Sovereign National Conference: A Symposium


A call for Sovereign National Conference had been echoed in all nooks and cranny of the nation's socio-cultural and political landscape to find out by way of dialogue how better the most populous nation in the continent with more than 250 ethnic groups could finally reach an agreement for proper governance. Many such cases of a national dialogue had been held in the past; and while some have been in favor of  sitting down and talk about it, some had argued it would make no difference to the ones previously held. On October 1, 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan, in his announcement to the nation, inaugurated the National Advisory Committee and gave them six weeks to submit a report of their findings and how possible a mandate could be obtained for related national discourses. As it had happened, I sought the opinion of Nigerians from all walks of life regarding their take on a sovereign national conference. In this first part of a symposium, eight contributors -- Dr. Femi Adebajo, Dr. E. John Agbomi, Pastor Harold Ikewueze, George C. E. Enyoazu, Ikhide R. Ikheloa, Nonso Franklin Anyanwu, Odimegwu Onwumere and Taohid Animaseun -- gave us a piece of their mind and what they thought should be done.


A meeting of colonial administrators with tribal messengers in the early 20th century from the interior in Lagos, Nigeria. Image: Hulton-Deutsch Archives

The Nigerian Federal government has recently announced the inauguration of a committee to oversee arrangements for a national conference and despite the misgivings about the timing and the previous pronouncements of the principal functionaries of the government, this appears to be a positive response to the increasingly vociferous clamour for a renegotiation of our nationhood.

A brief historical excursion is necessary here. The existence of Nigeria as a nation can be dated to 1st January 1914 when the Governor, Frederick Lugard by means of a colonial legislative instrument, declared the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates. This administrative realignment, primarily to serve the economic interests of the colonial authorities, was accompanied by the first proper delineation of regional physical boundaries and subsequent constitutional arrangements merely reinforced the fait accompli of an involuntary union of over two hundred ethno-linguistic groups into one country. Many Nigerians argue that a union thus artificially conceived, sans a voluntary commitment of its constituent peoples, is an aberration and that the subsequent dysfunction and strife is an inevitable consequence of this abnormal conception. More recently, the obvious failures of the Nigerian state to protect and nurture its citizens and the aberrations of a lopsided federal arrangement have fuelled a widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo and strident calls for restructuring and separation.

The distinction between the abnormalities of structure and function of the modern Nigerian state must be noted in order to stress the realistic expectations from a Sovereign National Conference, as the beginning of the nation-building process rather than a nirvana of nationhood. Corrupt public officials, avaricious businessmen, inefficient public infrastructure, violent crime, moral anarchy etc can exist in whatever structural forms emerge from this process. The fundamental principle must be one of freedom of association and self-determination as inalienable human rights of individuals and groups. The SNC should thus be conceived as a two-stage process: firstly to answer the simple question of whether we wish to live together as one country and, secondly, under what formal arrangements do we wish to do so.

In my view, for far too long, the believers in a Nigerian nation have been variously timid and arrogant in discouraging these frank discussions about nationhood and in their misguided patriotic zeal, have deemed these legitimate questions either unpatriotic or seditious, even treasonous. This has ensured that the proponents of separation have dominated the landscape of intellectual discourse and the illogicalities of their position have not been robustly tackled. I hope that the recent change of heart by the FG marks the beginning of a true intellectual engagement with 'no-go areas' jettisoned and the power of persuasion, by logical argument, deployed rather than the coercive powers of state action. Just as important, those who see an SNC as a short cut to secession will find that their sincerity will be laid bare when they are invited to present their arguments.

On the issue of sovereignty and possible conflicts with the democratic mandate of the current legislative assemblies, various eminent legal authorities have pointed out that sovereign authority lies with the people and there is no contradiction in the expressed will of the Nigerian people, in the SNC context, being affirmed by the formal instruments of the current legislative assemblies. The democratic deficits of the various post-independence constitutions, mainly caused by the tinkering of the illegitimate military juntas that midwifed them, can thus be overcome.

The mode of representation in the SNC is also worthy of contemplation for it would be invidious to merely replicate a duplicate National Assembly by electing representatives from the current constituencies. It would be necessary to have true representatives of the people, selected by democratic means, but also representative elements of the various segments of our society- traditional rulers, labour unions, religious institutions, youth and student groups, professional associations, Diasporans etc. Such an assembly should be able to set its own agenda, invite and receive memoranda from all interested parties and devise the rules by which the aggregate of opinions will be derived, noting that a true democratic process ensures that the will of the majority prevails and the interests of minorities (all kinds) are protected.  A wholesome examination of issues such as the structure of the federating units, concurrent legislative lists, constituency delineation, land use laws, property rights, resource control and federal allocation formulas, indigeneship and residency rights, the interaction between state and religion, population census, policing arrangements, structure and function of the armed services and paramilitary organisations etc will inevitably result in a reworked constitution.

My own view is that separatist impulses are not uncommon in most modern societies, even in nations considered to be homogenous and settled, and arise from a  combination of fears (of domination and subjugation) and realities of marginalisation, historical animosities, disparities in expectation and cultural norms, as well as an all too human competition for resources. History teaches us that inequitable arrangements held together by force rather than free do not last and free humans usually choose to associate in large and economically advantageous groups if their interests can be thus promoted. Nigeria has both structural and functional deficiencies and an unfettered Sovereign National Conference can remedy the structural faults, start us on the road to repairing the functional defects and kick-start the process of welding 250+ ethnic nationalities into a single nation. 

