Lecture Delivered by Ndubuisi Kanu (Retired Rear Admiral and erstwhile Chairman of National Democratic Coalition NADECO) at the 7th Professor Wole Soyinka Lecture held at Muson Center, Lagos on 13th, July 2004.
NDIGBO have a proverb: Only those who have not chewed water fail to realise that water has bones. Just keep chewing your saliva for now, so that at the conclusion of this lecture, you can determine the veracity of the proverb, unless you have previously chewed water.
“The National Association of Seadogs (NAS) started in 1952,” so said the organising committee of this lecture. Significantly, that was 52 years ago. Wole Soyinka, Professor Emeritus, Nobel Laureate, a distinguished son of the Yoruba nation and, thus, a citizen of Nigeria, was then 18 years old. I was a mere nine year-old. The “Founder and spiritual leader” of the Pyrates Confraternity (please note that Pyrates is spelt with a “y,” not an “i”) is Professor Wole Soyinka. In a nutshell, the associations’ goal is “a just and egalitarian society.” Wole Soyinka has been committed to the objective of a just and egalitarian society for the past 52 years. Ladies and gentlemen, even if I am to halt this lecture at this point, may I ask that you please give our dear Nobel Laureate a rounded, standing ovation.
Why the organising committee of this lecture chose me as the lecturer is unknown to me, notwithstanding the encomiums poured on me in their letter of invitation. Therefore, if I disappoint in my presentation, the blame is theirs, not mine. I should wholeheartedly join you in blaming them. If, however, I meet your expectations, it will only lend credence to the saying that the young and the younger shall grow. I thank the organising committee for inviting me.
This is Wole Soyinka, speaking at the Colin Powell Centre of the City University of New York on March 23 to 24, 2000.
We recognise only the unity of peoples across any and every merely administrative divide, the indissoluble unity of a nation’s humanity with opportunity, resources, responsibility and fulfilment, with education and housing, a unity in freedom of association and freedom of religious worship, with freedom to believe or not to believe, unity with employment and health, with access to justice under the law, with care and pension in old age and even the right to a continued productive existence at the twilight of existence. Any other recourse to the drumbeat of unity is shop-worn rhetoric.
Soyinka’s lecture was titled: Preventing the Breakdown of Democracy in Nigeria: Strategies for a Living Constitution.
I have long come to the disposition that there is not much point discussing Nigeria’s problems. Almost everything, every aspect… indeed not “almost” but all aspects of the country are in error. These have been vastly discussed again and again. Is it the economy? Is it national politics? Is it the infrastructure? Is it the plague of corruption? Are we talking of the inequities of marginalization? Or those of religious fanaticism? Is our searchlight beamed on the exploitation inherent in the national superstructure ? Any, whichever way we examine Nigeria, there are fault lines staring us in the face, dangerous fault lines that must be breached for the country to have a chance to move forward in genuine peace, true unity and generally beneficial progress. The objective of correcting the fault lines in the structure of Nigeria is the reason I am before you today, to present my thoughts and suggestions.
The Vehicle called Nigeria.
I am Igbo. Recently, someone asked me if there was any part of the Igbo country where horses and horse riding were parts of the nature and the culture. The answer is No. But, there are swathes of this country where the horse and its rider are as natural as the rising and setting of the sun. The reason I make this point is that Nigeria is a country of different peoples. In not moving the Nigerian vehicle along routes that could ensure the amity of its different peoples, we have made avoidable mistakes that are at the roots of the country’s lingering problems. We must bear in mind that, unless the noble objectives of a journey, any journey, are achieved, all the labour deployed into such a journey are, at any stage, simply hanging in the balance, if not altogether lost.
The National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) and other pro-democracy forces went a long way on the journey towards making our various peoples proud of the Nigerian association and enterprise. Milestones were attained which included the present return to civilian rule and, even more importantly, the institution in the psyche of a majority of Nigerians of the awareness of the inviolate and inescapable necessity for justice and equity.
