A die-hard Buharist and former Minister of Petroleum and Energy, Mr Tam David-West, has disagreed with President Muhammadu Buhari over the latter’s support for the establishment of cattle ranches in some designated states in the country, saying that it was not proper for the president to do ranches in non-ranching areas.
He also pointed out that Buhari has allowed suffering to so much make Nigerians to be unhappy, saying that the president needs to do something fast to turn the trend or pay dearly for it at the polls.
David-West also took a swipe at prominent constitutional lawyer, Mr Ben Nwabueze, on his claim that the 1979 Constitution was not made by Nigerians.
So many things have been said about the 1979 Constitution and you were a member of the committee that drafted that constitution. Is it true that the constitution was drafted in secret?
I am happy that your paper is coming for clarification on this matter. It has been going on for so many years, and I have been so disturbed for so many years, but I kept quiet. I became more concerned because some of the people that are lying are very knowledgeable people. I don’t want to mention their names. But in my paper that is coming out, I will mention their names. I have an essay, more than an article that will come out soon. The title of my essay that is coming out is: ‘1979 Constitution Draft: Misinformation, Disinformation, Distortion, Concoction.’ They are lying and it pains me. But I will mention one name that makes me feel more annoyed, Prof Ben Nwabueze. I will mention his name with due respect to him. He is a great man, especially in his field. When they are discussing the 1979 Constitution, I expected somebody like Prof Nwabueze to correct them. He was not an ordinary member of the drafters of the constitution. He was not only a member of the 50 people that drafted the constitution, but he was also a superman. He was the chairman of one of the six sub-committees. Also, he was a member of the committee that put the constitution in a legal form. So, he has said a lot of things over the years. First, he kept silent when they are discussing it. I have that against him, as much as I respect him, maybe he does not really need my respect. I respect him as a Nigerian intellectual and people in his field said he is a great constitutional lawyer. I am not a Professor of Law, I am a Professor of Virology. There is no question about the fact that Prof Nwabueze is one of the great speakers in this country. As a member of the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), that he could allow such nonsense to go on without correcting them is paining me. There are other names that I will mention in my essay. But I have at least three major things against him. The draft 1979 Constitution has been distorted over the years by many people, very knowledgeable people. I expected Prof Nwabueze to have corrected people on the distortion. Why did I say that? It is not only that Prof Nwabueze is a great thinker in Nigeria, he is acclaimed to be a topmost constitutional expert. He was a member of CDC. He was one of the 50 that drafted the constitution, including Pa Obafemi Awolowo, who declined. We had 49 floor members and Chief FRA William as chairman. Prof Nwabueze was one of them. We had six subcommittees and he was the chairman of a subcommittee on Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy. It was a new and fantastic thing that was added to the
1979 and he was the chairman of the sub-com- mittee. More importantly, he was a member of the Legal Drafting Sub-committee that drafted the 1979 Constitution you are reading, that people have been criticising. Nwabueze was one of the drafters in legal language. Chief Richard Akinjide was also a member of the Legal Draft- ing Sub-committee made up of eminent lawyers in the CDC. So, for Nwabueze to be silent when people are criticising the constitution is bad enough. It was also surprising that he too criticised the same constitution. Prof Nwabueze has no moral right to criticise the 1979 Constitution. In my essay that will come out, I have written like 30 pages, I am still writing. The essay will be published in serialized form. In that paper I mentioned the names of people. I specifically referenced what they did. In this interview, I am forced to single out Prof Ben Nwabueze, for mention. The Constitution Drafting Committee was inaugurated by General Murtala Mohammed and during the inauguration, he made a statement, that when he came into power in 1975, his military administration had five-point plan to hand over the civilian government. One of the five points was to have a new constitution for Nigeria. But before we finished, they had already assassinated him. Also, I have to quarrel with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who received the draft constitution from us. After Murtala Mohammed was assassinated on February 13, 1976, Obasanjo became military Head of State. Obasanjo knew some people are lying about the 1979 Constitution, why can’t he correct it? They don’t have to wait for a small virologist to come and correct it. I challenge anyone to resist what I am going say. Murtala Mohammed inaugurated the CDC on October 18, 1975, he was assassinated on February 13, 1976, and we handed over to Obasanjo