Challenge of the national question and corrupt polity
On this great and memorable occasion of the 85th Birthday of our one and only Prof. Ben Nwabueze, Oduah and Okwuloha of Atani, it is a great pleasure to review his new book, The National Question and Corruption as Nigeria’s Two Most Challenging and Overriding Problems with Form of Government as the Third Agitating Issue (John Archers Publishers Ltd., Ibadan; 2016).
Nwabueze is by national, African, and global acclaim a thoroughbred law academician and intellectual. He is an oracle, a prodigy, an Iroko, indeed a wizard, a star and a wonder-man in the discipline of law, and especially in constitutional law exposition and application. When Prof. Nwabueze writes or speaks in that area, the issue is definitively settled and any contrary view may well perch as an aberration or heresy. Prof. Nwabueze is indeed Nigeria’s Socrates. For a person in the frame of Prof. Nwabueze, it is not surprising that his writing and speaking enterprise radiates to all corners of the globe that have even the most tenuous connection with constitutional law.
As of this date, precisely for the past 53 years (since a 1963), Prof. Nwabueze has written and published a total of over 32 books, all sole-authored, including two in multiple volumes. Nwabueze’s books share a common and abiding characteristic of being authoritative, popular and incomparable. Indeed, there are no two Nwabuezes as yet in Nigeria in the discipline of law and academics. I must here publicly acknowledge with pride and thanks that his very first two books – The Machinery of Justice in Nigeria, and Constitutional Law of the Nigeria Republic – both respectively published in 1963 and 1964 by Butterworths of London, were the books that happily ushered me into my law studies at the then University of Ife when I entered the University in 1963 and provided me the solid foundation that lubricated and assured my easy and unassailed progression to the end. Prof., I am immensely grateful.
Nwabueze seems to have been motivated to write his new book here under review by a strong and abiding patriotic concern for the unity, stability and prosperity of our country, Nigeria. He indicates this in the very opening words of his Preface to the book when he states:
“Our fond dream, as patriots, is that our beloved Nigeria, brought into existence 102 years ago as a single state but comprising over 300 different ethnic nationalities, should be transformed into one nation, powerful, prosperous and a leading light in the African continent. The actualisation of the dream is the bedeviling issue now confronting us. It is an issue bristling with problems of an intractable nature”.
The book, as the title clearly indicates, is made up of Three Parts. Part One – its main Part – consists of seven chapters, 1 to 7, and kicks off in chapter 1 with an explanation of the true essence and core meaning of the term, ‘the National Question’. According to the author,
The National Question is concerned with how, while preserving something of their separate identities, the immense number of diverse ethnic groups comprised in the territorial area of the state created with the name Nigeria and forcibly imposed by British colonialism can be coalesced and united into one nation and how the state so created can order the relations among the constituent groups to facilitate such coalescing. That is the essence and the core meaning of the term, ‘the National Question’.
Continuing, the author (still in chapter 1) points out that the National Question as thus defined, encapsulates four questions which combine together to make it the most intractable problem that it is. He then sets out the four questions at page 3, weaving each of them in his typically incisive and exhilarating ‘Nwabuezian’ style. He then sets out and proceeds at pages 4 – 35 to unleash, illustrate and bluntly discuss the four questions.
Briefly, the four questions, between them, strongly and succinctly identify all the fundamental, intractable and, as the author puts it, existential problems of nationhood confronting Nigeria, including the following:
Structural Deformities in the Foundation of the Nigerian State. The author explains this to mean that the present Nigerian state is built upon a foundation of over 300 different ethnic nationalities differing from each other in fundamental respects which made the edifice wobbly, shaky, dysfunctional and riven by one conflict or crisis after another, thereby impeding progress and development.
