National Conference: Glimpses of A Likely Yoruba Agenda
 

By

 

Clifford Ndujihe

 

 

culled from Guardian, January 24, 2005

 

In their quest to aggregate an agenda to be presented by the Yoruba to the forthcoming National Conference, traditional rulers and leaders of thought of the ethnic group will meet on January 28.

At the meeting, a follow-up to the inaugural parley held on January 14, the leaders would entertain reports from the Agenda and Logistics Committees. This is in preparation for an enlarged meeting of Yoruba leaders scheduled for February 11.

The gathering is expected to boost the wave of reconciliation blowing across Yoruba land. Leaders of the Afenifere and Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) have closed ranks. Their debacle had been on since 1999. And the internal crisis in Afenifere is about to be resolved with the leaders pledging to sheathe their swords in the interest of the group.

The Agenda Committee is chaired by Second Republic Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Richard Akinjide (SAN). The members are Chief Olu Falae, Prof Bolaji Akinyemi, Dr. Yemi Farounbi, Chief Olabode George, and Gen. Alani Akirinade, Mrs. Yemi Odukoya and Gani Adams.

The logistics committee has Senator Femi Okurounmu (Chairman), Adm. Akin Aduwo (rtd), Dr. Kunle Olajide, Prof. Olu Aina, and Dr. Tunji Otegbeye among others.

The agenda committee was mandated to gather all reports and documents concerning Yoruba constitution and come up with a common position. As a working tool, members of the committee have the Yoruba Agenda, a document prepared in 1994 and published on January 17, 2005 as "a guide for the Yoruba constitutional writing efforts now and in the future."
The Yoruba Agenda was prepared from the following documents among others:
 

The document was put together by participants drawn from politics, military, law, journalism, business, academics, human rights, public service, professionals and militant groups with the aim of helping to fashion a federal constitution for Nigeria.

"We, Yoruba, have watched ourselves over many decades saying the same things in different ways with varying emphases concerning our common nationality. We even know that what we are saying is not different from what our forebears believed, said and practised under a federal structure before the intervention of the Nigeria military in governance in 1966.

"The Yoruba people have been part of Nigeria since the amalgamation of 1914. This forced marriage has produced tension and difficult moments. Now, to chart a course for the future, safeguard the destiny of the Yoruba people and preserve the health of the Nigerian federation, we have come together to produce The Yoruba Agenda," they said.

According to the dictates of the agenda, every Yoruba has a covenant to "solemnly undertake, with God's help," to seek, with all his mind and might, "every opportunity to achieve autonomy and self government for Yoruba land within one Nigeria."
With a population of 25 million (1991 census) and extensive landmass, Yoruba land is more populous than 20 European countries; 17 countries in America; 13 Middle East nations; and six in Asia.

Yoruba leaders believe that the inherent advantages in their large population and landmass cannot be fully explored to the betterment of their citizenry in the current "Quasi-unitary constitution" of Nigeria.

"While the market potentials and military strengths derivable from 'One Nigeria' are attractive, the contradictions in the present constitution bear no appreciable benefit for the Yoruba. Therefore, with regard to all matters of economy, internal security and social responsibilities, the Yoruba yearn to be autonomous, while they prefer to continue to collaborate with, but not to be subordinated to other ethnic nationalities in administering the central government of Nigeria," they said.

In separate chats with The Guardian, Yoruba leaders said the only way out of the quagmire was the convocation of a truly Yoruba National Conference to fashion out the Yoruba Constitution.

At the instance of Yoruba Royal fathers, the inaugural leaders of thought meeting had representatives of the Afenifere and Yoruba Council of Elders among others in attendance.

The pursuit of the agenda appears to have re-ignited the fire of Yoruba unity. The YCE and Afenifere, which had experienced strained relations, are now working together. According to Falae, the cordial relations have been on for six months and would continue. And the crisis in Afenifere, which balkanised the group into two is being tackled.

Leaders of the two groups will meet tomorrow in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital to work out the terms of reconciliation.

In separate telephone chats with The Guardian, Chief Supo Shonibare (publicity secretary, Fasoranti faction), Prince Yinka Odumakin (publicity secretary, Fasanmi faction) and Falae said the two camps have come to the realisation that there was no need to continue the fight. Ending the fight is the only way they hoped to safeguard and protect the interests of the Yoruba nation.

As a measure of the new rapprochement, leaders of Afenifere and YCE announced their rejection of the proposed national dialogue jointly after a meeting at Isara-Remo, Ogun State.

Dr. Kunle Olajide, YCE secretary general who spoke to reporters at the end of the meeting said their preference would be a conference at which ethnic nationalities would freely elect their own representatives and the decision taken subjected only to a national referendum.

