By Jaye Gaskia
Let us begin by clearing the air on the contentious issue of the legitimacy or otherwise of the current constitution. I like many others who old or young, nevertheless date back to the anti-military and pro-democracy struggles have very serious reservations about this current constitution – the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria [CFRN] as amended.
Let us be clear: the 1999 CFRN was a military decree promulgated as Decree 24 on the 4th of May 1999, months after the military supervised general elections, and only days before the inauguration of the first civilian government of the 4th Republic on the 29th of May 1999. And unlike in previous military supervised exercises, there was no constituent assembly set up, no representative constitution drafting committee was established either. However, in lifting copiously from, and for all intents and purposes plagiarising the 1978 constitution, which unlike its successor was a product of some high-level consultations involving both a constituent assembly and a constitution drafting committee, it nevertheless inherited the historic compromise among key social forces that resulted in the 1978 constitution.
For the avoidance of doubt, the contending social forces involved in negotiating the historic compromise reflected in the 1978 CFRN and inherited in the 1999 CFRN were the civilian wing of the ruling class and its various factions and fractions; the Military wing of the ruling class; and the progressive and left leaning social forces including the labour and students movements, socialist forces, professional associations etc. So yes, the 1999 constitution may have illegitimate immediate origins, but it is for now the subsisting constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Overturning it and legitimising it as a true and real product of the people will require either of two processes, or some combination of the two processes.
The first process involves finding some ingenious ways, driven by patriotic political will to completely overhaul the 1999 CFRN utilising its provisions, and through the institutions established by it. The second potentially viable process is an extra constitutional one, to the extent that the process of adopting a new constitution emanates entirely from outside of the provisions and institutional processes established by the 1999 CFRN. It is in this sense that a call for a Sovereign National Conference or Sovereign Constituent Assembly amounts to an insurrectionary call, a call for and readiness to carry out an insurrection. A sitting government that has not been militarily defeated or weakened, cannot and will not willingly submit its authority and powers to a process that will be sovereign to it.
Anyway, let us get back to the reason for this intervention. If in accordance with the provisions of the 1999 CFRN as amended in Chapter Two, Section 14, subsection 2 (b) ‘’the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government’’; then it follows that where a government is clearly unable to, or unwilling to, or perceived to be either unable to or unwilling to ensure ‘’the security and welfare of the people’’, such a government can be said to be a failed or failing government; and where these inability and or unwillingness has become systemic and pervasive, handed over from regime and government to succeeding regimes and government; then it can also be said to be clear symptoms of a failing or failed state.
Since the return to civil rule and the inauguration of the 4th Republic in May 1999, regardless of the rate of GDP growth, and irrespective of whether the GDP is in negative or positive growth – that is whether the economy is growing or shrinking; unemployment rates have consistently soared – from less than 10% at the beginning of the 4th Republic to close to 40% in 2018; poverty rates have persistently increased – from about 54% at the beginning of the 4th Republic to over 70% now; while housing deficit has also climbed precipitously to its present level of nearly 20 million housing deficit. The implication of 20 million housing deficit with an average family size of 6 is that about 120 million Nigerians are living in subhuman hosing conditions or are homeless.
Fundamentally we are also the country with the largest population of the poor in Africa, and third largest in the world [at 152 million living below $2 a day]; with the largest population of out of school children in Africa, and again the third largest in the world [at 13.6 million children]. Similarly, we also rank third highest with respect to infant and maternal motility rates in the world.
At the level of security, the situation is no better, and because this has direct immediate impact on lives as well as the integrity of the human body with respect to bodily harm; the context with the security of people is perhaps even more significant and symptomatic of the character and nature of a state and government.
So, for instance in 2016 global fatality from various armed conflicts totalled 157,000 deaths; in Nigeria since 2016, according to the Nigeria Security Tracker [NST] of the Council on Foreign Relations, conflict related fatalities have averaged roughly 1,000 deaths per month, or an average of 12,000 deaths per annum.
The implication of this is that of the 157,00 fatalities from conflicts globally in 2016 about 12,000 of these were Nigerians; only lower than Syria with 50,000 fatalities; Mexico with 23,000 fatalities; Iraq with 17,000 fatalities; and Afghanistan with 16,000 fatalities.