Only someone foolish will fail to realise that no matter the time spent on travelling on a wrong road and the distance covered on this wrong road, the only remedy is to turn away from the wrong road. Otherwise the intended destination will never be attained. Nigeria has for far too long – since the 1960s, the period immediately after Independence – proceeded heedlessly on the wrong road, the road antithetical to nation-building. Even in 1914, what Nigeria “achieved” was only amalgamation, not unification or unitarism. At Independence, it became a federation, not a unitary dispensation. We (all our peoples), therefore, had at the Centre a Federation with:
- Regional Constitutions (from which, in actual fact, was derived:
- A Federal Constitution
- A Parliamentary System of Government
- A Centre (Federal Government) that was dependent upon (not dictating to) the then composing units of three Regions and later four.
- A Distributable Pool for Revenue, with emphasis on Derivation.
With the incursion of the military into politics in 1966, Nigeria got sucked into the vortex of unitarism, a malevolent prescription that has, over the years, heightened in intensity. Since then, we have had in various shapes, unitary constitutions in which:
- The Centre (Federal Government) dictates to the composing units (States);
- Revenue Accumulation at the Centre, with little or no regard to Derivation.
- Government by Military Cliques (with or including “command tools” and even surrogate and puppets).
In effect, the only thing that has changed with the coming of the present dispensation, the Fourth Republic, is the replacement of military uniforms with civilian clothes. It is necessary to recall that the then Regions aggregated the different peoples within their areas. It is also imperative, in expatiation, to state that return to civil rule is not a full turn away from travelling the wrong road. After all, the hood does not make the monk.
I hold that for Nigeria to remain sustained as a country, and for it to become prosperous, it has to revert to the status of a true Federation – an entity composed of federating units. This was and remains what NADECO and pro-democracy groups always stood for. The only modification today is that, instead of the federating units being composed of regions or states, they now have to be made up of the different peoples and different nationalities that make up the entity known as and called Nigeria, with each composing unit consenting to where it is situated in the scheme of composition. That is the way to turn back from the wrong road and begin the valuable journey of moving forward on the right road.
It is obvious that all of Nigeria’s problems stem from our non-return to the right road. These problems have led to the erosion of patriotism, and includes corruption (whose greatest impetus are Unitarism and Resource Accumulation at the centre), the energy dissipation of Executive-Legislative contention, economic rigmarole, policy instability, real-terms retrogression, societal hopelessness, violence in varying degrees, crime multiplication, insecurity, general lawlessness, infrastructural degradation, etc. The hard, inescapable fact is that, unless Nigeria returns to the right road, the road on which it travelled at Independence, with modifications to exchange Regions for peoples in generally agreed zones, national problems will be compounded and complicated with the unfortunate eventuality of the country’s demise.
NADECO’s efforts and sacrifice, as an organisation of patriotic Nigerians, would have been wasted when (not if) things come to a disastrous head as a result of the country not returning to the right road. Let it not be so; it must not be so. NADECO, pro-democracy groups, and patriotic individuals have an unfinished business for a better, equitable and just Nigeria. We must advance this national business to its finish. Not a few of our own comrades in this noble endeavour have fallen to fatigue, to temptation, to deception, to inertia, to bewilderment, to economic and existential pressures of bread and butter, even to misadventure and death. More than compensating, nonetheless, is that many more of our countrymen and women from all walks of life, from all corners of the country, and from all persuasions now see reason in our endeavour, and now recognise that: Things just cannot continue like this.
Sooner or later, The Gambia would take the chair of ECOWAS. The country’s population of 1.4 million is less than Ajegunle’s in Lagos State. Nigeria does not lord it over The Gambia because it has a much larger population. Nor do the natural and human resources of The Gambia belong to the ECOWAS Secretariat. Nigeria has the same single vote whether at the UN, in ECOWAS as does The Gambia, Gabon (population: 1.233 million), Equatorial Guinea (498 Thousand), Austria (8.17 million), Belgium (10.275 million), Australia (19.5 million), New Zealand (3.9 million), Canada (31.9 million), USA (280.5 million), Kuwait (2.1 million), Iraq (24 million), Israel (6 million), UK (59.7 million), Cape Verde (409,000).
