Just a thought on the proposed National Conference in Nigeria

ImageA first question one should ask is how important a National Conference is to the progress of Nigeria. Over several years, many groups and individuals have agitated for such a gathering to negotiate or renegotiate the polity. I think this is very important and can never be said to be late if done now. Unity can be forced, especially when the gun is the article of enforcement. However, when the gun is rusty and broken, there will be an implosion, the kind we have witnessed in countries where force has been used as a tool to maintain peace. Lasting unity is one that is negotiated and agreed on. Humans and their groupings are interest-driven, making it inevitable for such collective aspirations to be the interfacing nodes with other individuals and groups. Nigeria is no different and in many ways a case in point on the need to bring all parties to the table for a more commonsense consensus.

I commend this government for taking this Bull by its horns and hearkening to the several voices of interests around the country. It takes real courage to initiative a process for which you cannot predetermine its outcome, even when you assume you can control all variables involved. However, I have noted with care the absence of the word ‘Sovereign’ from the proposed National Conference. This is critical because it informs us that the agreements produced by such a conference will not be binding on the active institutions, seeing that these decisions will not be made by a sovereign. This makes one very suspicious that this whole episode will be a charade and at best a cosmetic treatment to a festering sore. For this reason, the process is already limping from the start and commitment of the government is yet doubtful.

Although no government wants to be the one to summon a Sovereign National Conference, someone, at some point will have to get it done. The reality with a SNC is that even the government in place will be subject to the SNC since we cannot have two sovereigns at the same time, in the same geopolitical expression. This is tricky for any government. The SNC might as well decide that the present constitution be suspended and government dissolved, and that will be final. So it is understandable when governments push aside or away the responsibility for such policy finality. A simple National Conference places the weight of such critical decisions on a system whose measures are questionable. Let us however see how we make use of this opportunity to get the best of what this government has chosen to do.

The first step in setting up a committee to work out the modalities for the National Conference is a positive one, and the selected actors are in no doubt of proven ability to set things up. I will therefore suggest the following to this committee in implementing the conference.

  1. Let the people in each local government through their traditional rulers decide who will represent them. There should not be a regulated process to how each local people decide who stands for them. It is pertinent to begin the process by recognizing the rights of indigenous people to decide how and who represents them. The only requirement I would suggest is for a timeframe to be given and that the selected representatives be people of means, people who will not use this as an opportunity to seek personal profit. The latter is important considering the third point below.
  2. A defined start-to-finish time should be given for the conference. This should be so for the purpose of funding. We are at the point where every naira matters to every Nigerian, so transparency in allocating resources to this process should be paramount. In this light, the conference should hold in the year 2014, so the presidency can make budgetary provisions in the 2014 Appropriation Act as approved by the National Assembly.
  3. Also in funding the National Conference, only the transportation, hotel, feeding and general administrative bills should   be covered by the budget. No allowances or stipends should be paid to any of the representatives. This answers to         selecting people of means who will not be busy waiting for sitting allowances to be paid before they carry-out their         duties.
  4. The current constitutional review process should be put on hold and preference is given to the National Conference, as  the results of this will be less political as in the case with the National Assembly’s attempt at reviewing the constitution.
  5. Although I would have preferred that such a conference be held in a place (such as neighbouring country) far from any influence and control of the government, pressure groups and media, I recognize that this might be costly to                   implement. So efforts should be put into situating the conference in a place with minimal outside noise and                     interference. Also, external observers should be engaged to sit in through the process to verify the quality of the             conference and to objectively validate or discredit the outcomes of the conference.  

It is very significant that this discourse between Nigeria’s people be done in the year 2014. This is because it marks a hundred years since external powers amalgamated the North and South to form one political administrative unit. Like Babatunde Raji Fashola, governor of Lagos State aptly stated, Nigeria was not born in 1914. No! Amalgamation is not the same thing as a union. Amalgamation suggests the activity of a third party, while a union indicates the agreement between parties directly involved. If we go down this road, the very question of a Nigerian state can be totally questioned. For this reason we must not shy away or deride the chance at negotiating our togetherness so we can determine a common destiny as a country; a destiny which every part subscribes to.

I therefore support the National Conference and believe that it has the potential to begin a process of national healing. As an individual, I have opted to find ways to make the best of current circumstances, or use the present resources to achieve my intended goals. I think this is what we must do as a country rather than constantly discredit any government initiative due to our dislike or distrust of the government officials. So what we should be looking at is how do we make this conference deliver value to us, rather than kill it on arrival.

 

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6 thoughts on “Just a thought on the proposed National Conference in Nigeria

  1. As much as I want agree with you Reginald. I believe this sounds rather simplistic when set against what we know about Nigeria’s history and what will really happen.

    1. Already it seems rather complicated to determine who will do the talking. “It is pertinent to begin the process by recognizing the rights of indigenous people to decide how and who represents them” – you make no explicit mention of how this ‘selection’ will be done. The only objective means appears to be holding ‘elections’ which will yield an outcome no different from that our electing representatives – you end up with individuals who have no idea what the ‘indigenous’ people really want. Any other means would make no sense either as it would subject to accusations of impartiality.

    2. Traditional rulers DO NOT represent the will of the common man but rather themselves they never have and never will. In times past, they sold fellow citizens into slavery, signed off deals with the colonialists for nothing. In the current times, they still do same, political parties win no elections without them today some are no more than stooges of political god fathers.

    3. In my perception and I will have you know that I’m a Niger Deltan myself, many of the advocates of SNC fall into two camps broadly. Those who have no say in the current scheme of things i.e the losers of political elections and those who are resource nationalists put simply largely Niger Deltans or their regionalists cousins. I however believe this class would rather be kings of no-nations than servants in the FRN. They clearly are using the SNC as a sub-text to as for the permanent schism of Nigeria.