To put the figures in perspective, again according to the NSF, Monthly fatality figures were 484 in January 2016, 589 in January 2017; 571 in January 2018, and 795 by April 2018.
We must bear in mind that these figures are taken from documented records including from official records and media reports, and to this extent it may actually be [much] lower than the actual reality on the ground.
Again, these fatalities include data from the Boko Haram insurgency, Niger Delta Militancy, Secessionist agitations, Herders’ and Farmers conflicts among others. They also include fatalities from the actions of the armed groups as well as from the security forces of the state in response to the armed activities of the armed groups.
The Nigeria Security Tracker [NST] was established by the Council on Foreign Relations in May 2011, and from that time up till April 2018, it is has tracked over 50,000 fatalities in total for Nigeria.
We know that death is not the only outcome of conflicts; survivors are displaced just as they suffer various forms of physical and psychological harm.
Furthermore, according to the Displacement Tracking Matrix [DTM] of the UN High Commission for Refugees [UNHCR], the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East alone has resulted in the displacement of about 2.8 million Nigerians as of June 2017.
Now given this grave context with respect to the fate of the people regarding their security and welfare, which as the 1999 CFRN clearly states, ‘’shall be the primary purpose of government,’’ it is debatable if we can adjudge this or previous governments of having passed the litmus test of governance.
For the avoidance of doubt, and with respect to security and protection of citizens; the position of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and policy frameworks codified in treaties and conventions is that the Responsibility to Protect is that of the State. Period!
Thus, however the managers of the Nigerian state at all levels [Local Government, State Government and Federal Government] may wish to spin the facts, as governments they have failed and are failing to implement the constitutional provision that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government; just as the state they are superintending above through the failure of their leadership, has failed, and is failing in its Responsibility to Protect its citizens and those resident within its territory.
The implication of all of these is that the state and the government through its actions and inactions is culpable of dereliction of duty, and is guilty of failing to protect the people and ensure their security and welfare.
In the foregoing context what can we as citizens do? In the short term and in the immediate; it is the duty of every Nigeria, every citizen, every resident in the territory of Nigeria to step forward and take a stand against the continued wanton killings of Nigerians all over the country, and demand that the State and Government take concrete, visible, verifiable, and confidence building actions to protect the people.
If a government is unable to or unwilling to protect the people and ensure the security and welfare of the people as the primary purpose of government; then it should resign and or be impeached.
And more fundamentally, as we are on the eve of a general election; Nigerians must ensure that they use their power as voters to ensure that they have and elect a government [at all levels] that will be willing and able to utilise and effectively deploy the resources of the state to protect the people regardless of their faith, sex, ethnicity, and wherever they may be resident in Nigeria.
Our task as citizens therefore include that we ensure that those of us who are eligible to vote [that is 18 years and above] are duly registered to vote and that we collect our Permanent Voters Cards [PVCs].
Our duty also includes that we get involved in the political conversations and ensure that the issue of protection of the people and the security and welfare of the people become the cardinal issues in the election campaign; and that furthermore, we actually come out to vote on election days.
Underlying the above is the urgent necessity for each and everyone of us to rise above the parochialism of the ruling class, to rise above our ethnic and religious diversity; and take a stand as Nigerians against the Killing of any Nigerian anywhere within or without the borders of Nigeria.
Only when united as citizens universally impacted by the inability of the state and the government to protect us or to ensure our security and welfare as the primary purpose of government; can place ourselves in the position to halt this mindless carnage, and sack this inhuman ruling class from power.
An injury to one, as we say, is an injury to all. Let us take a collective stand as citizens; let us begin the process of reclaiming our humanity; Let us join hands together to mourn the loss of our compatriots, to solidarise with our survivor compatriots, and to make an emphatic demand to stop the killings, and to protect the people.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step as the Chinese will say. Let us all come together May 28th for a national day of mourning as announced.
Let all Nigerians, as workers, as the labour movement; as students and the student movement; as working peoples in the informal sector; as youths and the youth movement; as citizens and the civic movement; let us all come together and salvage our country and take the step towards National Healing and National Rebirth. #StopTheKillings & #ProtectThePeople
Gaskia is convener of Take Back Nigeria and a presidential aspirant for 2019.