Dr 'Femi Adebajo
Practicing Physician
Milton Keynes, England 

Humans as gregarious animals are imbued with the natural tendency to come together and function as a society, a community, a nation, sharing in the attributes of such conglomeration, freely without let, hindrance or coercion. They laugh together in times of joy, cry together in times of distress. These are the emotions that make us truly humans. A sovereign nation is born when, out of civilization, any such populations of human assemblage pledge loyalty and confide their trust to a governing body which they elect to oversee to their security, welfare and yes, to their happiness. The ensuing system of governance thrives and becomes sustainable by the wishes of the people whose interests it caters for. The referendum to govern therefore is attributable to the peoples’ wishes and not vice versa. As in the formation of a family – the core unit of any society - the mating spouses have to choose with whom to associate in order to become a loving couple; therefrom a harmonious, cohesive family union sprouts, festooned in love, respect and admiration. When myriads of such families, characterized by various subunits of society (designated as variant races, or diverse ethnicities), harmoniously interact, the resultant population enjoys peace, progress and unity, because they share in core cultural values innate and native to them; they are much more tolerant of imported ideologies which augur divisiveness. When attention is not paid to these factors, dissatisfaction, dissention and man-made calamities befall such shortsightedness and self-interest; the outcome is history … uncanny and disastrous, as innumerable, premature tombstones continue to cry: “Where is the love” unto the deaf ears of indifferent leadership.

Action they say, speaks louder than words; and no intellectual is a stranger to, nor could connive at, the ramifications of this assertion in the context of Nigeria and its often rancorous politics over the burgeoning years. Is Nigeria sick - too sick to undertake a candid self-diagnosis to establish its malaise infestation, and follow-up therapy, in order to proffer a prognosis of progress for future generations? Well, it would behoove its leadership to start taking a candid stock in itself by carrying out self-analysis in the light of what perceptions other developed world communities and well-meaning people think of it. How many Nigerians are truly and honestly happy at the status quo of Nigeria today? Not unless perhaps your “elbows are greased” by the ruling elites! Irrespective of any dogmas and arbitrary territorial limitations, all are born to be FREE – in pursuit of freedom of thought and of association, and to be HAPPY on Planet Earth, let alone the hereafter!

The geographic entity christened “Nigeria” a century ago next year 2014, by colonial masters, over half of which period it unremarkably self-governed itself, has unfortunately failed to address the core values and true wishes of its people, and rules by imposing government on its people with a by-product of disenfranchised, disgruntled elements that steam-off, venting their frustration at the expense of innocent citizens’ lives. Their system of electing custodians of their governing bodies is, for all practical purposes, artificial, relegating them to that often gut-retching, despicable designation of “third world” time and again, despite their salubrious natural resources and wealth - which nonetheless end up in the hands of a few! They cannot explain to the Nigerian public why, say for instance, 1 US dollar which was equivalent to 66 kobo in the seventies is now equivalent to N168 (naira) as of this write-up, yet Nigeria can still boast of foreign reserve in the billions? Mismanagement or what? The endless yet avoidable blood-baths that have plagued that entity since the wake of its self-governance have been a direct reflection of its astute leadership’s failure to pay attention to the actual wishes of the people who are supposed to be governed by them. Plausibly, their pattern of “democracy” could well be defined as “the government of the leaders, and by the leaders for the leaders and then for the people”!

If Nigeria must emerge to enjoy its enviable position in the continent of Africa, not just by numbers but by substantive value leadership and mental reawakening, it must device a new measure for assessing the true wishes of its people in terms of the type of association that each and every of its multimillion members wishes to get into, and seek to evoke the latent values imbued in each of those individuals; sparking a renaissance of some sort – a different kind of sovereignty.

A rudimentary plebiscite, a pooling of opinions and the generation of a referendum specifying the type of union or disunion that majority of its population seek, is a germane approach. Based on the outcome of such pooling, a governing committee representative of all the pooled ethnicities (devoid of incumbent legislators) could deliberate to decide on the fate of Nigeria in a direction that best suits PEACE, PROGRESS, UNITY and HAPPINESS as it enters its second century.

E. John Agbomi
Physician, songwriter and music producer
Moorpark, CA

One of my great uncles, a man who after my own biological father influenced my earliest worldview politically, Mr.Gabriel Ginikanwa Nwachukwu, a history graduate of the University of Ilorin once told me not too long ago that “they fearfully accepted to be called Nigerians”. His younger brother, Mr. Eustace Emeka Nwachukwu was an officer in the ‘People’s Army’ – the Biafran army. Dede Eguzoroibe as we love to call the younger Nwachukwu like my own dad who served as a recruit in the same army is a die-hard Biafran. My dad almost removed “Harold” from my names after what he saw as a   ‘taking of sides’ by the Harold Wilson’s led government of Great Britain during the Nigerian civil war. So one can easily discern what must have shaped my thinking about Nigeria while growing up. My father spoke a particular Ghanaian language fluently during his life time because he once lived in Ghana. He learns languages easily, but while living in Lagos for years, he deliberately refused to learn to speak Yoruba language because of his misgivings concerning the role that the Yorubas played before, during and after the civil war. In my brief stay with him in Lagos (1971-73) as a child, he made sure I had nothing to do with that language. Bottled up misgivings of a people who feel they are either not wanted in the enclave called Nigeria or that they are feared and loathed at the same time for no just cause.

With the scenario above, one will think I will wholeheartedly support the convocation of a sovereign national conference, hoping that it will be a clear cut roadmap to recovering what by 1970 looked like a shattered dream to those of us Nigerians of the Igbo race when war came to an end with the defeat of Biafra even though we pretended that there was “no victor, no vanquished”. My very good friend and brother, Barrister Leonard Ugboaja has been a great advocate of this conference, but we have cautiously disagreed on this, even though I congratulated him when recently President Goodluck Jonathan okayed a national confab. Yes, “jaw-jaw” according to inimitable late former British PM, Mr. Winston Churchill is better than “war-war”. But that is only when people talk sincerely and conscientiously. That is only when people talk open mindedly without secret tribal, ethnic and religious agendas as is often the case in Nigeria. I have often had reasons to seriously disagree with few famous newspaper columnists in Nigeria (I won’t mention names) on the kind of tribal sentiments that run through the entire gamut of their writings. And that is too sad for a country like Nigeria where even the intelligentsia is not free from the virus of tribalism. Nigeria is yet to grow up from her tribal childishness.  This tribal childishness is the abortion pill that will kill any good thing that will likely come out of a national conference. I wish we have come of nationalistic age to talk and talk like the aged and well informed. I wish, if at all we shall talk, we find a workable way to stop all those that have been talking before, whose vain talks have led us to nowhere.