Historically and empirically, no country that is multinational (made up of different peoples), multilingual (peoples of different languages) and multicultural survives, let alone progresses, as it should, unless the centre is federal – both in the functions assigned to the centre and in the centre’s performance of those functions. The difference between the German, the English and the French tribes (Franz, Francis, Francois) is by far less than that between the Igbo and, say, the Yoruba. If being big is just what it takes, then apologies should be rendered to the Ottomans, to Napoleon, to Hitler, and even to Britannia (by Nigeria for playing a part in getting independence from the British Empire). And yet we now have European Union (EU). That is unity under agreed terms, with the ‘federating’ units retaining their local autonomy. That is what also applies with the memberships of the Commonwealth and ECOWAS.
The wellspring of corruption in this country is precisely the corruption that stems from what should and must be ‘federal’ Centre but is de facto ‘unitary’ centre. View it as you like; carry out as much analyses as you please. You will come to the conclusion that this is the source of Nigeria’s multiplying corruption; the source of all, repeat, all our troubles. Let us take a simple example. Take a neighbourhood of houses that share walls, neighbourhood roads, and even a market. Every landlord and tenant in this neighbourhood has all the rights of looking after his household, his property, his security and his self-defence. Now, the landlords/tenants meet (or are forced – colonialism – to meet) and form a Neighbourhood Committee. In doing so, they individually decide to assign (cede) some of their rights to the Neighbourhood Committee (NC). In the area of security, they agree that the Neighbourhood Committee should build barriers (against incessant armed robbery); they organise for central clearance of refuse; they attempt to master the nuisance of historical power and water outages, they raise security guards, patrol dogs, etc, and all for the common good of the neighbourhood.
Unfortunately, and by systematic attrition or arrogation, by acts of omission or commission, all contrived by greed and selfishness, the Neighbourhood Committee becomes the Overlord. It now decides that all rents and dues (over and above what the landlords and tenants had previously agreed for the performance of the only functions that they had given (ceded, mutually authorised) must be paid to the Neighbourhood Community. The Neighbourhood Community arrogates to itself, virtually all the rights of the landlords and tenants. Only the Neighbourhood Committee can now repair burst pipes in a house, or blown-off roofs. Closing of doors and windows in a house can now take place only with the written permission of the Neighbourhood Committee, and for which a license must be obtained and a huge fee paid. The Neighbourhood Committee becomes accountable to nobody. In fact, it becomes an act of treason, insubordination, and a disturbance of the peace, a criminal conduct for any landlord or tenant to ask for accounts, or question the power accumulated by the Neighbourhood Committee. The Chairman of the Neighbourhood Committee becomes a demigod. Offices are opened; so also cells and neighbourhood prisons. Sons and daughters of some landlords and tenants get appointed Neighbourhood Committee Advisers – with a view to “chopping” a bit, and hence stifling any protests from their parents. In a particular instance, and for a mind-boggling long period, the security guards (maigadi) of the Neighbourhood Committee take over the supreme control of the Neighbourhood Committee and the Neighbourhood.
Consequently, it becomes the desire of everybody to end up as the almighty Neighbourhood Committee’s Chairman, and to belong to the Neighbourhood Committee; some for altruistic reasons so as to set things right, others from a desire to be the ones wielding the big stick and despoiling the commonwealth. In the meantime, and heading so for all time, the neighbourhood, including the areas occupied by members of the Neighbourhood Committee, deteriorates and gets dilapidated – not only in infrastructure but more ominously in the degradation of human values and human development. The landlords and tenants are worried and harried. Of course, something is bound to give way – somebody, somehow. “The Republic of the disillusioned expands by the day.” (Soyinka on: “A Quest for Dignity,” April 28, 2004.)
On the (Sovereign) National Conference (NC), many have tended to make a mountain not just out of molehill, but also out of a “no – hill”. The NC is vital and necessary, not to invent or reinvent the wheel, but to return to the only way (federalism) that could allow Nigeria to continue to exist as a country; the only way it can have real peace and make genuine progress; the only way that the peoples will get back a sense of belonging, which leads to patriotism; the only way to revive the soul and spirit of Nigeria. Hear Professor Wole Soyinka:
It is the destiny of the whole, not of a part that is up for negotiation… Above all, however, let no one deny this inalienable right of a people, a right of any people, at any moment, under any circumstances, to embark upon the quest of coming into their own self-defining, self-constitutive history. (March 23-24, 2000).
