By Benedict Okereke
It is expected that the National Dialogue/Conference Advisory Committee may have answers to the following questions:
(1) Must what every participating interest group asked for in the national conference be subjected to a nationwide referendum for the other interest groups to accept or reject?
(2) Must what every participating group asked for during the conference be subjected to approval by the National Assembly?
(3) Must what every participating group asked for in the national conference be subjected to approval by a Presidential Committee, or to any other body for approval?
Partly, or perhaps mostly, because none of the past national conferences had presented any Nigerian – dead or living – any other choice than having Nigeria as his or her own country, Nigerians have continued to ask for unrestricted national conference close to 100 years after the amalgamation of the one-time north and south of former British Protectorates in West Africa.
Nigeria’s leaders, ranging respectively from the ancient to the midrange and to the latest – Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Yakubu Gowon, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan – had at one time or the other questioned the 1914 amalgamation. Other Nigerians, ranging from the most affluent to the lowliest of the hoi polloi, have at one time or the other questioned the amalgamation.
The National Dialogue/Conference Advisory Committee chairman told Nigerians after his committee was inaugurated by the president that the committee was not given any go areas.
Therefore, it must amount to a tactical boo-boo, or at best, an exercise to legitimize the existing chaos, if the advisory committee on its volition proposes a national conference, in whatever name or form, without any mechanism to ascertain first, before the conference proper, whether or not all the federating groups that today make up Nigeria elect to have Nigeria remain their country.
In other words, if the conference advisory committee gives a “YES” answer to any of the three questions above, without first advising for a referendum to ascertain Nigeria’s groups’ allegiance to Nigeria, the committee has clobbered well-meaning Nigerians who have for decades asked for unrestricted conference for political reforms for a better Nigeria for the good of its people – or for a break-up of Nigeria into smaller manageable countries for the good of the people.
When the committee recommends to the Presidency that a preliminary referendum be held to ascertain the allegiance to Nigeria of the federating groups, if the Presidency rejects that, it has vindicated those Nigerians that accused it of insincere motives behind the conference.
The referendum has to be conducted in each of the six geo-political zones, or in the domains of every discernibly large ethnic group in Nigeria.
From Hausa to Fulani to Igbo to Yoruba to Ijaw to Tiv, to Bini, etc, – there are about 20 to 25 of such major ethnic groups. The rest – the 300 or more minor ethnic groups – put together, may not constitute up to 4% of Nigeria’s population, and who, if properly examined, are mere “mutants” of some in the about 20 or 25 other major ethnic groups.
But to have people in these minor ethnic groups express their desires, and to make the task easier for referendum organisers, each of the minor ethnic groups may be pooled together with any major ethnic group or zone deemed most closely affiliated to it for the purpose of political sensitization and subsequent conduct of the referendum.
The referendum has to be conducted by asking citizens to vote “YES” or “NO” to the question: “Do you want to remain a Nigerian?”
In any zone or ethnic group whose majority voted for “NO,” that zone or ethnic group shall be let off the rest of the conference programmes, and allowed to leave Nigeria to form its new country.
On the other hand, zones or ethnic groups that voted YES to Nigeria are then left to articulate their positions for association in Nigeria; and shortly after, continue with the programmes of the national conference where they put forward their positions to others for harmonisation.
After the conference, harmonized positions of the zones or ethnic groups are subjected to a referendum in all the domains of the zones or ethnic groups. At this juncture, whatever is the outcome of the referendum remains binding to all the zones or groups that participated in the conference.
If all the zones and ethnic groups in today’s Nigeria vote for One Nigeria of 36 states plus Abuja, then the positions of every zone or ethnic group must be subjected to a nationwide referendum for harmonization. Sure, there may not be total acceptance of every group’s positions after one, or even two referendums, but subsequent negotiations are most likely to bring agreements between the groups.
After this stage, a constitutional conference is staged. Elected representatives of the zones or ethnic groups that participated in the national conference sit and draft a constitution for the country based on the terms earlier agreed upon during the referendum.
A constitution fashioned like this becomes a popular one – beginning with “We the people…”
This way, a true amalgamation of groups to form one country is done – sealed.
And because the groups have made the choice to belong to the country, a new country is born whose constituent groups may no longer have any moral basis to cast aspersions on one or others over any negative fall-outs from any imperfections in their union.
Above all, no group shall in future have the moral fibre to call for national conference of any form, nonetheless, call for secession from the country – unless clauses for such acts were agreed upon during the referendum and enshrined in the constitution.
The Advisory Committee on National Dialogue/Conference is implored to recommend a dialogue formatted on the foregoing model, irrespective of the name the dialogue is called. In every country, sovereignty belongs to the people, even Nigeria’s former military leader, late Sani Abacha, did concede that.
Benedict Okereke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org