The Second Republic Governor of Kaduna State, Mr. Balarabe Musa, in this interview with ALLWELL OKPI, speaks on the modality for conducting a national conference
IT was reported recently that President Goodluck Jonathan was considering convening the Sovereign National Conference, which you and other elder statesmen have been clamouring for. Are there really indications that this is true?
I don’t think Mr. President can be considering convening sovereign national conference because for a sovereign national conference to be held, the present reality of government will have to be removed; that is the executive, the legislature, the judiciary and their institutions. This can happen only when there is an insurgency, a war going on, or a social revolution. I can’t imagine the President accepting that.
So, what kind of conference should Jonathan convene?
Even, we who were propagating sovereign national conference have come to realise that convening a sovereign national conference now will not be the proper step. There is another step, which is more peaceful, democratic, patriotic, which can involve all strata of the society and that is a national conference. Even among ourselves, we have not agreed on the meaning of sovereign national conference and the form it can take. Different people have different ideas. For example, there are some who regard sovereign national conference as a conference of nationalities in the country.
Some think it should be a conference of Nigeria citizens and this is fundamental. Some people’s idea of a sovereign national conference is superficial. We’ve had a number of meetings that have culminated in the formation of two national forums. The first is the National Summit Group headed by Tanko Yakassai and another person, who is from the South-South (Tony Uranta). Then later came also Project Nigeria, headed by Maitama Sule and Prof. Ben Nwabueze.
The National Summit Group and Project Nigeria have now come to agree that sovereign national conference is not practicable because we don’t even agree among ourselves. We agreed that it should be the last resort and that we should give peace a chance by convening a patriotic national conference. This national conference is not new. Civilian and military governments in Nigeria have been having national conferences, but conducted by them, with the agenda set by them.
What form should this national conference take?
It is time for the national conference to be the work of sovereign people of Nigeria. All registered voters of Nigeria constitute the sovereign people of Nigeria. They will function through a body chosen by them, because registered voters, who could be up to 100million, cannot all participate in a national conference. They would have to do so through democratic representatives.
And those democratic representatives, who can represent the people after due election of delegates are civil society organisations such as the Nigeria Bar Association, Academic Staff Union of Universities, Nigeria Labour Congress and other credible civil society organisations. I know we have up to five to 10 civil society organisations that are credible enough to conduct a national conference on behalf of the sovereign people of Nigeria.
Our agenda for the national conference, in short, is first to reconcile Nigeria because Nigerians have doubts about the continued existence of Nigeria. Secondly, to review the state of the nation; thirdly, to decide and agree on our fundamental national objectives; fourthly, to produce a draft constitution of Nigeria, which would be subject to a referendum; and lastly to conduct a free, fair and transparent election, leading to a legitimate government.
And the participants are those who should organise it. I mentioned earlier that it should be the sovereign people of Nigeria, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, which means everybody is involved. The executive, the legislature and the judiciary should be honest enough to know that they have failed and that is why we are having this negative state of the nation, which is endangering the continued existence of the nation. Since no section of the society can solve the problem, let everybody be involved in the national salvation.
Those against the national conference fear that it may lead to the break-up of the country or the undoing of the 1914 amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria. How can this conference be conducted so that at the end of it, Nigeria remains one?
In the first place, let us identify what is responsible for the negative state of the nation. One of them is the fears you have mentioned. Another is the social, economic and political controlling of all developments in the country, which has produced a political leadership, the result of which is, for instance, this disabling level of corruption, stealing and criminal waste of resources. The system and the leadership is based on self-interest first; public interest second or incidental. If you can change the system from one based on self-interest, to one based on public interest, you will be able to win the confidence of the people.
If we really want a Nigeria that is worth its name, ethnic identity should be secondary. The primary thing should be national citizenship – you are a Nigerian. If we cannot have a system of citizenship, then Nigeria is not even worth having. If we are talking about ethnic nationality, it is impracticable. We have ethnic nationalities numbering up to 300 or 400. How is it practicable to have a conference of ethnic nationalities?
