Recently, Olisa Agbakoba, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), at a colloquium in honour of the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, highlighted the need to overhaul Nigeria’s governance structure. He likened the current government efforts at reforms to attempting to build a 10-storey building on the foundation of a bungalow which is not feasible. He also outlined governance strategies for political and economic transformation. In this elaborate interview at an interactive session with some editors, he emphasised the need for the people’s constitution, why military force cannot resolve the agitations across the country; he also deplored the state of the nation’s judiciary, saying it needs total overhaul, among other issues. Excerpts by ZEBULON AGOMUO, editor:
Your recent advice to political office holders at a colloqium in Abuja went viral. You spoke about governance, among other issues. What really was your motivation?
Yes, I said I would use that as an opportunity to talk about some of the concerns that I thought that the Government should keep in mind but one of the things that is often ignored is actually in law.
All the comments you see on TV, in the writings, in talks about development economies, but little attention is paid to law. So, the lawyers can be very involved in governance. My background is in Development Law and a subspecialty of Development Law is governance. Governance is like someone who wants to build a 10-storey or 12-storey building. He will call an architect to advise the developer that I can’t put a structure on the bungalow, I need to have a new foundation.
So, governance is about a foundation. And as I said at that lecture, a country that has been struggling with the foundation for 23 years cannot be a serious country. There has to be a need for some speed.
So, the 10th Assembly must immediately address this problem of continuous talking about Nigeria.
Remember, what Bola Ige said about the survival of Nigeria? It still rings in my head because I was there that day. He said that in a situation of a political arrangement such as Nigeria, the first question is, just like I have a wife, do I want to be married? Question number one. In Nigeria, do we want to be one?
It’s an assumption that we want to be. It’s a terribly big and wrong assumption because when I went to Croatia, Croatia was part of the sixth countries that formed Yugoslavia. Right now, they are doing very well, Slovenia, Macedonia, Slovakia, etc are all doing very well.
So nothing says that we must be one country. Nothing. It’s not sacrosanct that we must be one country if In being one country, you have all the killings you have in Jos, in Abuja, everywhere..
What’s the point of being one country? So that’s why in looking at President Tinubu’s governance program, I would remind him of a structural engineer who says I can’t build this house, I can’t build Nigeria on the basis of a weak governance structure.
It is the most important and fundamental process if you want the country to grow. So Nigeria’s governance structure is very weak and I’ll give about 10 examples of why this is so.
First is, any Nation not at peace, and I always like to use the analogy of marriage. If for instance every day you get up and you and your wife are fighting, you can’t have peace and you cannot think about how to develop.
So, if today, somebody is blowing up somebody’s head in Abuja, tomorrow, it’s somewhere else. or everywhere you go.
And as I said at that lecture, we can learn lessons from history. Europe went through this process when the Catholics lost out in Europe and the Protestants came on, thus the 80 years of war until one day, one man said, Why are we fighting? His name was Maximilian. So he sat down, and created a conference that brought peace.
So, the first thing we have to do in Nigeria is we have to organise peace because if you don’t organize peace and security, you can’t have good governance. So that is step number one.
I also made the point at the lecture that to continue to do the same thing with the same result is a mistake. We cannot resolve our problem by military solution. It will not happen. Quote me.
If we continue on this path, to deploy the military, deploy resources and I don’t even know how much has been spent by the military in acquiring armaments. We can’t win and the simple reason is you don’t use military social solutions for what is called irregular warfare.
By the way, as I said there, when I was a student in 1980, in the University of London systems, I just on my own elected to do counter-insurgency and I read all about Che Guevara and Mao Tse Tung (or Mao Zedong); while Mao Tse Tung won because he fought an irregular warfare against mainland China. You know that the Americans did all they could; bombing Cambodia Vietnam, but they lost. Where do you find the IPOB people, the Boko Haram people or the Bandits people?
So military option will not give Nigeria peace, that you can take from me free. If it happens in two years time, I’ll give you a free lunch. So the first thing we must do is to find a way to resolve our crisis. That I think is a no-brainer. If we don’t have peace, or if for instance Apapa suddenly becomes unsafe, no one can come to work. In Abuja, Jos, Kaduna, people are afraid. In the East, my brother was kidnapped and release in one day mercifully. But the whole place is terrorised, so there can be no planning.
