Restructuring: Can We Try The Abacha Formula?
In more ways than one, the death of General Sani Abacha robbed Nigerians of the opportunity of consigning the hot air over marginalization, more imagined than real, to the back seat of our national discourse. Reference here is to the stillborn 1995 constitution, a product of the 1994/1995 National Constitutional Conference which contained some of the most revolutionary proclamations capable of restructuring the country. In a manner of speaking, the Abacha draft remains the best constitution Nigeria never had.
For very obvious reasons, it was imperative for General Abdulsalami Abubakar to throw out any document that had the tag of his predecessor, General Abacha, on it. Without any doubt, General Abacha who was nudged into snatching power by the same people who turned round to become his implacable adversaries was a divisive leader while he was in control. When, therefore, he died after holding the country together for five impossible years, it was convenient for his stop-gap successor to distance himself as much as possible as a way of healing festering wounds and bringing anti-Abacha elements into the fold.
Expectedly, the 1995 draft constitution which was to be promulgated in 1998, became the first casualty as it was hastily thrown out by the ( late) Justice Niki Tobi committee that was set up to explore the way forward. In its place, the Niki Tobi Committee recommended some amendments to the 1979 constitution which it claimed ‘had been tried and tested and, therefore, provides a better point of departure in the quest for constitutionalism in Nigeria.’ The June 12 crowd could not have adduced better reasons than the ones given by the Niki Tobi Committee for the presumptuous action.
The Niki Tobi Committee had compelling reasons to slam the 1995 draft constitution. The committee claimed Nigerian ‘raised compelling reservations’ probably because, coming into existence under the watch of General Abacha, the draft was the ‘product of a disputed legitimacy’ and therefore ‘suffered a crisis of identity in the public consciousness’. Nigerians knew the Committee simply pandered to the interest of NADECO or National Democratic Coalition, a highly organised group that was a constant pain in the neck of the Abacha regime. With due apologies, the Committee’s action was like throwing away the baby with the bathwater!
Discount his humongous loot trapped in banks in Europe and the most enduring legacies of General Abacha are the six geo-political zones and the six states, one each from the six geo-political zones, created by his administration in 1996. In any case, these two events 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 that were to rotate among the six zones. Aside the offices of president, vice president, senate president and house speaker, there was provision for the offices of prime minister and deputy.
Had death not abridged Abacha’s dream in 1998 or, better still, had political exigencies not prevailed on General Abdulsalami into throwing away the baby with the bathwater a year later, chances are, by 2016, Nigeria would have experimented with the Abacha formula for more than half of the ‘thirty-year transition period’ envisaged by the 1995 draft constitution. The 30-year transition period would have been used to promote national cohesion and integration, after which merit and competence will replace rotation in determining who gets what.
In practical terms, and in strict adherence to the principle of rotation envisaged by the Abacha document, at no point in time would any zone have complained of marginalization since there was always going to be one ‘juicy’ office to be vied for by each of the six zones every five years. What this means is that, by last year the fourth of the six zones would have produced a president for the country. Within thirty years from 1998 or 1999, 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.
Another unique angle to the Abacha document is its capacity to eliminate the incumbency factor and the abuses connected to it. 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! General Abacha’s death robbed Nigeria of the benefits of these well-thought out provisions that would have restructured Nigeria from a country of contending ethnic nationalities into a modern nation state in thirty years!
Seventeen years after General Abacha’s death, Nigerians are still playing the ostrich instead of sobering up and overgrowing the prejudices of the Abacha era! Many of those who pontificate, at least in private, that Abacha was not entirely evil do so because of the belief that his draft constitution was a well-thought document that would have addressed some of the problems the country is grappling with. Take another look at the Abacha draft constitution of 1995 and, from it, you will readily admit there would not have been the Boko Haram and Niger Delta insurgencies if the nation was regulated by it.
As a matter of fact, the Abacha document was so comprehensive and so prophetic that it anticipated the untenable and wrong-headed agitation for Biafra and the hollow talk of marginalization that comes with it especially since the south east and Goodluck Jonathan lost out last year. 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 is hot air that lacks substance. Yes, there is need to restructure which should not be mistaken for advocating a breakup as some are so lazy to believe. We need to restructure in a way every section of the country will, at all times, be appropriately represented. The Abacha draft proclaims rotation for a thirty-year transition period. We need to have a way out of incumbency and its problems. The documents suggest a five-year single-term for public office. We can restructure in a way lawmaking will be effective and inexpensive. The Abacha draft suggests part-time lawmaking!
Equally important is Nigeria should restructure in a way that treasury looters will not be shielded for 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 is being proposed by larceny-inclined lawmakers.
We need to take another look at the Abacha document. Problem is, the way things are, the current National Assembly does not appear to have the presence of mind for any serious legislative undertaking. Otherwise, members will not display their bankruptcy by contemplating immunity for public office holders. If they are not a lazy bunch, why should lawmakers subject themselves to a winding and tortuous constitutional amendment process that only seek to shield people from prosecution? Except those who see public office as avenue to loot, how many people have need for immunity, anyway?
Yet, in the midst of the rot at the National Assembly, there are upright and straight-thinking who feel genuinely scandalized by the puerility of their tainted colleagues. It is to this group of lawmakers that Nigerians must direct their appeal for a genuine restructuring devoid of needless bloodletting. If, for obvious reasons, jejune members of the National Assembly balk at the idea, as to be widely expected, there will always be the recourse to a referendum open to Nigerians.
It’s all about Nigeria!
Magaji is based in Abuja and can be reached at