Even in democracy as we practise it, such a conference of ethnic nationalities will inevitably be dominated by the Wazobia (the Hausa, the Yoruba and the Igbo). You can’t think of an ethnic nationality, which has a population of less than 100, 000 in Nigeria, expecting to be equal with an ethnic nationality, which numbers up to 20million in Nigeria. It is not practicable. But if you base it on citizenship, every single Nigerian should have the same rights with any other single Nigerian.
You said this conference should lead to the drafting of a new constitution and also a free and fair election. If this is done, what happens to the National Assembly that is currently amending the 1999 constitution and the Independent National Electoral Commission, which has the responsibility to conduct elections?
In the first place, the National Assembly will be part and parcel of the process, because it is patriotic. In the case of the INEC, which is a secondary institution, it would be taken care of by the conference; by the delegates. All of its complaints would be decided by the delegates to the conference. It is not like the executive, the legislature and the judiciary handling it. This could help stop the public from apportioning blames; the Nigerian citizens blaming the executive, blaming the legislature, blaming the judiciary. Let us stop the blame game and go to national salvation.
That is why I said the present reality of power, in the form of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, should be retained and should be part and parcel of the national conference. If this becomes impossible through the action of the government in power, a sovereign national conference will be inevitable, because we can’t continue like this.
Now that it seems that President Jonathan is considering convening the national conference, are you people not happy that your campaign is yielding fruit?
Yes, we are happy. But we hope that he is not talking of national conference like those convened by Ibrahim Babangida, Olusegun Obasanjo and others. We are talking of a national conference which shall be conducted jointly by the sovereign people of Nigeria, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. If that is what he is thinking, we are with him and we regard him as a national patriot. We hope he is not thinking of the type of national conference that was conducted by Obasanjo, in particular.
What exactly was wrong with the national conference convened by former President Obasanjo?
Obasanjo represented the reality of power. He was the President of Nigeria. He was part and parcel of the negative state of the nation and therefore he had no right to think he could correct it. You cannot correct what you have created. He alone brought about his idea of a national conference. He decided who should be the delegates. He drew up the agenda. The national conference recommended to him. He had the right to decide what to accept and what not to accept. The national conference this time will be the work of the sovereign people of Nigeria through credible representatives in conjunction with the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.
Some people believe Jonathan is only playing politics with the national conference, agreeing to it at this time, when political tides seem to be rising against his second term ambition. What do you think?
Let it even be so. And let us force him to concretise it. We now know that he is now weak and he is accepting the idea of a national conference, therefore it our task now to be stronger and make him concretise it and the world will see it. If Jonathan agrees with us on a true national conference, and he makes it public, it is our responsibility to convince him to participate as the government. If he says he agrees with the national conference and we begin to doubt his sincerity, how can we get up? How can we do it? None of us has the solution. It must be a joint effort to find the solution to Nigeria’s problems. If we don’t do that, a social revolution will push us aside and decide the fate of Nigeria. And it can happen. By social revolution, I’m not talking about the imperialist manoeuvre that was called Arab Spring. I mean a real social revolution leading to a change in the political reality in Nigeria.
Socio-cultural groups representing ethnic nationalities such as the Afenifere, Ohanaeze Nd’igbo and Arewa Consultative Forum are likely to disagree on many issues, one of which is return to true federalism. How can such divergent opinions be managed and do you think the conference can agree on federalism?
First of all, we, Nigerians, have intellectual problems. We say things that when we really find out what they mean, we find those things unacceptable. This culture of federalism is one of those things. Federalism, as it is, means a system with strong regions and capable Federal Government like we had during the First Republic. We had these regions, they had their constitutions.
They were powerful enough to cope with the regions, because the regions were big enough. And they had the Federal Government, which by the constitution was capable of controlling the states in the interest of the nation. The only problem we faced was abuses. For example the regional premiers abused their powers and they became very powerful, more powerful than even the Federal Government. For example, we had the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, was the leader of the Northern People’s Congress. He refused to go to the centre. Instead he sent his defeated Tafawa Balewa to go to the centre.
And so he controlled Tafawa Balewa. We also had the case of Obafemi Awolowo and Samuel Akintola. So, if as it is today, we can return to federalism, similar to what we had in the First Republic, and avoid the abuses, I think federalism would be a good solution. We can do away with the 36 states and increase the regions to eight. We have a Federal Government that can coordinate the activities of the region and protect supreme national interest that cannot be left to the regions.
