By Paul Ejime
Many Nigerians and friends of Nigeria are worried, and for good reasons, about the country’s future beyond the make or mar general elections in February/March 2023.
The level of insecurity is troubling, from the North to the South, East to the West of the country. There are almost daily killings and abductions for ransom, of helpless civilians, with farmers chased out of their farms or made to pay taxes to non-state criminal armed gangs.
Bandits and armed religious extremist groups, especially the Boko Haram appear to operate at will. Recently, they displayed their capacity to strike, even at the seat of the Nigerian Government, shooting their way into a prison and freeing inmates during an audacious jail break in the Federal Capital, Abuja.
The dare devil armed groups have also attacked an advance team of the Presidential convoy and the elite Presidential Guard in the Federal Capital. Even more disturbing, is their threat to kidnap the Nigerian President and Commander-in-Chief, while a state governor in the north of the country has raised an alarm over the terrorists’ threat to establish a parallel administration in the state.
Skilled Nigerians are leaving the country in droves, while the non-skilled are making desperate attempts to escape, some using dangerous illegal means.
Government authorities are adamant that they are doing their best, but the perilous state of affairs pervades every facet of national life, raising fundamental questions, especially, regarding which parts of the country would be safe enough for the 2023 elections.
There is no gainsaying that Africa’s most populous nation with more than 200 million people has never been as divided in its chequered political history – which includes a civil war, and several bouts of religious, social and post-electoral upheavals.
Public trust and confidence in government and its institutions are at an all-time low, with scaringly high youth unemployment and sky-high cost of living, made worse by the global Covid-19 devastation and most recently, the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Elder statesman Chief Emeka Anyaoku, an internationally renowned diplomat and former Commonwealth Secretary (1990-2000), is among many well-meaning Nigerians who have continued to express concern over the dire state of affairs in the country.
“I am worried, and cannot contemplate Nigeria’s future with equanimity,” Anyaoku told this writer in a recent chat.
As a patriot, with an unwavering commitment and contributions to the entrenchment of multiparty democracy in different parts of the world, from Bangladesh to Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa, to say nothing about his home country, Anyaoku has practical recommendations on how to get Nigeria out of the current political quagmire.
“Nigeria requires a new Constitution that reflects the will, aspirations and shared values of its peoples,” he said, noting that the current 1999 Constitution as amended and the 36-state structure “will lead the country nowhere.”
He said that a governance structure of six federating units should replace the current dysfunctional, unviable and unsustainable arrangement.
The new Constitution would be agreed and drafted by a Constituent Assembly, to which the federating units would send representatives after consultations with various stakeholders, ethnic nationalities, faith and traditional institutions, professional bodies and other interest groups, Anyaoku counselled. His prescription is that the “Constitution by the People,” should define the formula for resource allocation and political power distribution between the Centre and the federating units.
For instance, he says the responsibility for external relations, defence, security and protection of the national sovereignty should rest with the Centre/Federal government, while education, healthcare, local/community policing and management of local resources should be the responsibility of the federal units.
To promote a sense of belonging in the revenue allocation, Anyaoku said that host communities of vital minerals such as oil, gas, diamond and gold (defined by the Constitution), should retain 15% of the national revenue; with the Centre getting 25%, and the six federating units sharing 60% equally.
According to the Elder statesman, Nigeria’s diversity will be better managed under a federation with autonomous units and devolution of powers from the currently powerful Centre to the federating units. To actualize his recommendations, Anyaoku said Nigerian electorate must ensure that the presidential candidates for the 2023 elections, commit unequivocally, to the deconstruction of the present political structure and its replacement with an equitable, inclusive and participatory governance system that guarantees all fundamental human rights, with fairness and justice for all citizens in a united nation.
After more than four decades of an illustrious international career, Anyaoku knows a bit about governance systems, especially with regards to managing diversity across the mosaic of cultures that are the 56-nation Commonwealth. He served in top positions at the United Nations and with a stint as Nigerian Foreign Minister before becoming the Secretary General of the Commonwealth from 1990 to 2000.
Many may not be aware that it was Chief Anyaoku who pioneered what morphed into the now famous Abuja Peace Accord of January 2015. This was at a critical juncture when Nigeria was tethering on an existential brink. After the killings and widespread violence that followed the 2011 presidential contest, Nigerians and the international community were worried that the country might not survive the 2015 elections, not with some foreign think-tanks having predicted that the country would break up.
Anyaoku said he could not stand by to watch Nigeria disintegrate. So, he dug deep into his mediation and preventive diplomacy armoury and with the help of Senator Ben Obi, then political adviser to the President, crafted a one-page watershed document, which later became the Abuja Peace Accord. He enlisted the support of a fellow world leader and pan-Africanist, Kofi Annan of Ghana, the former Secretary General of the United Nations. Both men set out to Abuja, Anyaoku revealed, explaining that he first shared the draft with President Goodluck Jonathan, the presidential candidate of the then ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and later, with Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, the flag-bearer of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC).
Having secured the concurrence of the two presidential frontrunners, Anyaoku said that the other presidential candidates were also brought on board to sign the Abuja Peace Accord, with all the candidate committing to non-violent election, and also, to respect the outcome of the poll.
Anyaoku and his co-peace maker, Annan, now of blessed memory, along with other key figures, witnessed the landmark signing ceremony, and one of the rare occasions that President Jonathan and Gen. Buhari embraced each other. This effectively doused the political tension and no doubt, contributed to President Jonathan’s graceful concession of defeat.
To sustain the peace initiative, given that elections are triggers and drivers of political crises in Africa, Chief Anyaoku said, he suggested that a mechanism be set up. He went on to recommend two key members of what became the National Peace Committee – former Head of State Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar as the Chair, and Bishop Matthew Kukah as member, with his Kukah Center, to serve as the Committee’s Secretariat.
Nigeria is again in the throes of another political uncertainty with much hinging on the 2023 elections. So much has been said and written about the resilience of the average Nigerian, and the country’s propensity to pull back from the precipice.
However, a nation with so much potential cannot continue to ride its luck or assume that it is too big to fail. Africa, and indeed, the World, looks up to Nigeria to provide leadership, at the regional and continental levels.
“The tragedy of Nigeria is the tragedy of Africa,” laments Anyaoku. He is not alone in holding this view. Anyaoku, however, said he has since forwarded his recommendations to a group of Eminent Nigerians seeking to ensure a peaceful resolution of the country’s myriad challenges ahead of the 2023 elections.
To buttress Anyaoku’s position, Rev Fr Anthony Adewale, former Vice Chancellor of the Dominican University, while speaking at a recent Bishop Kukah at 70th anniversary event in Abuja, described Section 2 of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution as “dangerous” and “a recipe for impunity,” for ascribing sovereignty to the State instead of the citizen.
“When the State is more powerful than the citizen and oppresses the citizen, there will be cries of marginalization, secessionist and separatist agitations and insecurity,” the cleric said, adding: “if you are moving in the wrong direction, you do not move forward, but you make a U-turn.”
Still, Anyaoku’s patriotic feelings for Nigeria remain palpable and infectious as discernable from his comportment and body language during the chat, with the Elder Statesman, who holds the traditional title of “Nna nyelugo (Obosi)” – Igbo for God gives the Crown.
Anyaoku says he believes in the Nigeria project, because according to him, all the component units and ethnic minorities have something to gain from a democratically and equitably run Federation.
*Paul Ejime is a Global Affairs Analyst and an Independent Consultant on Corporate Strategic Communications, Media Development, Peace, Security and Elections
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