A former United States Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, has said President Muhammadu Buhari must urgently take a number of steps that could immediately help to salvage the country from collapsing, otherwise, if the current situation continues to deteriorate, the imminent implosion would be an “unmitigated disaster.”
In an exclusive interview with THISDAY, Campbell described the 1914 amalgamation of the Southern and Northern protectorates as an idea by the British colonial rulers for mere administrative convenience, which failed to factor the fault lines into proper account.
Listing some of the immediate steps to include addressing the police and military’s age-old issue of human rights abuses, he added that the agitations in some quarters for secession could be also addressed if the federal government considered the logic in power devolution.
“Right away, it would be those steps that could be taken that would show Nigerian people that the government is moving to address the issues that bedevil the country. I would start with police reform and also, seeking to address the question of human rights abuses by both the police and the military,” Campbell told THISDAY.
The former US ambassador and the Ralph Bunche senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations also recommended that the federal government should seriously consider a constitution that addresses the aspiration of the masses and endorsed by them.
He argued that the previous as well as the current constitutions used by the Nigerian government were imposed and did not address Nigeria’s genuine political faultlines and aspirations, including its various ethnic nationalities, and urged those in power to pursue a course of rewriting the constitution that genuinely takes into consideration current issues and realities.
Campbell explained: “The amalgamation of Nigeria by the British was done for their own administrative convenience without any consultation of Nigerians and without even very much thinking about what the consequences might be of putting together in a single unit 350 different ethnic groups that had little in common with each other.
“But, I would suggest that that approach has continued. Nigeria’s constitutions had been imposed first by the British, later by various military regimes, and was never submitted to the Nigerian people for a vote or for ratification.”
The senior fellow at the CFR think-tank maintained that Nigeria’s current constitution mimicked that of the U.S. but is generally relics of the British colonial rule and military regimes that had superintended Nigeria.
“The current constitution, in many respects, mimics that of the United States. In the immediate post-independence period, the country’s constitution essentially mimicked that of the Westminster way of governance. Maybe these western models have shortcomings, when they are imposed on 350 different ethnic groups,” Campbell observed.
He, however, warned that if the government and the political class remained indifferent to the current nationwide crises, Nigeria might end up in what he described as an “unmitigated disaster.”
According to him, “Well, implosion of the country would be an unmitigated disaster. Whether that occurs or not is very largely up to Nigerians themselves and to their political leadership. The issue, the specific issue that I think is most dangerous at present is the deterioration of security across the country.
“Jihadism in the North, conflict over water and land use in the Middle Belt, conflicts that often assume an ethnic and religious dimension, growing separatism sentiment in the South-East and even in Yorubaland the emergence of new institutions, which are not federal. I am talking in particular of the sort of quasi-security force that a number of the Yoruba governors have put together.”
Insisting on a constitution that reflects the aspirations of Nigerians and the current realities, Campbell noted that true federalism where the states are less dependent on the central government would serve the nation better.
“I think if there were genuine federalism in Nigeria, much of the agitation for ethnically based separatism would go away. What are the elements of genuine federalism? First of all, the entities that make up a federal republic need to be able to raise their own revenue and not be dependent on the central government for revenue, and now, almost all of the states are. I think only Lagos state, in fact, is able to raise much, though, not all of the revenue it needs,” he further explained.