We need to have a process around which the government will create peace, and I was happy that Nuhu Ribadu was there because if they write up a budget of another two trillion dollars, or whatever, and buy all the armaments they want to buy, you can’t find the people to shoot, you can’t find them. So who are you going to use it for?
Rather, what you need is to go back and say, before 1914, who were the owners of Nigeria?
You know, when we have national conferences, they invite the NBA, professional associations, but we have no stake. We are lawyers so we don’t have an ethnic stake. When you invite those who were owners of Nigeria, Benin Kingdom for instance.
Benin Kingdom in the Guinness book of records, has the largest man-made structure in the world. The wall they built is bigger than the Chinese War but many people don’t know this.
That is an extremely old Empire and the man who sits on that throne, the Oba, controls a humongous amount of political power.
Then you count emirs, my own Obi, yet, you exclude them from the process of development, this is a huge error.
So this is what we need to do, we need to bring in all these guys, we need to bring in the Ohaneze, PANDEF, Arewa, Afenifere, etc. These are the people that will shape Nigeria and give us political peace for development. So that’s the first point on political governance.
Then the second point on governance concerns the issue of what is the proper constitution that we need to have because all the constitutions we’ve had have been imposed.
Right from the colonial to the military to the won that General Abdulsalam imposed and then the one that the National Assembly is now conducting, and that’s taking them 23 years. I think that’s a very long time for us to have a constitution that no one even believes and respects.
I did some research and I found Prof. Nwabueze’s theory on a new constitution; very interesting. He says that the National Assembly may not be, and I repeated it to President Akpabio, may not be aware of the nature of their powers.
So I pointed out that the National Assembly as three legislative powers. The first is the National Assembly sitting as the House of Assembly of the federal government.
The second is the National Assembly sitting at the House of Assembly of the FCT.
And the third is the National Assembly sitting as the House of Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is a power they’ve never used.
So Nwabueze suggests that they could use that to just establish a new constitution. All they need to do is to consult people.
The Constitution, people don’t understand, is not as sacrosanct as it sounds because it’s an act that attaches the schedule.
So Nwabueze suggests, just delete the schedule, that’s the current Constitution, and add a new one. All these discussions that have been taking place, write up something that is agreeable, send it around Nigeria and once it’s been accepted, you go to the National Assembly, invoke the powers of section 4, sub-section 1 and then exchange.
This happened when the Republican Constitution was established. The parliament removed by deletion, the Independence Constitution and then put the Republican position in exactly one day.
Our National Assembly has spent 23 years; because if you don’t have the foundation, you can’t go anywhere.
So we don’t have security, our political foundation is weak, our constitutional Foundation is weak; two vital instruments for development, economic and political.
So those are the two things that I spoke about on that day and I’m sure that you all saw the video.
Governance entails understanding the structure of government. A minister is not an implementer, he creates policies. So all that running around by Amaechi and BF was unnecessary because you have an institution set by the constitution to deliver and implement what the executive does and that’s what we call the fourth branch of government.
The fourth branch of government are the ones who do the heavy lifting. The loads of government, all these Tinubu’s Renewed Hope Agenda will fail if the ministers should execute it.
Now, if the ministers continue to usurp the powers of the administrative states, the likelihood of Nigeria developing will be zero.
So I flagged that point two.
Then, I talked about the llegal failure. Many of you would realise that nothing works in this country.
I mean look at what happened in the elections. The judiciary has in my 45 years never been as low as this. Even the Supreme Court, John Okoro castigated the Appeal Court for a terrible judgment, when they removed virtually everybody in the Plateau political system.
So, we can’t grow if we have a weak judiciary and therefore, the only way to go is to break up this mafia in this Supreme Court. We have to break it up.
With due respect, it’s like saying no woman in Nigeria is entitled to political office. That’s what they’ve done to us in the Judiciary. No lawyer is entitled. It’s only them.
They created a mafia, block us out and appoint themselves; incestuous relationship, so they can’t be their best.
So, I recommended to the National Assembly to understand the difference between administration of justice; that’s why judges take notes and write, versus judicial administration.
In respect of judicial administration, the National Assembly can intervene. I could see President Akpabio looking a bit puzzled when I was making that point. A look that said ‘are you sure we can do this?’ Of course, because already, there are laws.
There’s the federal High Court Act which sets out how the judges should come to the court, how they should be composed, the only thing the constitution says is you must be 15 years to be a Supreme Court Judge, nothing else.
So we need a law, the Supreme Court Appointment Act or whatever to regulate the appointment of, and re-composition of the courts.
In the case of some of the Courts, it specifies that a person learned in Sharia lawyer and Customary must be part of it. So why should somebody who’s from the bar not be considered in the composition?
To keep excluding the bar and the academics will result in weak judicatures. So those are the issues and those are the points to be taken to account in respect of understanding that if you want to build a country, you look through every step.
Now that we have a new building, remember I’m using the analogy of a structural engineer. So the engineer is now on the third floor. The first floor is the political thing, it’s solid, he’s sure that they can carry the Constitution, second floor, then he’s sure he can carry another floor because there are 12 floors to go.
If we go into economic governance, here’s the area where I think the government needs to have the absolute rethink.
I think all the tough decisions President Bola Tinubu took where correct; painful as they are, but I think they are correct decisions.
What needs to happen is major legislation and major executive action to support the hardship that Nigerians are now facing. The removal of fuel subsidy I think was the right thing because it was a very corrupted process but where’s the money?
That’s the issue. Where’s the money? Can’t the money go into things that will result in institutions?
I don’t accept this personal palliatives, I prefer institutional palliatives. I think they are more transparent and they have a better coverage, and people feel it more.
For instance, If you said to all Nigerians under the age of 12, no school fees, immediately you find the impact.
But if you say I’m going to give you N5,000 all, how do you find the people?
So those are the source of things I think president Tinubu should do. He’s got off to a good start, he’s kicked the engine of his aircraft, he’s gone on to the runway and the most difficult time for a pilot is when you’re climbing up. He’s on the climb out. But remember that the pilot can always radio air traffic control that he wants to make an air return. So we are at a point where we cannot say the climb out will reach cruise height. An air return is a possibility unless all that I’m saying, as far as I’m concerned, is a very vital component of how Nigeria can reach cruising heights. Otherwise, the captain may be looking for the nearest airport to return to and land.
Then we go on to the issue of money.
There’s nothing wrong with Nigeria. The problem with Nigeria is that we don’t know where to find our money and part of the reason for that is the structure of the markets and the failure of even government officials to understand the difference between revenue.
So revenue is the budget. But the revenue of the government is not the same as revenue of Nigeria. The revenue of Nigeria is found in the creation of capital, but we do not have legislation that creates capital. It’s a huge problem. We need to have legislation that creates capital.
You are advocating for a new Constitution, and proposing Prof. Ben Nwabueze’s model. What are the changes you want this new constitution to reflect, in terms of devolution of power, restructuring, which many people believe has been one of the problems in the development of Nigeria?
The problem of the Constitution is not so much the content but the lack of acceptance and legitimacy. That’s the problem. So don’t worry about the content, but if you allow people to speak and own something, you will be shocked that they may arrive at the same answer; they may even adopt the same Constitution. But the problem I’ve heard from Afenifere, PANDEF, Arewa, etc say is that this is not our document. So, I’m not suggesting that if there is a new constitution, it will necessarily be different.
It might be, but the main problem is that the Constitution lacks legitimacy, validity; it’s been imposed. So people, owners of Nigeria want to be at the forefront of that discussion. Whatever they arrive at, they will say this is our own documents.
Do you know how much the National Assembly has spent since 2000? It is over one hundred billion Naira. Every Assembly allocates big amount of money and they talk and talk and no result. So, why don’t you allow those who own Nigeria to do the talking and say here is what we want?
There might be variations here and there and I know one key suggestion would be to adopt the 1963 model. But if you look at the 1963 Constitution, and look at the current constitution on fiscal federalism, they’re exactly the same. You will be shocked there is no difference.
The Federal Government controls most of the money, but why that one was accepted is because it was their constitution, and why this is not accepted is because it is not the people’s constitution. So, I want to emphasise that the problem is with the process not the contents.
So, you should allow those who own Nigeria to sit around the table and create a constitution. However imperfect, they will say, it’s our document.
But if I were to add what should be in the content, the first thing I would say is we need to devolve. We need to have a loose federation. The centre is too strong, allow the states to be the economic drivers. That, I think, would be the small differences.
If you read the sections in the Constitution, not all of them are really bad, just a few things you need to tinker with and that’s what the National Assembly has been doing for 23 years.
That’s why I adopt the Nwabueze model.
Before his ascension to power, President Tinubu was one of the people advocating restructuring of the country. How come he is not talking about it?
I asked him the question when I spoke, I just said president. “You have taken tough three decisions and I hope that you will come to the fourth one of the Constitution. And then I turned to Akpabio and said, you can do this thing faster.
So, if they accept what I said, then we should see the Constitutional replacement with Presidential Tinubu’s devolution of powers, and that’s it. It’s not rocket science.
Still on the Constitution issue; your speech was not the first to be made to the National Assembly’s leadership that they nodded their heads in agreement. What do you think is the real problem why those who are leading the country are not ready to implement the good suggestions people like your honorable self have made or still make; and what mechanisms have you put in place to check the implementation of those good things you suggested?
The first mechanism is that I won’t have accepted to go give the speech but I thought it was a good opportunity with the President sitting down there and the Senate President Akpabio, because these are the two most powerful Nigerians and if I make those presentations, they may say here’s something new.
The other thing, you see, goes to leadership. Now leadership is a very difficult concept. Look at what Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) did when the US was in trouble. He, from day one, till when he couldn’t walk and that’s why he was the longest serving President, it’s because of him that they passed the two-term thing. He understood where he was headed. Now, if you have no clue where you are headed, there is nothing you can do.
I think the quality of our politics is very poor. Many of our politicians are there without a clue as to what to do which is why they are all fighting.
They fight all the time and when they’ve gotten to office, you then wonder what is that they can do. They are exhausted. There’s a need for the political elite to exert more pressure on our politicians. But most importantly is the need for our politicians to understand that political leadership is not something that you take for granted and that if you come to office, you must come with a purpose.
I remember when I was the NBA president, from day one, I was determined. So, from day one as you sit in that chair, you must be determined to do something and must not be travelling around.
What I see our politicians do, with due respect to them, they are masters of wedding ceremonies, birthday parties, political conclaves but not the work. So it needs to change.
To your question, the time spent by our political leaders in real work is very small. So the output is poor. That’s the only reason.
I remember when Bola Ajibola wanted to pass the new laws of Nigeria in his time, the guy used to sit in the office virtually around the clock with Yemi Osinbajo as his assistant. Political leadership requires extra time. Sometimes, you will be forced to be in the office around the clock, there’s no question of going home.
But if you are an 8am to 5pm person like I told President Akpabio, then the National Assembly is 8 – 5 so you can’t do anything.
Political leaders can’t achieve with 8 to 5; you work round the clock, that is how you can achieve an agenda.
So, if you have an agenda to turn around Nigeria, it would not be to tell me you spend 23 years trying to pass a new constitution. So, what I would say is hard work is required, that’s what will make a change.
Placing your remarks about Roosevelt’s New Deal and Thatcher’s Big Bang in the Nigerian context, what would you suggest for President Tinubu along this line?
Double big bang! To be honest with you, when I watched the Nigeria vs Equatorial Guinea football match, except for the performance of Victor Osimhen, the team was lackluster. If you see a hungry team, you will know. Our government isn’t hungry to achieve. That’s what I would say. They need to get hungry, they need to say we will do this in one week, two weeks or three weeks. They need to have a very tough programme and that’s what Thatcher did; she tore the United Kingdom apart, overhauled the United Kingdom and her legacy stands till today. So, we need to see it. Look at the inauguration of Governor Hope Uzodinma. What is the point? All the energy you spent, you could have used it to build a couple of roads. Our politicians do the wrong things, too much jollification, parties, wedding ceremonies, etc. Work, that is where you get the result.
Thatcher worked and the result came. So, if our politicians are mediocre like our football team, as a predictive analyst, from what I saw we can’t win.
From what I’ve seen so far of President Tinubu, the aircraft is climbing slowly but he needs to get to cruising level.
