Friday, 14 June 2013

Much ado about constitutional amendment

Should the president and governors have a single, six-year term or should we stick with the current two, four-year terms? Jonathan was at first vociferous in maintaining the status quo (he’s that sort of fellow) and then quickly changed his mind (he’s also that sort of fellow), with the proviso that any such constitutional amendment should not come into force until 2019. In other words, his position was solely dictated by whether or not he would be eligible to contest in 2015, after which the legislators were free to do as they liked. In the meantime, he is yet to make up his mind about whether he does in fact want a second term, except that everyone knows he does. So the Nigerian ship of state is buffeted this way and that while those who claim to be at the helm obsess over how they can remain there at whatever cost to the nation (and ultimately themselves), but that is hardly a new story.
What is a new story - and has been since we began this adventure called Nigeria by the geography books - is the vexed issue of the sovereign national conference, which everyone knows is the only hope for negotiating our way out of the stormy waters we have spent half-a-century precariously navigating, lucky to be still afloat - if only just. And that goes for everyone, even – or especially – those who profess to believe that tinkering with what was a bogus constitution to begin with will somehow fix the problem of too many feeling too aggrieved in a system which delivers only hardship. State police or not state police, the legislators pretend to ask themselves, before coming down firmly on the side of everything staying the same, and yet these same legislators know better than anyone that the present arrangement is not working, hence the state of emergency they recently rubber-stamped in three unfortunate states now being rampaged by soldiers answerable only to themselves, at least judging by the silence of (again) these same legislators amid reports of murder and mayhem. But nobody ever voted against their bank balance, at least in Nigeria, and so any hope that the few who continue to benefit from the present arrangement will suddenly wake up and do the right thing is like asking Obasanjo to forgive his enemies, Baba being perhaps the one who could have made the most difference but for the fact that his enemies turned out to be the people of the nation he ruled over twice, both times by an accident of fate.
As I have argued in earlier blogs, the time is long overdue since we, the people, should have taken matters into our own hands if we are at all serious about ‘moving the nation forward’, a venture which might even now be too late. The first thing to forget about is the 2015 elections even as the INEC chair assures us of a better outing than 2011 but which can only mean that we just might be lucky enough – enfranchised enough, if you please – to swop one set of rogues for another. It is noticeable that, in all the brouhaha surrounding the proposed constitutional amendments, and which has taken all of fourteen years to get thus far, nobody has raised the issue of independent candidates contesting under parties which do not have to conform to ‘federal character’, the concept itself being one of the greatest wheezes ever devised by any government anywhere.
Unfortunately, we still seem unable to grasp just how fragile this ship is, or how many rocks we haven’t been smashed up on, this apparently being because ‘God is a Nigerian’, as IBB once joked when referring to the bigger joke that was June 12. Take, for instance, The Patriots, the prominent group of ‘elders’ who came together many years ago to fight for ‘good governance’ but who lately resorted to begging the president and the legislators ‘to take all necessary steps for convening a national conference for the people of Nigeria to deliberate and agree on the terms and conditions on which they are to live together in peace and unity.’ It’s only annoying that they continue to feature so prominently in the pages of the newspapers, testimony to their perceived relevance in a society paralysed by the worship of authority and exemplified by The Patriots themselves.  Only recently, they hit upon the idea of calling on twelve ‘fathers of the nation’ to intervene with the presidency in their noble cause of restructuring Nigeria by sleight of hand. I’m sure the president will be delighted to give audience to the likes of Shehu Shagari, Grace Alele Williams and Maitama Sule in order that they might discuss their various failures that is the reason for the meeting in the first place. It will be noted, in any case, that the all-important ‘sovereign’ is necessarily excluded by the logic of the exercise, but which happens to be the only thing that matters.
What, then, stops this ‘sovereign’ – you and me, our friends and relatives – from coming together to write its own constitution, as the South Africans did even before Mandela embarked on his twenty-seven years?  Not a lot now that we can call each other on the telephone, a development which the current Senate President once famously thought laughable when he served as communications minister in a military regime, during which time he was reputed to have pocketed $70 million, enough to buy everybody a telephone except that telephones weren’t meant for the masses since they didn’t own golf courses in Ireland. Perhaps swapping khaki for agbada has made a democrat of him - if not a patriot – but, as William Hazlitt put it, ‘miracles occur, to be sure, but they are not to be had wholesale, or to order’. We will have to do it all by ourselves, just like our brothers and sisters did in the South Africa that Nigerians are now flocking to.
© Adewale Maja-Pearce

Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,

and Dream Chasers.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's page:

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