But Aburi 1967 was a talk. It even went into an accord. But what happened later? One may argue it was a kind of an ad hoc peace-seeking talk like all the talks on troubled Syria of today.  But an agreement was reached at Aburi between the then Supreme military council of Nigeria led by the then youthful and na├»ve Gen.Gowon and the then Eastern region government of Nigeria led by the equally youthful but better learned in the guile and brinkmanship of politics, Col. Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu. On return to Lagos after Aburi, the tribal lords and bespectacled bureaucrats in the Gen.Gowon’s government tore the accord to pieces with their counsel thereby inadvertently tearing Nigeria to pieces. They may have gloated over the Ahithophelian nature of their counsel but honestly there was nothing Ahitophelian in a breach of an agreement. Before we came to grips with the implications of that indiscretion we lost millions of our beloved fellow country men and women in a war which a more matured handling of the Aburi agreement could have stopped. We are a nation full of discordant tunes coming from all quarters. We are a nation known for our babble of voices whenever it is time to talk. And such babbles lead to nothing but more confusion. I personally do not want Nigeria to disintegrate. I do not accept the prophecy of false prophets especially from the Western world that Nigeria is bound to disintegrate by 2015. I smell rat in even Mr. President’s concession to a national conference at this time of all times.  He never believed in a national conference. How come he got ‘born again’ about the convocation of a national conference at a time that his purported 2015 presidential ambition is becoming an item too difficult to sell to majority of Nigerians outside his South-South and South-East regions? It may also be he has fallen to the bobby trap of these prophets of doom who expectedly will like to see to the fulfillment of their prophecy so as to give some grain of validity to their prophetic credentials.

    One is not too comfortable with the timing of the President GEJ National Confab. Less than two years to the 2015 general election. Is this not a cunningly devised instrument of talk-talk distraction, so that our wily and foxy politicians will go ahead to perfect their hideous plans for the 2015 election? Is this not the kind of IBB 1986 political bureau debate, one of the broadest political debates ever conducted in Nigeria? That 17 man bureau led by saintly Silvanus Cookey did their best, but did it not turn out to be the earliest manifestations of ‘Maradonic Politics’ in Nigeria? IBB politics in Nigeria taught Nigerian politicians more than elementary Marchivialism.  ‘Maradonism’ in politics is more than ancient Marchivialism.  Like the famous ‘hand-of-God’ - the very origin of Maradonism associated with the highly controversial goal scored by the legendary Argentine footballer, Diego Armanda Maradona against the English team in a 1986 FIFA world cup  football match played on June 22, 1986 at the Estadio Azteca, Mexico city; before you see the scorer, it is goal already. I do pray that the current national conference is not another delay tactics now that clauses are being added day by day, like that the submissions of the conference will be vetted by the national assembly. If we must talk, let the choice of the representatives be purely based on merit and not on political patronage as usual. Had it been that we have been sincere with our ongoing political experiment, with the political 

Harold Ikewueze, Pastor
General Secretary, Students Christian Movement
 Abuja, Nigeria

For over a decade, calls for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) had reached a deafening crescendo in Nigeria. Proponents of the conference saw it as an avenue to find and address the key problems afflicting Nigeria since 1914 to present.  The ace constitutional-lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi of blessed memory put it succinctly in the year 2000:

 “...The concern is to remove all obstacles which have prevented the country from establishing political justice, economic justice, social justice, cultural justice, religious justice and to construct a new constitutional frame-work in terms of the system of government-structurally, politically, economically, socially, culturally and religiously.”

The above description vividly captures the salient aspects of injustices that have manifested in various ramifications, and seem to have been moulded into the prevalent culture of hate, intolerance, acrimony, ethnocentrism, blood-letting, restiveness, pogroms, south-north dichotomy, west-east divide, deprivation, underdevelopment, infrastructural decay, lack of basic amenities, unemployment, poverty, corruption, criminality, insecurity and state failure. One of the major issues is the lack of will by the ruling class to get things done, and rightly. Whenever a national crisis arises, those at the helm of affairs treat it with infidelity. That seems to be an established pattern.

Here we are, talking about SNC. The Aburi Conference of 1967 provided an opportunity for representatives of shades of Nigerian governments to discuss and avert imminent greater crises which were to follow. But the squandering of the Aburi Accord by the Yakubu Gowon-led Military junta spelt disaster for the fledgling independent former British colony peaked by the Biafran War of attrition which claimed the lives of 3.5 million Biafrans.  Aburi was a promise not kept. The aftermath of the failure to take advantage of it is why Nigeria is still wandering in the dark, nearly five decades on.

Let the truth be told. Nigerians are yet to be fervent in self-appraisal. Some of the scars and repulsive misdeeds of the Nigerian forces are staring us in the face, but they are vainly wished away. Sadistic orgies, such as the Massacres which they had perpetrated on hapless civilians in: 1967 Asaba Massacres and Onitsha Massacre in 1968 won’t go away, until people acknowledge the wrongfulness of such acts with unreserved apologies. No student who fails their exams can scale through repeating the same mistakes. Military forces follow orders...whose orders? – The man behind the mask?

The eventual triumph of the Nigerian federal forces gave the impression of an end to all forms of self-determination agitations in the new Nigeria, which has been unified by the conquest of Biafra. Perhaps, the non-implementation of the country’s three Rs programme – Rehabilitation, Reconciliation, and Reconstruction by the very same architects of the programme was the beginning of the loss of the peace. The three Rs meant to reintegrate the former Biafran territories into the socio-political life of Nigeria were substituted with covert and overt marginalization policies of the war-battered region. This singular act of reneging by the Nigerian government indeed relived the reneging of the regime from the Aburi Accord, an accord which, if implemented would have staved off the war and its consequences. And it is perceived that the Nigerian Military government was unrepentant for its inglorious role in Biafra, and unwilling to extend a lifeline to the survivors in the beleaguered territory. Thus, the proclamation of the three Rs merely served as an image-making stunt, an attempt by the regime to paint a picture of benevolence towards the one-time enemy territory which bore the brunt of war. The world was once again duped into believing that all was well. The three Rs programme was another promise not kept.

