Nigeria’s manifest contradictions have always underlined the need for a national dialogue. The continued deepening of those contradictions has, it would seem, successfully jarred the staid army of the comfortable, compelling them, to see reason. Intriguingly, after calls for a national conference to discuss the country and its future seemingly fell on deaf or dubious ears for years, those usually opposed to it, political office holders often comfortable with the status quo, have begun to show an appreciation for a national dialogue.
Not long ago President Goodluck Jonathan lent his weight to the call for a national dialogue to address the incongruities of the polity and made the point that his administration was not opposed to it. Senate President, David Mark has also added his voice to the call for a national discourse of the distortions in the polity over which some are aggrieved but noted that it should be done within the parameters of the 1999 Constitution, and would not be sovereign.
Despite some differences in the opinions of advocates of a national conference on the sovereignty or otherwise of the process, it is cheering that there is an agreement in principle on the desirability of a discussion of the various socio-political and economic crises besetting the country.
More than ever, Nigeria’s unity is weakened and the country is assaulted by hitherto unimaginable social ills, such as kidnapping and active insurgencies in parts of the country. The discord amongst the political elite has not helped matters and portends grave future for the country ahead of the 2015 general elections. It is, therefore, imperative for Nigerians to chart the way forward.
Nigerians had in the past met to discuss their national problems to deal with the challenges of nationhood. The colonial administration convened the all important Ibadan Conference of 1950 with two basic terms of reference, namely:
• “Do we wish to see a fully centralised system with all the legislative and executive power concentrated at the centre, or do we wish to develop a federal system under which each different region of the country would exercise a measure of internal autonomy?”
• “If we favour a federal system, should we return to the existing regions with some modifications of existing regional boundaries, or should we form regions on some new basis such as the many linguistics groups in Nigeria?”
Whereas the outcome of the conference ensured that the three regions became political regions, there were, however, disagreement over representation in the central legislature and the mode of revenue distribution amongst others.
Another opportunity for an all-Nigeria dialogue came with the 1966 Ad hoc Constitution Conference, a last ditch effort to avert the looming civil war. General Yakubu Gowon who was in the saddle again gave Nigerians four options as follows: a federal system with a weak central government; a federal system with a strong central government; confederation or an entirely new arrangement peculiar to Nigeria.
The interim report showed that the delegates were unanimous on Nigeria’s continuity as a political entity with a central arm composed of head of state, head of government, and a federal parliament. Delegates also agreed that there should continue to be a Nigerian army, navy, air force and police force. They were to be organised in regional units composed entirely of personnel indigenous to each region only to be subject to central control under certain emergencies. The outbreak of war negated whatever merit inhered in these recommendations.
Many years after, the country weighed down by the same problems, sought through the Political Bureau of the Babangida regime, to restructure the country in what became an endless transition, while the successor regime of General Abacha did convene another constitutional conference in 1994.
The conference which was based on both elective and appointive principles sought to address “the structure of the Nigerian nation-state and to work out the modalities of ensuring good governance; to devise for our people a system of government guaranteeing equal opportunity, the right to aspire to any public office, irrespective of state of origin, ethnicity or creed. And thus engender a sense of belonging in all citizens.”
Parallel efforts of civil society organisations beginning with the Alao Aka-Bashorun-led National Consultative Forum 1990 conference, to the Chief Anthony Enahoro-led Pro-National Conference Organisation (PRONACO) 2006 articulation of a people’s constitution was not taken seriously by the government. Indeed, the NCF’s effort of September 1990 was suppressed by the military. Government-convened National Political Reform Conference under the Obasanjo Administration in 2005 also faltered partly due to its over-politicisation.
Given this historical background, the question may be asked: what will a national dialogue achieve? What is not in doubt is that the good recommendations of past conferences had been forfeited on the altar of political expediency. The consequence is that the same challenges that faced the country then have continued to fester.
A conference, whether sovereign or not, must confront the structure of the state, the structure of government and the organization of the economic base of Nigeria in terms of the ownership and control of resources as well as the formula for the distributable common pool.
The weak legitimacy of the state has over time been undermined by the reproduction and multiplication of the contradictions that the nature and character of Nigeria engender. Addressing these is one sure path to Nigeria’s greatness and one that the government cannot fail to walk.
Source: The Guardian
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