In Arewa Not Against Obasanjo, an interview published in ThisDay newspaper of September 21, 2002, Alhaji M.D. Yusufu, then a presidential candidate said:
The problem if not solved will keep staring our faces. You see, this present constitution may lead us into a very serious problem if nothing is done about it. The Constitution used at that time (Independence) was a Federal Constitution unlike the one we have right now, which the soldiers under six months sat down with some people to write. The Independence Constitution was properly harnessed to embrace everyone. This federalism has been mortgaged. But in those days there was true federalism, I mean those days there was true federalism, I mean the Federal Government dare not tell the Sardauna, Zik or Awolowo what any of them should use their money for because none of them relied on the allocations from the federal government. But now none of these states has viable industries to sustain their development.
This from Olisa Agbakoba, the Human Rights Lawyer:
In many ways, the lack of legitimate constitution is the fundamental problem facing Nigeria. This has a marked effect on good governance, corruption, economic policy, as well as human rights and the rule of law. The answer is that the first task is the constitution.
And Rauf Aregbesola, the Lagos Commissioner for Works, in the Sunday Vanguard of September 22, 2002:
It is unfortunate that Obasanjo himself was not clear on this issue. Were he to be clear enough, by now the Sovereign National Conference (SNC) ought to have been convened and the crises that people will now want to cash in on to foment trouble will not be there. And until this nation puts together the National Conference to enunciate the ways and means of maintaining our relationship, we shall be joking… so everything is upside down.
Prince Tony Momoh in his Vanguard column “Point Of Order” stated:
…So we should first accept the fact that we are a federation, not a central government which Lugard brought about with amalgamation in 1914, and which Ironsi re-enacted with Decree 34 of 1966, but which almost blew Nigeria to pieces between 1967 and 1970. Our only saving grace was that CNN was 15 years away from being born. If the CNN had been there, Biafra would have been a reality… so if we want the Eagle to fly again, let us revisit the political arrangements and do what other federations do… The old areas of law making will have to be revisited so that, like in other federations, only those areas that bind the federating units are left exclusively for the Centre… And by just re-ordering our structures, corruption would automatically have been brought to a standstill…
There are other views to cite. Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Environmental Rights Action (ERA) stated on page 18 of the Sunday Vanguard, May 2, 2004:
The call for sovereign national conference is the solution to the challenges facing this nation. Those who are opposed to it are just doing it out of selfish interest. It is better for us to sit down and talk freely about the future of this country rather than think we can paper over it… We need to allow the representatives of the ethnic nations… to sit down on the table and discuss. Discussions won’t kill anybody.
And His Excellency, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, PDP Executive Governor of Bayelsa State, a PDP Stalwart, stated thus on page 53 of The Guardian, Sunday May 2, 2004:
If such a group of people” (“the minority, particularly those in the Niger Delta”) is now believed to be violent in an era of relative peace, then there must be a reason, because, as Chinua Achebe puts it, “a toad does not run in the daytime for nothing.” Therefore if, indeed there is some measure of truth in the allegation of perennial violence, I believe it is also an indictment on our collective conscience… a direct fallout from a disenchanted society whose dreams of development are repeatedly nullified by state conspiracy… I believe the following suggestions could be considered… The draconian laws concerning oil and gas and land use should either be abrogated out-rightly or amended to foster accelerated development in the area. At the moment, all types of decrees, which had been transformed into acts exist to justify the “federation” called Nigeria. The 1999 Constitution, the land use act and the oil mineral act, among others, exist to prevent dialogue among the various peoples of Nigeria… specifically, we need to see federalism in action rather than being a mere phrase to describe our lopsided union… As a nation, we have reached that crucial point when we must face the stark reality of our lopsided existence, and grow toward our dreams of greatness. It is time to erase the several inequities in our body politic and re-launch Nigeria on a free and fair society where justice, peace and equity reign supreme.
