows a doggedly determined president bent on clearing the Augean stable from the top. It is a moral obligation on the part of leadership to show the way and the people will follow. This, to me is the road map to a reformed Nigeria that all of us will be proud to call our own; a Nigeria to defend and protect and, if possible, die for. This Conference cannot afford to fail Nigerians.


•Suleiman is a Kogi State Delegate to the National Political Reforms Conference, Abuja.


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