By Peter Ishaka and Charles Onyekamuo
The state of the nation dominated discussions Saturday as constitutional lawyer and legal luminary, Prof Ben Nwabueze (SAN), who is also a member of The Patriots, comprising a group of respected senior citizens and headed by the late Chief Rotimi Williams (SAN), marked his 80th birthday.
Nwabueze criticised the political structure of the country, describing as unwieldy the present 36-state structure of the federation and prescribed a leaner federation comprising not more than eight power blocs.
Speaking at an event to mark his birthday in his Atani country home in Ogbaru Local Government Area, Anambra State, Nwabueze stated that each power bloc, if need be, could restructure the federating units within them.
The occasion featured the launch of Nwabueze’s book, ‘Current Issues and Problems in the Working of Constitutional Democracy in Nigeria’.
Nwabueze bemoaned the decay in the polity and erosion of the value system and reemphasised that a revolution is needed to enthrone moral regulation in Nigeria.
He said Nigeria after over 50 years of independence had not lived up to the expectations he had in mind when he returned to the country in 1962 to pioneer the establishment of a law faculty at the University of Lagos.
He said: “When I returned to the country in 1962, there was promise of greatness. Today, if you ask me, I am not happy. It is all disappointment everywhere; the country is retrogressing in spite of her wealth.
“Her value system is eroded. Truth, justice, do not mean anything again in this country today. Everywhere, it is money, money, money. These are things that make me sad.
“I normally ask myself, is this, the Nigeria I returned to in 1962 to work and fight for?
“But the question is how do we change the trend of events? The situation is so bad and rotten. I have said it on several occasions that we need moral regeneration and a kind of social revolution in the country even if blood is needed to do it.”
Nwabueze, who last year had called for bloody revolution, said revolutions could happen in several places without an identifiable leader.
“When it started in France in 1789, there was no identifiable leader and it has happened in that way in several places,” he said.
He backed the moves by President Goodluck Jonathan to push for constitution amendment that will limit the terms of the president and governors to one term.
He said he supported a single tenure of five years for the president, with a provision that the office be rotated among the ethnic nationalities.
According to him, The Patriots had long ago canvassed such an idea because any leader who failed to make a mark within his tenure should be regarded as a failure.
A single term of five years, he said, would afford every ethnic nationality in Nigeria the opportunity to lead the country.
Besides, he held the view that the federal system Nigeria is practising must be restructured along the lines of the component groups or zones making up the federation.
“You can also consider the need to restructure in terms of political power. Much power is concentrated at the centre, we must decentralise or devolve power to the federating units,” he said, adding that the power structure of 1960-63 is most suitable for the nation.
Nwabueze also canvassed the need for a national conference where all the ethnic nationalities would discuss devolution of power, territorial structure and allocation of resources, among others.
He further called for a review of the revenue allocation structure to enable states to discharge their responsibilities.
He added: “You can’t give the regions such responsibility that they can’t shoulder. That brings us to fiscal federalism and devolution of power. Is the power given to the centre fair?”
In his review of Nwabueze’s book, a former Vice Chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka, Prof Ilochi Okafor (SAN), said the book was written in eloquent language and described the author as blunt, incisive, crusading and of unquestionable integrity.
He said Nwabueze remained the greatest legal scholar alive in Nigeria today, adding that he had had a profound influence on Nigerian jurisprudence.
He said the octogenarian’s advocacy of revolution is an expression of the frustrations of a man bogged down by the social malaise in his own society.
Okafor also endorsed the single tenure of five years and rotational presidency as advocated by Nwabueze.
Former governor of Anambra State, Senator Chris Ngige, said although he is not a member of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, he disagreed with those criticising the president over his single tenure proposal.
“If you go back to history, during the 1995 Constitutional Conference of (the late General Sani) Abacha, you will see that a five-year tenure was enshrined in that draft.
“Apart from that, there was also rotation among the six geo-political zones for the first 30 years of our nascent democracy.
“So what the president is advocating is not abstract, I am for this and I was one of those who presented papers at the time as the President of Aka-Ikenga. I support the president and the time is right,” he said.
Dignitaries at the ceremony included Anambra governor, Mr. Peter Obi, former Foreign Affairs Minister, Ambassador Mathew Mbu, Rector, Federal Polytechnic, Oko, Prof Godwin Onu, the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe and Obi of Awka, Obi Gibsin Nwosu