The questions now arise. What should be done? And how? I state the following: I reiterate that the basic thing required is a change of our political structure. We should return to Federalism. It is nothing new; we had it before. All we needed, over all these years, was to have allowed it to mature on a natural course from a federation of regions to a federation of nationalities; big and small. There is really no point assessing the performance of governance (Local, State or Federal). It is mere rhetoric to state that our problem is leadership. Even if you put a genius and Angel Gabriel (Jubril) to run this country the way its structure is, we shall continue to wallow in all that we do detest; and keep pitying ourselves. The Unitary Structure is not feasible; it is not tenable.
What’s in a word? A lot! Why “amalgamation” then? Why “Federation” at independence? These were when this country came into being pre and post-independence. The mere mention of “unitarism” caused an upheaval; later application of the aberrant system led, whatever other causes and effects, to a civil war. The continued application of unitarism can only keep us marching backward, steadily, indeed ferociously; eroding the brotherhood we deeply wish to stand in.
You can, consciously or subconsciously, actually or mentally, part ways without a dialogue. You cannot, on the other hand, “carry on regardless” – not even by force and without a dialogue. To quote Wole Soyinka again, this time from “Rhetorics that Binds and Blinds,” which he delivered April 24, 2004
We must never stop contrasting the dangers of monologue with the creative potential of dialogue, the latter holding out a chance of contracting, if not completely dissipating our climate of fear. Certainly, it can slow down the division… into… irreconcilable camps…
This requisite, vital, and inevitable dialogue is one amongst different peoples who wish to live together – equitably, fairly, justly and by complementing each other in spite of, or indeed, on account of, their diversity. A federation of peoples who wish to stand in brotherhood; a brotherhood of peoples who could live separately, but wish to live together. The National Conference, dialogue by the peoples of the country, is a positive-driven exercise. It is not divisive; what is divisive is any continued or delayed commencement of the conference. The “scavenging” mentality and effects of unitarism are the wellspring of our problems! True return to civil rule is a return to the federal structure.
The only road upon which Nigeria at formation/amalgamation or Independence could have embarked on the long journey of nationhood was as a federation. We have to go back to that road; any other road leads us nowhere, or put differently, we shall in no wise, using the wrong road, be nearing the destination. How do I mean?
We do not pray for it or wish for it, but I foresee chaos and further ruination of the Nigerian spirit if we go to another election at the centre – without having started a proper conference of nationalities (a national or sovereign or whatsoever called conference), without a structured Nigeria. The short-sighted discourse now on as regards changing the drivers, but not the repairing of the ailing vehicle underlines a sad, costly, waste of time and a curious lack of vision.
In parenthesis, let me comment on the issue of a President of Nigeria from Igbo land, which is otherwise called an “Igbo President.” Some claim that “The Igbo Project is dead.” Others allege that “Ndigbo have not got their act together.” Some others posit that “there is a problem in Igbo land, which is why they cannot come together.” All these are neither here nor there. They simply beg the question and becloud the issues.
The proper way to look at the “quest for Igbo Presidency” should be in its proper positive perspective. Ndigbo are not looking for and do not contemplate an Igbo man to become President in Aso Rock for the purpose of ruling (really just say serving) only the Igbo man. Ndigbo are saying that the President (and Head of State) of Nigeria must come from somewhere in and some nationality in the country, Nigeria. The next president should for now come from the South-South or from Igbo land. They, Ndigbo believe that the President of Nigeria should be someone from Igbo land. The position of Ndigbo is without prejudice to the crying need of the diverse peoples of Nigeria. This position of Ndigbo is without prejudice to the rights of other nationalities, big or small, for the president of Nigeria to come from their numbers. Ndigbo believe and are saying that it is in the overall interest of the country, Nigeria (restructured to federalism), at this point in time for the President of Nigeria to come from Igbo land.
If, as Ndigbo see it, it is rightly in the overall interest of Nigeria at this point in time, then it is not just mischievous (to Nigeria) but downright false to talk about “the Igbo project;” or to talk about the Igbo not getting their acts together. Incidentally, it ought to follow that there really could not be much incentive for an Igbo man who is President of Nigeria for the ‘Luxury’ of denying any part of Nigeria. I had written elsewhere that when it comes to communal matters, an Igbo man is more likely to forget or forgo his own homestead for the greater interest of the communal body.
