Appearing at a time when the late Mariam, wife of former military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, had elevated the state of First Ladyism in the country to an unprecedented height, Chinweizu’s Anatomy was as harsh a criticism of female power in or out of the corridors of power as you could get anywhere.
Predictably the book provoked a huge protest from the female folk. Speculations were rife then that Mariam took its attack personal and vowed to obstruct its circulation. If this was true, the late First Lady was not alone; among others, the late celebrity journalist, May Ellen Ezekiel, vigorously campaigned in her popular column in the rested Classique, that every woman owed it to herself and to the female gender to kill the book’s circulation.
If MEE, as she was then popularly known, were alive today she would’ve been celebrating the success, beyond her wildest imagination, of her campaign. Today, when the book should be compulsory reading for all, given the way Patience, President Goodluck Jonathan’s wife, has transmogrified First Ladyism, it is almost impossible to find a copy. All the libraries in Kaduna, my city of residence, and all the bookstores that I have searched in Kaduna, Abuja, Lagos and Ibadan, Nigeria’s book publishing capital, have no copies. My requests for the book from mutual friends like the managing director of Guardian Newspapers limited where Chinweizu once plied his trade, Mr Emeka Izeze, drew blank. Another mutual friend, Chief Ikechi Emenike, also a journalist and magazine publisher, who had five copies lost all over time and couldn’t remember exactly to whom.
Indeed most mutual friends didn’t know where to reach Chinweizu at to find out from him where to get a copy. Some said he was in far away America, feeling not so well and had chosen to remain somewhat incommunicado for personal reasons.
You can then imagine my pleasant surprise the other day when I saw his half-page response in The Guardian (Thursday, December 12, 2013) to two newspaper interviews by my friend and primary school class mate, the radical Kano politician and medical doctor, Dr Junaid Mohammed – one in the Sunday Sun of December 1, 2013, the other in The Punch of December 6, 2013 – in which Junaid threatened bloodshed should President Jonathan run next year (Sun) and said supporters of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) were only asking for civil war (Punch). Chinweizu’s article, entitled “To Junaid Mohammed and Shariyalanders”, was vintage him; pungent, precise, rigorous and highly readable, if also largely propagandistic.
The following Thursday, December 19, the newspaper again carried another half-page article by the man, this time his intervention on the controversial 18-page letter to President Jonathan by former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
His main thesis in both pieces was characteristically provocative but equally propagandistic; Nigeria’s current Constitution, he said, is “a self-interested creation of Northern generals, for the parochial interest of Shariyaland,” and, as such, it must be replaced by new Constitution created through the National Dialogue/Conference and approved by the people through a referendum before the next election. The Junaids and the Chief Obasanjos of this world who raise questions about the competence and integrity of President Jonathan and about his fidelity to the deals he makes and his fairness to all sections of the country, he said, are merely trying to divert attention away from what he obviously believes is the very urgent need to do away with the current “illegitimate” constitution.
The current constitution should go, he says, not only because it is an illegitimate imposition of Northern generals. It should go also because, by the immunity it has granted the president and state governors and their deputies and by its ouster of Chapter II on the fundamental objectives of government as justiciable, it has become “the godfather of corruption” in Nigeria.
Chinweizu is clearly in agreement with a group of his fellow Igbo elders, led by Professor Ben Nwabueze, which recently issued a statement after a meeting in Enugu rejecting any national conference which is not sovereign and whose outcome is not subjected to a referendum. Their belief that the current constitution is an imposition of Northern generals does extreme violence to the facts of constitution making in this country and their insistence on the sovereignty of the conference and subjecting it to a referendum is simply impractical, given the one year left before our next elections. On his part, Chinweizu’s argument that the Constitution is the godfather of corruption in the country simply stands logic on its head.
Anyone who has taken time to study the current 1999 Constitution will agree that there are only minor differences between it and the 1979 Constitution. The latter was drafted by a committee of some of Nigeria’s best lawyers and social scientists led by late Chief Rotimi (Timi the Law) Williams, a leading Yoruba and one of the country’s first Queens Counsel and Senior Advocate.
The draft was debated by a mainly elected Constituent Assembly under the chairmanship of the late Justice Udo Udoma, one of the most respected justices of the Supreme Court and a South-Southerner who was by means a lackey of Chinweizu’s Northern generals. The CA itself comprised some of the most astute Nigerian politicians and critics of military rule.
General Olusegun Obasanjo, whose administration finally enacted the Constitution into law, is, as far as I know, Yoruba. True, his administration was under the watchful eyes of some Northern generals. However, these generals never had any Northerner’s mandate to take the decisions they took. In any case these Northern generals rarely took any decisions without the consent of their fellow generals from other sections of the country.
Except, of course, if Chinweizu is saying of all the Nigerians who made the 1979 Constitution only the Northern generals have a mind of their own it is untenable for anyone to say that the Constitution was an imposition by a cabal of Northern generals.
Give or take a few minor amendments the 1999 Constitution is the same as that of 1979.
As for the argument that we need a brand new Constitution, one can counter it with the American saying that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Yes, our Constitution, like everything human, isn’t perfect and as such needs fixing every once in a while. But our problem, one must never tire of repeating, is less our Constitution than our attitude. In other words anyone who thinks, as Chinweizu and Professor Nwabueze do, that a brand new constitution will banish our problems must be suffering from a grand delusion. Constitutions don’t implement them-selves. People do. And without the right attitude which, unfortunately, is in the end not a matter for legislation, no Constitution, no matter how near-perfect, can solve anyone’s problems.
However, assuming for argument’s sake that we do need a brand new constitution, it is truly amazing how anyone can imagine that we can get it, with referendum and all that, before the elections due in a year’s time. Or, as Professor Nwabueze and other likeminded leaders insist, we can get it based on the ethnic groups of this country as building blocks.
First, under our Constitution the Indepen-dent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will require a law by the National Assembly to conduct elections into a Constituent Assembly. For now Section 15 (a) of the Third Schedule gives it powers only to conduct elections into the presidency, governorship and national and state assemblies.
Second, money is an object in these times when governments are finding it hard to pay even salaries, essentially due to government profligacy. Third, time itself is an object considering how the minimum time it takes to enact and implement laws is on the scale of months not days or even weeks. Fourth, no one knows for sure how many tribes we have in this country. Also the populations of the tribes we know have never been captured by any of our censuses to enable us decide what weight to give to each group in allocating the number of those to represent it since it makes no sense to give them equal representation in a democracy.
In pursuing his thesis Chinweizu claimed believers of Sharia like Junaid have since been waging a war against Nigeria through Boko Haram. He also condemned Obasanjo for trying to hold President Jonathan to promises he said the president made in 2011 to serve only one term.
As a Muslim who believes in Sharia and as someone who believes one’s word should be his honour, I can easily expose Chinweizu’s positions as mere propaganda. However, these are matters for possibly another time. For now one would only like to say welcome back Chinweizu, and if you happen to read this piece please let me know through a text to the phone number on top of this column how I can get a copy of your Anatomy of Female Power.
(Anatomy of Female Power: A Masculinist Dissection of Matriarchy, Sundoor, 1990.)