    4. Deep down I believe the ‘indigenous’ people of Nigeria i mean the commonfolk on the street really want is to be in control of their choices in Life. They desire to the simple basic things – food, health, education and all that it takes to live a good life.

    Already we have natural experiment in the state of Bayelsa. Bayelsa state has a population of 2million there about and has received more money from the Federation account than Lagos state since 1999. Yet Bayelsa still remains worse than Lagos. Why? Everyone in Bayelsa is Ijaw so Ijaws are in control of their destiny. Now we can extrapolate, if Bayelsa were independent and had even more money would that stop the looting? Clearly not. Who benefits? certainly not the indigenous folk.

    I think the ordinary Nigeria really does not give a hoot who is president we’ve had it all Hausa, Ibo, Yoruba, Ijaw who next? SNC sounds good on paper but the reality is its unworkable. It would be no different from the National Assembly.

    • enough. Some things ought not to be complicated beyond what it’s face value is. I can take you down the road on why the conference cannot work given the nature of our political reality, as well as the interest driven system Nigeria we operate.

      You make a faulty assumption that our indigenous peoples cannot objectively choose who to represent them in a national dialogue. I will not wield my pen in directing how selection should done, and this is why I opined that the process should be left to the people to decide themselves. That in itself is already an implicit recognition of the rights and choices of a people. If the people choose the wrong set of persons to represent them, them that problem is contained at that local level. The traditional institutions remain the most credible source of authority in Nigeria today and we should not generalize the issues of a few clowns installed for political interests.

      In what country of the world is the need of the common man not bread and butter? Is that challenge peculiar to the Nigerian commoner? There are larger issues of statehood that commoners will never signify interest in or care to understand. This is so in almost every country as well. Does that therefore mean such should be ignored and set aside for stomach concerns? I’m sure your entire adventure in school speaks to higher concerns. When you think of the dangers that lie ahead for a country with competing interests, then we will recognize the need to open festering wounds and get them healed.

      There is rarely anything that a country sets to achieve that it cannot if it is committed to the cause. You risk sounding dismissive of the country as though everyone is lacking in genuine interests for the progress of the country. This is a mistake you make and for which I hope people of your thinking will regret.

    • My intension was to be simplistic enough. Some things ought not to be complicated beyond what its face value is. I can take you down the road on why the conference cannot work given the nature of our political reality, as well as the interest driven system Nigeria we operate.

      You make a faulty assumption that our indigenous peoples cannot objectively choose who to represent them in a national dialogue. I will not wield my pen in directing how selection should done, and this is why I opined that the process should be left to the people to decide themselves. That in itself is already an implicit recognition of the rights and choices of a people. If the people choose the wrong set of persons to represent them, them that problem is contained at that local level. The traditional institutions remain the most credible source of authority in Nigeria today and we should not generalize the issues of a few clowns installed for political interests.

      In what country of the world is the need of the common man not bread and butter? Is that challenge peculiar to the Nigerian commoner? There are larger issues of statehood that commoners will never signify interest in or care to understand. This is so in almost every country as well. Does that therefore mean such should be ignored and set aside for stomach concerns? I’m sure your entire adventure in school speaks to higher concerns. When you think of the dangers that lie ahead for a country with competing interests, then we will recognize the need to open festering wounds and get them healed.

      There is rarely anything that a country sets to achieve that it cannot if it is committed to the cause. You risk sounding dismissive of the country as though everyone is lacking in genuine interests for the progress of the country. This is a mistake you make and for which I hope people of your thinking will regret.

  2. I dont doubt the ability the ability of the indigenous people of Nigeria to make good decisions nevertheless recent experience suggest they don’t always do. We are both social scientist thus unlike physical scientists we wait for natural experiments to occur and infer from those. Every 4years Nigerians have an opportunity to elect representatives into the National assembly. Now these reps go into office and vote N150billion for themselves. GTB employs more staff highly trained who do actual work yet its operating expenses do not clock N150b annually. The representatives of our indigenous people struggle to pass laws into office and give us beer parlour level of debates. Now if we assume naively that these guys were truly what our indigenous people wanted i.e no rigging can we say they make right choices.

    On the claim of traditional institutions being credible? Perhaps, you can throw more light as I think these institutions are dead. Furthermore, if credibility implies that they keep peddling the story that some of them are descendants of men who descended from heaven then I disagree with you. I believe a leadership gains credibility if it captures the desires of its followers vividly. Historically, our traditional institutions were dictatorial monarchies who merely extracted from their followers. The loss of that extortionary power to the colonialists and eventually to elected govt spelt the end of it. Unless those who still control economic ventures, most traditional institutions are forced to live of the political class who use them as a tool to extend influence. Hence my dismissal of them. My opinion is of course open to debate.

    On you accusation that I sound dismissive of everyone – A famous economist once quipped – it is not out of the benevolence of the butcher or the baker that we receive our bread or meat but that each pursuing his own self interest meets the needs of others. Thus genuine is a vague word to me genuine business interest perhaps :D.

    I believe people generally do incentives, Nigeria is stuck in a disequlibrium because the certain segments of society read the elite have no incentive or rather face no threats from the status quo as they are beneficiaries of the system. These groups will make the outcome of the selection process of an SNC no different from the 4-year ritual we undertake called elections. This is my grouse with SNC adherents, nothwithstanding I’m willing to yield to superior argument that can demonstrate how the SNC selection process will deviate from elections

  3. I salute the optimism and agree with all points raised, I however do not take the sincerity of the Conference, not because I believe Government isn’t well intentioned, but I do not honestly believe our leaders need a conference to tell them what needs to be fixed or even how. I cannot however fault an attempt by any Government to listen to their people and hope in the end, we have made progress, however progress is defined and measured.

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