National Confab: Before We Join The Frenzy By Uche Igwe
There is a new frenzy in town about the convocation of a national conference. A great idea but even those championing it do not have a consensus yet of what it will look like. Pardon my ignorance. Does anybody know exactly what to expect is the most taunted endeavour? Is it about ethnic groups or ethnic nationalities or are they one and the same thing?
For instance, a prominent Ijaw leader sometimes claims to be an Urhobo man. I read that his mother is an Urhobo. He was said to be a representative of the Urhobo Students Union during his days in the United Kingdom. Today, with the emergence of an Ijaw (Ogbia) man as the President, it has become more fashionable and ‘lucrative’ to lean to the Ijaw identity and submerge the Urhobo one. Fair enough. So, when we decide to go for the national conference, will he now represent the Ijaw or will he go back to wear his Urhobo attire?
And I have nothing personal against the self-styled High Chief. What I wanted to point out here is the sort of complexity that can be a defining feature of this conference that many of us in the civil society have begun to romanticise. For instance, are the Igbo an ethnic nationality? How do we determine the number of representatives to the conference? Do we use the Census figures? The same figures that have been discredited by the National Population Commission itself?
I was pleasantly surprised that Senate President David Mark had endorsed the convocation of the conference and the President subsequently appointed a committee of octogenarians to put the framework together. Again, no one has bothered to clarify whether what we expect to have is a sovereign national conference or just a national conference only. I reckon that even the members of the committee will have divergent views on how to go about their current assignment.
In the conversations that followed the demand for this conference over the years, many of the agitators have associated it with the right of self-determination. That is to say that if there are ethnic nationalities who do not feel comfortable with the union called Nigeria, they have a right to part ways and will be protected under international law. This sounds very simple but may not be very easy to implement.
An example that can come quickly to mind is the famous Aburi Conference held after the counter coup of 1966. The crux of the famous Aburi Accord was the decentralisation of powers. However, when the participants returned to Nigeria, they reneged on what they agreed on. That was where Nigeria derailed. Since then, our country has been grappling with one failed agreement after another. Now, what makes anyone think that this conference and its outcome will be different?
Before we jump into the agenda and the implementation of the agreement, we must ask a very fundamental question: Who will convoke and who will sponsor the conference? A critical examination of the characters that will convene the conference is as important as the conference itself. Those who will convene a conference whose outcome will be accepted by Nigeria must be those who are clearly without blemish. Do these characters that are currently flying the kite of organising the Sovereign National Conference fit into that description? Can we trust them to bring on the table a pan-Nigerian agenda only?
In 2005, former President Olusegun Obasanjo organised a political reform conference to douse the tension in the country about the organisation of a Sovereign National Conference. The political reform conference as it was known and called was at best a manipulative political perambulation. After the millions that were spent and the distractions on our national psyche, what came out was only the infamous third term agenda of the former president. What about the 105 points of agreement that were reached during the conference? What about the millions of naira already spent by the National Assembly on constitution reform issues already? Can somebody vouch and say that the national conference that will be organised will not go the way of the political reforms conference?
Now, no one should get the impression that I am opposed to the call for a national conference. No. I am a fan of it. In thinking about it; I recall the words of the late Bola Ige that we need to ask whether we will remain as a country and under what conditions. Though it can never and will never be a panacea for all our problems, we still need to talk. And talk we must.
However, we need to talk with one another. For a very long time, we have been talking at one another. We should prepare for a conversation that will launch us to national rebirth and recovery, not anarchy and disintegration. It will, subject to a referendum, strengthen our sovereign nation and not tear us apart into many sovereign nations.
Nevertheless, the criteria must be clearly set on the table so that it does not turn out to be another pre-determined exercise or an arena of chaos where chairs will suddenly start flying in the air in a free-for-all. The process must be such that will be neutral enough and extricated from those who might have positioned themselves to benefit politically from it.
Many Nigerians have become suspicious about the possible underlying motives for the sudden interest championed by the Federal Government. Some believe that it could be another way of shoring up her credibility as a pro-people regime while others feel something more deceptive may be in the offing. For me, the current political turbulence is not even the best time to organise a conference whose outcome will be taken seriously. The political class has opened too many political battles which it is currently confronting. Never has this country been too divided and disillusioned to come together around a common cause. Will this government say in all honesty that it is ready for the social revolution, class hiccup, radical optimism and moral recrudescence that the expected conference may trigger? What if it threatens the status quo? Will the current managers of our politics be ready to accept an outcome that may threaten their parasitic grip on the entity called Nigeria?
Those opponents of inclusivity who are already calling for no-go areas have missed the point. They will find it difficult to trigger the momentum that will rally Nigerians around a common cause. They are themselves products of the defective political arrangement that a frank conversation will be expected to resolve.
In short, they have accumulated credibility deficits and many Nigerians will not trust the outcome of the conference they will organise. For me, it is either we are going to have a national conference that is free, sovereign and binding on all concerned or we have nothing. This government should perform on critical sectors of the economy and go ahead to test its popularity in 2015. No need to lean on convocation of a conference as an alibi. Let Nigerians allow whichever government that emerges thereafter to begin on a clean slate and revisit the issue.
Do not hesitate to leave your opinion in the comment section below.
To contact Abusidiqu.com for Article Submission and Advertisement or General inquiry, send a mail to email@example.com