The Christians in Nigeria are committed to Nigeria’s unity and greatness. We believe that God made us one country even if it is through the agency of flawed human beings. We believe that God has endowed us with all the natural and human resources we need to achieve the great destiny he has for our country Nigeria. What remains is for us to resolve to do the work of justice and peace and to pursue prosperity through diligent, honest and intelligent leadership.
Sadly, since 1914 when our different ethnic, religious and social groups were merged into one country, our leaders have not consistently and sincerely pursued justice, peace and righteousness. This failure explains why Nigeria has failed to realize its manifest destiny as the greatest black country in the world. This failure started even under colonial rule when the colonial administration refused to fully integrate the country and erected divisive and exploitative social and economic institutions. The Nigerian nationalists who succeeded the colonialists failed to reverse course and entrenched the dysfunctional political order. Not long, the republic failed and we have ever since marched on the path of avoidable crises.
But we can reverse course. We can get back to the vision of a united, prosperous and just Nigeria where all members of this community share equally in the labor and the gains of nationhood. That is the vision of the CAN for Nigeria. That is our commitment. We believe that the duty of leadership falls on all of us to seek ways to rebuild a better Nigeria on the pillars of truth, freedom and justice for all Nigerians and Nigerian people. We believe that it is now time to be bold and honest about the future of Nigeria. It is not time for telling ourselves comfortable stories, patting ourselves on the back and pretending all is well and all will be well. All is not well. Today, Nigeria has the worst economic indicators than at any time in its history. Today, Nigeria is more divided than even the days that led to the civil war. Today, Nigeria faces one of the gravest insecurity situation than at any other time in its history. We have to act with clarity. We have to act with courage. We have to act with sincerity.
The Christian Association of Nigeria is not interested in looking around for who to blame. We believe that we have to work hard with other Nigerians to find solutions that work. For this reason, CAN has developed a strategic policy document that carefully diagnoses the Nigerian crises and offers a considered framework for its resolution. It is this document that we present to this delegation to consider as you campaign and prepare for governance, if you win the 2023 presidential election. In this presentation, we will highlight some of the strategic issues raised in the document and which forms the position of Christians in Nigeria regarding the future of Nigeria.
Back to History:
History matters for development of a country. We have abandoned history hence we keep repeating history. We have to put things right. But we must first fully understand the mistakes of the past to be able to correct them and put our beloved country on the right path to greatness.
The groundwork for Nigeria’s dysfunctional governance was laid before independence, even remotely during the beginning of colonial administration, and specifically at the last constitutional conference before independence in 1960. Review of memoirs and writings of Nigerian British colonial officers show that the idea of a Nigerian state was a halfhearted and hesitant one. During the amalgamation, Lord Lugard and his colleagues were reluctant to fully integrate the country. In a famous phrase, Lord Lugard meant to subsidize one region from the resources of another region. Even in this disjointed and superficial manner, in 1914 southern and northern protectorates were unified into the Nigerian state. A British historian, reviewing Lugard’s Nigeria, cryptically observed that “the most remarkable thing about Lugard’s amalgamation of Nigeria is that it never really took place”.
Nigeria gained independence in 1960. In 1958, as Nigeria prepares for independence, minorities across the north and south of the country were worried about equity and justice in what promises to be illiberal and intolerant post-colonial politics.
This agitation led to the Willinsk Commission established to inquire into the fears and grievances of ethnic minorities in Nigeria. The Commission identified these fears and grievances as genuine and proposed the insertion of a Bill of Rights in the 1960 Constitution and guaranteed representation for minorities in the legislature as solutions. The Commission contemplated the establishment of regional police to address concern about ethnic manipulation of law enforcement but counselled that Nigeria waits for two more years to work out formalities for the co-existence of national and regional police forces. Later in 1959, Nigerian political leaders met in London to prepare a constitutional framework for post-colonial governance in Nigeria.