on September 14, 1976. After we handed over to Obasanjo, Constituent Assembly was inaugurated to look at the draft. The Constituent Assembly was made up of 203 elected Nigerians from across the country, together with some other additions. The Constituent Assembly chaired by Justice (Dr) Udo Udoma, father of the current Nigeria’s Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udo-Udoma, sat from September 1977 to June 1978. Justice Udoma was one of the first sets of Nigerians that got doctorate degree in law. He was at that time of Constituent Assembly a Justice of the Supreme Court. The deputy chairman was Justice Buba Ardo. I am saying this for you to know that the 1979 Constitution was not done in secrecy. Then the draft was put up for public debate by the Chief of Staff, Supreme headquarters, Brigadier General Shehu Yar’Adua. Another very important thing was the fact that Daily Times of Nigeria went to every state of the federation for discussion on the draft. It was only after all these that it
became constitution. So, nobody can say it was done in secret. Whoever that says it was done in secret, it is either the person is not mentally correct, or he is a supreme liar. The document passed through some stages before it became constitution. It was hotly debated. The draft done by the CDC went to the Constituent Assembly, to public debate and Supreme Military Council. Before they took final decision on it, they allowed the general public to debate it in the country.
Would you say there was any difference between the document presented to the government by the CDC and what eventually became the 1979 Constitution?
The Supreme Military Council after all the debates made some additions. But the main body of the constitution was left intact. They added some things, which they said were in the interest of the country on unity. But the fundamental objectives and principles of the constitution were left intact. Then, when we wanted to submit the draft copy of the constitution to the government, there was a minority report by two of my friends, Bala Usman and Segun Osoba. The Osoba here was a lecturer in the then University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, not the former governor of Ogun State. Both Bala Usman and Segun Osoba, I am talking about are late, but they were great men. They wanted to submit the minority report to the Head of State. But Obasanjo refused to receive the minority report from them.
The minority report, if you read it, was not really against what we did. But being socialists, they wanted state ideology such as socialism, communism, capitalism. be in the constitution.
At a plenary of the CDC, The 49 of us and the chairman said it would be contradictory because at our inauguration, the head of state said we should not subject Nigeria to state ideology, either capitalism, socialism or whatever. It would develop with time. The minority report was not really against the main body of the constitution. In fact, they sat with us throughout almost one year of the CDC. So, anyone that says the constitution was done in secret must be a pathological liar. Let me tell you, Chief Rotimi William and some of us would never be in the CDC if we were going to be tele-guided. As a matter of fact, we were never tele-guided. If we were going to he tele-guided at any stage in the process, some of us would have resigned. There was no tele-guiding at all. Murtala Muhammed in his inaugural address said that he gave us free hand. The government gave us free hand. There was another lie that the presidential system of government was imposed on us by the military. It is not true. If you read Murtala Mohammed’s address, he made mention of presidential system.
But he was quoted out of context. He said based on our past experience, you are free to recommend anything that will be in the better interest of Nigeria for a federal and united Nigeria. He said based on bad experience in party politics, the CDC could even recommend a no party system.
So, we recommended multi-party system, we recommended a federal system to ensure a united Nigeria. But Murtala was quoted out of context. Before that time, there was a lot of debates within Nigerian public, writing whether the parliamentary system of Britain was still good for us. There were a lot of heated debates in the country. There was this general impression that the people would fail because of the parliamentary system. So, there was this general trend to try another system, which is presidential. But more importantly to correct their faults and lies. We received 346 memoranda both within and outside the country. I have the list. Even the great Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, sent one memorandum. Also, state governments, institutions, persons also sent memoranda to us. Some of the memoranda specifically said we should maintain executive president system. But if you analyse the 346 memoranda, the majority of them preferred a presidential system. So, it was not the military that imposed the presidential system on Nigeria; it was chosen by the memoranda of the people. So, to say that presidential system was imposed on us by the military is a lie. The person who is saying this is either very lazy, or physically has refused to go into research.
