Sovereign National Conference: Now or Never!
By: Idumange John
Nigeria was de-listed from the unenviable of terrorist countries; there was a sigh of
relief. It was as though we had escaped the tinderbox. Since then, more than
half a dozen bomb blasts have been recorded in Nigeria, even the Federal
Capital Territory – Abuja is no exception. While some people opined that the
de-listing was hurried, as there are fundamental unsettled issues. Now, the
slaughtering of women and children even in worship places has become
commonplace. Just when the kidnapping saga was over, bombasts are now common
occurrences I almost all parts of the country. Whereas the MEND phenomenon has
started to submarine, there is now a resurgence of the Boko Haram movement with
its variants such as sudanniya and other odd nomenclature.
It is getting clearer by the day that Nigeria lacks national integration. Ken Saro-Wiwa (1991) when he asserted that: “There is no universally accepted and understood rationale for the
existence and functioning of a State called Nigeria… a Nigerian ideology will
be counterproductive because of the overwhelming forces arraigned against it
from the side of tribalism, regional diversities and cultural chasms…. Neither
the masses nor the elite can be expected under these conditions to develop the
kind of perspectives, durable. Constant… that can bring forth sacrifices,
intense devotion and loyalty, discipline, dedication and faith”
Professor Nwabueze also asserted: “As everyone knows, Nigeria is not a nation. It
is rather an amalgam of nations, a conglomeration of numerous antagonistic,
antipathetic and incompatible nationalities the various peoples comprised in it
is yet to coalesce into one national civil society animated by a common
spirit, and a feeling of common nationality and identity; and propelled by
common social dynamics”.
These developments have proved further underlined the imperatives of a
sovereign National Conference.
I was almost taken aback when a fellow Nigerian, a patriotic one for that matter
tried to convince me that Nigeria is an aberration and only a leader with mild
insanity can lead Nigeria to a safe and assured destination. Yusuf hails from
the Northern part of the country. From his claims, he could have been close to
the oligarchy. How is it possible for people who are mildly insane to imbibe civilized
norms let alone provide leadership for a complex country like Nigeria, Donald
queried? Initially, his argument sounded like a joke or perhaps some
weird, indefensible logic.
Yusuf may be a student with a sense of history recounted how seemingly insane people
turned the fortunes of their countries around and lifted their nations from the
valley of poverty to the pinnacle of prosperity. Yusuf caught the picture of a
dynamic and progressive man of the leftist but with the mien of a conservative.
I never had a inking that he that he’s imbued with a robust sense of history.
He started to unfold a little menu of Marxist historiography. I was scared to
join issues with Yusuf because logically he was right. I was really impressed
that in intellectual matters there are only schools not an oligarchy.
He started with Vladimir Lenin who spearheaded the Bolshevik Revolution in the
defunct Soviet Union. Only a mildly insane people would execute the Czar, the
Czarina and the royal family. While these executions appeared dastardly, the
actions extinguished an autocratic regime and enthroned a socialist system that
endured for about 70 years. In 1949, Mao Zse Dong also carried out a
socialist–style revolution in China and may heads rolled. Fidel Castro and the
Cuban revolution followed a similar pattern to overthrow the Batista’s regime.
Don’t take me to the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Cuban Missile crisis,
I cautioned. He went further, In the case of Nigeria, a silent revolution can
be executed without the benefit of beheading people like the case of Nicolae
Ceausescu of Romania or President Naji Bulla of Afghanistan, the torment of the
maximum ruler – Pinochet of Chile. The list is endless.
A onetime University Don, who now works for one of the Multinationals, Dr.
Youpele Banigo corroborated Yusuf’s viewpoint when he averred that only a mad
man can lead Nigeria. Youpele believes that only the mildly insane can
superintendent over the affairs of the nation because of the several divisive
factors pulling us apart. He might have drawn his inspiration from one incident
in Port Harcourt. On that fateful day, we drove in his car to Rumuokwuta
roundabout where we saw a mad man controlling traffic. The man had a long piece
of iron rod in his right hand while he used his left hand to control commuting
vehicles. The iron rod fell on the wind screens of any commuter who disobeyed
his instruction. That day the fear of the mad man’s rod is the beginning of
wisdom. It was an interesting scenario.
When we inquired from the traffic police men why they were queuing behind the insane
traffic controller, they said generally, Nigerians had they penchant to disobey
constituted authorities hence only a mad man can exercise effective control
over them. Are you saying Nigerians are a lawless lot, I asked? One of them
stole a glance at me and still answered in the affirmative. What ran through my
mind then was the Sovereign National Conference - which I regard as the sore
point in our endeavours to entrench lasting stability in the body polity.
