In the absence of a widely-accepted alternative, it is best to stick to the word, restructuring, that loosely-mouthed word in our recent political lexicon which some see as the cure-all elixir to purge Nigeria of all ills. General Sani Abacha did not use the word restructuring when he convoked the National Constitutional Conference in 1994. But, from what he had in mind, the late Head of State could have unknowingly restructured the country if the outcome of Confab ’94 saw the light of day.
In a manner of speaking, the report of Confab ‘94 remains our best compass. Rather sadly, it became expedient for General Abdulsalami Abubakar to shred documents that had the whiff of his successor to it. Without any doubt, General Abacha who was nudged into snatching power by the same people who turned round to become his implacable foes, was a divisive leader. When, therefore, General Abacha died after holding the country together for five difficult years, survival instincts demanded that his stop-gap successor to distance himself from administration in which, as Chief of Defence Staff, he was the third in command! The national emergency then was to heal wounds and woo opponents back. The strategy worked!
Central to the options before General Abubakar was to set up the (late) Justice Niki Tobi Committee to explore the way forward. The Committee members knew of the emergency at hand and hastily threw out the Report of Confab ’94 and its product, the 1995 draft Constitution. The Committee dismissed the Report for being the ‘product of a disputed legitimacy’ which ‘suffered a crisis of identity in the public consciousness’. In its place, the Niki Tobi Committee members performed a cheap and hasty plastic surgery on the 1979 Constitution which they claimed ‘had been tried and tested’! In the haste to bury the ghost of Abacha, we ended up with a cheap ‘Tokunbo’ Constitution!
All is not lost, though, and we can revisit the Report of Confab ’94 to adopt areas that provide answers to some of our questions. As things stand today, Nigeria’s official six geo-political zones remains the most enduring legacy of General Abacha. In any case, the zones were meant to be the building blocks for the fundamental changes envisaged by the 1995 draft Constitution which made provision for six principal offices of five-year single-term duration to rotate among the zones. The document made provision for the offices of president, vice president, senate president, house speaker as well as the position of prime minister and deputy prime minister.
The ‘Abacha document’ had something for everybody. Had political exigencies not prevailed on General Abubakar into throwing away the baby with the bathwater, by now, Nigeria would have experimented with the Abacha formula for twenty of the ‘thirty-year transition period’ which aim was to ‘promote national cohesion and integration’, after which merit and competence would replace rotation in determining who gets what. As envisaged by the Abacha document, at no point in time would any of the six geo-political zones have cause to complain of marginalization since there was always going to be one ‘juicy’ office to be vied for every five years. Had death not taken Abacha off the stage, five of the six geo-political zones would have produced a president for the country!
What this means is that, by 2023, each of the six geopolitical zones would have produced a president, a vice president, prime minister, deputy prime minister, president of the Senate and speaker of the House of Representatives for a single term of five-year duration! This unique provision eliminates the incumbency factor and its attendant abuses. Since the draft envisaged its replication at state levels, the president and other principal officers as well as state governors and stand disqualified from standing election for the same office during their five-year single term incumbency!
As a matter of fact, the Abacha document was so comprehensive to have anticipated the untenable and wrong-headed agitation for Biafra and the hollow talk of marginalization that comes with it. Now, can and, should Nigerians continue to play the ostrich and allow lawlessness to dominate the political scene? Can we afford to allow virtual bandits to dictate how the country is run? Are we to allow a rambunctious few to continue to stampede us and dominate national discourse?
Of course, the talk of dissolving Nigeria that lacks substance. Yes, there is need to restructure and this should not be mistaken for a breakup as some have been programmed to believe. We need to restructure in a way every section of the country will, at all times, be appropriately represented in governance. The Abacha draft took care of these and more. The document suggested a five-year single-term for elective posts. To restructure in a way that lawmaking will be inexpensive and effective, the Abacha draft made provision for part-time lawmaking!
Of course, Nigeria should restructure in a way that treasury looters will not get dubious clean bills from regular courts or be shielded from prosecution. It may interest Nigerians and their elected representatives that there is no proclamation for the much-abused immunity clause for any public office holder in the Abacha draft! Not even the president, his deputy and governors and their deputies as is the case now or, for principal officers of the National Assembly, as was canvassed by pestiferous principal officers of the 8th Assembly.
Two decades after ‘throwing away the baby with the bath water’, Nigerians are still playing the ostrich instead of sobering up and overgrowing the prejudices of the Abacha era! Many of those who concede today that Abacha was not entirely evil allude to the uniqueness of the 1995 document. Take time to scrutinize the Abacha document and you will readily admit there would not have been Boko Haram, no IPOB and, most certainly, no Niger Delta insurgency if the nation was regulated by the provisions of the document.
In the midst of the rot at the 8th National Assembly, we may have to wait for the 9th National Assembly with the hope that it will be peopled and led by straight-thinking and non-corruptive lawmakers who should consider it a matter of urgency to take another look at the Abacha Document.
Magaji wrote this piece from Abuja.