Philip Emeagwali, biography, A Father of the Internet, supercomputer pioneer, Nigerian scientist, inventor

Governing a nation without a constitution is analogous to playing soccer without rules.

Philip Emeagwali's

discussion of the 1995 Draft Constitution for Nigeria. The interview took place at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington DC on December 5, 1998.

Is the 1995 constitution acceptable? Should it be an interim constitution? Should the incoming civilian administration convene a Sovereign National Conference?

EMEAGWALI: The constitution is the birth certificate of a nation. As the supreme law of the country, it is the most sacred and solemn document in Nigeria. The Provisional Ruling Council does not respect the constitution.

The international community laughs at Nigeria for endlessly convening constitutional conferences. The military governments do not sincerely believe that Nigeria needs a new constitution. Calling for a new constitutional conference is a ploy for buying time and digging in. While other nations continuously amend their constitutions, Nigeria (re)created its constitutions nine times (in 1922, 1946, 1951, 1954, 1960, 1963, 1979, 1989 and 1999).

The proposed constitution did not reflect the hearts and minds of the Nigerian people and should be an interim constitution. It was prepared to enable Sani Abacha succeed himself. The government that emerges in May 1999 should prepare a constitution that is in the best interest of 100 million Nigerians and not one that suits the Provisional Ruling Council which placed itself above the constitution.

Governing a nation without a constitution is analogous to playing soccer without rules. Hence, it does not come as a surprise that Nigeria was drifting like a ship without a captain.

In drafting a good constitution we should not merely focus on the present or military, but on the past and the future. We should reflect on the millennia when Africans developed advanced technology that enabled them to build majestic pyramids, the tallest buildings in the world for 3,700 years! These pyramids withstood all types of desert storms and still stand today, like the Rock of Gibralter.

But we should also reflect about the darkest period in our history when we sold our brothers into slavery.

We should not forget the two million innocent people that died in the Nigerian-Biafran war. If Ojukwu and Gowon were to spend their entire lives reciting their names, the task will remain unfinished.

We should look to the future, to the education of our children who are the vital building blocks of our nation and our link to the 21st century. The West is leaving us behind as it prepares to enter the Information Age, colonize the Moon, and clone human beings. Let us not be the last to draft our constitution and escape from poverty.

Philip Emeagwali, biography, A Father of the Internet, supercomputer pioneer, Nigerian scientist, inventor
Philip Emeagwali

Who can empower the constitution, other than the Provisional Ruling Council?

EMEAGWALI: The Provisional Ruling Council suspended our earlier constitution(s) and does not have the moral or legal authority to recreate and empower a document it did not abide with. We are trying to move away from military rule --- a government of, for, by the military --- to the establishment of democracy --- a government of the people, for the people, and by the people. Therefore, the constitution can only be ratified by a national referendum or by the people's representatives, and not by the unelected Provisional Ruling Council.

What the military is doing to the Nigerian people is similar to what Europeans did to Africans at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 when representatives from 14 European states agreed without our consent to partition Africa between Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, and Italy. The Provisional Ruling Council must yield complete control of the constitution to Nigerians.

The military rulers have been in power for so long that they have forgotten that theirs is an illegal regime and therefore cannot foist and empower its constitution upon the Nigerian people. Instead, it is the constitution that empowers and legitimizes the rulers. It was arrogant for the (constitutionally) illegitimate government of General Olusegun Obasanjo and the Supreme Military Council to ratify (approve) the 1979 constitution. In fact, Obasanjo amended the 1979 constitution before approving it. Similarly, Sani Abacha amended the 1995 constitution to include a prime minister for Nigeria. The international community will laugh at us if we allow General Abdulsalam Abubakar and the Provisional Ruling Council to amend and then use a military decree to promulgate the constitution. Since the constitution is the supreme law of Nigeria, it should empower Abubakar, the Provisional Ruling Council and all decrees and not the other way around. By accepting the proposed constitution, Nigerians will be marching self-crippled into the 21st century and will be unable to meet and adapt to the challenges of the future.

The Provisional Ruling Council has some foresight and understands that a constitution approved by the people could be used to prosecute them for their misdeeds. Only a tree learns that it would be cut down and stands waiting. The military will only approve a constitution that pardons them for their misdeeds.

QUESTION: How can we avoid the seemingly endless coups and constitutional conferences?

EMEAGWALI: The constitution is as sacred as the ten commandments that Moses received from Mount Sinai. Nigerians have to regard abolishing their constitution as treasonable offence that receives the severest form of punishment in the country.

Therefore, we must bring treason charges against those living military officers that overthrew past Nigerian constitutions. Nigeria will not be the first nation to prosecute former dictators for treason, corruption and human rights abuses. South Korea tried their former dictators and those found guilty were sent to jail. Argentina jailed three generals. Chile is now prosecuting former dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The excuse that some opposition members invited the generals to take over or that the Nigerian public hailed the coup as God-sent should not stop us from punishing coup plotters. A trial and conviction of past coup plotters will serve as a deterrence to future coup plotters. The military believes that it is their birth right to rule Nigeria. The military treats the constitution, the most solemn and sacred document in Nigeria, like a public football.

