Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Nigeria: Problems and prospects (2)

Peter M. Kaigama

"If a constitution drafted by Nigerians in true consciousness that its application shall be in the spirit of our norms and traditions but yet failed us, then I wonder what type of constitution should we opt for." Peter M. Kaigama of the Institute of Admin, Ahmandu Bello Univ., Zaria, concludes his article.
All that seemed started well with Shagari's administration did not end well. If a constitution drafted by Nigerians (although in the pattern of Western theories) in true consciousness that its applications shall be in the spirit of our norms and traditions, but yet failed us; I wonder what type of constitution should we opt for. Shall we, as some people now advocate, revert to the feudal system - using our Emirs, Obas, Obis and Chiefs, whose cringe for loyalty and recognition has rendered their role as a puppet institution? Where does our problem lie?

Is it because our constitution is muddled with different Western theories and practices? Or is it because we pursue a wrong course which is contrary to the aspirations of the people? Is it because we lack honest and dynamic leadership? Sooner or later some people may advocate for a purely mixed constitution a) Wholly traditional; or b) Partly Western and partly traditional (which some people may think is the pattern of the 1979 Constitution).

Any constitution is as good as the people who work it, so it is not so much the constitution that failed us but the operators. Nigeria is such a country that our leaders during their tenure, fumble with affairs and not satisfying the yawning desires of the people, successors often emerge and had to put everything back on a reverse gear. This unfortunate situation has been our trend of development since independence.

On December 31, 1983 (three months of Shagari's second term) the law of time (LOT) applied its gravity. All radio stations throughout Nigeria were muttering at frequent intervals a maiden message to Nigerians about a military take-over. The voice muttering the message was that of Major General Sani Abacha, outlining the cause of the coup, inter alia:

Inadequacy of food at reasonable prices

Reducing hospitals to mere consulting clinics, without drugs and equipments

Education deteriorating at an alarming rate

Unemployment figures reaching embarrassing and unacceptable proportions

Workers being owed salaries in arrears.

Nigerians jubilated, sang and applauded the young military leaders who had come supposedly to rescue the nation from "total collapse". The emergence of the military regime offered a new hope of survival both economically and physically.

With the advent of the Buhari regime and having outlined the causes for the take-over it would be underminding their capability to remind them of the suffering of Nigerians. It is yet to be appreciated whether there are any actionable plans toward a better and stable future for the masses since thousands of workers are still losing their jobs (medical doctors inclusive).

When hospitals lack drugs and equipment, when tuition fees are introduced at all levels of our education in the nerve of mass unemployment, drastic cut in workers benefit compounded with taxes and levies. People no longer afford essential commodities and services are at very high cost.

The high inflation rate in Nigeria whether artificial or natural is uncalled for - an unprecedented situation where economic law of demand and supply and the theory and practice of economics has become inapplicable. taught The episode of hunger that invade the country particularly in 1984 Nigerians some lesson to go into massive farming. This is already yielding good results and it is the only means of eradicating diseases and improving our nutritional values in year 1990. Apparently a hungry man is an angry man.

The era of Tribunalism - General Buhari's Regime started smartly by establishing Military Tribunals to prosecute the former politicians. Decrees are promulgated taking retrospective effect. Charges preferred against the politicians. Trials commenced and sentences passed ranging from 21 to 100 years imprisonment. Others are being detained indefinitely without any charge(s) against them. Even in stratocracy so long as the democratic constitution has not completely been thrown overboard, the tenets of democracy being our guiding principles in ensuring justice should be allowed to prevail.

Some of the convicted politicians were alleged to have embezzled millions of Naira and were ordered to refund. Their properties worth millions of Naira were also expropriated. Millions of Naira and properties belonging to the proscribed six political parties, the National Assembly and State House of Assemblies and FEDECO were forfeited to the Federal Military Government toward revamp- ing the economy. All staff of these organisations were laid-off.

In periphery I wish to comment briefly on the Miscellaneous Decree No. 20. Amidst a hard time like this when two ends cannot meet on April 10, 1985 Nigerians sighed, wept and some fainted as they saw execution by firing squad three youngmen, namely; Bernard Ogedengbe, Akanni Lawal Ojuolape and Bartholomew Owoh whose offences were being in unlawful possession of cocaine and heroin (drugs said to be dangerous). Nigerians grieved in sympathy for these gentlemen and totally condemned the killing.

The approach to this decree 20 is rather crude and inhuman. Since the execution of the three men more others have been tried and convicted now awaiting the final verdict of the Supreme Military Council. A lot of criticisms have been made by eminent Nigerians including religious leaders of different denominations and faith. The only prominent Nigerian, Mr Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) a renowned legal practitioner who supports the execution, however, feels that the drugs peddlars are not the worst criminals to be executed.

Mr Fawehinmi suggests that public officers who embezzle huge sums of money should also be executed - a view I strongly held but no longer share: I wonder how many of the convicted politicians will be spared. There is certainly no need for any killing either of the politicians or the drug pushers. The execution of the drag peddlers has set, unfortunately, a new dimensional precedent in our penal system. I believe the root source of these drugs lie somewhere.