Initially, the presence of George at the meeting was interpreted to mean as the leaders' acceptance of Obasanjo's 'national dialogue.'
The Acting Leader of Afenifere, Reuben Fasoranti was to refute statements credited to him that the pan-Yoruba socio-political group would attend the Federal Government's proposed national dialogue.

According to Supo Shonibare, the national publicity secretary of Afenifere: "The statement misrepresents Fasoranti's action and that of Afenifere because Afenifere believes in people-oriented constitution, which can only derive its authority and legitimacy from the Sovereign National Conference (SNC).

Notable Afenifere leaders at the meeting included Senator Femi Okunrounmu, Chief Olu Falae, Ayo Adebanjo and Shonibare.

Shonibare said Afenifere attended the meeting because "Yoruba people need to be united and there is need for a credible national conference which remains as a fixed feature of our political landscape since the era of military interregnum".

Faulting the method adopted by the government for the national dialogue, he said the process was worse than a coup "as it has the dishonest tinge of legitimacy by purporting to be democratic.

"We need to evolve quickly a democratic system which acknowledges the failure of the structures exercising functions of government on the basis of the contract which gave birth to Nigeria. That contract is as contained in the "Independence Constitution. The most distinguishing feature of the Independence Constitution is that it could justifiably be described as a federal constitution. It is only the SNC that can address the running sore on the body polity," he added.

In a chart with The Guardian, Adams, said the Agenda Committee was making efforts to contact all Yoruba groups for their input before submitting their report.

"We have concluded plans to have a common position for the Yoruba race. We have been given an assignment to link up with all the Yoruba groups.

Asked if he accepts President Obasanjo's national dialogue, the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) president said the issue is not to allow the conference to catch Yoruba people unawares.

"We have to fashion our agenda. Attending or not attending the national dialogue is not the problem. We are putting our position together so that we can speak with one voice," he added.

Nigeria needs total overhaul
Speaking in the same vein, Falae who was the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and All Peoples Party (APP) joint presidential candidate in the 1999 polls, said what the country needs now is restructuring of the polity.

Stressing that their efforts were not geared towards the President's dialogue "because we have not been invited and we will react appropriately when invited," he said true federalism could only come about through a Sovereign National Conference (SNC).
Citing portions of his book: The Way Forward; Economy and Politics," he said he believes the word 'restructuring entered Nigeria's political vocabulary about 15 years ago when Chief Anthony Enahoro launched the Movement for National Reformation (MNR), with a blue-print on how Nigeria should be re-arranged into six or eight regions. Since then, the idea has become popular and has been embraced by various political and civil rights organisations."
Falae said the annulment of Basorun Abiola's election victory in June 1993 triggered a political struggle led by the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), whose twin battle cries were "actualisation of the June 12 victory" and "restructuring". Clearly, the leaders of NADECO, among whom I am proud to be numbered, were convinced then as now that Bashorun Abiola's election was annulled because of the over concentration of power and resources at the centre. They believed, and still do, that if the country were to return to the decentralised and genuine federation, which we negotiated with, and obtained from the British just before independence, the competition for power at the centre would be moderated and the resulting allocation of more responsibilities and revenue and other resources to the states and regions, would engender keen but healthy competition for economic and social development.

From what had been said so far, it is clear that restructuring is about political and constitutional change. But change from what to what? Clearly, the change envisaged is from the present quasi-unitary constitution, which the military has imposed on us. The constitution we are supposed to be operating at present is a fraud. It is called a Federal Constitution but its contents make it abundantly clear that it is more unitary than federal.
"A few examples will make the point. In a genuine federation, we have different tiers of government, each of which is supreme within the powers and responsibilities allocated to it in the constitution. Each being a government, it should have the constitutional power and authority to enforce its own laws and other enactment through a police force. In other words, if ours were a genuine federation, both the state and local governments should have their own police forces for enforcing their own laws or by-laws respectively. People of my generation still remember that every Native Authority i.e. Local Government or Local Authority had its own separate police force in the colonial era. When a regional constitution was introduced in 1954, we also had a regional police force at least in the Western Region.
"Any organisation which is prevented by the constitution from enforcing its own enactment may be called an administration or authority but certainly not a government, because what distinguishes a government from any other organisation or group in society, is its power to legitimately make laws and enforce them. Once this fundamental power is denied or abridged whoever exercises what is left is certainly not a government.

It is thus clear that what we now have in Nigeria is this: Federal Government, 36 States Administration and about 774 elected Administrative Committees. The fact that State and Local Authorities do not have police forces is made worse by the provision in Section 215 subsection 4:
Subject to the provision of this section, the Governor of a state or such commissioner of the government of a state as he may authorise in that behalf, may give to the Commissioner of Police of that state such lawful directions with respect to the maintenance and security of public safety and public order within the state as he may consider necessary and the Commissioner of Police shall comply with those directions or cause them to be complied with: Provided that before carrying out any such directions under the foregoing provisions of this sub-section the Commissioner of Police may request that the matter be referred to the President or such minister of the Government of the Federal as may be authorised in that behalf by the President for his directions.