A disgruntled (or ambitions) soldier can become our Head of State by firing one shot at the Nigerian president and capturing a nearby radio station. Coups d'etat will end when we sentence former military Heads of State, governors, cabinet officers and the members of the Provisional Ruling Council to life imprisonment for usurping powers. We have to reestablish the rule of law, not the rule of raw power. The members of the Provisional Ruling Council are not above the law. We cannot have one law for the rulers and another for the ruled.

We have to strengthen citizen involvement in our democratic processes by introducing appropriate civic courses in elementary and secondary schools. You cannot have a strong democracy in a society in which the majority does not understand the democratic process nor care to participate in intelligent and meaningful ways.

QUESTION: Is it desirable to entrench the principle of zoning and rotation in the constitution? And if so, what offices should they affect?

EMEAGWALI: The constitutional requirement that some political offices be zoned and rotated is undemocratic. Rotating offices will be sowing the seeds of disunity and encourages Nigerians to focus on their ethnic differences instead of teaching them that they are a people with a common destiny. Nigeria is not a confederation of 250 ethnic nations. Where are we going? How far can we go as a divided nation?

Rotation and zoning would have made it impossible for Nigeria to have produced pre-independence leaders like Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, and Aminu Kano. If a Nigerian from the North happens to be the best presidential candidate, should (s)he be disqualified for the sake of rotating the power to the south, and vice versa?

Power sharing was tried unsuccessfully in Lebanon (1948-1975), Cyprus (1960-1974), Sudan (1972-1983), and Malaysia. In Yugoslavia (Bosnia and Herzegovina), three parties joined together in a coalition government of a collective, rotational Presidency and yet they have not found peace. Rotational presidency is a powder keg and Nigerians could go to war over how to implement it. Let Abubakar Rimi, Jibril Aminu, and Adamu Ciroma and other northern candidates run for the presidency. Nigerians should vote for the most competent man. Nigeria should learn from nations that tried power sharing and failed.

Rotational presidency de-emphasizes merit and could lead to the election of mediocre presidents. The former National Party of Nigeria (NPN) used zoning and rotation to produce Shehu Shagari and Alex Ekwueme as president and vice president, respectively. If NPN had used merit, instead of zoning, the better educated Alex Ekwueme should have been nominated as president with Shehu Shagari as his vice-president. We should not use zoning to bar qualified northerners (or any Nigerian) from becoming the next president of Nigeria. The presidency is the most important job in Nigeria and it should be occupied by the most competent Nigerian. Rotational presidency enshrines mediocrity into the Nigerian constitution and will make it difficult for Nigeria to produce a leader that has the stature of Nelson Mandela or Kofi Annan. The presidency of Nigeria is not a kingship or monarchy and therefore should not be rotated.

Is there another way to implement rotational presidency?

EMEAGWALI: First, if we produce a Yoruba president by rotation in 1999, then sixteen years later the Igbos will insist that it is their turn to produce the next president. In another sixteen years, the Edos will insist it is their turn to produce the next president. And so on. It will take two thousand years to rotate our two-term four-year presidency among Nigeria's 250 ethnic groups. It may be impossible to work out an equitable formula for power sharing that will please the minority groups. Each ethnic has its own grievances --- political, economic, and cultural. The Yorubas grievance is that they were robbed of the presidency. The Ijaws are that they are robbed of the proceeds from the petroleum revenue. The north defines power sharing as the south controlling the economic power while they control the political power. A form of power sharing that might be acceptable to most Nigerians will be the decentralization and devolution of powers, administrative, legislative and financial, to the regions and states. However, we have to keep in mind that powers can be abused and misused by the states. This is a very complex problem.

Second, a Nigerian can be qualified to be a member of five of the six proposed zones. Which zone can we place Alex Ekwueme if he claims that his state of residence is Kaduna but his father is half Itsekiri and half Tiv and his mother is half Yoruba and half Igbo? Rotational presidency will lead to controversies similar to the "Twelve Two-Thirds" debate between Shehu Shagari and Obafemi Awolowo?

For how long and between which identifiable geographic or geopolitical zones?

EMEAGWALI: It is undemocratic to insist that Nigerians vote for only a Southern (or Northern) president. There is no right way to do the wrong thing. Rotational presidency is inherently wrong and no ingenuous implementation can make it right. Furthermore, our geographic northern and southern Nigeria do not correspond to a political northern and southern Nigeria. We have "political middle belt," "political east," "political west," "eastern ethnic minorities," "western ethnic minorities," and so on. Remember the 1952 carpet crossing which was used by Obafemi Awolowo to deny the premiership of the western region to Nnamdi Azikiwe. The Yorubas will not be enthusiastic about an Igbo presidency, and vice versa.

Developing a sense of unity and oneness among Nigerians is a people problem that demands a people solution, such as a multi-cultural education in which Nigerians are taught to respect other ethnic groups.

However, I believe in power shifting from the incompetent to the most competent. From the corrupt to the honest. From the military to civilians. I do not believe in power shifting from active military officers to retired military officers or as they say, soldier-go, soldier-come. I do not believe in power shifting from North to South, or vice versa.

I know some southerners who can be as brutal as Sani Abacha. The fact that the June 12, 1993 election was invalidated is not a reason to reelect a Yoruba and/or southern president.

The presidency of a nation should not be a form of compensation to allegedly oppressed ethnic groups. Should the oppressed ethnic groups be allowed to take their turns oppressing the rest of Nigeria? The Igbos, Hausas and Yorubas cannot be fully free while oppressing the Ijaws, Itsekiris or Tivs. The challenge is to get all 250 Nigerian ethnic groups to work co-operatively and harmoniously towards collective goals.

Strength is not the north spending a disproportionate share of our petroleum revenue, or vice versa. Strength is not the Igbos winning the presidency. Strength is not one tribe defeating another.

Strength comes from providing opportunities for all Nigerians, including those in opposition. Southern Nigeria cannot make progress, unless it progresses with northern Nigeria, and vice versa. For Nigeria to go forward, all 250 ethnic groups must go forward together.

What other ways and safeguards are there to allay fears of political domination and marginalisation of groups, individuals and other elements in the society?

EMEAGWALI: An Ijaw could still feel marginalized by an Itsekiri president elected from the same (South-South) zone. The constitution reduces the fear of political domination by stipulating that the winning candidate must receive a minimum of 25 percent of the votes from two-thirds of the states. An alternative will be to reduce the fears of minority ethnic groups by granting them greater autonomy in local government, restructuring Nigeria as a federated unit and shifting more resources from the center (Abuja) to the states. Actually, Nigeria has been a federation since the 1950s but the military did not allow it to function as one.

What is the best way of cultivating a sense of belonging in all segments of our society in the light of Nigeria's recent experience in the political arena and those of other nations world wide?

EMEAGWALI: Alienation occurs when the government is not elected by the people it governs; when elected officials fail to consult the people that elected them; when a military administrator declares that arrested anti-government demonstrators are "prisoners of war"; when ministers engage in conspicuous consumption and exhibitionism such as driving in Mercedes Benz cars equipped with noisy sirens and escorted by police outriders who are acting as a barrier between the ministers and those who elected them; and when public officials like Ismaila Gwarzo can quietly withdraw 1.3 billion naira from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) without the Minister of Finance being able to challenge him.

People will feel alienated when they live and contribute to the development of Lagos but cannot claim Lagos State as their home state. The constitution should discourage tribalism and allow Nigerians to belong to their state of residency, not the state of their parents. A Nigerian born or raised or employed in Lagos (or Kano) should be classified as belonging to Lagos (or Kano) state only. At the local level, many natives of Lagos and Onitsha feel threatened by outsiders who have become the majority in their hometowns. It is frowned upon when a non-Onitsha Igbo tries to marry an indigene, even though the former might have been born and raised in Onitsha.

Nigerians living abroad should be allowed to have dual citizenship and claim one state as their "state of residence." Doing so will give a sense of belonging and encourage them to continue contributing to Nigeria. Last year, Nigerians abroad remitted about 100 million dollars. I know some Nigerians working in the United States who are paying for the university education of four to six relatives.

What were the merits and demerits of the provisions which call for multiple vice-presidents? How feasible or workable is the idea, given Nigeria's experience with the arrangement in the Second Republic of a single vice-president, and the Deputy Governors under the 1979 Constitutions?

EMEAGWALI: One competent vice-president is enough for Nigeria. Multiple vice-presidency is an awkward political solution to problem that is also economic and cultural. It is not a practical way of providing a sense of belonging to minorities that who feel left out in the corridors of power.

The debate on rotation, zoning and multiple vice-presidents is like chasing rats while our house is on fire. The presidential candidates should be having national debates on national television and should help us clarify such issues as who we are, where we have been, where we should be going in the 21st century, and in what ways Nigeria can contribute to the rebirth of Africa.

Which topics do you want the presidential debates to cover?

EMEAGWALI: How can they help us treat the 5 million Nigerians that have been infected with AIDS? Who will take care of the millions of AIDS orphans?

Who deposited Nigeria's $2.8 billion in a private account? What happened to the $12.8 billion windfall from the Gulf War? Will they set a tribunal to probe officials that down sized our national treasury?

How can we diversify our economy and reduce our dependency on oil revenue? How can we diversify Nigeria's economy from the oil sector which provides 95% of our foreign exchange earnings and about 80% of budgetary revenues?

How can we develop the agricultural sector so that Nigeria can feed itself and maybe once again become a net exporter of food?

What constitutional provisions could serve as the most effective antidote to future forceful seizure of political authority other than through constitutional means?

EMEAGWALI: The most powerful way to stop the military from overthrowing elected governments is to punish those who seized power in the past. We have decriminalized treason. If we grant immunity to those that suspended our earlier constitutions then we will be expected to grant immunity to those that will suspend the proposed constitution. Suspending the constitution and ruling by military decree has brought chaos, confusion and lawlessness in Nigeria. We cannot accept this type of conduct from past and future military leaders.

We have to make coup plotting an unprofitable exercise. We should confiscate the assets and cancel the pensions of military officers who are clearly proven under a judicial process to have participated in coups or are enjoying a lifestyle that is inconsistent with their official salary. How can a general on $200 a month own a brand new Mercedes Benz and live in a million dollar mansion? Former corrupt and abusive heads of state have the freedom to live in Nigeria, travel with Nigerian passport and enjoy their wealth, with impunity. What will discourage an ambitious soldier from declaring himself the new president of Nigeria?

Strengthening and creating an independent judiciary will make it difficult to overthrow elected government as well as reduce election frauds.

We should urge the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), Commonwealth of Nations, and the United Nations to refuse to recognize any military government that emerges in the future. Other nations should be encouraged and authorized to arrest and imprison coup planners and their collaborators whenever they travel abroad.

Nigerians living abroad could bring human rights charges against abusive dictators. Abacha received a strong opposition from Nigerian-Europeans and Nigerian-Americans and retaliated by eliminating dual citizenship in the 1995 draft constitution. Augusto Pinochet was arrested because his accusers were Chilean-Europeans. Similarly, Nigerians abroad can set the legal groundwork to arrest a former Head of State who ventures into Europe or the United States for medical treatment.

Most importantly, every Nigerian has the responsibility to defend or fight for the restoration of our constitution. School curriculums should include civics education that includes an understanding of social responsibility to fight against corruption and suspension of the constitution.

What are your thoughts about the proposal for regional armies?

EMEAGWALI: The last time Nigerian leaders agreed to have regional armies (or commands) was during the Aburi accord, brokered between Lieutenant Colonels Yakubu Gowon (representing Nigeria) and Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (representing Eastern Nigeria). The accord was supervised by General Ankrah in Aburi, Ghana in January 4-5, 1967. Gowon and Ojukwu agreed to restructure the military command and provide greater regional autonomy. What happened a few months later? The eastern region broke away which led to the 30-month Nigerian-Biafran civil war in which two million lives were lost. As the philosopher George Santayana said: "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Eight out of ten Nigerians are too young to remember the Biafran war and we may relive that experience.

Mixing regional autonomy, regional army and proving 100 percent revenue derivation to the proposed six regions could be as explosive as a powder keg. Probably, the Igbo (South-East) region will demand for its oilfields in Igbo-speaking towns like Obigbo, Egbema and Ukwa which are now in Rivers State (South-South). These oil-producing lands and the allegedly abandoned Igbo properties were considered war booties and given to the Rivers State. For the same reason Nigeria is demanding the Bakassi Peninsula back from Cameroon, the Igbos are likely to demand that the oil-producing Igbo areas be removed from the Rivers State which, in turn, could lead to an internal Bakassi style boundary dispute.

Instead of creating six regional armies, we should realign the military command structure and redistribute the military facilities from the north to all the six regions.

But regional armies will make it more difficult to plan coups?

EMEAGWALI: Six regional armies could mean that we solve one problem (decentralization from Abuja) and we create six problems and possibly end up in free-for-all Somali style war.

Establishing regional armies is an expensive and complex approach to the problem of eliminating coups or northern domination. It can create more problems than it will solve. It will create a balance of terror among the six regions and any ethnic group that felt oppressed could decide to break away from Nigeria. Also, if the proposed federating units are allowed to retain all revenues from their mineral wealth, the proposed oil-producing South-South region might develop the most powerful regional army which, in turn, would make Nigeria unstable.

A cheaper and more effective approach to eliminating coups is to demilitarize Nigeria by replacing our career soldiers with an all-volunteer citizen-soldiers. We can train National Youth Service Corps members as reservists or part-time National Guards, who hold employments in the civil sector. The National Youth Service Corps could be redefined as one year of compulsory military service. It is more economical to maintain one million (1,000,000) reservists than a corrupt, inefficient and politicized 80,000 army.

The military will not be happy with your proposal to eliminate it.

EMEAGWALI: The existing Nigerian army believes that Nigeria belongs to the army. The fact is that the army belongs to Nigeria and we can replace it with a 2000 National Guard whose members are recruited from our young and unemployed university graduates.

The 1996 defense budget of Nigeria was greater than its education budget. Fifteen billion naira was spent to maintain an 80,000-man army. Less than fifteen billion naira was spent to educate 60 million Nigerian school children. Our huge military budget is a disgrace for a country that is not at war. Our investment in education is our gift to the future.

After the United States defeated Japan in the Second World War, it forced Japan to redirect its resources to non-military areas. The result: Japan became one of the wealthiest nations on earth. Nigeria should never have built a massive army after its independence in 1960 and should have reduced its military strength, as soon as possible, at the end of the Nigerian Civil War (1967-70). Germany, Costa Rica and many other nations have done well without a sizable army. Imagine where Nigeria will be today if all the military budgets since independence had been spent to educate our children.

With a view to developing more powers and responsibility to lower tiers of government, the draft has created those legislative lists, thereby expanding the competence of state and councils in sectors such as education, agriculture and health. More ideas as to how to make this workable will be welcomed.

EMEAGWALI: The 400 page constitution is bulky and contains many internal inconsistencies. The original American constitution is only a few pages long. The ten commandments, the constitution of the ancient Israelites, is only ten short sentences. A constitution should not cover all topics imaginable including a detailed specification of how to develop and distribute powers to the lower tiers of government.

The "Federal" Republic of Nigeria could be divided into about six federating regions each with its own separate constitution. Ethnicity, population and geographical size could be used as the criteria for regrouping the thirty six states into six regions. The 36 states will have to be abolished and/or classified as counties. The regions should be responsible for developing more powers and responsibilities to the lower tiers of government.

The draft has attempted to address the issues of the principle of derivation as a criterion for distributing the natural wealth by increasing the current percentage to 13. Government welcomes ideas on how to make this feasible.

EMEAGWALI: We have to study the revenue allocation formulas used in other nations and come up with one that is fair to all states and communities. In 1967, the Niger Delta received 50 percent royalty from onshore oil fields and 50 percent from offshore ones. Later, it was argued that the state owned the offshore oil fields, and I agree. The 1979 Nigerian constitution allowed the oil-producing areas a 1.5 percent royalty from onshore oil fields. The result is that communities in the oil-producing areas have fewer roads, electricity or running water, compared to the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja. However, the 13 percent (or more) royalty is reasonable.

We have to be consistent in applying the revenue allocation formula. When cocoa was one of Nigeria's main sources of income, the old western region argued for higher revenue allocation. When groundnuts were our main export product, the northern region argued for higher revenue allocation. Now that petroleum produces 90 percent of our income, the north and west argue for lower revenue allocation while the politically weak Itsekiris, Ijaws and Ogonis argue for higher revenue allocation. The other side of the argument is that cocoa and groundnuts are man made wealth and therefore justified higher derivation formula which, in turn, will encourage us to reduce our over-dependence on petroleum exports.

We must also understand that the oil fields in the southeast will be empty in about thirty years and we might discover new oil fields, tin and uranium deposits in northern Nigeria and the north might change its tune and argue for a higher revenue allocation.

What percentage do you recommend to be allocated to the oil-producing communities?

EMEAGWALI: This will require more careful study and analysis. The oil-producing areas should be allocated a reasonable percentage of the petroleum revenue so that they will not feel that the natural wealth underneath their land is used to develop other areas. The revenue allocation formula should be based on both the principle of derivation and the agreement that minerals are common wealth that belongs to all Nigerians.

Another criterion that affects the revenue allocation formula is the form of government being operated and the number of states created. We have to decide if we will continue our present unitary system of government imposed upon us by the past military administrations or become a federating units of a few regions and/or 36 states. In four other nations that consist of federal units, 100 percent of the derivation goes to the federating regions. However, it will be impractical to implement a 100 percent derivation formula in a federating unit of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja. Therefore, we will need to regroup six states into one region, excluding Abuja.

It is important to know that the oil that we are extracting today was formed two million years ago, at a time no human was living in Nigeria. Since oil in the ground was not cultivated like groundnut or cocoa, it should be the collective wealth of the Nigerian people, Hence, it makes sense for the constitution to vest the entire property and control of minerals, mineral oils and natural gas found anywhere within Nigeria on the Federal Government. We will effectively be granting sovereignty to the oil producing communities by allowing them to control petroleum exploration. Similarly, northern Nigeria is rich in minerals and we cannot allow the northern states to control those minerals.

How should the oil-producing communities be compensated for the environmental damages?

EMEAGWALI: Extracting petroleum leads to environmental pollution from burning oil fields and leaking oil pipes. The appropriate compensation is determined by conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment studies. We know that the streams in the Niger Delta areas that were clear and full of fish are now polluted because of oil prospecting and exploration. We have to compensate the local fisherman for his loss of income.

