By Adewale Kupoluyi
AS the nation marked another Democracy Day on June 12 this year, the journey to statehood came once again into the front-burner and offered a renewed opportunity to look into the past, reflect on the present and project into the future. No doubt, the national question borders on those critical issues threatening our corporate existence: devolution of powers, fiscal autonomy, state/community policing, form or cost of governance, constitutional debacle, political dominance, and sectarian crises, among others. These myriads of problems continue to ignite conflicts, breed distrust, and promote divisions among Nigerians. The truth is that unless and until these factors are addressed, the quest for nationhood may be elusive. In the search for a way out, the country has to put together, the litany of reports of panels, committees, commissions, conferences, and other administrative bodies, dig into the problems and find possible solutions that can address the centrifugal forces and threats. To date, national discourse is still actively on-going in the media, state and national legislature, town hall meetings, think-tanks, empirical studies, universities, and research centres within and outside the country.
For now, there is the need to change our methodology by taking a pause, go into the archives, revisit and reflect on the outcomes of past brainstorming sessions before and after our political independence in 1960 and chart a way forward. ‘Archives’ is being used in the context that the various recommendations appear to have been partly or completely abandoned. Why must we change strategy?
First, many people are tired of talking without getting results. The narratives have been the same over and over without putting in place pragmatic plans to match words with actions. Secondly, people are wondering about what happened to the colossal amount of resources expended as allowances, production of reports and others at the various fora. Thirdly, the scope and terms of reference given to past platforms have been comprehensive enough to tackle national problems. What then is new that we should still spend precious time and resources debating?
Irrespective of the administration or regime that set them up, attempts would be made to mention some of these administrative bodies and structures and then ask ourselves whether we to should continue talking or simply go into the archives, harvest past findings, suggestions, and recommendations for possible implementation. The list is not exhaustive and does not follow any particular sequence or chronological order in this essay.
The Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission of Nigeria, also known as the Oputa Panel, investigated human rights violations during the military era from 1984 to 1999. Hon. Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, was chairman of the commission, which worked towards unifying communities that were previously in conflict in a bid to reconcile the various Nigerian communities and groups of people enmeshed in conflicts under the military regimes. The commission later shifted focus to ‘gross’ human rights violations by and requested for more time to investigate violations between 1966 and 1990. The Presidential Committee on the 2011 Election Violence and Civil Disturbances in Nigeria was headed by an Islamic judge, Sheikh Ahmed Lemu, a retired Grand Khadi, who led a panel of 22 brilliant minds that investigated the causes of violent conflicts and recommended how to prevent such violence and civil disturbances. The committee identified the root cause of the problem traceable to bad governance, corruption, and the culture of impunity surrounding political, ethnic, and religious violence.
The former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Muhammadu Uwais’ Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) report had recommended precise measures that would improve the nation’s electoral process and environment, how to strengthen the legal frameworks in enhancing the independence of the electoral management body, and how to improve the performance of various institutions and stakeholders in the electoral process. Furthermore, the Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies was constituted in response to the excessive costs, duplication, and overlapping functions in government’s several and multiple agencies. In the 800-page report, which was not until recently revisited by the government, had seven-member committee headed by Mr. Stephen Oronsaye, a former Head of Civil Service of the Federation, identified 541 federal parastatals and recommended the scrapping and the merging of others in which 102 agencies were affected and marked out to be abolished.
The 2014 National Conference, which was chaired by Hon. Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, produced over 10,000 pages of 22 reports and annexure, containing 600 recommendations on how to improve the political, economic, and social structures and overall regeneration of the country. The national conference report also proffers solutions to the contending issues of revenue sharing, two-tier police system, independent candidacy, justiciability of Chapter II of the 1999 Nigerian constitution, and the exclusion of state funding of pilgrimage and religious matters, among others. What should now be done? The Federal Government should put in place a broad group of Nigerians not exceeding 50 to go into the archives and critically study the hundreds of reports covering virtually all the facets of our national life for interrogation, harmonisation, and implementation.
Membership of the think-tank should be diverse considering the pluralistic nature of our society. Representation should be made up of the three arms of government, academia, youth, women, religious interests, private sectors, professional associations, media, and civil society organisations. Members should be given a free-hand to operate and within a time frame of six months to do an elaborate work without infusing any bias, extraneous and personal opinion into the work. Outcomes of the brainstorming session should be subject to a referendum for adoption by Nigerians. This effort should hopefully pave a way for reengineering and refocusing the nation towards the right path to enduring peace, stability, and development.
Kupoluyi writes in from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogun State