By Jaye Gaskia
It is important in order to avoid misrepresentation, to once again express and canvass one’s views on the ongoing National Dialogue or National Conference process. Some preliminary issues of principle are necessary to begin with:
Sovereignty belongs to the people, and not to any of the institutions of governance or state to which they might have under certain circumstances delegated exercise of that sovereignty!
In this respect therefore sovereignty belongs to Nigerian citizens, and not to the National Assembly [NASS], the Presidency, or the Judiciary!
In the second instance, if sovereignty belongs to the people, then the outcome of any structured process of consultation or dialogue on issues that will fundamentally affect the lives of citizens and the delivery of governance must of necessity be subjected to the people for final ratification in a referendum! The final decision in such a process, and on such matters, belongs to the people, not to their delegated representatives!
Thirdly, there is the overarching and all embracing issue of the nature of the conference, and an agenda for such a structured dialogue of fundamental consequence for the lives and destinies of a people.
Let us break this down a bit. On the structure of the conference, we are very clear that Nigeria as it presently exists; as it existed before colonial conquest and the subsequent 1914 amalgamation; is not a simple motley collection of cohabiting ethnic groups or nationalities!
Let us be very clear about this, not once in our history was Nigeria, nor any of the constituent ethnic, cultural and language groups, a simple political entity of those distinct ethnic groups.
Even in the pre-colonial period, kingdoms and polities developed and evolved as a result of economic interaction, and was of conquests, usual fought around access to resources. The Yorubas, for example, existed as distinct polities, which may be subjugated to larger polities, but which were nevertheless in constant competition with their neighbours, near and distant.
The same was true of the Hausas, of the Igbos, of the Ogonis, and of the Ijaws for that matter! In fact, I argue that before the dynamics of colonialisation and the struggle for independence took over, there was no one single Yoruba ethnic national identity; nor were there any such for the Hausas or the Igbos. And until the emergence of MOSOP in the late 1980s, or of the Ijaw Youth Council [IYC] of the 1990s, the idea of single ethnic national Ogoni or Ijaw identity was strange, an exception, rather than the norm.
The point being made is that the ethnic identity, like every other identity is a socially constructed identity, and can also socially evolve, and be deconstructed. Certainly, the most significant and disproportionate beneficiaries of the construction and stagnation of ethnic identity; those that have and continue to benefit the most from such ethnic identity constructions; are the elites of the emergent ethnic identity under construction; the political jobbers and ethnic identity entrepreneurs who become millionaires and billionaires as a result of the guaranteed access to state treasury [and thus guaranteed access to treasury looting]that new administrative configurations constructed on the basis of ethnic identities enable them to have; hence the way that they continue to agitate for re-definition of the structural basis of administration and resource allocation.
If it is therefore true that as a polity, throughout our entire history and evolution, we have not been reducible to the simple arithmetic sum and collection of ethnic groups; then it is important, instructive, in fact decisive that we insist that any serious national dialogue process or conference cannot be reduced to a mere conference of ethnicities, or a mere national dialogue among ethnic groups.
This is a very important point and demand for citizens to make. A conference, the outcomes of which, citizens shall express their agreement or disagreement; a conference around which the citizens are expected to exercise their sovereignty over its outcome, cannot be an ethnic conference; because the people will not be voting in or as ethnic blocs!
And this point above leads us to a citizens based, and peoples’ needs focused agenda for the conference.
If we must repeat ourselves; the pressing issues affecting ordinary citizens, are national socio-economic and socio-political issues, not ethnic issues.
Poverty is rife across the country, regardless of ethnicity. 70% of us, that is 112 million citizens are living in poverty, this is a sixth of the total population of Africa!
18 million households across the country regardless of ethnicity or geo-political zone location are homeless: this is according to the Housing deficit figures given by the Federal Government itself!
These 18 million housing deficits for 18 million households translates into actually 90 million Nigerians [18 million households x 5 person per household] that are either homeless or live in inhuman habitation! Now these 18 million is more than the population of the whole of Senegal and Gambia put together; while the 90 million housing poor is more than the population of either Egypt or Ethiopia!
Basic infrastructures are lacking, or dilapidated; roads are in terrible conditions and have become death traps; public healthcare and public education are in ruins; while private healthcare and education are priced out of the reach of the 70% [112 million] who live in poverty! Worldwide 57 million children of school going age are out of school; Nigerian children are 11 million of this 57 million!
Unemployment has become a grievous issue of concern; it grew from 8% in 1999 to 23.9% in 2012 for the general population; while among youths it is almost 50%, which is one in two youth of working age is unemployed and unemployable.
Yet in the midst of this grinding poverty, we have stupendous wealth, and crass ostentatious display of ill-gotten [stolen and looted] wealth.
The richest African is a Nigerian, who is also the world’s 25th richest man, with a personal fortune almost equal to the entire external savings of the country! The richest black woman is also a Nigerian, with a personal fortune almost 50% of the country’s external debt portfolio!
And of the 40 Richest Africans 15 are Nigerians! Our legislators are not only among the highest paid in the world; they also have earnings 116 times the national per capital income of citizens! No wonder the gap between the rich and the poor is one of the highest the world over.
Through a combination of state patronage and treasury looting, including such other avenues as state protected criminal enterprise, as with oil theft and subsidy theft; we have arrived at a situation in which whereas, the top 10% of wealthiest Nigerians own and control 41% of national wealth; the bottom 20% own only a mere 4% of National wealth!
It is such inequality that have produced the massive poverty and impoverisation of the majority of the citizens; and that has led to the non availability and inaccessibility of basic services and basic social infrastructures; it is why we are one the top countries with the highest costs of doing business and with the lowest Business Confidence Index Globally, at barely 25% and standing 17th lowest BCI rate of more than 100 countries.
It is for all of the above reasons that we insist that the agenda for the conference is socio-economic and socio-political rather than ethnic; and it is for this reasons that we insist that representation must be on the basis of socio-economic forces, and not ethnic forces; and that it is this socio-economic forces who are represented at the conference, and who should also exercise their sovereignty on the outcomes and processes of the conference.
It is important that significant constitutional change will be, not just one that clearly resolves the nature and structure of the fiscal relationship of our federation; not only one that resolves the nature of the federation, whether it is two tier or a three tier federation; but one where the entire corpus of human rights, not just civil and political rights, but also socio- economic and cultural rights are guaranteed and made justifiable!
When they are made justifiable, we can institutionalize processes that ensure that on a yearly basis, governments at all levels give an account of what they are doing to fulfill these rights provisions; it is only then that annual state of the nation or stewardship addresses will make meaningful sense; and it is only then that we can ensure that political parties are established and operate on the basis of fulfilling the interests of the citizens when they get into power.
It is only if as citizens we struggle to ensure that a National Conference is called along these lines, structured in this way, with its outcome subject to a popular referendum, that we can speak of a ‘National Conference of the people, by the people, and for the people’.
Without our active struggle, in making and enforcing these demands, what we are going to be saddled with will be at best just another distractive, time wasting and money gulping process; or at worst, a chaotic and cacophonous debate that will inexorably precipitate violent crises.
It is our destiny that is at stake, let us intervene decisively and collectively to stamp our interests on the process and the outcome of the conference. If we do so, we shall be taking a definitive step to Take Back Nigeria, and liberate our country from the gluttonous death grip of these Vagabonds In Power!
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