We must also understand that the oil companies are not the major polluters of our environment. The Ijaw youths understand that the oil companies have deep pocket and are sitting ducks and are made to take all the blame for Nigeria's environmental problems. Have we forgotten about the timber industry that destroyed our forests. Ninety-five percent of Nigeria's forests (and the animals in them) have already been destroyed! The small remaining rain forest in Cross River State is now exploited for timber. The forest is a limited resource and we can only take as much of any product as the forest can afford to give.

Rapid population growth has done irreversible damage to the Nigerian environment. In the north, increased population lead to increased cattle herd which resulted in overgrazing, desertification and drought. Eighty-years ago, there were two million Igbos. Today, there are about 25 million Igbos which resulted in deforestation, de-vegetation and soil erosion. How much of Nigeria's rain forest will remain in 100 years? We probably have destroyed many species of mammals, birds, trees, butterflies, beetles, termites and ants. My mother told me moonlight stories about elephants, gorillas, and tortoise. Do we still have lions and tigers in Nigeria?

A century and half ago, Chief Seattle (a native American leader), warned:

"The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.... We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers."

The bottom line is that we have collectively destroyed our environment --- the only home that we have. We have no place to run to. We are all in this together.

How can reducing the population and preserving our rain forests improve the economic conditions in Nigeria?

Developing and preserving our rain forests and wildlife could attract revenues comparable to our incoming petro-dollars. Rainforests attract revenues from eco-tourists and adventure seekers. Eco-tourists could make pilgrimages to our primary forests in Cross River State and bring in 100 million dollars in revenue. We can even develop eco-tourism into a billion dollar industry and compete with Kenya in attracting tourists.

The major problem is that we cannot save the rainforest without reducing our population. Geographically, Nigeria is only the 14th largest country in Africa but the 10th most populous country in the world. The country does not have the resources to carry 115 million people. The overpopulation of Nigeria has resulted in a rapid depletion of the soil, water and forest resources and is even a factor in our ranking as the 13th poorest country in the world. Yet, the average Nigerian family has 6.5 children and the Nigerian population is projected to increase to 191 million in 2015!

The oil-exporting nation of Gabon has a population of one million and a per capita income of $4,230 a year, which is fifteen times higher than that of Nigeria. Population control will enable us to increase our per capita income, the quality of education and our standard of living?

The draft has a proposal for the establishment of a National Judicial Commission, a body designated to enhance the independence of the Judiciary in Nigeria. How workable or compatible is such a body within a Federal system in which greater autonomy is being developed to the lower federating units?

EMEAGWALI: I assume that the proposal will be for the National Judicial Commission to make recommendations for the positions of Supreme Court justices. In the past, the executive or military leaders retained the exclusive and unquestionable power of appointing judges and this made it awkward for the judges to handle lawsuits against powerful government officials.

To prosecute corrupt government officials requires that the investigating agency be independent of the government. We cannot expect members of the investigating agency to make a ruling against powerful government officials who can retaliate against them by firing or imprisoning them on trumped up charges.

A good idea might be to have an appointment process that involves the three independent branches of government. First, the National Judicial Commission should recommend the best qualified persons for appointment to the Nigerian Supreme Court.

Second, the President will select a candidate from the list submitted by the Commission. Third, the candidate nominated by the President will appear before a Senate Judiciary Committee for confirmation process in which his/her background and legal philosophy is publicly debated. Finally, the recommendation of the Senate Judiciary Committee is forwarded to the National Assembly for final approval.

How workable is the novel provision for proportional representation of political parties in the formation of the cabinet within a presidential system of government?

EMEAGWALI: Either we want the best of us to govern Nigeria or we use quota to select mediocre candidates from certain political parties. We cannot appoint mediocre leaders and later complain of "leadership problems." We cannot eat our cake and have it. An elected government should find the best people to serve, irrespective of where they come from.

How workable is the provision which permits ministers appointed to the federal cabinet to continue to retain their seats in the National Assembly?

EMEAGWALI: This provision is borrowed from the British and Canadian parliamentary system where the argument for having it that way is that a minister that serves in the legislature is exposed to the mood of the public and therefore will be more responsive.

Having lived in the United States for 25 years, I am biased towards the American system and views such joint appointments as unsuitable for a developing country that is emerging from long-term military dictatorship. Nigeria should have a separation of powers between the executive (federal cabinet), legislative (National Assembly) and judicial branches of government and this, in turn, will make it impossible for an individual to simultaneously serve as a minister and senator. The United States' form of government stipulates a separation of powers between the three branches of government and a member of congress who accepts a cabinet appointment automatically loses his or her seat in Congress. These three branches is like a three-legged stool. One leg is the judiciary, the second leg is the legislature, and the third is the executive. All three are separate and equal.

Administratively, simultaneously serving in both the federal cabinet and National Assembly is equivalent to holding two full-time jobs, which should be unacceptable.

Should compulsory education be entrenched into the constitution?