So, I don’t want President Tinubu to be calling air traffic control, to give him the nearest landing airport, that will be terrible for us. He needs to go to cruising and by cruising, he releases the energy Nigerians want. What happens is that as the president is galvanising, people are turned on. That’s what happens like in a football match. People are turned on, you don’t know when you become part of the process, contributing your own little quota, not allowing just the government and the ministers to do everything.
So, we want an institution where there will be a volcanic and uncommon revolution so that everyone feels we are part of what is happening. Right now, that’s not what it is.
On electoral governance, you advocated a transparent process of appointing INEC’s chairman. Could you be specific on how you think that process can come to fruition?
It is in the law already. It is in the report that if all this reports and recommendations are effected, then there will be no problem. So, the transparency that is required is best found in chapter 10 of the Constitution of South Africa. So, if you allow the president enormous powers, he’s likely to abuse those powers. So, what we will do is we will constitutionalise some of the institutions that consolidate and strengthen democracy, so we have ICPC, INEC, etc.
Remember when Obasanjo (OBJ) removed the Auditor General because he wrote a bad report, but if the Auditor General is enshrined in the constitution, he can’t do that.
Every time, you find the IG running to Aso Rock but if the IG’s office is in the Constitution, secured and all that, then you can’t do that.
So, when all that is in place, then the INEC chair will realise that he is not beholding to the president, his tenure is secured, the funding that comes to him is secured, then he’ll be able to deliver transparent elections because as we all know, this 2023 election is the worst in the history of Nigeria and this present Chairman, Prof. Mahmuod Yakubu should have resigned if he had some shame, run away to his hometown and never be seen again but he is still sitting down there.
The other problem is that there is no repercussion, that’s the problem. You can steal all you want.
See the case of Betty Edu for instance, in two weeks, you guys will forget it. I can assure you that in two weeks, you guys will forget and will be chasing new stories. There’s no consequence for stealing. Nobody is after you, all they will do is say “Okay, go home.” Even judges, when they steal, they just retire you and you go home.
But they are working in tandem with the government?
Who? Who is working in tandem with the government?
Like Yakubu you are talking about, who will punish him?
That’s the point that I’m making, because he himself is beholden to the government process. But responding to his question about what can be done, I’m telling you if we adopt South Africa’s Chapter 10, so that people who are in certain sensitive positions know that whatever they do will come back to them, that’s what will help us in our democracy.
You talked about political leadership, that a lot of the politicians we have right now are punching below their weight but looking at the political followership in Nigeria, I think from my observation, when it comes to elections, a lot of followers appear not to do proper screening of political candidates. If we continue to have this kind of followership, can Nigeria move ahead?
You are talking about an ideal situation where the followership is educated. Look at what happened over the weekend in Palestine, the streets of London were clogged because a lot of people who were on the streets don’t need government patronage. Here, everybody wants government patronage. And like Ayo Fayose rightly identified to the chagrin of Fayemi, it is stomach democracy. People are so poor.
So, you expect this people who are earning less than the average income or minimum wage, but it is such a shame that 103 million Nigerians are extremely poor. So, we don’t expect much from the followership. What we expect actually is from organized civil society; yourselves, traditional rulers, civil society groups, these are the ones that can make a difference.
I’ve always shuddered why even in my own small aspect of the christian movement, the Catholic Bishops don’t do anything except to go and preach on Sundays. No, they can do much more than they are doing.
That failure of the political elite and the non-political class is part of the problem. So, the politicians have a free lane, nobody opposes what they do. The other day, I saw a governor going to sympathise with some people over the killing somewhere, just look at his convoy. The roads were untarred, the speed of the convoy was horrendous and I said this is how you go to sympathise, but the guys don’t know any better, so you have to be sorry for them and hope that we can have a president.
That’s why sometimes you need a rescuing president, a president who understands that my people are weak, in spite of that, I will do good for them. We don’t have it. We’re watching Tinubu.
Again Sir, you talked about institutions, particularly an independent Inspector General of Police, the Nigerian Judiciary also has its own problems; as a member, how do you think the judiciary can be restructured?
As a result of the military, the Judiciary created a firewall to say these guys can’t touch us and the military actually are free, so they say please let’s leave them.
And what the judiciary did at that time was to create the AJC, forerunner of the NJC, the Advisory Judicial Council. My old man was running it because he was CJ of the central state; so they didn’t touch them at all, but then you had men of integrity.
