Mrs. Morenike Babington-Ashaye is the Chairman, Accounting Education Research Services (ACCERS) and the founding member, Chartered Institute of Taxation. She has held key positions in the public and private sectors like being the chairman, Ogun State Internal Revenue Service and principal lecturer at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos. She speaks with John Iwori, about the constitutional review, resource control, and other issues
I n many parts of Nigeria, democracy seems to be at war with protests, agitations, terrorism, public distrust, and hate speeches. What could be the reason?
The recent utterances and actions of youths and some elders in Nigeria are indications that democracy is at war. We have no doubt that a lot can be done to avoid war in Nigeria again. We are aware that many foreign countries and organizations are studying the situation and already taking sides. Governments around the world must understand that democracy is not tantamount to terrorism, oppression, discrimination, exploitation, dehumanization, and marginalization. These are the vices democracy intends to abolish. The society expects a lot from government but when democracy is turned into democratized dictatorship where government separate itself from the people and make decisions that suit itself, there is bound to be protests, agitations and wars. It is evidenced that there is no transparency and accountability. Government officials flaunt their ill-gotten wealth. They colonized the people who voted them to power and the situation becomes an era of slavery, it is natural for people to agitate, revolt or even goes to war. You cannot ask people to vote you to power only to turn around and squeeze life out of them through policies and behaviours that do not meet the expectations of the society. Many political leaders around the world see politics as a trade where they invest money and expect it to yield profit through the popular vehicle of corruption, which I regard as ‘stealing or armed robbery’ as such act has negative impact on the well-being of the society. More importantly, they use their powers to terrorize the people. They are worse than Boko Haram, yet there is no system to fight them. I call it legalized terrorism. The attitude of many governments around the world has killed so many people, make people poorer. This is what I call ‘democratized dictatorship’.
How can democracy be run successfully?
The success of democracy depends on the inclusiveness of good people in decision making and running the government. We cannot continue to put our destiny in the hands of politicians. We need to design a new method. In Nigeria, political party system has failed us since independence. Politicians have caused havoc with their attitudes. They are corrupt in character and knowledge. They regard politics as a vehicle for getting powers and enriching themselves illegally. It is very unfortunate. The few good people who are there to serve are overpowered by those I tagged ‘political terrorists’. Democracy can work successfully if we choose the right people and organize our society within our financial means.
The present constitution provided the avenue for the alteration or amendment of the constitution and section 9 gave the legislators the power to alter the constitution. That does not give the legislators the power to amend without the people’s intentions well documented in the constitution.
We should all challenge the National Assembly instead of bothering the Executives. There is no section in the Constitution that gave the executives the power to alter or sign a new constitution into law. We also need to restructure our systems – the political, social, and economic orders which are elements of the fundamental objectives need to be revisited.
Why do you think we need the People’s Constitution?
Nigeria requires a new constitution. That is the one that is made by the people themselves. Even though the constitution was reviewed in 2014, the report should not be used in isolation of the results of people’s intention on restructuring. The present constitution has a lot of flaws, which amendments cannot resolve. The structure of the country must first be agreed before a constitution can be developed along that structure. The present constitution is flawed and broken because of the following:
• It assumed that all Nigerians participated in its making and approval. This was a military decision. I expected that the military should have made the constitution a temporary document.
• It fails to ensure that power was not taken away from the people by those elected to serve.
• It fails to organize government in such a way that there would be distinct functions for each tier of government to avoid duplication of duties and costs, misinterpretation, and misuse of power.
• It fails to ensure that the resources of any community are retained and controlled by that community, even if activities would be carried out on its behalf by joint governments (the three tiers of governments).
• There is no organized constitutional institution that can supervise the executive, legislative and judiciary. That gives them the power to intimidate and terrorize the people.
• It fails to integrate the people and governments. The state creation is causing disintegration among people of the same language, culture, and values.
• It fails to recognize that Nigeria is a multi-national society with distinct languages, cultures, and values. The use of our language as lingua franca was ignored and preference was made for a foreign language which has the tendency of disintegrating the people.
• It fails to protect the citizens by assuming that those elected and appointed to serve would be men and women of conscience and will govern selflessly, act transparently, and be accountable to the people.
How can Nigerians bring about a new constitution?
The bringing about of a new constitution is not an assignment for this present Buhari/Osinbajo administration, but for the people of Nigeria in a democratic process. The present government came into office with the slogan of change in governance by wiping out corruption, making our people prosperous, building infrastructure for education, health, electricity, housing, transportation, roads and providing abundant food to mention a few. To assess the government and those elected/selected to serve we must give the team time to concentrate on election promises. Let the rest of us concentrate on how to prepare a good ground for a new country in 2019. Let us spend the remaining two years to foster great relationship among the different nations that make up Nigeria, restructure Nigeria and develop a new constitution. That is an assignment for the people and the legislators.