Religion and State in Nigeria:
The gravest aspect of our constitutional incoherence is that failure to create a constitutional order that is suitable for a society with multiple religious beliefs and practices. This failure has thrown Nigeria into perennial religious conflicts. The failure is precisely that mainstreamed religion into politics instead of creating a wall of separation between the state and religion. The constitution in section 10, states that Nigeria and any state in Nigeria will not have a state religion. This provision is reinforced by Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution which guarantees to every Nigeria the freedom of religion which includes the right to hold, change and propagate his religion. The prohibition against having a state religion is not only that the country or part of it will not make an official declaration that no one else should belong to another religion. No. it is more than that. It includes the government of the federation or the state acting in any manner that confers one advantage or disability to one religion and not the other. This means that when governors of states in northern Nigeria implement a policy of not granting statutory right of occupancy to churches over landed property they are violating Section 10 and 38 of the Constitution. It means that when a government spends public money to hire teacher for Islamic schools and not for Christian schools, it violates Section 10 and 38 of the Constitution and vice versa. This position was brought out clearly by the Court of Appeal in the case of Adamu v. Bauchi State Government.
Anyone who soberly considers the actions of previous and current Nigerian government over religion will realize that those actions proclaim a state religion. It is this flagrant violation of our common citizenship through the co-mingling of religion and politics that is the main cause of religious conflict in Nigeria, terrorism, and insecurity. We cannot make progress as a nation if we do not behave like other multi-ethnic, multireligious nation-states that remove religion from politics. We have to be a religiously neutral state, not a religious state. We must have a constitution that is focused on democratic citizenship where government pay no attention to any private identity apart from citizenship. This transition to a modern, democratic, secular state from a neo-feudal, theocratic state requires both constitutional and administrative reforms. It requires that the next Nigerian President carefully constitutes his policy and program to ensure good balance between Christians and Muslims so that the past practice of reckless violation of the rights of one religion or the other will not reoccur. That is the minimum requirement of saving Nigeria.
A Summary of the Problem with Nigerian Constitutions:
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Our problem as a nation is mostly constitutional and partly managerial. We have to properly diagnose the constitutional roots of our problem as a people. The founders of an independent Nigeria in 1960 set for themselves and future generations of Nigerians a grand vision of a prosperous and united country founded on justice and equity. Today, that vision has not been realized. Nigeria is a poor and conflict-ridden country with neither justice nor equity. Why did our vision fail?
Nigeria failed because of incoherence between the vision of justice, prosperity and unity in diversity, and its institutions and practices of politics and economy. In place of inclusion, Nigeria instituted and entrenched the politics of exclusion; in place of protection of fundamental rights, Nigeria embraced violations of the rights of its peoples; in place of justice for all, Nigeria practiced privilege for the few; and in place of secular, democratic governance, Nigeria promoted theocratic, neo-Feudal governance.
The incoherence of political and economic institutions in Nigeria reflects in the following:
• A constitutional order that is based on sharing rather than producing and rewards those who consume rather than those who produce, thereby creating no incentive for productivity.
• A constitutional order that proclaims secularity but also allows state institutions to promote religion and religious norms that violates the fundamental rights of citizens in public law
• A constitutional order that proclaims equal right of citizenship but also define citizenship as based on ethnicity.
• A constitutional order that weakens democratic citizenship and promotes aristocracy of ethnic, religious, and social bluebloods
• A constitutional order that proclaims that human rights are fundamental but provides many textual justifications for the states to derogate from those rights with the flimsiest excuses
• A constitutional order that deprives communities and states of control of their resources and grants those who are not impacted by the explorations of those resources greater benefits
• A political economy that is not focused on creating wealth and providing social services to citizens
• A political system that centralizes power and decision-making and therefore deprives communities of effective participation in managing and improving their lives
• A political system that entrenches ethnic and religious domination and promotes impunity and abuse of power.
Roadmap to Constitutional Reform for Future Nigeria:
These constitutional incoherencies paint a terrible situation for Nigeria. But Nigeria is redeemable. We can rescue the country from a final collapse and restart it on the path to prosperity, stability, and justice. The salvation of Nigeria requires far-reaching actions that strike at the roots of the problem. These actions revolve around the following fundamental changes:
• A new constitutional order premised on devolution of power, decentralization of authority and democratic accountability.
• A constitutional order that proclaims in unmistakable terms enforceable civil and political rights as well as social and economic rights that promote substantive economic and social welfare for every citizen. This means the incorporation of full citizenship rights for all Nigerians.
• A constitutional order that abolishes all vestiges of feudalism, ethnocentrism, and ethnic and religious domination in Nigeria by providing the right to self-determination for Nigerian ethnic and cultural groups and incorporating the right of a referendum in the constitution.
• A constitutional order that is based on meritocracy and production rather than privilege and consumption. This means a fiscal regime that give natural resources to communities that bear them who will pay royalties to the federal government. God has blessed every community in Nigeria with abundant resources. Let every community in Nigeria focus on optimizing its resources instead of fighting over sharing of limited resources.
