Ofeimun: The 2015 election and after (4)
Continued from yesterday
SPECIFIC to the General Election: what does need to be pointed out is that the angst and cynicism that gush from all directions arise precisely because of the refusal by the political parties to confront the issues that have been dealt with by the National Assembly and the National Conference in the process of making the new constitution. Across the country, only the former ACN members in the APC appeared to know how to drive the issues with consistency. With the two political parties virtually becoming Siamese, supposedly serious-minded and self-respecting Nigerians began to talk about the 2015 General Elections only in terms of how it could lead to violence and the break-up of Nigeria. Haba! It is like discussing a terminal caput for the country over trivialities. What is the serious matter to fight over but petty loot-sharing, which the current oil-crisis is turning into a joke? What it reveals is that there has been too much over-coding of an endgame for the country as if we are all seeking ways of acting in conformity with the hare-brained prognosis of some U.S. security outfit, which pencilled 2015 as the last year of the Nigerian Federation. Too many Nigerians on the corridors of power appear to have simply taken it as a challenge to amass either more power or more wealth for themselves in anticipation of the evil day. No question as to how to prevent it. Or what to do if some mischief-making group or powers, within or outside the country, were intent on realizing the unrealizable prognosis. Consequently, the average Nigerian is left to see the elections, not as a means of choosing aright because many Nigerians have been schooled by stomach infrastructurists to believe that the right to choose is not as good as immediate gratification. It ends with making all possible outcomes, any kind of change, appear desirable. Quite a mess: as there is absolutely no reason why Nigerians should so act like political suicides. I mean: even in the worst of times, rationality should not be removed from the national agenda.
Truth is: there is clearly a basis for choice in the forthcoming elections which need not depend on wishy-washy sentimentality but on hard-headed discrimination between merely surviving and creating a sound basis for thriving, and thriving well. Although the mode and manner of electoral management by the Independent National Electoral Commission leaves little room for great expectations, even for many of us who stuck out our necks in favour of Professor Attahiru Jega as the Chairman of INEC, there are good grounds for hoping that a great decision can come out of the General Elections that will put Nigeria on a path that leads to more rational decision-making. What must be borne in mind is that a country is not a once-for-all project. It is a continuing exercise, an everyday plebiscite which can take a turn for the worst only because a country’s best minds get distracted or fall asleep in moments of anxiety. Seen in this light, the General election is an opportunity that deserves to be used well. Those who want to wait for all the conditions to be correct before they exit from cynicism may have their point. But it is not good enough. A country need not sell itself short, or act thoughtlessly like drunks, whether out of frustration with an endless run of bad leaders or the hope that the future can be bribed by fudging the present. Hence, it should matter that what is happening around us, our capacity to dream and plan, be made into platforms as a test of the candidates and the political parties in the running. We do need to measure their fitness beyond the outright falsehoods, and empty broadsides against opponents, that they may spout in place of delineating policies and programmes for moving the country forward.
It is necessary to do this, because the current electioneering campaigns demand a highlight of some of the great advances that have been made by both the national assembly and the national conference in pursuit of a new constitutional order. There are critical issue areas, relevant to transforming the country, which may be considered by anyone interested in a positive outcome at the end of the General elections. In an environment in which political parties appear to be shy of prescribing and describing their policy preferences, but are quick to lambast their opponents for the same offences, it ought to be made mandatory for each of the political parties and party candidates to take a stand during this electioneering period on what they think of the good work (or poor work, if so) of the national conference and national assembly. It would immediately become obvious that there is really no place to hide for any candidate who may wish to engage in shadow-boxing to hoodwink the electorate at the level of policy. From Boko Haram to corruption, education, industrialization to social welfare, there are provisions in the Constitution that the candidates ought not to be allowed to hedge or dodge. What they say about the provisions may be used to determine their seriousness of purpose. More important, especially for those who wish to come to power before letting us know their minds, we need to be able to measure their current dispositions against what we have known about them in the past.
The process of equalizing conditions across the country, a necessity for transforming Nigeria and dissolving tumours like Boko Haram, must begin with defending the right of all Nigerians to be free of hegemonies, regional or ethnic. In relation to these, it is important to continue to press, as the national conference has commendably done, and to pitch for all contiguous conurbations of the same ethnic group to be in the same state rather than mucking up and cutting a line through an ethnic group, leaving minorities of one in a state dominated by another. Of course, there are few cases where such minorities are scattered across several states without contiguity. But the reason such cases are not being properly addressed is because of the stand of those who think there must be only one kind of solution for all cases. A multi-ethnic state that insists on such fixity of position is pleading a zero-sum approach that can only result in terrorism as norm. On the contrary, if all Ekitis in the North and Ekitis in the South were brought together in the same state, it would remove the boundary between North and South in that zone. Let Nigeria have a breathing space away from Lugard’s gerrymandering. The same is true if Oyos in the South and Oyos in the North were now to be domiciled in the same state. One critical case concerns the Gbagyi people of central Nigeria who, following some arcane monafiki, are scattered in five different states although they are contiguous enough to be in one state. Frederick Lugard hived off a part of Gbagyi territory to create a capital for the old North in Kaduna. The Nigerian creators of a Federal capital territory took another chunk of the territory in Abuja. Today, the Gbagyi are in Kaduna, Niger, Nasarawa, Abuja with fractions in Kogi. What crimes have they committed against anybody that they should be under the curse of such authoritative mis-allocation of territory? Someone may ask: have they demanded a state of their own? But this is the wrong question. Should a national sense of justice not require that no community be subjected to the trashing of its language and its relationship with culturally contiguous communities simply in order to meet a legalistic requirement of propriety that others are not burdened by?
There is, as the national conference proposes, a need to have up to 18 more states across the country. As things go, all the 18 may not pass. But suggestions that they should not be allowed to pass, because they are economically unviable, constitute some of the most disingenuous arguments one can have in a country where what a state can get from the Federation Account is divisible in favour of any parts that may be added or hived off. The minders of the state ought to know that it is their business to create, if not run production outfits, factories and farms, before they can share wealth. In effect, every community in Nigeria becomes a veritable producer of its means of subsistence and survival and hence must stop assuming un-stopper(ed) access to Niger Delta oil as the only route to survival. At any rate, the idea that existing states are not viable is based on allowing the economics of corruption and the corruption of Federalism to become the norm. Why should every malfeasance in the existing system be retained in the new or amended constitution instead of being stamped out. Surely, something needs to be instituted that the national Assembly and the national conference have made allowance for: the existence of both an Accountant General of the Federation and an Accountant General of the Federal Government. The same goes in the judicial department for the existence of an Attorney General of the Federation and an Attorney General of the Federal Government. Besides, the new constitution does provide for no expenditure without appropriation.
• To be continued tomorrow
• Ofeimun, a renowned poet, is former president of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA).