A Manual for a Sovereign National Conference in Nigeria
Leonard Karshima Shilgba, PhD
What service does Nigeria need from her legislators at this time? At this time, the foundation for national survival, national cohesion, and national development has not been laid yet. Now is not the time for self-deceit; now is not the time for pretence; it is certainly not the time for the usual menu. The menu must change, and the music tune must be altered. It is a necessary choice else the necessary thing would evolve.
Between January 4 and 5 1967, Nigeria had an opportunity at Aburi, Ghana to redress the heist of 1966 and lay a solid foundation for national development. In 1966, groups of military invaders, in two rivalry bands, shred the document of Nigeria’s memorandum of understanding (the 1963 constitution) and foisted on the country an aberration that has remained with us until today. An important accord reached at the Aburi conference, attended by Yakubu Gowon, the regional military governors—Odumegwu Ojukwu, Hassan Katsina, Mobolaji Anthony, Robert Adebayo, and David Ejoor—among other delegates, was that “all the decrees passed since January 15, 1966, and which detracted from previous powers and positions of regional governments, should be repealed if mutual confidence is to be restored.” The conference, which was in all composition and structure that of regional military leaders of Nigeria, recommended a confederation structure for Nigeria. The Aburi conference came on the heels of a failed ad hoc constitutional conference of September 1966 to deliberate Nigeria’s political future. Some of the reasons why that conference failed were the continued pogrom in the northern part of Nigeria against the Igbos (thus fueling suspicion and dissatisfaction with the forced union called Nigeria), a general disposition towards confederation as a national structure (except that the Mid-West region was against this), and the consequential position of the Eastern region (Igbos) that any region wishing to secede from Nigeria should be allowed to do so.
Following the Aburi conference, the Gowon military government unilaterally promulgated decree 8 of 1967, which vested both legislative and executive powers in the Supreme Military Council. Unfortunately, the civil war broke out because the confidence of a section of the peoples making up the British Nigeria could not be sustained any longer by such an act. Pre-empting this, Gowon created twelve artificial states, not for any noble reasons such as submission to the desire by minorities in Nigeria to come out of the shadows of the big three—Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba, and the Igbos. The Mid-West region had been created by a civilian government in 1963, thus liberating those minorities from Yoruba domination. But the minorities of the northern region and eastern region had continued under the shadows of the Hausa-Fulani and Igbos, respectively. The creation of the twelve states in 1967 was an eloquent example of how minorities in Nigeria are used and dumped. As anticipated by Gowon, the eastern minorities chose to jump at the opportunity to have and keep their artificial states than pursue a higher cause. The minorities of the north, especially the middle belt people, led by the Tivs, whose pogrom in the early sixties was one of the remote reasons for the first military intervention led by Nzeogwu, were massively mobilized to fight and kill their brothers in order to stop self-determination of their fellow human beings.
After the civil war in 1970, Gowon’s transition program, which included the making of a new constitution, census, re-organization of the armed forces, strengthening of the twelve artificial states created in 1967, and conduct of elections in 1976, among others, was thwarted by the Murtala Mohammed coup of 1975. In the reforms of 1976, revenue allocation process was completely different from what obtained under the 1963 constitution. Politicians were opposed to this, but to no avail. The Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) was inaugurated in 1975 by General Murtala Mohammed, and chaired by Rotimi Williams, with guidelines. In 1977 a Constitution Assembly (CA) of elected and appointed delegates met to “ratify” the CDC’s document. The following issues were highly contentious at the CA: The inclusion of sharia law, creation of states, scope of executive presidential powers, age limit for participation in elective politics, etc. The resolution of the CA was passed unto the Supreme Military Council (SMC) for final “ratification.” The SMC included more provisions such as the inclusion of Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba as additional official languages, and the use of federal character principle in the composition of armed forces officers’ corp. The 1979 constitution was then enacted by decree number 25 of 1978. That constitution completely excluded the fiscal federalism that existed in the people-oriented 1963 constitution. As mentioned above, politicians had rejected the revenue allocation process that became enshrined in the 1979 constitution.