To return to the issue of the Presidency, if it is really in the overall interest of Nigeria to have an Igbo as president, then who or what is hurt or denied, if the rest Nigeria (and Ndigbo too) fail to (jointly) bring this about? It is Nigeria – not just the group, Ndigbo, which suffers and is denied. It would be not only mischievous, but also downright false to talk about the quest of an Igbo president of Nigeria as “the Igbo project;” or to talk about the Igbo not getting their act together. The quest is not so that Ndigbo could have their turn; turn for what?
Just which part of Nigeria is now an El Dorado and the people(s) therein or there from glad, happy and proud – just because they had their turn, I ask and ask again. The ineluctable truth is that governance of a unitary or unitarised country is a corrupted task at any point in time and by whosoever person and from whatsoever nationality. In point of fact, once the country returns to a federation (this time of peoples/nationalities) it would be inconsequential where the President comes from. Those who are accustomed to unitarism, in spite of its stark demerits should, please, give national peace and progress a chance: the peoples of this country have gone irreversibly long enough on the global road of self-determination as to stomach unitarism for much longer. For those who live out the complex of being rich (and powerful), while the country is defeated by the mosquito, it is then to be stated that they live out a lie and are really poorer in real terms in spirit and in circumstance than the ordinary poor.
I could go on and on. But what do we do? We should dust up the Regional constitutions. These should be suitably adapted by each nationality (or group of nationalities that wish to band together). Incidentally, we are really on more than some 39 distinct nationalities. Sovereignty resides on and with each and every distinct nationality. Thus all constitutional rights reside with them. It is from this premise that they surrender or rather release what would be Exclusive and Concurrent rights (list) to and with a central government (Federal Government).
The ingredients that we should all leave for central coordination were (1960/63), and should be:
- Common Currency.
- Postal Union.
- International Affairs: with definite leeway/Agency for each nationality.
- Standards: Health, Education, quality, etc.
A few things can be concurrent, but not vehicle license plates, which even now are rather on the exclusive list.
- Ask nationalities to fine-tune their Constitutions.
- Call on conference of nationalities. Each nationality should come with their proposed Constitution.
- Using the drafted Constitutions of the Nationalities and what they want the central constitution to be, the Conference discusses to harmonize and arrive at how to live peacefully and progressively in one country, Nigeria – as a federation of nationalities/peoples.
- A Central/Federal Constitution emanates, in reality from these words: “We the peoples…”
At a (relatively) young age I had the governance of states thrust upon me under military rule. As a matter of fact the highest political position I was drafted to was as a member of the Supreme Military Council (SMC) during the Murtala/Obasanjo regime. At that time, the SMC was above the Head of State. When, later, I was appointed to Babangida’s Armed Forces Ruling Council, Babangida had assumed military Presidency and maximum ruler-ship, leading on to the inimitable Abacha. Remember him.
Even at the time of the Murtala/ Obasanjo regime and at the first half of Babangida’s, there was still some measure of federalism, albeit under the aberration of military rule. The Accountants-General of the States used to meet as equals with the Accountant-General of the Federation. Fifty percent of the states’ derived revenue were out in the Distributable Pool; sharing the following the formula; no state needed to go to Dodan Barracks to beg for its due.
Years later, civilian and other Governors/Administrators had to beg and plead – for their allocations; it was even alleged that some had to pay money upfront to get (part of) their due allocation. We are even now at a stage where your Local Government and mine are monthly, with anxiety and trepidation, awaiting what they would receive from the centre at Abuja. Incidentally, what does it matter to my Local Government whether the people of Badagry or Benin or Kebbi are 2,000 or more? Why should election not take place in my LOCAL Government Area because there is no Voters Register in the next-door Local Government Area? Unitarization has gone down to baseline – if not beyond.