Religion has always been used as a political and ethnic tool in Nigeria to unleash mayhem on people of different ideologies, different ethnic groups, and different religious beliefs. It’s been used to pursue an extremist agenda, seek to domineer and exert political control, continue an expansionist policy, and hinder the forward movement of the country in civility. A lot of the attacks principally target a certain ethnic group. Historically, the Igbo are the most targeted and worst hit. It all started with Jos riots of 1945, in which Igbo people were attacked. Again in 1953, “anti-Ibo riots broke out in the north in protest of Ibo domination of social, political, business and military institutions. Ibos were hunted down and attacked in Kano, 245 were injured and more than 52 were killed. The southern Yoruba did not participate in the fighting.” [Ref World].

The Maitatsine religious onslaught took Northern Nigeria by storm in the best part of the 1980s. The so-called riots are never dealt with to forestall recurrence, hence the incessancy. Perpetrators of these bloody riots are never punished. In its January 21, 2010 editorial “Not Just Jos”, Vanguard writes:

“Any attempt to bring the perpetrators of the riots to book starts another riot. The November 2008 riot is the subject of two probes, the Justice Bola Ajibola panel by the Plateau State Government, which has finished its work and the on going General Emmanuel Abisoye panel of the Federal Government.

Riots date a little bit further and in the North appear to be used in furthering religious hegemony. They have been extended to political disputes and in some instances poorly managed ethnic relations. Some major riots – riots Jos in 1945, Kano in 1957, most parts of northern Nigeria in 1966, Kano in 1980, Maiduguri in 1982, Jimeta in 1984, Gombe in 1985, Kaduna and Kafanchan in 1991, Bauchi, Katsina, and Kano in 1991, Zango-Kataf in 1992, Funtua in 1993, Kano in 1994 and 2000, Kaduna Sharia riot 2001, Jos 2004, Kano 2004 and Kano 2007, Maiduguri, Bauchi, Yobe and Kano in 2009. The losses have been estimated at over 100,000 and property worth billions of Naira.
More than 6,000 people perished in the December 1980 Maitatsine in Kano, which spread to Yola, Maiduguri, Bauchi and Gombe. Maitatsine sects have been regrouping under different names since then, wrecking havoc wherever they go.

Rioters target churches under the cloak of religious differences. When Muslim sects disagree, they burn churches, and attack non-Muslims. Riots are more political than religious.

Estimates of deaths from riots in Jos and other towns in Plateau State since 2001 are in the 4,000 mark.” [Vanguard]

Needless to assert that since 2002, another Islamic militant group known as Boko Haram has stepped into the fray, having a similar ideology as Maitatsine, continuing the onslaught – bombing, killing, destroying, maiming and uprooting people from their chosen places of residency. Apart from recruiting locals, Boko Haram is said to have enlisted the help of Muslim fighters from neighbouring Chad. The inability of the federal government to protect its people and guarantee them the modest benefits accruable to citizenship is a promise not kept. Of course, if citizens feel threatened, unprotected and failed by their State, they reserve the right to self-determination. There’s no point being a denizen in your own country!

Bizarrely, some ethnic groups in Nigeria had supported the wrong cause, thinking that the weakness of one would be their own gain. So far, they have been proven wrong. By this miscalculation, they played into an agenda which created hegemony and reduced the polity to naught. In spite of disloyalty to their Igbo kith and kin and sabotaging of the Biafran revolution, the Eastern minorities were treated as a conquered territory alongside their Igbo neighbours. They were made to suffer the same deprivation as the Igbo. To their chagrin, it was a Nigerian promise not to be fulfilled. In place of promise, they were rewarded with abject poverty, environmental degradation occasioned by oil spillage, underdevelopment, loss of means of livelihood, and so forth. This ugly situation gave rise to indigenous people’s agitations for resource control and environmental protection. In response, the government met their demands with high-handedness and military suppression yielding the likes of Umuechem Massacre in 1990, 1995 Execution of the Ogoni 9, and Odi Massacre in 1999. All these culminated into youth restiveness, the militancy and militarisation of the Niger Delta, sabotage of oil pipelines, advent of kidnapping for ransom and other criminalities. All these have resulted in a sense of disillusionment in the region which lent urgency to some forms of discussion and restructuring.

Zaki Ibiam massacre of 2001 in the Middle Belt deserves a mention as one of those incidents which occurred when people trusted the word of their government without realizing it was an ambush.

After the fall of the apartheid regime, South Africa’s legitimate government set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) lasting from 1995 to 2002. The TRC was to underscore the wrongs and victims of the obnoxious apartheid era on both divides and to effect a healing. South Africa’s TRC was the 19th of such held across the world; with the slight difference that the Cape Town based South Africa’s TRC was the first one to conduct public hearings. Despite some flaws, the exercise was held as a success.

Borrowing from South Africa, Nigeria, under Olusegun Obasanjo set up the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission, 1999.

“The Commission was mandated to identify the perpetrators of human rights violations and to recommend accountability measures and means of preventing future abuses. The original mandate asked the Commission to gather information about four military regimes that ruled Nigeria from 1984 to 1999. However, the temporal scope of the Commission was later extended back to 1966; the year of Nigeria's first military coup after the country had gained independence from the United Kingdom.” -Harvard University.

According to the United States Institute for Peace, the commission submitted its report to Obasanjo in June 2002, but the report was never released officially to the public. However, a Washington-based NGO known as Nigerian Democratic Movement and Nigeria-based Civil Society Forum acted on their own accord to publish the full report to the public. The report found amongst other things, the military responsible for gross human rights violations, in collaboration with some rich civilians. One of the recommendations was a compensation for victims of human rights abuses. As usual, the Nigerian government never blinked. Neither the military nor the culpable rich civilians were censured by the government. No apologies were rendered to victims and descendants of human rights abuses, and no compensations paid. Instead, Obasanjo sent the army again on murderous rampage in Odi and Zaki Ibiam. Very typical!

Now, with the acceptance by the President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan that a Sovereign National Conference is a road map to a fresh start, one wonders if his government would be prepared to break the jinx of dishonesty and lack of faith which those who had mimed leadership roles in Nigeria were known for. Nigeria is still plagued by a post-war winner dementia propounded by those who tricked their way into power by pretending to love Nigeria and fighting for her unity, and have sustained misrule to date, by rewarding their conspiracy since 1966. It beats logic that a bunch of self-acclaimed patriots would fight for the love of a country and end up feasting on its misery. As we can see, Nigeria is remotely and directly ruled by the War victors whose vested interest has created so much mess that needs thorough cleaning up.

Interestingly, the colonial Governor-General of Nigeria between 1920–31, Sir Hugh Clifford, described Nigeria as “a collection of independent Native States, separated from one another by great distances, by differences of history and traditions and by ethnological, racial, tribal, political, social and religious barriers.”  (Nigeria Council Debate, Lagos, 1920). [Open Mind Foundation].

All over the world, self-determination is the prerogative of every people, and their will is respected. Nigeria’s Sovereign National Conference must not be programmed, pre-empted, and delegates must not be selected by the government. Every possibility must be on the table. Passionate groups should be allowed to participate in the conference. There must not be a no-go area; else it’s no longer sovereign. Sahara Reporters reported about an individual, Dr Femi Okurounmu, a former senator who while speaking on behalf of the federal government had ruled out discussing the break-up of Nigeria during the conference. His reason hinged on:

“Those people who believe in the dismembering of Nigeria are just fringe groups,” he said, referring to some elements in the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), the Odua People’s Congress (OPC), Arewa People’s Congress (APC), Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) and other groups. “Nobody came to demand that Nigeria should be dismembered,” he said. “The goal of the National Conference is greater justice and greater equity.” – Sahara Reporters

If that line of thought is the basis for the conference, it means that the outcome of the conference has already been decided before the conference kicks off, thereby sealing its fate as another futile exercise in the league of successive Nigerian governments’ window dressing. It becomes like Obasanjo-era elections where the outcomes were determined, and candidates assumed the positions they were vying for before even the votes were cast. In a country where numerous organized groups as Okurounmu highlighted are asking for self-determination in form of separation, it raises curiosity as to why he thought that those groups are fringe, especially being that the groups command large followings in their respective regions in Nigeria. How do you determine what is fringe? Is it not by testing its popularity, either via referendum or plebiscite? Why would they be so afraid of the so-called fringe groups to the extent of denying them a say in determining their own future? How fringe are the fringe groups? The smartest approach would be to allow each group a say, and when their region and people eventually reject their stand through a referendum, that would by implication strengthen One-Nigeria. This is the only way to give either a legal backing or rejection to Lord Frederick Lugard’s 1914 adventure in the Niger area.

Nigeria has become synonymous with a promise not kept. President Jonathan should distance himself from the hypocrisy of his authoritarian predecessors, and their foot soldiers. He was given a strong mandate by the people to lead. At this crucial point in history, he has to trust that the same people whose mandate he has are itching for their voice to be heard, not the voice of the clique. Failure to make a wise judgment would reduce the SNC to another jamboree, a waste of resources and a waste of precious time. That’s sure to worsen the state of the nation.

George C.E. Enyoazu
Geochiez & Gold International
Dundalk, Ireland

On October 1, 2013, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan announced the approval of a national conference and subsequently set up a committee to study the modalities for the conference and come up with recommendations on how to go about the conference. The members of the advisory committee are Dr. Femi Okurounmu (chairman), Dr. Akilu Indabawa (secretary), Professor George Obiozo, Professor. Ben Nwabueze (now replaced by Professor Anya O. Anya on health grounds) Senator Khairat Gwadabe, Senator Timothy Aduda, retired Colonel. Tony Nyiam, Professor. Funke Adebayo, Mrs. Mairo Ahmed Amshi, Dr. Abubakar Sadiq, Alhaji Dauda Birma, Mallam Buhari Bello and Mr. Tony Uranta. There are brief bios of many of the members here. It is a typical Nigerian “committee.” Long on gerontocracy and patriarchy, three women make up the panel and I imagine the president is taking the title “Chairman” literally;  chairman must be a man. Where are the students? Where are the young? Why do we need to convene a conference? What is the purpose of the National Assembly? What do they do? Why can’t they have this conference?

Of course, Nigerians were caught by surprise, and the ensuing racket from every corner of Nigeria gave voice to the sense that rather than this being a substantive and proactive confrontation of Nigeria’s myriad structural, social, cultural and economic issues, instead the populace seemed largely convinced that this is yet another game as Nigeria’s leaders supervise the lurching of the country from one crisis to the other.

Yes, there is a new game in town, if you obsess nonstop about the fate of that mercurial, nebulous, frustrating entity called Nigeria. It is called the National Conference, not to be confused with that other seething-in-the-shadows game called Sovereign National Conference. The Sovereign National Conference as you know is similar to the term reparations, many people seem to want it, but there is no one alive that can explain it coherently. And so people nod sagely, make a lot of polite noises, safe in the knowledge that it will never go anywhere. Those who want reparations for Black folks desire the asymptote from hell. It won’t happen. The Sovereign National Conference, and now, the National Conference will not happen, because no one knows what it means, except that it involves money, revenue allocation, decentralization of power (and money) to more contiguous states of like tribes, to be crass. It won’t happen, and President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan knows this. He just wants to keep greedy Nigerian intellectuals and an ever hopeful ruling elite busy.