• An electoral system that truly guarantees that the right of the people to choose their leaders will never be hijacked by the rich and the privileged. This means an Electoral Management Board that can never be under the control of politicians and an electoral process that ensures all votes are counted fairly and freely. Such system must be free of violence and be open to public scrutiny.
• An economic system that develops rural communities and eliminates mass poverty through prioritizing investment in health, education, and wellbeing of citizens and reducing the cost of governance.
We believe that these are the minimum constitutional guarantees of a future Nigeria that will be different from the present. We believe that until we undertake these fundamental changes, which many people term ‘restructuring’, Nigeria will not recover from the danger of looming state failure.
Brief Statement about the Managerial Roots of the Crisis:
Beyond constitution, to rescue Nigeria from its drift towards state failure, we need to have urgent managerial interventions. The leadership failure has compounded the constitutional dysfunction of the Nigerian state. Fixing constitution may be a longer process and some of the features of a constitutional change are not completely in the control of the President. But there are administrative actions that will help recover Nigeria and restart it on the path of development and freedom.
The key leadership failure is that Nigerian leadership elites have been reluctant to address the root of the Nigerian crisis. They have rather acted to compound these crises. The new President of Nigeria must start on a different note. He must undertake strategic actions on three fronts:
(1) Nationality and citizenship
He must give clear indication that Nigerians have common citizenship and that every Nigerian should be treated as a Nigerian, no matter where he lives. That is, no Nigerian should be discriminated on any matter of goods and services provide by any authority in Nigeria, whether at the federal or state levels. He has to sign an executive order requiring all public officers and authorities in Nigeria to ensure they do not discriminate against any Nigerian on matter of ethnicity or religion. The Executive Order will require that all ministries, departments and agencies of the federal and state governments must follow strictly federal character in appointment, promotion and staffing.
The president will signal this federal character and balance by making sure all appointments into all military and para-military agencies, including the Armed Forces, Police, DSS, NIA, NCDC, etc., are balanced between Christians and Muslims and between ethnic diversities.
(2) Religion and the State:
Before we have time to review our constitution to align it to the global best practice for plural societies, the next president should be able to take administrative action to pull the state away from co-mingling religion and the state. The next president should use Executive Order to mandate that where anyone legally purchases a landed property in Nigeria for religious purposes, they should not be denied Certificate of Occupancy on account of their religion. The Executive Order will further create a desk in the Ministry of Justice to oversight violation of the executive order.
(3) Devolution of government function:
Whilst we need a constitutional review to achieve desired level of restructuring, there is a significant room for administrative devolution of government responsibility without a constitutional review. The President should utilize his executive power to decentralize significant government functions. Such actions will ensure better efficiency and accountability.
Policy Roadmap for a Future Nigeria:
For avoidance of doubt we present the policy that will address the crises of development in Nigeria:
• State police or fully decentralized police authority
• Clear and unambiguous religious neutrality of the Nigerian state
• Enforcement of fundamental rights of all Nigerians, including economic and social rights
• Restructuring to decentralize governance
• Equitable and enforceable sharing of executive positions
• Ethnic and religious representation in military and security agencies
• Self-determination for all Nigerian people
• No to Ruga, yes to ranching
• Education and free healthcare to all Nigerians (including Almajiri)
• No open grazing (rather modernization of animal husbandry)
• Local control of local economy, including waters, rivers, and forest
The Christian community in Nigeria is worried that Nigeria is slouching towards complete state failure. We are worried that disorientation in public leadership makes this a self-fulfilling prophesy. But we are reassured by the words of the scripture that whenever a people recognize their errors and make amend, God of justice will show them mercy and the land will be healed. Nigeria is not a lost case. Nigeria has hope. Nigeria has a great future. But that hope and future rest on resolving the constitutional incoherence that has determined our bloody past and our miserable present. It threatens to deny us the future. But if we agree to create a new constitutional order on the basis of equality, justice, and self-determination, if we determine to create a new social compact between Nigerians of different religious, ethnic, and social groups, we will recover the promise of a great, peaceful, and prosperous Nigeria.
The Christian community in Nigeria is ready for an honest and hard conversation about Nigeria. The Charter for Future Nigeria is an extension of a hand of goodwill to other Nigerians, irrespective of their ethnic, cultural, and religious identity. The message is simple: “come, let us build a new Nigeria.”