In my father’s time, how dare you come to a house? Impossible. When a new commissioner comes, he goes to the gate and signs the visitors’ book, to say ‘“My Lord, to just myself.”
You don’t dare enter our house. Our house was like that of a Monastery, but there’s a difference.
So that Legacy of the AJC spilled into the NJC. Now, these over N300 billion that they’ve giving them, who will account for it?
The AJC is unaccountable. That is why I suggest that there has to be legislation to control the non-judicial side of the Judiciary; especially how they get appointed?
Okay. I don’t want to say this, but I can tell you that the thing has become so incestuous that so many judicial sons and cousins have been appointed by their fathers. So, who will check who?
I just want to know how that money will be spent so that’s why I say the only way to go is massive legislation on judicial administration. They must not be left on their own.
They will be left on their own where they are giving judgments. Nobody will interfere but the structure of the Judiciary and how it works must be legislated and I gave an example of the fact that you have a Federal High Court Act, you have a Court of Appeal Act, a Supreme Court Act, that all is legislated. So, all you need to do is amend it to say “In the appointment and composition of judges to the Supreme Court, the following shall…Judges, six. ”
Like in the NJC, we are five. The NJC provided five lawyers to be members of the NJC so there must be checks and balances. The judiciary has gone out of hand and they need to be controlled.
You were talking about the Constitution and spoke extensively about the process and the content, that while the content is sufficient, we need to get the process right. Are you not looking at the implementation of law in Nigeria, particularly lawyers fishing out loopholes to hinder or restrict this implementation?
That is a problem, I agree. It is important to consider when writing laws that the laws are written in a way that reflects what people want, which is what is going on now.
So that’s only part of the problem. But you see laws are not as crucial in the structure of governance as the Constitution. Once we tackle weak laws that are not well implemented, I think the more important thing for me as a structural legal engineer will be to worry about what do people say of the Constitution.
If you were to take a vote around Nigeria, by asking those who are owners of Nigeria, not you and me. Because I hope you know that before amalgamation, the Alake Egbaland was in control. He was actually deposed. If you read history to see the way the Colonials deposed a lot of these leaders, you will be very shocked but the truth is whether we like it or not, and I see that in ceremonies that they attend, these traditional rulers still commend a great deal of respect and power and influence. And if that is, why are they excluded from governance even at the local government level? I suspect that the traditional rulers will be able to resolve the challenges of insecurity at the local government. I have that feeling. Take Kano for instance, because I know the leading district head. He was telling me the way it is configured, there’s no way anything goes on that the district head will not pick and then pass it to the Emir but there’s a disconnect on intelligence from the Emir who feels he is excluded from the system.
So the policeman, an Igbo man. who has no clue about how to run around the mountains in Abuja is head of security. He’s lost.
What about the locals? So, those are the things that I think the constitution is to address. The constitution needs to belong to people who need to feel that this is part of us.
People that benefitted more from the corruption in Nigeria’s system are the lawyers?
That is not true, it is a misconception. A judge is in charge of his court. When I was a law student, I liked to go and sit in Oputa’s court. So, one day, there was one lawyer, an aggressive man asking questions. So the judge asked him, what is your case about? He said, “My Lord, my case is about trespassing.” Okay. What is trespass? The lawyer said trespass is an unlawful interference with another man’s land. The judge then said “It’s okay, look at your pleadings and show me where you pleaded. The Lawyer said “it is not there” and his case got struck out.
Is there any senior advocate that is senior to a judge?
That’s not the point. There is a huge misconception that I don’t like at all. It is the judge that controls his court. He can tell you, “Look, mister, enough, you have made your point.” But they’re weak.
Because the lawyers give them (judges) money?
Well, that is unfortunate if that is happening. They should increase the salaries and I’m happy that they have got this huge amount of money, which I hope will go to address their challenges. Let me ask, how many of you have ever been to the NJC? How many? It is a palace. I sat down there for six years.
And when you sat down there, you didn’t advocate that the wealth should go round?
I did, in fact, that put me in trouble. I told Justice Aloma Mukhtar that the way NJC is applying for funds is wrong. You don’t go to one Level 10 officer in the Ministry of Finance; you put your estimates in the National Assembly and he said he would go to court. We went to court and I won.