And there has been a surplus of analysis, commentary and opinion. You read and the head reels from the logorrhea of verbose and overly scholarly theories about the ideal state(s). It is all so sad.  Nigeria cannot afford this latest distraction, on many levels. My mother has zero interest in a national conference or conversation; she would like some basic things, like pipe-borne water and electricity, safety and security.  If I was to tell her about this latest distraction, she would look at me askance, flustered by what the problem  we are now trying to solve is.  She would tell me in a conspiratorial whisper, “My son, I suspect that our thieves in high places want their own country!” My mother has a good point: How is it that these leaders who have basically looted everything that is not welded down, “leaders” who now own everything good in Nigeria can with bold faces assure us that the next Nirvana will come out of a National Conference or something  equally silly? Why is a national conference our priority right now? The answer lies in what Wole Soyinka would say: "We asked for statesmen and we were sent executioners.” Our rulers are now executioners, gleefully feeding us distraction after distraction while they grin all the way to the banks of Europe and America.

It is all about priorities. Here we are, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been on strike for months, leaving university students to their own devices at home or wherever suits their fancy, other unions threaten daily to join them and all we get from the government (and by the way, the populace) are polite noises and long yawns. Nigeria is not a serious country. We have a real crisis on our hands, it is called Nigeria and our intellectuals and "rulers" are prattling on about a national conference. Every day we are confronted with evidence of profligate spending and blatant looting from the local to the national level, from the lowliest clerk to the highest offices of the land, and our priority is a national conference. It makes no sense. How can these criminals and conmen now start telling us that once we each get our own country, the looting will stop? What is wrong with us? As an aside, the constitution of the advisory group, with its lack of inclusiveness loudly advertises the sense that Aso Rock is not really interested in a substantive dialogue; they are mostly the deities of gerontocracy with visions and strategies that belong in the 19th century.   Mr. Jonathan is attempting to lead us through the gift of drunken gab. Otherwise how do you manage a country without data? Where did our rulers learn that we want a national conference? Where? Did they do a survey? Did they subject it to the ballot box? No, some drunks were drinking peppersoup and someone blurted out, “National Conference!”  Et voila, the people have spoken!

The real tragedy of Nigeria’s circumstances is that there is a compelling case that could be made for a national conference. As Nigeria has lurched from regime to democracy, from one structure to the other, the mindset of a top down heavily centralized and overly dysfunctional government has remained the one frustrating constant. A structure that truly devolves power to states or regions, one that grants true autonomy to these satellite entities makes great sense. But then, the words of the sage, Chinua Achebe rage across this vision: 

The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a  failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate of water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.”

Achebe is right, there is no structure robust enough to withstand the subversion of a failed leadership. Wait, I have another vision:  Maybe we should have a National conference so that our thieves can have their own country and leave us alone.  

Ikhide R. Ikheloa
Educator, Maryland, USA

Over the last three months, Nigeria has been a big-mad-house, following the series of controversies that has lingered till this time. The strike action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, followed by the breaking-up of the ruling party, and currently, the call for a National Conference. Although many Nigerians has expressed their views concerning this. They said this isn't the right time to talk about National Conference. They said electricity and welfare are the most vital issue to address, and not the National Conference. They said how will the president talk about a National Conference when sixty-three Universities and over one hundred polytechnics are under locks. They said how can the president talk about a National Conference with the increasing insurgence in the North, the constant negative news of bombing and shooting and lynching.

If truth be told, the president is inexperience to handle national matters. He had fallen out of favour with his godfathers (the founding members of the ruling parties, PDP). He had fallen out of favour the Nigerian Youths, Students, Doctors. He's a lamb among wolves in a corrugated bars of wealth. Confused. Following the controversies surrounding his 'promise' not to recontest. His chances of coming back as president is very very slim. Amidst this controversies, my friend had told me some weeks back, that the only option left for the president is to divide the nation, knowing that he can't come back as president. We only laughed ourselves into tears over this.

The call for National Conference. There are talks that the president had been pushed to the wall by some overzealous Igbos who desperately want the nation to split so they can resurate the death of The Republic of Biafra. But the president had dispelled those rumors, saying that the National Conference is a way of bringing the nation together. Now, I ask, how can he bring the nation together when over five million students, doctors and lectures are idling away at home. He should dialogue with this people into calling off their over one hundred days of idleness.

If truth be told, Nigeria is a very big-mad-house where human lives are been deleted in every thick of the clock. Nigerians are not united. Let's not hide under the umbrella of religion, asking God to unite us. We can NEVER be united. This hatred had started way back before the nation's independence, proceeding to Civil War, and now to incessant killing of the Igbos or the Christians in the North. I think the National Dialogue will create a room for asking this very hard questions: is Nigeria a nation or a Nation-state or just a mere geographical expression, or a Nation void of sovereignty. I added Sovereign because I haven't seen any sovereign nation where some citizens had come out in the press to threaten its existence.

Nonso Franklyn Anyanwu,
English Literature Major,
Ahmadu Bello University
Zaria, Kaduna State

Many Nigerians have thanked President Goodluck Jonathan after October 1st he agreed that Nigerians have to talk in a conference, otherwise called National Conference, and dialogue on ways to move the country forward. Others have as well, reviled him, for agreeing for the conference.

The Federal Government had hence set up an advisory committee and gave it modules to follow. Senator Femi Okurounmu was to head the committee and Dr. Akilu Indabawa, as the Secretary of the committee.

In a countrywide comment, while marking 53rd Independence anniversary of Nigeria, Mr. President’s appointed committee, according to him, would propose a framework and recommend the form, structure and mechanism of the conference.

It, however, behooves the people not allow the President steal their sovereignty in the conference, because the people are supposed to decide how and what they want at the conference, and not to discuss what the presidency wants to be discussed, with dictates of the modalities of the advisory committee.

It’s good that Jonathan had said: Our politics should be an art of patriotic labour and selfless service to the community, particularly by the political elite who are placed in positions of great trust and responsibility. Politics has its own high moral principles which abhor distracting and divisive rhetoric.

Therefore, it cannot be taken as certainty, the comment by an opposition political party in Nigeria, that it would not take part in the proposed conference, because it sees dialogue as the constitutional amendment process. It had agreed that such was already ongoing.

