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June 12: A postscript




Friday Musings with Ayo Olukotun,

[email protected], 07055841236

The recent decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to confer on Chief MKO Abiola, posthumously the highest national honour, as well as tender a public apology to the Abiola family, is arguably the most important action of the Buhari presidency. Though garbled and smacks of opportunism, it reached beyond the formalities and routines of politics to bring closure and healing to a vivid injury, a gash in the national psyche, that was never fully mollified by the ‘award’ of the presidency to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, as compensation.

The Nigerian state has always thrived in grand and opaque isolation from its citizens. Predatory, unaccountable, sometimes irrational and unresponsive, the jostle for its control has elicited unexplained assassinations, monumental corruption and spectral massacres. Given this background, Buhari whose career as a military and civilian politician is bound up with the fogginess and dodgy character of the state, ironically moved that wily and hard to reform octopus towards redemption and humanisation. For once, in a golden interval, conversation can take place between citizens holding elective offices, and those who do not but are profitably engaged in the production of our collective wealth. Nonetheless it is observable that this important decision took place almost as an afterthought, lacking the character of a well-thought-out, policy output. It took a stormy debate in the legislature, the day after the announcement was made, to reveal the jagged edges of the pronouncement. For example, there was a need to have amended or sought the amendment of the Public Holidays Act, which specifically mentions May 29th as Democracy Day, as well as tinker with the National Honours Act which did not envisage the granting of National Honours to the dead, however deserving. Apart from that, would it not have been tidier to bring closure to the controversy of the contested June 12 election by a proclamation, through the electoral commission announcing the result of the annulled election? All of these may be matters of details and fine-tuning, but they show the underside of the policy-making process in which popular and worthy decisions are made by ambush, haphazardly and without clear forethought.

It is time we do away with governance which takes the citizens by surprise, apparently a carryover of the military mentality of subterfuge and sleight of hand. A less dishevelled scenario of policy-making would have been to look at all the sides, anticipate possible objections and loopholes, run it by a think tank including some legislators or senior lawyers, in order to come up with unassailable and unimpeachable decisions. This may seem like a fastidious quibble until you begin to factor that several decisions in our national life are made casually and without the benefit of profound and searching thoughtfulness. Till today, it is not entirely clear whether and to what extent policy-making in some key areas is guided by the cross fertilization of ideas which think tanks bring into governance. True, the Vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, is surrounded by some policy wonks but it is hard to delineate which decisions originate from him and which ones are from Buhari. Not to stray off the point, the restitution and healing which were intended by the recent welcome decision fell short of the coherence and gravity which should have accompanied it because of the lax and laid back manner in which the decision was taken.

Some analysts have pointed out the contradiction in Buhari, who had been anything but an advocate or apostle of June 12, suddenly veering to adopt the platform and even carrying forward, in a memorable way some of its core agenda. There is of course precedent in our national life, for such crossing of the carpet, especially on the eve of elections. Former President Goodluck Jonathan consistently opposed the idea of a National Conference for many years before making a turnaround to adopt and implement it, possibly for electoral gains. Politicians tend to be desperate on the eve of elections, especially when they are not sure that they have done so well in meeting the expectations of the people. However, that may be, it is important to state that the abiding lessons of June 12, the need to restrain presidential omnipotence and to respect the rights of the constituent nationalities of Nigeria, redesign an over centralised and lopsided federation, restore the integrity of the electoral process, getting the people to buy in, into democracy, have not been learnt. At this point however, the columnist digresses to accommodate a short take.

This writer spent a good chunk of Tuesday, June 12 at a seminar organised by the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy, with the theme “Constitutional Foundations of Political Corruption in Nigeria and a Reform Strategy”. The guest lecturer is a well-known scholar of Nigerian federalism, Prof. Rotimi Suberu, who currently teaches at Bennington College in the United States. In attendance were Professors Akin Mabojunje, Alaba Ogunsanwo, Ademola Oyejide, Abiola Oyejide, Olabode Lucas, Michael Adeyeye, as well as younger scholars such as Drs. Tunji Olaopa, the convener, Tunde Oseni, Muyiwa Adigun, David Enweremadu, Dhikru Yagboyaju, Remi Ayede, Akeem Amadu and several others.

The burden of Suberu’s exciting presentation was the need to reform and reinvent the Nigerian State by building barriers against the abuse of presidential power, the lack of transparency in key Nigerian institutions for example in the oil sector, the anti-graft agencies and so on. Using the reform of the electoral institution and processes as a template, Suberu argues that Nigeria is reformable, provided the right blend of leadership, agenda setting, values and polices are in place. Interestingly, he argues that for the current anti-corruption policy to succeed there is a need to push through and deepen the ongoing constitutional review process, and the restructuring of the current system of unconditional federal revenue distribution. The harvest of proposals      from both the lecturer and the audience should find their way, hopefully, into the policy-making arena.

To revert to the original topic, it should be mentioned that the revisiting of June 12 by Buhari is a salutary gesture, which should be perfected by introducing the appropriate legal instrument, in order to grant it the solidity it deserves. Beyond this, the recent course of action should encourage Buhari to ponder his place in history. Will he like to confine his intervention to healing gestures or is he willing to undertake a transformation of the Nigerian state and polity? If he opts for transformation, he can no longer fight shy of the much demanded and overdue National Conference in one form or another. Considering that the election is fast approaching, will he want to look at the possibility of simply implementing some of the extant recommendations by earlier conferences?

In the same vein, immortalising the spirit of June 12 should be about toning up the tempo of governance by paying particular attention to the welfare benefits that can give content to the concept of Nigerian citizenship.

Finally, the escalating insecurity in the country and the growing feeling that the people of the Middle Belt are second class citizens should be reversed immediately. If this happens Buhari would have paid lasting tribute to the spirit of June 12.

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