You said it’s an assumption to say that all Nigerians agree to remain one. Within that context, when is the right time to have discussions about separation?
Now, right now. That is my point. I personally now accept that there can be no sovereign national conference. There’s time for everything. There was a time when the Sovereign National Conference was relevant but right now, by virtue of Section 4, subsection of the Constitution, the National Assembly is the sovereign parliament of Nigeria, however imperfect it is.
So, it is best to start building from that process and then to ask them, why can’t they do what I’m recommending by constitutional replacements, that’s one. Two, why can’t they bring in the owners of Nigeria to assist in the resolution of the crisis of insecurity because many governments have tried to resolve the crisis in security and they failed, so why don’t we try something new?
And mine is to say a military solution will not work. So, let us hand this problem to the owners of Nigeria and say, can you assist us? And we incorporate all of this in a new constitution. That’s the point I was making but that question that you asked is a very valid question.
One, do we really want to be one? You are married, aren’t you? Is it by force? No, you have to agree to be married.
So, it has to be agreed. I don’t know why that point is not understood. You can’t say Igbo people and Hausa, knock their head, Yoruba and Fulani. No, we must agree and the only people that can make that agreement are those who lost their independence in 1914.
You call them and say, your independence was taken from you, now we recognise the importance of your role, please go and discuss and we shall add some new players. Tell us what you want to do and I can tell you that the answer will be positive, we all want to be Nigerians. That is what I assume, but they want to be consulted, they want to own that process. Having said yes, we want to be in Nigeria.
That is now the content of the Constitution. They say, you know, our problem is not so much about the content. It is the fact that you impose it on us. We are not happy. Okay, what do you want to add? Two weeks will be enough for you to say yes. Okay in two weeks, they will come and you find all the problems are resolved.
Which is why I tell my people here, always take a positive attitude. The customer is always right. You spend more time arguing about the process than to tell the customer, “I will sort it out.”
So, don’t be a hindrance. Listen to people, that’s what good leaders do. Listen to people and hear what they’re complaining about because what they’re complaining about, might be even what you want. So, what’s the big deal? But successive governments have failed to understand the logic of listening.
I am looking at the practicability of when you say that nothing stops the National Assembly from including in the Act that the Supreme Court shall be composed of Justice from the bench, the bar and the academics. Why will the National Assembly want to do that because they benefit from what obtains now. Keep the judiciary small, let us be certain about the people that are getting there, because at the end of the day, they’re going to see over our cases. Why should they want to allow other people to come because they spend money as we hear to influence this justice. So, why would they be interested in letting people they possibly might not be able to exert control over come to the bench?
That’s a good question which I asked Akpabio. I said since you are an uncommon leader, then an uncommon leader goes for uncommon decisions and an uncommon decision is to do exactly what will stop this. I agree with you, if I’m a beneficiary of a process, how many people will be John the Baptist that are going to shrink and allow another man to rise?
So John the Baptist disciples, now seeing that John the Baptist was going, run away and went to Jesus. it’s not easy, but that’s what leadership is about and I’ve given two examples, the Big Bang of Margaret Thatcher and the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt.
But if that is to happen, I don’t know how old you are now, then maybe when you’re 80, the same issue will be on the table. So, unless we have leadership, our problem is leadership.
Chinua Achebe, remember him and his small book, ‘The Trouble with Nigeria’, the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership, nothing else. It is leadership, let’s be honest. There’s nothing else.
At the level of the NJC where you told us that there are five lawyers who are members. Can this lawyers agitate to have more inclusion or go to court about it? What can also be done about the CJN and the NJC being too powerful?
It was done actually in the time of Dahiru Babura Musdapher who I think was the most progressive reform-driven transformational CJN. He did everything I wrote for him, including modern civil procedure rules, a manual that would assist the court to move a lot; I mean the ABCs of everything. Why would you want to go to court and spend 10 years? So everything was written, unfortunately his time was only six months.
So when he retired, Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar carried all those reports and buried them in one cupboard and that was the end of it.
So if we have to have great leaders, that is what I hope will underline all these discussions.
Leadership is the thing that keeps us backward and that’s why I pray for Tinubu to really reach cruising heights.