The second illustration of the unitarist nature of our present constitution is in the area of public finance. In section 162 sub-sections 7, the constitution provides as follows:
Each State shall pay to local government council in its area of jurisdiction such proportion of its total revenue on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.

In other words, the Constitution empowers the Federal Government acting through the National Assembly, to dictate to the State Governor and State Assembly how the revenues of the states shall be allocated between the state and local governments in the state. This is not only antithetical to the federal principle, it is also a form of inter-governmental dictatorship which even the military never attempted from 1966 until May 29, 1999. Why a civilian Federal Government has been invested with such unusual powers remains a puzzle.
My own guess is that Abacha, in his madness, put such a provision in the constitution so that after he would have succeeded himself, he would still be in a position to decide the fate of every government, both state and local, in Nigeria. Again, this provision is a candidate for elimination.

There are hundreds of these unitary provisions in the Constitution. One more example will suffice. In Section 174 sub-section(C), the constitution states:
The Attorney General of the federation shall have power to discontinue at any stage before judgment is delivered, any such criminal proceedings instituted or undertaken by him or any other authority or person.

This is a massive invasion of the constitutional domain of the state government. Which must not be tolerated in any civilised society.

How restructuring can be done
I hope these examples have established the need for constitutional changes in Nigeria. What may not be clear as yet is whether the changes can be accomplished through amendments to the constitution, or whether they are such that cannot be affected by means of amendments. It is my contention that the changes that need to be made to return Nigeria to a genuine federation are so massive and fundamental that not only do we have to re-write the entire constitution, but we also have to discuss and agree on a new political charter, which will constitute the political foundation for a new Constitution. The decision of that convention or conference must per force be final and binding since sovereignty resides in the people. This is the Sovereign National Conference (SNC).

It has been argued by others that since the National Assembly has the constitutional power to amend the constitution, there is no need for a Sovereign National Conference. I disagree with that point of view for a number of reasons.
In the first place, the amendments to be made are so many and fundamental that the National Assembly, which is usually unable to pass the annual budget for months, will probably spend the rest of its term passing less than 10 per cent of the desired amendments.

Secondly, if we are to return to the kind of federation, which we had at Independence, each State or Region must have its own Constitution.

This may sound strange to the younger generation. But it is a fact that Nigeria entered Independence with four constitutions: the Federal Constitution, the Constitution of Eastern Nigeria; the Constitution of Northern Nigeria; and the Constitution of Western Nigeria. In 1963, on the creation of the Mid-Western region, a fifth Constitution came into force: The Constitution of Midwestern Nigeria. The contents of all the Constitutions were agreed upon at the London Constitutional Conference of 1958 and were, therefore, consistent with one another.

The point to note here is that once the basic powers of the regions had been agreed, the regional government proceeded to draft their Constitution, adopting different styles and laying emphasis on those areas that were of priority interest to them.

In other words, while the three regional Constitutions conferred the same constitutional power on the regional governments, the three Constitutions were markedly different in other respects. This is constitutional diversity in unity. So if we return to the basic principles of the Independence Constitutions, each States, Region or Zone must have its own Constitution.

How can the National Assembly or any organisation or authority for that matter, amend the single Constitutional document which we now have, to generate 37 constitutions, one for the Federal Government and 36 for the States? Obviously the only way one constitution can metamorphose into 37 is through complete re-writing.

Since it was not within the contemplation of the voters that they were electing members of a constituent assembly during the National Assembly elections, it would be fraudulent and unconstitutional to smuggle constituent powers into the mandate of the National Assembly members after their election.

The much desired and fundamental constitutional reform is best approached through a Sovereign National Conference. Even if the National Assembly were competent to produce a new federalism, it is impossible from the existing constitution through mere amendments.

The most important objection to the National Assembly playing the role of the Sovereign National Conference is the fact that it does not contain in its membership, the representatives of many ethnic nationalities all of whom must have a voice in how we are to live together in the future. For example, Plateau State has 20 ethnic nationalities but only three Senators. Who will speak for the 17 un-represented ethnic nationalities whenever the Senate wants to create a new constitution for Nigeria?
The House of Representatives suffers from the same disability only to a lesser degree. The purpose of electing members of the National Assembly is lawmaking and not re-writing of the fundamental law, which is the Constitution. All the ethnic nationalities must be fairly and directly represented at a sovereign conference, which will determine their future. No ethnic group would wish to be represented by another at such a meeting.