What exactly did Prof Ben Nwabueze say against the 1979 Constitution of Nigeria?
He said for the constitution to say: ‘We the people of Nigeria’ is a blatant lie. The constitution of Nigeria is not a democratic one because it was not adopted in a referendum or through Constituent Assembly. It is a palpable lie about his words. So, I am ashamed that Prof Nwabueze would say this.
Where can we find evidence on what Prof Nwabueze actually said on the 1979 Constitution?
The preamble of the 1979 Constitution says: ‘We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria’ and Nwabueze said it is a palpable lie. He said it in a newspaper, The Patriot. Also, he said it on page 349 in his book entitled: ‘How President Obasanjo Subverted the Rule of Law and Democracy.’ He said the 1979 Constitution was not a democratic constitution. But who drafted it? He drafted it. He was a special member of the 1979 Constitution Drafting Committee. He was a chairman of a sub-committee. He was also a member of the legal drafting committee that puts the draft in a legal perspective. Did he give Nigeria what is not democratic constitution? It is suicidal now. If you say it is not a democratic constitution, you as a constitutional lawyer, you gave Nigeria what is not democratic constitution? So, I am annoyed with him. The constitution of any country is the fundamental law of the country, by Aristotle. He called it grundnorm. The constitution of every country is the grundnorm of the country because it is bigger than every law in the country. The reason Nwabueze gave was that it was not done by plebiscite or referendum of the people. This doesn’t disqualify it to be so said. He should know better than me. The preamble of American Constitution of 1787 reads: ‘We the people of United States of America….’ When the American Constitution was made, there were only 13 states. They have 50 states now in the United States of America. Americans have never complained. I am trying to situate it because for Nwabueze to make an issue out of that is sad. He should know better that it is a non-issue. So, it is pedestrian. Nwabueze said on Page 349 in his book, entitled: ‘How President Obasanjo Subverted the Rule of Law and Democracy,’ that we are wrong to say: ‘We the people of Federal Republic of Nigeria….” Prof Wole Soyinka even said that before too. Nwabueze cannot take that out of context. The preamble says: ‘We the people of Federal Republic of Nigeria decided to live in unity and peace, we decided to have this constitution.’When Nwabueze quoted ‘We the people of Federal Republic of Nigeria,’ what comes after that? We want to live in peace. We have agreed to live in peace. We are going to do justice in the country. Are you going to fault that? The preamble we are talking about was added by the Legal Drafting Committee of the 1979 Constitution Drafting Committee and Nwabueze was a member of it. So, Nwabueze cannot take ‘We the people of Federal Republic of Nigeria’ alone and fly it. What did they say after that? Did any Nigerian object to living in peace in Nigeria? Did they object to living with justice, love and progress?
American Constitution has lasted for more than 200 years, then in 1787, there were only 13 colonies of which one of them, Rhodes Island boycotted the constitutional conference. But it was still bound by it. The 13 colonies became sovereign states after they broke away from Britain. The 13 states have risen to 50 now. No American scholar, no American professor, no American criticised the preamble of the American Constitution because what comes after ‘We the people of United States of America,’ was acceptable to every generation of Americans. Why should Nigerian scholars query this? Even, the process of preparing the 1979 Constitution for Nigeria was more rigorous than the process of preparing the 1787 Constitution for the United States of America.
When was the book written by Prof Ben Nwabueze, ‘How President Obasanjo Subverted the Rule of Law and Democracy,’ published?
The book was published 11 years ago.
Do you know if he had made any statement contrary to the statement in the book?