Conversely, the party purportedly said that this kind of Jonathan’s proposed dialogue can never be taken as the sovereign type, where stakeholders and opinion leaders in the country have to sit together, to iron out their woes; instead, a few of their disgruntled agents in the National Assembly are already doing the work?

Notwithstanding, Nigerians have to have the depth of the formation of the country called Nigeria today, before entering into any dialogue. The negotiation has to be that power has to come to the people and the centre, which controls even the issuance of driver’s license, is weakened. And the existing political zones instituted in favour of the country’s politics have to be decentralised for the formation regional government that would oversee people-oriented ideologies come to play.

With the devolution of the old eastern region and the politics of state creation, where the South-East has five state as against the six states or more that other political states enjoy, is one of the undoing of the Nigerian Government in its divide and rule way of dealing with any tribes in the country.

The country might not have had a transparent conference in the past, but it is obvious that the government has been having conferences against Ndigbo, as the political equation above suggested, without the government addressing justice in the country as they relate to economic, social, political and the most important ones – cultural and religious justices.

In earnest, the people are supposed to construct a new constitutional frame-work in the country, but the government at the centre creates policies that make people thrive in its caprices and whims, and not in the growth of the individuals. To buttress this point, the government proud that its reserved account is fat, when the individuals are very poor; what is the cause of this is that the government has not allowed the people the willpower to develop, but, rather, to follow the government at its dictates.

It is not a good idea that the government continues to export raw materials abroad, when it could have refined it in the country to create job opportunities for the citizens and regain their sovereign. Professor Ebere Onwudiwe, a political scientist and economist, who has taught at various universities in the USA., in an interview with Vincent Kalu, Saturday Sun, Sep. 7, 2013, said inter alia: “We have the best grade crude oil for refining in the world, the Bonny Light, which is so easily refined that many countries buy it to help refine their own bad crude that is very hard to refine.

“They buy large quantities of Bonny Light to help refine their own oil and we turn around to import these refined products, thereby creating jobs for people in other countries... We produce raw material as in the colonial days and we are largely doing that after 50yrs of independence. How can we be producing the most easily refined crude in the world and be importing petrol, diesel, kerosene without an iota of shame. If the world isn't laughing at us they are stupid...”

We can see that the Federal Government continues to boast of being rich, whereas frustration it creates among Nigerians in terms of poverty, absence of consolidated human development and co are alarming, with shock of corruption that has become the trademark of those that run the government.

In the absence of sovereignty to the people by the Federal Government, the peoples of the country enjoy tribalism, which was the result-effect of disuniting people in their regions and creating of states; like Rivers State was created out of the old Eastern region in 1967, just to weaken the sovereignty of Biafrans, who took up arms to defend their lives, from being extirpated from the surface of the earth, by the rapacious military government of Yakubu Gowon.

There is no how the peoples of Nigeria can rebuild the foundation again, when the Federal Government is the one playing the ostrich, destroying love, integrity and respect for one another, with lucre of power and chicaneries to projects. The peoples will never enjoy Nigeria, because the government is not reliable with sacrificial leadership. Perhaps, these are happening in the country, because of what the Governor General of Nigeria between 1920 – 31 , Sir Hugh Clifford, described Nigeria as.

Clifford said that Nigeria is “a collection of independent Native States, separated from one another by great distances, by differences of history and traditions and by ethnological, racial, tribal, political, social and religious barriers.”  (Nigeria Council Debate.  Lagos, 1920). This description, perhaps, again, compelled (then) Lt. Col. Gowon on November 30, 1966 to fire an Ad Hoc Constitutional Conference.

It is very imperative that the different peoples of the country are given their sovereignty while Nigeria remains one, because before the amalgamation of the country in 1914 by the cheap-wealth-seeking European colonialists, the people in this amalgam were controlling their different fates in their different kingdoms.

But since these ethnic combinations, the government has been self-centered, bigoted and troublesome to the fate of the collective Nigeria. To make this point home, the now late Dr Ramsome-Kuti, as the former Director of the Centre for Constitutional Governance, substantiated this fact, according to a file by a group regarded as Niger Delta Congress.

The human rights activist, Dr. Ramsome-Kuti, said: “Long before 1914, when Nigeria was amalgamated, the present space was not a void. People, empires and modes of production existed.

“The far North was ruled by Hausa Habes, which was the home of many tribes, Hausa Magajiya, Abyssinian or of coptic stock. From 900 to 1500 AD. The Hausaland was besieged by political forces from Bornu, the Berbes, Tuyaregs and Arabs. The most formidable was the 1804 Jihad which swept the Habeland, imposed an oligarchy, seized the people and the land until the advent of British rule.

“The Yorubaland had the Oyo empire, which triumphed until about 200 years ago, we also have the Bachama, Birom, Angas, Tiv, Kaje, Nupe, Ijaw, Igbo and numerous others. The merging of the Southern and Northern protectorates in 1914 was accidental so also was the name, Nigeria given to its people.

“It is important to say that British rule was not forged on negotiations with Nigerians, but negotiations with ethnic nationalities. So also there was no “Nigerian position,” but ethnic nationality positions.

“The 1960 independence, to our knowledge, was preceded by a curious finding conducted by Henry Willink supported by Gordon Hardow, Philip Mason, and JB Shearer, which compiled a report on July 30 1958, now known as the Willink Commission of Enquiry...”

Now, those concerned have to read cautiously the diverse positions of nationalities at the conference to enable an emancipation of their sovereigns. To get it right at the conference, the government must allow the notion that Nigeria has never been a country of a people with one ideology, culture and tradition.

And this is why the Federal Government is using the two alien religions – Islam and Christianity – as tools to subject Nigerians to its administrative convenience, but to the detriment of the different peoples.

The Federal Government polarised these unfamiliar religions in two zones – Islam for the north and, Christianity for the South, as a way to unite the peoples. But upon all that, the cultural, religious, social, and linguistic differences of the tribes continue to show that the peoples need their sovereign ideologies to sooth their vitality as tribes.