The regions can create as many states and local governments as they can manage with the allocation they get from the centre, because this allocation from the centre, apparently will continue indefinitely. I think federalism this way, will be helpful. But the problem is that the ACF, the Ohanaeze, and the Afenifere will not be thinking of federalism in the way I have explained. They would be thinking of federalism in terms of avoiding a situation where they are in the way of each other in the fight for political power. Let us get out of mere political competition between the Wazobiaand others, and think about what is really good for the country.
Another issue that is likely to come up at the conference is that of resource control and it is likely to be proposed by South-South delegates. If they do, will the North, for instance, agree to that?
Let us accept the fact that every part of Nigeria, the North, the South-West, the South-East and the now South-South have at one time in the history of Nigeria, sustained the Nigerian economy by their contributions. The South-South’s oil is only the latest. Before the South-South, the North with agriculture, particularly cotton, groundnut, etc, sustained the economy of Nigeria. The South-East with the coal, without which there would have been no Nigeria railway, sustained the economy of Nigeria.
The South-West with cocoa and higher level of administrative staff in Lagos sustained the economy of Nigeria at one time. During these times, the South-South contributed virtually nothing. Now that the South-South is really playing its part, we should know that out of the four, the resource of the South-South is the least dependable. Through oil theft and others, this oil is wasting, for instance a lot of experts have predicted that in 20 years time, there may be no more oil in Nigeria. By then, where will the South-South be? There will still be agriculture in the North.
We know cocoa can be developed to a much higher level. Besides that, the South-West has been established as a modern economy. But the most important thing is that if you are talking about true federalism and you are not talking of confederation, then there will be no talk of resource control. In a federation, which is not a confederation, there are certain national resources that must be controlled by the centre to serve the interest of every one. There is no way, for example, that Nigeria will rely on the contributions from regions, if we want equality and even development of the country.
If we really want Nigeria to continue as Nigeria, resource control in the way they are talking about it in the South-South should be out. Some resources must be controlled by the centre. But there is a level of resource control that is necessary. At the moment the Federal Government can go to any state and take the resources of the state without minding the welfare of the people of the communities there. That should not happen. The communities must be involved because it is the communities that are affected.
For example, the issue of oil, the exploitation of oil has caused havoc on the environment and the people there whose environment and livelihood is affected must have a say. At the moment they don’t. We must have resource controlled by the centre for progressive and even development, but there must be regard for the interest of the host communities.
But if the centre continues to control key resource, it will remain very attractive, how then can the fierce tussle for the presidency, which is Nigeria’s major political problem, be eliminated?
We will get rid of that with time. The question of having a capable centre is inevitable if we want one strong country and not a confederation.
Since the Senate President, David Mark, backed the call for a national conference, some people have reacted, saying it is either a sovereign national conference or nothing, others believe it will not solve the country’s fundamental problems such as corruption?
The fact is that it is the conference, either national or sovereign otherwise the other option left is tribal warfare that we had before colonialism; acquiring territories with brute force. What we are talking about is consultation, exchange of ideas and agreeing on something. For those who are talking about national conference or sovereign national conference is that first we have to decide whether we want one united Nigeria or not.
And I believe Nigerian has grown up to such extent that we have to do that. If we can’t agree on that then the conference is useless. With such a large economy, how can you even imagine the disintegration of Nigeria? It is unthinkable because the damage will be great. Despite what we think, the economic integration of Nigeria has gone very far; political integration of Nigeria has gone very far. Where we have problem is in the area of social integration but all we need is to change the social-economic system controlling all developments in the country, and the political leadership produced by it, which is based on self-interest first and public interest second or incidental. If we can make this change, believe me, 99 per cent of Nigeria’s problem will be solved.
And you believe this can be achieved through a national conference?
What I’m saying is this conference is the only sane alternative. The alternative to the conference is to return to nature, that is the pre-colonial situation of Nigeria – survival of the fittest. If we don’t want that we must talk in a sane atmosphere. Let me add that this conference will be a conference of delegates who will be elected from the 744 local government areas in the country. With two from each of the local governments we will have about 1500 delegates and about 500 delegates representing various interests like ethnic nationalities, the emirates, the chiefdoms and other interests.
Source: The Punch