No, he has not. After this interview, let him correct me. But he has not. He cannot make any other statement on this subject because in the book, he gave examples of how former President Olusegun Obasanjo subverted the rule of law and democracy. They were all factual. He cannot change them. I have read the book, which is 415 pages. He has not reviewed the book because he made factual examples in the book.
Now, what do you expect Prof Ben Nwabueze to do?
I want him to purge himself of his inaction, purge himself that he has allowed lies to continue against what he did without correcting them. He cannot come now and say what he fully participated in is a lie. When my paper entitled: ‘1979 Constitution Draft: Misinformation, Disinformation, Distortion, Concoction,’ is out, people will see details in it. So, Nwabueze should purge himself for his inaction for not correcting the lies people have been telling about what he wrote.
If Nwabueze saw that some things were not right in the 1979 Constitution, the citizenry would have expected that those things should have been taken care of by the 1999 Constitution. So, what happened?
Your question also increases my query of Nwabueze. It was General Abdulsalami Abubakar that handed over power to President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999. Also, at various seminars, workshops, conferences organised, the general consensus of Nigerians was to retain the provisions of the 1979 Constitution, with only small amendment. So, the 1999 Constitution is like a photocopy of the 1979 Constitution. We got 1999 Constitution 20 years after 1979 Constitution. The government is saying that from all the public opinions, debates, and consensus, the 1979 Constitution should be left with minor changes. If Prof Nwabueze saw that the 1979 Constitution was bad, why didn’t he at that time come out when the 1999 Constitution was being prepared in order to make corrections? There is no perfect constitution, there are only imperfect men.
As a prominent supporter of 1979 Constitution, Nigerians will like to know your position on the killings in different parts of the country, especially in Benue and Plateau states; again Nigerians have been accusing President Muhammadu Buhari of not matching his words with action on bringing to justice the killer herdsmen that have dispatched many people to their early graves in different parts of the country, especially in Benue and Plateau states. As a prominent supporter of Mr President, what is your stand on the issue?
Many members of the public are not being fair to Buhari. To say nothing has been done, it’s not a fair statement. I am not a member of government and I am not a member of any party. I am not saying this because I am pro-Buhari. Some things can be done better. Unfortunately for him, he is a Fulani. Is he behind the killings? What I feel should have been done is to have more drastic and more effective security arrangements. People would say why would soldiers not go to the affected place, bomb the place and sack the place. Nigerian Army can bomb the place and finish it within few days, but what of civilian casualties? Me, as a non-military person, my first reaction will be let the military storm the place and launch counterattacks. By the time they drop couple of bombs, the whole place will be quiet. But so many people will die also. They know what they are calculating. But what they are doing, I don’t know and nobody knows. Are they doing something? Yes, I am sure. But if they are not doing anything, that will be irresponsible. The constitution is clear that one of the fundamental functions of government is to protect lives and property. Unfortunately for Buhari, he is a Fulani and people say Fulani herdsmen. Is Buhari behind the killings? The answer is absolutely no.
But some Nigerians usually refer to him as the grand patron of the Miyetti Allah and that is why the herdsmen have been capitalising on that to wreak havoc. How would you react to this?
It is a lie. Anybody that is saying that is irresponsible. I have lived in Plateau and I know the place very well, maybe more than I know Rivers State. They have community problems in Plateau, as we also have it in the parts of the country like it used to be in Ife and Modakeke in Osun State. There are community problems in Rivers State too, such as on fishing rights on water. In Plateau from what I have read, there was an issue of encroachment on other people’s land. Some people even said they are slaying Christians only. It is not true. Many of the killed people were Muslims. On the condolence visits, Obasanjo has done worse. During Obasanjo’s era, there was trouble in Odi, and an activist there killed a soldier. He sent soldiers to the place. They razed Odi, killing people, raping women, killing even animals. He did not do anything, even as the president. He sent soldiers to combat defenseless community.