Therefore, this and other social vices bike armed robbery, corruption and bribery need extensive sociological study in finding lasting solutions toward eradicating them from society. A situation where some individuals are exempted from search at our air and sea ports render impossible detection of unlawful importation of contrabands into the country.

With regards to our mode of punish- ment may I say that in a democratic or stratocratic society the philosophy of punishing an offender has been founded on the following theories - which Nigeria as frontline fighter of fundamental human rights should uphold: a) REFORMATION: That reasonable punishment be inflicted on the offender so that he appreciates the values of uprightness in society thus refrain from such act in future.

b) DETERRENCE: That society at large appreciates the type of punishment meted on the offender so that himself and others do not commit similar offence.

c) RETRIBUTION: That the offender be paid in his own coin. This theory advocates severest punishment commensurate to the act commit- ted by the offender. The theory is no longer widely applicable today as many countries are reframing their penal law on capital punishment.

d) REHABILITATION: That the offender be sent to Vocational institution for the period of imprisonment to prepare him for a useful post-prison career.

e) PROBATION: The offender signs an undertaking to be of good behaviour thus regains liberty.

Punishment as an object of penal servitude and a corollary of law-breaking should have reformative and deterrent effect.

Any constitution is as good as the people who work it, so it is not so much the constitution that failed us but the operators. Nigeria is such a country that our leaders during their tenure of office fumble with affairs and not satisfying the yawning desires of the people, successors often emerge only to put everything back on a reverse gear.

But the deterrence of punishing ten times as heavily those criminals in a detected case in which nine out of ten evade detection on crimes which are spreading and for which temptation and opportunity are frequent, has not helped in reducing crimes.

The mock situation in which there is uneven distribution of wealth is a prime factory for crime wave. In 1980 Professor Marving Wofgang, an American criminologist presented paper at the International Conference On Crime and Crime Control University of Ibadan where he attributed crime in Nigeria to inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the judicial system (see National Concord of 14/7/80). He cautioned that it is not the severity of sanctions that will solve the problem but its certainty. Prof Wofgang contended that crime control could be achieved by "reduced fertility, reduced poverty and more equitable distribution of goods".

On the issue of revamping the economy for sometime there have been debates and negotiations whether Nigeria should opt for the International Monetary Fund loan. Many Nigerians have criticised the loan because of it's harsh conditions (as may affect the masses) and its adverse effect towards our development. Recently, President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania a renowned Africanist in leadership role was reported to have condemned the IMF loan and asked which country had obtained the IMF loan and actually redeemed its economic debris?

It must be realised that IMF is a scientific mechanism for manipulating economic systems of developing countries for maximum benefit to the donor. IMF policies debilitate capability of developing nations toward economic independence. Late Dr Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana had been quoted to have said that the colonial masters had left behind their machinery to control and manipulate economies of the independent state, and any state without economic independence he said is "sham independence".

In order to pacify Nigeria and reduce the perpetual suffering of the masses I appeal to the Federal Military Government to consider the following issues:

1) That immediate action be taken to reduce the present mass unemployment.

2) That the private sector being the backbone of our economy be granted import licence to revive their industries to bring in the raw materials.

3) That introduction of tuition fees in our institutions be withdrawn so that children of the masses could acquire education.

4) That for humanity sake the FMG should invite the medical doctors for a compromise. Revoke proscription of their associations i.e, NMA and NARD, and re-engage the doctors on unconditional terms

5) Restore fringe benefits of public servants so as to enhance enhance dedication and probity.

6) Provide farming implements, insecticides and fertilizers at nominal prices to boost agriculture.

7) Grant import licence to the right people to import machinery and vehicle spare parts

8) The Federal Military Government in its supremacy should review the Miscellaneous Decree No. 20 to provide imprisonment and fine.

9) That the FMG should reconsider its stand on decrees taking retrospective effects because this outrages principles of natural justice and the rule of law.

10) That in the interest of economic independence, the nation and the entire populace the FMG should stop forth negotiations on the IMF loan as effect of such loan will retard our development.

11) That Nigerians in detention without charges against them should be released.

12) As a matter of utmost priority the FMG is implored to supply drugs and equipments to our hospitals to save the dying souls.

In conclusion may we cast our mind back to those colonial days. The post-independence experience - a tussle for political power was the conflict which existed and is still prevailing today - the older claiming authority by virtue of their seniority; the young, by their higher educational levels

In the civil service the same conflict exist between civil servants whose right to office was based upon educational criteria and the senior party member and officials who have been rewarded for their loyalty to leaders. In effect there is a widening gap between the elite/affluent and the masses.

This class structure and disintegration extend to educational system to ensure that the children of the elite and affluent have marked advantages is gaining admission to secondary schools and universities thus retaining the status of their parents. This is clear from the policies of successive governments especially in the introduction of school fees, taxes and levies when the masses are wallowing in abject poverty.

The sense of frustration among the masses therefore, increases, for not only does our standard of living fail to rise (as we believed it would alter Independence) but also the opportunities seem to grow less for us and our children to enter the privileged class.

talking drums 1985-06-03 new spate of executions in Ghana - how west african are we west africans