Let our youths in every zone of the country concentrate their energy not on hate and agitation but on how to prepare a better nation. Let each youth group or association begin to decide on the type of Nigeria they want for themselves and the next generation and generation unborn. Let the youths take their resolutions to their elders for guidance and then to the Houses of Assembly and get their support and endorsement. Thereafter, let them take their resolutions to the National Assembly where their decisions can be examined and differences resolved. Until we have a national constitution council consisting of eminent and nonpartisan individuals and who can oversee the implementation of the constitution by the three tiers of government, the National and State Houses of Assembly will mediate into conflicts in the implementation of the constitution. They are holding our powers. Even though they belong to different political parties, by the 1999 constitution, section 14.2 says the sovereignty belongs to the people from whom government derives its powers and authority.
What is your take on the restructuring of Nigeria and do you think some people are against restructuring?
It amazes me when some people speak against restructuring. Restructuring is a reformation or a rearrangement of anything or people. We restructure our families, our businesses, ourselves, and why can’t we restructure our country? Every day or regularly, you examine yourself, your business, your family, and where things are not working the way they should, you restructure. That is the most intelligent way to live peacefully. Presently, the structure laid down in the 1999 constitution for the nation is not working and no one can doubt that. Therefore, let us do a re-arrangement that will make everybody happy. Ex-President Barrack Obama of the United States during his first inaugural speech said, ‘let us have mutual respect’. We gain a lot through this process and we have nothing to lose by respecting each other for who we are and what we are. Those who are against restructuring are the terrorists in power (directly or indirectly) who will like to capitalize on the loopholes in the constitution to continue to have access to power and wealth. They are those who are interested in widening the gap between the rich and the poor and those who feel unsafe when we begin to witness an egalitarian society where justice is not for sale and the people are happy.
What do we need to do to achieve democratic success and reduce cost of governance?
Let us evolve a new constitution based on presentations from all nations that make up Nigeria as to how they want to be governed. This brings about the restructuring that is inevitable. Let power belong to the people and be retained by them. Taking power from the people and giving it to their representatives, who are political investors and speculators is a political robbery that denies people of their power and rights. Let us resolve the ownership of land and its resources. The land and its resources belong to the community that owns them and a memorandum of understanding (MoU) must be reached before any exploitation of the land. This arrangement will bring a lasting solution to peace in our country.
Let us agree on the type of government that will be less costly within the framework of the federation. A government that will integrate the people having the same language, culture and values will stand the country in good stead. The present system of government is continuously disintegrating the people and making people lose their sense of belonging to one nation.
Let us determine how tax laws are to be enacted, and how taxes are administered and expended. Functions of government must be distinct and not duplicated hence let duties be allocated. Exclusive list and concurrent list are not necessary once functions and powers are defined. Let us consider the welfare of Nigerians as paramount and not negotiable. Let us make the Constitution binding on everyone by ensuring that we have less legislative matters. Issues that have been entrenched in the constitution no longer require to be legislated upon. A lot of issues that are now being raised in the National Assembly are constitutional rights of the people.
What is your take on resource control?
Resources of any community must be recognized to belong to that community and they must be given a say in how their resources are used or exploited. No amount of compensation can resolve this issue. If the people of a zone want to sleep for 24 hours a day, if that is their chosen lifestyle, and it will generate revenue for them, please let them be if they will not disturb the peace of the country or any other zone. Resource control will make governments of the federation to be resourceful and progressive. The present structure of pooling all the resources together and sharing according to hospital beds, land mass, population and the rest is very regressive, and make governments lazy and unproductive. It is not equitable when those who have no resources will share more than those who have.
How can we have peace in Nigeria?
To create or sustain a harmonious relationship, it must continuously be examined and re-arranged when necessary. To do otherwise is preparing the ground for hatred and war through agitations and protests. We know that democracy is not perfect but one expects to see a better world. In many countries, politicians have turned society against each other. There are too many protests and agitations and people are not happy. We are living in a world of democratised dictatorship. Imagine the amount of money countries spent on weapons of destruction and the amount of money the United Nations (UN) and other organisations spend on maintaining peace in the world. The two put together is enough to eradicate poverty in the world. The root cause of protests, agitations and wars is poverty which is a branch of inequity. This is not good for the world. To make sure that Nigeria is indivisible and indissoluble, we must put structures to cement those key words, ‘indivisible’ and ‘indissoluble’. The cost of governance is too high. The gap between the rich and poor is becoming wider every day. Social order, especially in the welfare of the people is poorly implemented. The economic order is not in congruent with the needs of the people. The political order is in shamble as the implementation of true federalism has been difficult to achieve. The removal of power from the people through section 14.2 of the constitution is not acceptable. Let it be stated that sovereignty belongs to the people and their powers are well stated without ambiguity. The people should not be intimidated through the provisions of the constitution. The people must not wait for the politicians who occupy all these three organs or have the power to appoint or select people to positions of authority before they can take actions that are necessary. Therefore, I suggest the National Constitution Council that can act for the people. We don’t want a democratized dictatorship in the world and not in Nigeria.