It might be that the then administration used Odi as a scapegoat to send warning signals to other parts of the country on the grave consequences of killing soldiers and security agents?
Is it justifiable that because you want to send warning signals, you would destroy a whole community? They did not even have catapult, let alone knives. When Danjuma went to Odi, he lamented how it was done openly. Odi was destroyed now!
The soldiers he sent officially destroyed the community. You cannot say Buhari sent herdsmen to kill other people. But what I will suggest is that the government should set up a body that will be given time to go into these matters, not in the North, also in the riverine areas – militancy in the Niger Delta has not finished. The body should go and find out the fundamental causes of all these troubles or what is responsible for the trouble. In Plateau State, most of the troubles there are community problems. The problems in the riverine areas are even fundamental. They stemmed out of neglect. We lay the golden eggs, and you don’t even want to give us the shell. I will like to believe that the government is doing something. But I will not support army going to shoot; many innocent people will also die. You don’t solve violence with violence. Violence gives birth to violence. I still believe that peaceful means is possible. To go into the root of it, there should be no publicity. I believe that community leaders will have a lot of roles to play, especially in the North where community leaders are well respected. The government should set up a body, not by addressing press conferences and issuing press statements. The body should go secretly to get the community leaders to get the aggrieved people together, talk to them, so that people that are doing something without even knowing the consequences will be enlightened. Unfortunately, what I see is that some people are making political statements out of it.
The Federal Government announced recently its intention to establish cattle ranches across the country, but would start the pilot project in 10 states. It is the opinion of many Nigerians that government’s money should not be used to fund the private business of herdsmen apart from the perceived dangers such project may create in the future. What is your take on this?
I agree with the people. In the first place, I am surprised that the government has not seen the implications. If I am Buhari, I will be the last person to agree to ranch in non-ranching areas. First, you were accused that you wanted to Islamise Nigeria and it is completely false. If you now allow different states in different parts of the country, to establish special places for ranching, would people not say it is a means of establishing colonies for Islamic groups? The implications will be very grave. In any case, I am so surprised and sad. When I was a child in Port Harcourt, we had all these cattle ranchers; we would even play with them. Nobody had trouble. I still believe some politicians are behind all these. But to establish special areas for ranching in different parts of the country is a dangerous move to make. People may misinterpret it that he wants to Islamise, especially when it was quoted that Uthman Dan Fodio, that led the Jihad of 1804, said he wanted to deep Quran in the sea in Lagos, coming from Sokoto. So, you have to be very careful when this kind of a thing comes, so that people will not misinterpret it. I don’t believe that establishing special areas for ranching will bring solution. It won’t bring any solution. When the grasses in the ranches finish, what do you do?
Nigeria Police Force mopped up guns in the public recently, which probably should make it illegal for any unauthorised person to carry guns. But people have been crying that the police disarmed them without doing so to the Fulani herdsmen so that the herders could kill them. Ak-47 rifles were said to have been used by herdsmen that killed about 200 people in Plateau State recently. How would you respond to this in respect of mopping up of arms?
I don’t believe that the police disarmed some people so that herdsmen could kill them. It is not true. But what I have observed is ineffective mopping. In the 70s, when I was a columnist in the Tribune, there were too many arms in the country, I wrote in my column that it would be dangerous. This is not self-glorification. If you want to stop arms, you can stop it now. We have a very good armed forces. We have very good intelligence. They should still be more effective, especially when there is public outcry. I don’t blame the people that are complaining that they have not seen the results they want. The armed forces can still do better.
Some Nigerians have also been articulating their fears that if Fulani herdsmen could be audacious now by killing people, if President Buhari wins second term in office in 2019, the herders would be more dangerous. What is your take on this?