There are those who fear that a Sovereign National Conference may lead to the break-up of the country. In my view, this fear is misplaced. As far as I know, most people do not want a break-up of the country. What they want is a fairer arrangement that will enable every group to progress at its own pace and in accordance with its own economic, political, social and cultural priorities. In any case, avoiding dialogue, which is what a sovereign conference is all about, is more likely to lead to a break-up.
What has been happening all over the country since the return to civil rule supports my contention? The declaration of Sharia in some states in the North, which has now plunged the nation into an orgy of violence, is in my view, a classical example of unilateral assertion of self-determination. What we are suggesting for discussion in a sovereign conference is what is now being implemented by Sharia protagonists: ethnic self-determination. It is not only Zamfara that needs to assert how it would like to live and ruled, the rest of Nigeria has the same desire and should be allowed to argue for their own preferred federation in a sovereign conference.

I agree that a sovereign conference may be turbulent and issues may be hotly debated, but I feel certain that it will be far better than what has been happening in certain parts of the country, especially in Kaduna and Delta States.

It is instructive that the British Government, in its reaction to the carnage and destruction in Kaduna, advised us to adopt dialogue as the answer to our problem. Dialogue is the very core and essence of a Sovereign National Conference for, if we are to dialogue, we must meet face-to-face and sit down together to discuss our common concerns. Dialogue or a Sovereign National Conference is now inevitable.

My only fear is that it may not be available as a feasible option for long. The longer we delay in convening such a conference, the more likely it is that frustrated nationalities and other disaffected groups in society will take the law into their own hands. As law and order breaks down all over the place and violence takes hold across the nation, most people are unlikely to leave the safety of their homes to attend any sovereign conference if one were to be called in those circumstances. The Sovereign National Conference may be our last recipe for avoiding anarchy.

Another ground on which some people oppose the idea of a sovereign conference is the alleged duplication of sovereignties. Those of this persuasion ask; "Since government is sovereign, how can we have any other organisation claiming sovereignty in the same country and at the same time?" This question can only arise out of ignorance of what a sovereign conference is required to do. There is not the slightest intention of setting up any rival sovereign entity; that will be pure anarchy.

As conceived, the Sovereign National Conference will have nothing whatsoever to do with the existing Federal, State and Local Government executives or Legislatures, which have been elected under the present constitution for a stated term.

It follows that the President, Governors, Local Government Chairmen and members of the Senate, House of Assembly and Councillors will all spend their full term and will not be interfered with in any shape or form by the Sovereign National Conference which will only take political decisions that will be the basis for drafting our future Federal, and State/Regional Constitutions.

If the conference were convened now, whatever Constitutions emanate from its decisions can only be used, at the earliest, for the elections taking place in 2007.

The sovereignty of the conference only means that its decisions regarding the future of the polity shall be final and binding, that is to say, no other person, body or authority will have the power to cancel or amend its decisions; that is to its sovereignties, neither will the conference interfere with the existing governments at Federal, State or Local levels.

Some argue that since the President has already set up a committee to review the constitution, there is no need any longer to have a Sovereign National Conference. First of all, we should remember that candidate Obasanjo made it clear while campaigning for office that he did not believe in restructuring nor in a Sovereign National Conference. What evidence do we now have for believing that he has now changed his position in any fundamental manner?
Indeed, while he was addressing some of us at Aso Rock before he set up the Constitution Review Committee, he only spoke about some defects or inadequacies in the Constitution. He did not say that the Constitution was fatally flawed. One, therefore, suspects that what he expects the committee to do is to recommend some not-so-fundamental amendments to the constitution. In other words, he seems to believe that the Constitution needs only a minor operation while I am of the firm view that what is required is major surgery.

The President may, therefore, decide to take no action or take only tentative and half-hearted action if the committee recommends far reaching amendments to the Constitution. We do not believe that the President is prepared to go the whole hog on restructuring. We cannot, therefore, rely on his initiative 100 per cent. Even if he is favourably disposed towards fundamental change in the Constitution, he has no power to alter a single word in the Constitution. He himself can only make recommendation to the National Assembly, which, as we have seen earlier, suffers serious political disabilities as an organ for re-writing the Constitution.


Moreover, while there are provisions in the constitution for amendments, there are none for re-writing the entire document; and restructuring, to be meaningful, must of necessity entail re-defining the political frame-work for new constitutions which will then have to be re-written at both Federal and Regional/State levels.


The gathering is expected to boost the wave of reconciliation blowing across Yoruba land. Leaders of the Afenifere and Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) have closed ranks. Their debacle had been on since 1999. And the internal crisis in Afenifere is about to be resolved with the leaders pledging to sheathe their swords in the interest of the group