To get this conference right, the Federal Government must eschew deceitfulness, fraud, egocentricity and self-centeredness, so that the many grievances and accusations on each other in Nigeria, would be expelled into annihilation. 

Odimegwu Onwumere
Port Harcourt, Rivers State

Sovereign national conference, as the name implies, is the convening of recognized entities in a nation to address socio-economic issues for nation building purposes. The sovereign qualification carries serious and huge legal weight implication as such meeting carries with the ability to change the course of such nation from the existing path. For a sovereign nation like Nigeria, calling for a sovereign national conference seems absurd but not illegal, especially if it originated from the legislature. One of the greatest legal underlinings of SNC is the option of member entities to seek self-determination which is a double-edged sword that could slash at either side by way of secession or continued association.

 A series of meetings between member entities of old Sudan paved way to the split of the nation into two via self-determination provision which is embedded in sovereignty. Same with Eritrea that parted way with old Ethiopia. Pakistan did with old India. Chief Gani Fawehinmi, in 2000, opines that “the primary duty of the sovereign national conference is to address and find solutions to the key problems afflicting Nigeria since 1914 to date.” Further, he says “the concern is to remove all obstacles which have prevented the country from establishing political justice, economic justice, social justice, cultural justice, religious justice and to construct a new constitutional frame-work in terms of the system of government – structurally, politically, economically, socially, culturally and religiously.” In essence, SNC attempts to arrive at for acceptable or agreed terms of relationship between cohabiting entities amongst each other within the common territory that they all shared for mutual and peaceful survival. An absence of agreed and acceptable terms of association spells doom for such society.

Sovereign national conference (SNC) is perhaps the most vital channel to nation building, especially for nations with broad multiculturalism like us still struggling to stand on its feet. It could be continuous periodical session i.e. elected legislatures. Or it could be designated conference. The common denominator is that when initiated, both carries with it strong legal implication. Of recent, Nigeria had one – designated - under the military regime that produced the 1999 constitution. This paved way for the existing democratic system of government that Nigerians enjoy today. It ended the military expedition in the public governance. That shows the weight of SNC. Unless there is probable cause to reconvene a designated SNC, it is usually a one-and-done adventure. However, it is pertinent to state that the continuous form – such as National Assembly (NASS) - will infinitely continue to convene as long as the democratic system of government is practiced.

Discussing SNC, based on Nigeria’s existing socio-economic status, one would be compelled to see SNC as a no-brainer. Nigeria still lacks a functioning national system despite the human and natural resources it is bestowed with. There are two distinct economic classes in Nigeria: the upper class, and the lower class. The middle class is of no significant size. It is extinct. Of the three recognized layers of government, the center – FG – holds voluminous powers. It is so massive that it controls virtually everything in the nation. Without the FG, several states will collapse in a week. In terms of political participation, some notable regions, ethnics, certain demographics, etc. claim marginalization of one sort or the other. Couple with this is the security breakdown fuelled by nascent internal crises by rebels and freedom fighters. One interest group vouched to make the country ungovernable for the sitting president. The whole system is down. It is fast-revealing that this is mere cosmetic cohesion. The questions from citizens’ mouths are ‘when will it get better, and how?’ The vast human and natural resources abound, but it does not translates to national development. There was leadership vacuum. Politicians abound yet no end in sight to the despicable conditions.

The current administration headed by President Goodluck Johnathan formed recently a committee to draw up a modality on national conference. It gave the committee a blank check on matters to be discussed at the conference. At this time, there is no sovereign qualification to it. However, no issue is above discussion. Potential questions are: what if sovereignty of the entities come up at the conference for discussion? How would the recommendations of this conference be implemented from the legal point of view? If legal grounds are attached to it, will the current administration honor them? Isn’t this a political suicide for the sitting president should the conference be concluded before 2015 election? All these and numerous others are still vague to the masses. Some citizens saw this as a political ploy to distract citizens from current burning issues. Others see this as part of the long-abhorred South-East and/or South-South agenda. Or even that it is the hand writing on the wall for the predicted split of the country on or before 2015. It is too early to judge, but these issues deserve surgical dissection before they hit us in the face. 

The idea of a national conference or dialogue is not bad in its right. It is the timing that becomes suspect. So is its historical trend as well as the existing variables. At press time, the country is in bad shape, both politically, and economically. The unemployment level is astronomical. Healthcare system is absurd. Thousands and thousands are dying of lack of family supports. To them, the Nigeria dream is dead. It is either you are rich or you are poor. The middle class is extinct. For the working class, it is get rich or die trying. A more robust and cursory examination of this poor condition would reveal that the nation is in a coma. Citizens, regions, ethnics, tribes, nations, zones and any applicable classifications in the enclave are hungry for power to survive.

However, would it be applicable to go on rounds of debates on ‘when, how, what, where, who’ with an individual plagued with terminal chronic hunger? A rational approach would have been to resuscitate the dying corpse first. Then he would have strength and patience to understand the complexities of his problems.  An adage says: a hungry man is an angry man. Another, in Yoruba land, says nothing has priority over hunger. It is deathly. Nigerians are hunger for quality standard of living. It was not because of national conference that basic amenities were, and still lacking. At 53 years, Nigeria, despite all the massive resources and brains, is still struggling with 20th century innovations. A simple national unique identifier does not exists yet it wants to fight terrorism, and allocate its resources efficiently. How? In Nigeria with ‘citizens’ holding duplicate passports? It would be rather beneficial to ensure that an atmosphere where certain efficient infrastructures are in place first before such conference, be it sovereign or conventional, is embarked on. Then we can sit at the round table with no fear of suspect of each other on grounds of hunger for power as power will become a common commodity soon afterwards. The absence of sociopolitical hunger dictates a society foundationed on conducive atmosphere for such deliberations and discussions. Then, politics will be less lucrative scheme for upward economic mobility. God bless Nigeria.

Taohid Animashawn