Here are some key items which, I think, the Advisory Committee should be asked to consider recommending:
1. Only ethnic nationalities should participate in the National Conference—no
states, no religious groups;
2. There should be no “no-go” areas in the conference;
3. The National Conference should negotiate the terms of voluntary association of the ethnic nations forcibly herded together by Lugard in his conquered peoples’ concentration camp on which he foisted the name Nigeria;
4. From the terms negotiated, the National Conference should produce guidelines for a new constitution. “Guidelines for a People’s Constitution for Nigeria” should be the practical and implementable outcome of the Conference;
5. The National Conference’s recommendations/guidelines should be submitted, without tampering by Government, to referendum, and if approved by the people, should become binding. This referendum is what, in practice, would make the Conference Sovereign. So, there is no need to quarrel over whether or not it goes by the nomenclature “Sovereign National Conference“;
6. The Conference should begin in late 2014, a year from the Advisory Committee’s report. By starting in late 2014, there would be adequate time, one year, for the nationalities, especially those of the Middle Belt, to organize themselves and elect their delegates.
7. For the duration of the process, the 2015 elections should be placed on hold. The next elections should be held under the constitution that results from the National Conference and the referendum that ratifies its decisions. In the South African precedent of a negotiated transition from one constitution to another, the De Klerk and nine provincial administrations stayed in place, as lame ducks, while a new constitution was negotiated and elections were held under it.
The arguments for these suggested recommendations are embedded in the discussion below on some of the terms of ref:
(vii.) to advise government on any other matters that may be related or incidental to the proposed national dialogue/conference.
First of all, from the President’s Independence Day Speech and the terms of ref., it is not clear what the specific outcome of the dialogue is expected to be.
Perhaps it was deliberate and politically wise of the President not to specify any desired outcome.
However, a dialogue without a specified objective is a waste of time. It will just be a bull session, a grievances-airing orgy like the OBJ Confab of 2005, and will not help to solve Nigeria’s problems. So what should it be: dialogue for dialogue sake, or dialogue to determine a viable framework for the future of Nigeria?
If the latter, then it should be a dialogue to negotiate the terms of voluntary association between the constituent peoples of Nigeria: Having been put together by force by Lugard in 1914, here is their first opportunity to freely and democratically negotiate their voluntary association, without British impositions or Nigerian military constraints.
The Committee members should be encouraged to recommend “Guidelines for a People’s Constitution for Nigeria” as the practical and implementable outcome of the Conference. The guidelines should then be submitted to a referendum and, if ratified, should become the basis for a Constituent Assembly to draw up a new People’s Constitution. This should be the most important recommendation from the Advisory Committee.
Secondly, there should be no “no-go-areas” for the Conference, so that every issue that has bedeviled Nigeria since 1914 can be thoroughly discussed. This should be the second most important recommendation from the Advisory Committee.
(iii.) to make recommendations to government on how representation of various interest groups at the national dialogue/conference will be determined;
On this, it is important that the nationalities (all of them, however many: 389 by Prof Nwabueze’s count) are represented. The principle needs to be established that the ethnic nationalities are the ancestral units and basic building blocks of Nigeria. Whereas our ethnic identity is intrinsic and permanent (we can’t change the ethnic identity we were born into) our religious and administrative identities change all the time: we have seen some of our fellows change religious identity by converting from polytheism to Christianity or Islam or Judaism or vice versa.
And within the last 50 years, we have had our administrative identity changed by the fiat of our dictators, e. g. some have gone from Northern regional identity to North West State, to Sokoto State to Kebbi State; some from Eastern regional identity to East Central State to Imo State to Abia State; some from Mid-West regional identity to Bendel State to Edo State; and some from Western regional identity to Western State to Oyo State to Osun State.
Hence it is crucial that non-fundamental entities like religious groups and the 36 states of the 1999 constitution, should not be represented at the Conference. In a multi-ethnic secular state, ethnic identity is fundamental, not religious identity; and in the Nija case, membership in these change-prone administrative units that Abuja imposed by decree is not fundamental.
Furthermore, the present 36 administrative units (states), being units decreed by military dictators, and never having been ratified by the people, are democratically illegitimate and should not be represented at the conference.
(iv.) to advise on a time frame for the national dialogue/conference;
The Conference should begin in late 2014, a year from the Advisory Committee’s report. By starting the Conference in late 2014, there would be adequate time, one year, for the nationalities, especially those of the Middle Belt, to organize themselves and elect their delegates.
The National Conference should be open ended. No need for any deadlines, so that the issues bedeviling Nigeria can be fully and finally thrashed out and consensus reached on as many as possible, with majority decision on the rest. The 2015 elections should be put on hold. Any further elections should be held under the constitution that results from the National Conference and the referendum that ratifies its decisions. As I pointed out earlier, we have the South African precedent to help us on how to bridge the gap from one constitution to the next.
(vi.) to advise government on legal procedures and options for integrating decisions and outcomes of the national dialogue/ conference into the constitution and laws of the nation;
The key thing is that a referendum should ratify the Conference’s decisions and
outcomes and turn them into guidelines for a new constitution to replace the 1999 constitution. It is the referendum that would make the Conference sovereign, even without explicitly saying so. Even the present 1999 Constitution recognizes the sovereignty of the people.
Therefore, what the people approve by referendum is the sovereign will of the people, and overrides any National Assembly claims to sovereignty. And the constitution guided by its referendum-ratified recommendations, will replace all others. That constitution should also be put to referendum. If it is ratified by the people, it will be the first ever People’s Constitution of Nigeria.
Thereafter, the task will not be to integrate its decisions and outcomes into the present constitution and laws. Rather, the People’s Constitution that results from the Conference will supersede the present constitution, and the existing laws of Nigeria will have to be made consistent with the new People’s Constitution that results from the Conference.