It is not true. It does not necessarily follow. Do I want Buhari to win second term? Yes and no. Yes, because I don’t associate myself with the theatricals of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida, and Theophilus Danjuma. If people think he is doing well, they will vote for him. If people think he has not done well, they won’t vote for him. But immediately you have people, who are professional letter writers, trying to make sure, who are you to tell Buhari not to seek second term? You once sought third term. He who goes to equity must have clean hands. Obasanjo is not qualified at all to tell Buhari not to seek second term. When you were seeking third term, they wanted to change the constitution for you. And my answer is no because things must improve. I know that within few months, a government can make purposeful impact. Right now, why I am saying no is that I ask myself as a supporter of Buhari: Are the people happy? A good friend is not one who praises you, but the one who tells you the truth. There is no question that people are not happy. There is no question that the economy is not doing well. There is no question that a lot of people are suffering. So, if he wants to run for a second term, it will be on his ticket. Nobody imposed Buhari on Nigerians. People voted for him. Get the ticket first and when you take the ticket, let the people be happy. Where there are areas of discontents and concerns, try to take active steps to correct them so that you can give greater happiness to greater number. When Nigerians are happy, they will vote for you. One million Obasanjo cannot stop them. When Nigerians are happy, one million Danjuma and Babangida cannot stop them. They will vote for you. Nigerians are not fools. When you are doing well, they will vote for you.
How do you look at the honour given to MKO Abiola, don’t you think Ken Saro-Wira too deserves an honour?
The case of Ken Saro-Wiwa was different from the case of Abiola. Ken was my friend. Ken made a mistake. When he was charged for a crime, his lawyer was Gani Fawehinmi, and he refused to defend himself; I have said this in my article they should have defended him. Let the government do whatever it wants, but defend yourself and let the people see. Tell the court that you were not responsible for the crime. His lawyer did not defend him and he himself did not defend himself. He should have defended himself whether he would be found guilty or not. If they found you guilty still, public opinion will still be on them. I won a case against a professor, who defamed me. I sued him and he refused to defend himself. The judgment was passed against him. Chief MKO Abiola died for us. He died for a cause. Abiola was cheated by Babangida; Abiola did not die for the Yoruba, he died for the whole of Nigeria. He was the man that won the election. For the first time, Nigerians showed clearly that your money does not matter. If you believe in a thing, it will work for you. I told Abiola, don’t run, they will kill you. He was close to me. I don’t drop names. I told him that Muslim-Muslim ticket would bring trouble. He said he would and I am happy he did. Nigerians showed that religion does not matter. What Babangida did to Nigeria was indeed surprising and shocking. What Babangida did for Abiola is sufficient enough for Babangida not to be seen in public at all.
So, you cannot compare Abiola’s honour with that of Ken Saro-Wiwa. Ken Saro-Wiwa was charged for criminal offence and he never defended himself and he was executed, which was terrible. Even, Nelson Mandela told Abiola not to declare himself as president, but he refused. He won the freest election conducted in Nigeria. But he was denied his mandate. Abiola died fighting for his mandate. Abiola was a matter and Ken Saro-Wiwa was a context. So, for Buhari to honour Abiola, I think it is one of the greatest things he has done. I still pray that as long as he is with the masterstroke, make June 12 commendation, not condemnation. He (Buhari) should also do other things economically that will change the condemnation to commendation. If condition of living improves, people will feel the impact in few months. How many Yoruba love Abiola anyway. The people that asked him to go and declare himself as president, which is suicidal, were they with him? They ran outside the country after the declaration and many of them are still outside the country. He should have known that what he did, he should not have done it. Also, the paper they sent to the press was not signed. It was Bola Tinubu that introduced me to Abiola in his house. Abiola was one of the greatest heroes Nigeria would produce. Was it Ojukwu that said Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the best president Nigeria never had? Abiola was more qualified than that. Ojukwu was saying that Awolowo was not allowed to contest, but Abiola contested and won. From record, Abiola was a very close friend of Babangida and he could do that to Abiola. Somebody once said beware of somebody who has no sister or brother, saying such person could be very dangerous, avoid the person.