The intervention of the military again in 1983, eventually led to yet another military-instigated and -supervised constitution of 1999. The 1999 constitution, which is the extant constitution today, is the result of decree number 24 of 1999. Let me produce the original preface of the 1999 constitution, which is being contested in court since 2007 as a fraud:
Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Promulgation) Decree
No 24 of 1999
Laws of the Federation of Nigeria
5th day of May 1999
Whereas the Federal Military Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in compliance with the Transition to Civil Rule (Political Programme) Decree 1998 has, through the Independent National Electoral Commission, conducted elections to the office of President and Vice-President, Governors and Deputy-Governors, Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen, the National Assembly, the House of Assembly and the local government councils;
And Whereas the Federal Military Government in furtherance of its commitment to hand over to a democratically elected civilian administration on 29th May 1999, inaugurated on 11th November 1998, the Constitutional Debate Co-ordinating Committee charged with responsibility to, among other things, pilot the debate on the new Constitution for Nigeria, co-ordinate and collate views and recommendations canvassed by, individuals and groups for a new Constitution for Nigeria;
And Whereas the Constitutional Debate Co-ordinating Committee benefited from the receipt of large volumes of memoranda from Nigerians at home and abroad and oral presentations at the public hearings at the debate centres throughout the country and the conclusions arrived thereat and also at various seminars, workshops and conferences organized and was convinced that the general consensus of opinion of Nigerians is the desire to retain the provisions of the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with some amendments;
And Whereas the Constitutional Debate Co-ordinating Committee has presented the report of its deliberations to the Provisional Ruling Council;
And Whereas the Provisional Ruling Council has approved the report subject to such amendments as are deemed necessary in the public interest and for the purpose of promoting the security, welfare and good governance and fostering the unity and progress of the people of Nigeria with a view to achieving its objective of handing over an enduring Constitution to the people of Nigeria;
And Whereas, it is necessary in accordance with the programme on transition to civil rule for the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1979 after necessary amendments and approval by the Provisional Ruling Council to be promulgated into a new Constitution for the Federal Republic of Nigeria in order to give the same force of law with effect from 29th May 1999:
Now therefore, the Federal Military Government hereby decrees as follows:-
1. (1) There shall be for Nigeria a Constitution which shall be as set out in the Schedule to this Decree.
(2) The Constitution set out in the Schedule to this Decree shall come into force on 29th May 1999.
(3) Whenever it may hereafter be necessary for the Constitution to be printed it shall be lawful for the Federal Government Printer to omit all parts of this Decree apart from the Schedule and the Constitution as so printed shall have the force of law notwithstanding the omission.
2. This Decree may be cited as the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Promulgation) Decree 1999.
Made at Abuja this 5th day of May 1999
General Abdulsalami Alhaji Abubakar
Head of State, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces
Federal Republic of Nigeria
POINTS TO CONSIDER:
1. The path towards enactment of the 1979 constitution was the same taken for the enactment of the 1999 constitution. First, a constitution draft committee produced a document, which was then set before a constitution assembly to ratify ex post facto, with inconsequential tweaking. The result of the constitution assembly was then handed over to the military council for editing and final approval as a document by “Nigerians”, with an imposition, “We the people…” What a fraud!
2. In the decree 24 above, it is claimed that the constitution draft committee “was convinced that the general consensus of opinion of Nigerians is the desire to retain the provisions of the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with some amendments.” I have shown how the 1979 constitution was equally an imposition. How could the “general consensus of opinion of Nigerians” favor an imposition with complete disregard of their desire to own their resources, and be free on their land? How could the “general consensus of opinion of Nigerians” favor enslavement of Nigerians in their homelands?
DEMANDS: We have seen the movie before. We the peoples of the Middle Belt, in alliance with our brethren from the Lower Niger federation and Yoruba federation reject the 1999 constitution as a fraud. However, we shall accept to bear with it in a transition period that must not exceed 2015. Accordingly, we call on the national assembly to commence work immediately on a bill that would set up a sovereign national conference, whose output would take effect from 2015. The legislature and executive at all levels of government in Nigeria would be transitional.
No constitutional draft committees would be set up. Each nation in Nigeria would take the responsibility of drafting their constitutions. Each national group (e.g. Lower Niger federation, Middle Belt, etc.,) shall voluntarily take responsibility of melding their draft constitutions under some harmonization process. The sovereign national conference bill shall allow a maximum period of six months for the ground work to be completed. At the end of that, a sovereign national conference shall hold at Abuja, of all nationalities in Nigeria, who shall select their delegates in a process completely decided by them, and attend the conference at their cost, with no funding from the central government.
The conference shall last for no more than three months. The final document of the conference shall be voted on by all Nigerians in a referendum to be supervised by the United Nations. A simple majority vote shall make it to become law. The referendum shall hold not later than one month after completion of conference proceedings, and the referendum shall be conducted over a period of one week, during which the result shall be declared.
DIRE CONSEQUENCES: If the national assembly ignores the overwhelming and growing swell of consensus for a sovereign national conference, the future of Nigeria shall not be guaranteed. We the Middle Belt people shall lay claim on Abuja with its hundreds of billions of dollars worth of assets; the Lower Niger people shall lay hold of their oil resources; the Yoruba federation shall take over their ports. The Tambuwal-led House of Representatives should make history, even as the House has defied, and rightly so, the status quo and chosen the path of independence. We are prepared to work with our representatives to rescue of country from the jackals.
Leonard Karshima Shilgba is an Associate Professor of Mathematics with the American University of Nigeria and President of the Nigeria Rally Movement (www.nigeriarally.org ). Leonard Shilgba is also the Coordinator of the Middle Belt Federation under the Middle Belt Coalition agenda.