EMEAGWALI: Education is crucial because Nigerian children are the vital building blocks of our nation and our link to the future. Investing in education will be our legacy to our children; because it will bring the best out of them as well as all Nigerians and enable us to reach our potential as individuals, as communities, and as a nation.

We need to overhaul our educational curriculum and expand the three R's --- reading, (w)riting and (a)rithmetic to a civics education. A Nigerian that received a civics education will understand that public funds belong to him and will insist that government officials shall be held accountable for embezzlement. No government official earns more than $300 a month but the lifestyle of some retired officials shows that they are millionaires. Due to lack of civics education, the average Nigerian does not feel a sense of ownership of public funds and no effort is made to recover stolen money.

How practical is entrenching free education in the constitution?

EMEAGWALI: Free education is a public policy issue that does not belong in a constitution. Education that is free is not of good quality. Teachers will be underpaid and their moral will be low. We have to determine our priorities by asking ourselves: Do we want free education or constant electricity or better roads or modern hospitals? Teachers salaries and school facilities are paid for by citizens and corporations and there is no such thing as a free education.

The financial burden of sending kids to school discourages families from having several children while free education encourages them to do so. Compulsory 12 years of education is achievable but we do not have the resources to achieve compulsory university education. Adopting a uniform compulsory education will reduce the internal education gap between northern and southern Nigeria and make each one of us more useful and productive to our society.

The money that will be used to introduce free university education is better used to improve the quality of the primary school education. Education at the primary school level is more important than university education. The reason is simple: "Learning Builds on Learning" or "One Thing Leads to Another." A child who didn't learn much in primary school cannot learn much in secondary school or at the university level. This is why the developed nations invest heavily in their children's primary school education.

Should the constitution guarantee gender neutrality?

EMEAGWALI: Eliminating gender discrimination will allow us to grow culturally by creating a less repressive society in which women are encouraged and empowered in all areas of education and society. It is morally and politically unacceptable that half of Nigeria's population will be excluded in the affairs of the nation. The achievements Nigerian women prove that when we invest in our daughters' education we grow as a nation.

The draft has introduced the novel idea of a constitutional court charged with the responsibility of handling election petitions and leaving matters pertaining to the enthronement of human rights. How justifiable is it to confer such jurisdiction on the court, and what impact will have on litigants?

EMEAGWALI: We should focus on prosecuting and punishing those military officers responsible for human rights abuses in Nigeria. Sani Abacha and his state security agents tortured political prisoners as much as Pol Pot of Cambodia and Saddam Hussein of Iraq. Bashorun Abiola wrote his family that he had been "buried alive" and Professor Femi Odekunle recounted his prison experience to TELL magazine (August 31, 1998) as follows:

"[Guards] would just come and say, 'Oh, yes, we have to cane you now.' And wham, fiam, wham, wham, fiam, the bulala [horse whip] would be sounding on their bodies. They would, at times, beat them before breakfast. They would say, 'Do you want your 'hot tea' before or after food?' The 'hot tea' is either six or 12 strokes of the cane. There was a day one of those flogging detainees saw one detainee and said, 'Your body is too smooth, it needs some patterns' and he caned and caned and caned him until he collapsed only to cover himself with a towel, the only 'dress' on him when he was arrested.""

Nigerian prisons are so overcrowded that we need to either build more prisons or grant an early parole or pardon thousands of prisoners. Tens of thousands of Nigerians are imprisoned without formal charges. Former vice-president Alex Ekwueme was imprisoned for two years and later found innocent. In democracy, you are innocent until proven guilty, not guilty until proven innocent. The Nigeria constitution should guarantee the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury. We should abolish secret treason trials by a Special Military Tribunal.

We have to treat prisoners as human beings. An inmate at Kirikiri Medium Prison said: "There is no food, no water, and there are lots of mosquitoes. In fact, one of the inmates beside me died and for two days we did not know. We thought he was sleeping. It was when flies started perching on his eyes and ears that we knew he was dead. He had even started to smell." This type of human rights violation is bad for Nigeria's image.

The death penalty in Nigeria is also a human rights violation and the punishment does not fit the crime. An armed robber is publicly executed for stealing while high ranking officers in the armed forces are not prosecuted for stealing from the public fund.

It is not only the military that violates peoples human rights. The media and Amnesty International selectively focused on the false imprisonment of journalists and the judicial execution of author Ken Saro- Wiwa and eight other campaigners for the rights of the Ogoni ethnic minority.

What are other examples of human rights violation in Nigeria?

EMEAGWALI: Human rights violation is pervasive and deeply-entrenched in our society and we Nigerians must honestly look within ourselves. It goes beyond the environmental campaigns of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) and has to be categorized into political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights.

We should critically and continuously re-examine the values of the Nigerian society and abolish those customs and cultural practices that violate the human rights of our neighbors, children and wives. Not long ago, children who were born with teeth were secretly thrown away. Even boys born with one testicle or babies born with their feet first were considered an abomination and killed. When the Oba of Benin (Akenzua) died in 1978, his city became a ghost town.