Imbedded and Acute Ethnicity and Religion. Here, the author is of the view that any drive in the country towards building or creating a Nigerian nation would be sheer self-delusion if it did not recognize the character of the ethnic groups as separate nationalities or if it tried to obliterate them completely. In any drive towards the creation of a nation out of a diversity of ethnic groups existing as separate territorial entities, the existence of such groups should be openly and frankly recognized.
The Citizenship Right of Participation in Rulership and its Implementation by Means of the Rotation of Rulership Amongst the Ethnic Groups. Here, the author observes that the rotation of the office of head of government or president among the ethnic groups is an issue that generates so much controversy because of the ethnic interests, religious interests and selfish individual interests invariably involved.
The Problem of Balancing the Divergent Demands for the Preservation of the Separate Identities of the Component Diverse Groups and their Creation into One, United Nation. Here, the author observes that balancing the divergent demand for the preservation of something of the separate identifies of the component ethnic groups with their creation into one, united nation is perhaps the most intractable and challenging dimension of the National Question in Nigeria.
Nwabueze’s book is a must-read for any person, organization or institution interested in the existence and survival of Nigeria as a united corporate entity. What the author said in Part One, Chapters 1 – 7 of the book, as well as in his Preface, seeks to show the National Question as Nigeria’s most challenging and overriding problem.
The author, again in his Preface, page xvii, and in Chapter 8, recognizes Corruption as a big problem but argues that the problem of corruption is not a basic, fundamental or existential one such as to erect it into a murderous monster. It is, therefore, a mistake, he concludes, to portray it as an existential problem, as President Buhari did at a recent Conference when he said:
Our fight against corruption is not just a moral battle for virtue and righteousness in our land. It is a fight for the soul and substance of our nation. This is why we must see it as an existential threat; if we don’t kill it, it will kill us (emphasis supplied).
Nwabueze admits, however, that the problem of corruption is a most challenging one but maintains that it has nothing to do with the “soul and substance of our nation”, and he poses the important question: “Why is corruption so portrayed by President Buhari?” Nwabueze offers an interesting and thought-provoking explanation to this question in his Preface to the book (page xviii). But I will, in this Review, leave the author’s explanation out in order, hopefully, for those curious and interested to do the needful and see the explanation.
Part Three of the book (the last Part), containing Chapters 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20, is devoted to a discussion of the “Form of Government”. In this part, Nwabueze did what he knows best, and robustly discuses many vibrant and important contemporary issues of federalism and constitutionalism, such as, The Single Executive of the Presidential System Versus Plural or Split Executive System (Ch. 16); Separation of Powers as a Distinctive Element of the American Presidential System (Ch. 17); The Cost of the Presidential System (Ch. 18); The Enormous Powers of the Single Executive in Relation to the Constitutional Limitations on the State’s Power to Coerce the Individual by Force or Violence (Ch. 19); and Good Education, Intellectualism, Experience on Governance and Integrity as Pre-requisites for Effective Presidential Leadership in the Complex Circumstances of Nigeria (Ch. 20).
In conclusion, I need to point out and, perhaps emphasis, some important suggestions which the author, Nwabueze, Oduah and Okwuloha of Atani, made in the book as ways of addressing the problems of the National Question. He suggests, as ways of doing so: (i) the Convocation of a National Conference of Ethnic Nationalities; (ii) the Setting up of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as has been done in many other countries facing similar problems; (iii) the Restructuring of our Federal System; and (iv) the Adoption of a new Constitution through a Referendum – not exclusive of other ways of course.
Charles Udenze Ilegbune is a professor of law at the University of Abuja
I must not bring down the curtain on this Review without a word of commendation for the Publishers of this book, John Archers (Publishers) Limited, Ibadan, for the excellent work which they have done.
Thank you all for your kind attention, and thank you, Oduah, my indefatigable and kind Mentor and Friend, for this singular opportunity given to me. Once again, sincere Congratulations for your 85th Birthday from me and my Family and God’s continuing blessings to you and yours.
• Charles Udenze Ilegbune is a professor of law at the University of Abuja