When the idea of a Sovereign National Conference, SNC, was first mooted, most people
dismissed it as a mere balderdash-perhaps a useless idea. However, the issue of
SNC hinges on the basis of the unity and stability of Nigeria. The SNC can be
likened to the creative spirit or deity of a typical community in Africa. When
the creative spirit is desecrated, things naturally fall apart, as there can be
no sense of cohesion among the people. No community can live in peace when the
creative spirits are desecrated or their sanctity violated.
I believe that those advocating for a Sovereign National Conference are patriotic
Nigerians who – like Nehemiah want to erect the foundation of the nation. What
appears to be fragile unity and cohesion are foundational challenges that must
be addressed before a nation can contemplate reforming her institutions
development. The Nigerian State was established on a distorted, pseudo
foundation. The forceful lumping together of the multifarious ethnic
nationalities in 1914 by the British was a great historical mistake, as the
voluntary consent of the constituent ethnic groups was neither sought nor
obtained. That was where the rain began to beat us. This is a foundational
mistake that must be corrected before Nigeria can make progress.
At the heart of the stability of Nigeria is the much-orchestrated Sovereign
National Conference (SNC). A sovereign national conference would enable the
multifarious ethnic nationalities to negotiate the basic structures and power
sharing arrangements instead of the trial and error methods we have adopted
over the years, with their attendant monumental dislocations and catalogue of
failures. As could be seen, the SNC may be a very painful decision for the
ethnic majorities yet it is a necessary evil since it is sine qua non for us to
forge a lasting unity rather than postpone the doomsday. Patriotic Nigerians
have always emphasized the need for a SNC as the only viable panacea to rectify
the structural abnormalities bedeviling the nation.
Over the years, the fear of conducting a SNC has created cynicism such that our
leaders only try to smuggle certain sections into the constitution that would
allay those fears. One of such fraudulent insertions into the constitution is
Section 14 of the constitution stipulates inter alia: ‘The composition of the
government of the federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its
affairs shall be carried out in such manner as to reflect the federal character
of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity…’
The Federal Character Principle has not worked in practice because our leaders were
socialized in a culture of ethnicism and rather than being seen as national
leaders, they gyrate after some relevance as tin gods with very deep primordial
attachment and sentiment toward their ethnic groups. There is now an urgent
need for Nigeria to convene a SNC to discuss the very basis of our unity.
Verily, the problem of lack of integration and national unity has resulted to a
situation whereby we have no acceptable national ideology and value system
underpinning our existence. Rather than use our cultural affinities to
intensify devotion and loyalty, discipline, dedication and faith. Germane as
the SNC is, who is really afraid of the much-needed SNC?
Fifty years should have been enough for the various ethnic groups to integrate
properly. Fifty years of independence is certainly enough for Nigeria to settle
issues like revenue allocation among the three tiers of government; revenue
allocation criteria as bases for equitable fiscal federalism; State and local
government areas creation; boundary adjustments related to claims of oil wells,
and the building of a just, egalitarian and equitable society. It is our
inability to resolve all these problems that has transformed Nigeria into a
reference point of bad governance, high-level corruption, insecurity and
cyclical illegitimacy. Most of the challenges facing the legitimacy of our
nation bother on the economy and the allocation of scarce resources.
Governance and indeed politics is seen as business; and like shylock money lenders, those
who invest in electioneering campaigns or sponsor politicians are expected to
be compensated with plum contracts- sometimes over-inflated to make them supper
rich at the expense of the people. The practice of marketization of
politics has led to godfatheris. Unfortunately, development issues and
policy implementation processes cannot be subjected to the market forces or godfatherism.
When democracy woke up from stupor 11 years ago, there were hiccups, bobby traps and mines in the way of democratization. There seems to be
consensus that until we totally change the way we elect our leaders, until we
remove private money from public campaigns, lying will be mistaken for
shrewdness and primitive accumulation would be the de facto method of
The electoral system is still undergoing positive changes, so is the criminal justice system. The Nigerian democratic system still lacks mass
support and legitimacy. The problematic of legitimacy is all the more
questionable because politics has not translated into improve the
socio-economic situation of most Nigerians. The ruling Peoples’ Democratic
Party, PDP has by blackmail or brute force snuffed out opposition parties. When
such oppositions become very potent, they plant weeds among them to destroy the
virile ones. There exists extremes of poverty and inequality also foments
social instability and represents a loss of dynamism in the economy.
The nation’s overdependence on crude oil has resulted in a crude oil mono-culture, and complacency of the States. Monthly handouts from oil
revenue to the states have had grave repercussions on the innovativeness and
productivity of the States. Federal in Nigeria is no longer serving its
purpose; it is supposed to promote a healthy competition among the constituent
units but the situation on ground negates the grains of the system as it was
originally conceived. Our inability to promote unity and peace in Nigeria has
made the SNC more imperative than ever.