Dympna Ugwu-Oju, a 42-year-old Igbo author (What Will My Mother Say : A Tribal African Girl Comes of Age in America) wrote that she was almost thrown into the bushes because she was born a twin. We re- examined those values and abolished them.

We must reexamine our current customs and traditions and develop new ones that are appropriate for the 21st century. Amnesty International and the popular American 60 minutes television program could publicize our dehumanizing Igbo widowhood practices. Some Nigerian widows cannot even inherit their husbands property. A 75-year-old Igbo widow complained: "I was ordered home from Lagos to explain the cause of his death. After I had narrated everything to them (in-laws), they asked for his pass book (bank savings book) and other valuable items which I gave over to them."

There are many university educated Igbos who will not marry an osu because he or she had a great-great- great-grand father who was dedicated to an alusi (juju). Osus are denied the rights and benefits of citizenship because of an incident that happened 200 years ago! The Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) publicized the judicial murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa. Who is speaking for the Osu. Sixty minutes television program could embarrass us by doing controversial segment on the Igbo osu caste system.

We can also talk about wife beating, polygamy, forced child marriages and female genital mutilation. Female circumcision can cause urinary tract infections, child-birth complications and is sometimes life-endangering. During female circumcision, the clitoris is cut off so that the woman cannot enjoy sex --- the equivalent of cutting off the penis. No woman will want to marry a man that had his penis cut off. Likewise, I will not want to marry a woman who has been circumcised. These are forms of human rights abuses.

I have seen the enemy and he is us.

Over the years it has become fashionable to create more and more commissions at the federal and state levels and entrench same in the constitution. Should all such commissions receive constitutional sanctity, thereby making changes to them near impossible in view of the tedious and stringent requirements for constitutional amendments; should this become necessary?

EMEAGWALI: The Nigerian constitution should focus on general principles that are timeless and fundamental. The creation of commissions are ephemeral and should not be entrenched in the constitution. Commissions can be created and disbanded by legislative actions. If we squeeze in all mundane issues, Nigeria will have the world's bulkiest constitution.

The ancient Israelites had their own constitution which Moses brought down from Mount Sinai as a Tablet containing the Ten Commandments such as "You shall not kill," "You shall not commit adultery," and "You shall not steal." Those short ten commandments had been reinterpreted over the centuries but is still taught in the churches today.

Remember your secondary school geometry in which all the theorems were derived from only five axioms, the mathematician's equivalent of the ten commandments. Similarly, the Nigerian constitution can be ten pages long, instead of 400 pages. It should be written in a hierarchical style in which the axioms, general principles or "ten commandments" are stated and the other less important items are derived. These general principles should include statements about eliminating gender discrimination, developing an culture of learning and creating an enlightened society for the Third Millennium, etc.

Instead of incorporating commissions into our constitution, we should adopt the long-term goal of becoming a center of learning that attracts scholars from other nations. The 13th century city of Timbuktu in Mali Empire was a world's center of learning that attracted scholars and students from far away lands. Instead, we spend our petroleum revenues on guns and ammunition and on luxury items such as automobiles and televisions. Our petroleum revenue should be reinvested in learning and education.

In similar vein, should the Land Tenure Act continue to enjoy an inflexible constitutional sanctity as is currently the case, in view of the manifest and untold hardship that this had occasioned in the last two decades? How can we retain its ideals while avoiding its rigidity?

EMEAGWALI: It is improper for the Nigerian government to confiscate lands without adequate compensation to their rightful owners. The The Land Use Decree (1978) is similar to the Abandoned Igbo Property policy used by the administration of General Yakubu Gowon and implemented by the Rivers State administrator Alfred Diete Spiff. Although Gowon declared that there we "no victors, no vanquished," the reality is that the houses of the vanquished were confiscated as abandoned property. The Igbo trader working in Kaduna learned to reinvest his profits by building a house in his hometown of Nnewi. A government that confiscates its citizen's properties (without compensation or consent) discourages foreign investments. How can we convince foreign investors that their investments are safe when the investments of Nigerians cannot be guaranteed by their own government?

The Land Use Decree was used to dispossess citizens of their lands and will need to be amended with time. Many military officers became rich overnight by allocating large parcels of lands to themselves. It will be ridiculous to enshrine an unpopular military decree into a constitution that should allegedly be inherited by a democratic government. Again, the constitution is not document that describes all the commissions and decrees that were promulgated by previous military governments. We have to draw a reasonable line in what to include and exclude in our constitution.

Related articles/websites

Emeagwali's Website


His wife

Letters to Emeagwali

Philip Emeagwali, biography, A Father of the Internet, supercomputer pioneer, Nigerian scientist, inventor

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Philip Emeagwali, biography, A Father of the Internet, supercomputer pioneer, Nigerian scientist, inventor

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