The Economist, December 20th 2003, page 117, writing under “Economic focus: when small is beautiful’, with a kicker question “How big should a nation be?” commented on a new book, “The Size of Nations’, by two economists, Alberto Alesina of Harvard and Enrico Spolarore of Brown University. I quote: “Of the ten richest countries in the world in terms of GDP per head, only two have more than 5m people: The United States, with 260m, and Switzerland with 7m. A further two have populations over 1m: Norway, with 4m and Singapore with 3m. The remaining half-dozen have fewer than 1m people. What do such variations comply about the link between population size and prosperity
·… as old empires have disintegrated: more than half the world’s countries now have fewer people than the state of Massachusetts, which has about 6m… With the main exception of America, successful big countries (such as Japan) have relatively homogenous populations. Dictators typically suppress dissent, regional or ethnic. They see the benefits of size (and typically grab many of them);… The main reason for the resulting rise in the member of mini-countries is the shift from empire or dictatorship to self-determination, especially in the past quarter century. ‘Borders need to satisfy citizen’s aspirations’… Henceforth, say the authors, one should expect economic integration and political disintegration to go hand in hand, in a mutually reinforcing process… If the United States were centrally ruled, as, say, France, the country would break up.
Some people wonder as to who should represent the nationalities/peoples at the (S) NC. Neither Britain nor France nor any other country went to the ECM and later EU on the basis of the respective populations; they went as ‘equal” partner-countries. Countries did not go to the League of Nations and later the United Nation based upon population criterion. Not even the AU (then OAU) or ECOWAS is based upon population! A country is a country; hence equal to any other country. In the case of the NC, a people are a people; hence equals to any other people. What is to be presented and rationalized in consensual and confidence-building manner are the respective Constitutions – it is not an exercise in individual opinions or where decisions will be taken through majority voting. Even if a ‘major’ tribe, say Ndigbo, try or think that they can out-shout or out-vote the “minority” Ogonis against the wishes of the latter, and without consensual decisions, the problems remain unresolved. The delegates will and should be equal in number (I propose seven per nationality/people) – however big or small the nationality/people might be considered to be. The NC is not a conference for the NLC, NBA, NMA, WIN, ZONTA, etc to attend or be represented; it is a conference of the nationalities/peoples of Nigeria each of which have their total SOVEREIGN right to exist where the Almighty has put them – without reference to anybody, but with the goodwill and desire to live with the other peoples in the same and under the same country agreed to by them all and under agreed terms and conditions.
Even in those unwholesome military days of Murtala/Obasanjo and early Ibrahim Babangida regimes, the states derived/cast their edicts based upon the various Regional Constitutions – as variously suspended/amended by the Federal Military Government. I am tempted to say The Federal Republic of Nigeria Army, following the title of the book by General M.C. Ali, the former Chief of Army Staff who, ironically, is now the “civil” administrator of Plateau State. Right now, though, there is to all intents and purposes only one Constitution – that of the FR of “NA”, oophs, Nigeria. Maybe my sources are limited, but I am not aware of Federation(s) where there is only one constitution. Rather (and even if it is not so in (any) other federal countries, it must be so in and for Nigeria), in a federal country, of different and diverse peoples, the federating units (nationalities/peoples) should each have their own individual constitutions. After all, and in reality, they are the ones that surrender – from all sovereign right RESIDING in them – some rights:
- Exclusively to the Centre.
- Concurrently, with the centre and
- Residually, in those areas not surrendered/compromised by them in any way.
Let me end by stating again that it is those who do not wish Nigeria to survive as a country that are opposed (or pretend to be opposed) to our RETURNING to the only way that Nigeria can continue as a country of peoples wishing, wanting and keen to live together, make collective progress and have a sense of belonging as patriotic Nigerians. Once more, let us peacefully and harmoniously network this country to federalism (of the different peoples/nationalities – big and small). As things stand, everybody and everyone in Nigeria is marginalized; including those deluded into believing that they are amassing wealth and appropriating “power” (whatever that means), they are endangered by the fast-eroding fund of goodwill of Nigerians for the Nigerian country.
National Conference is not for breaking up the Federation but for strengthening it. It is the centralist governance that needs to be broken up, not the federation. Not many countries have gone to a Conference to break; rather, breaking up has often been as a result of ignoring the need for a dialogue. If Nigeria eventually breaks up, it will not be because of, or on the floor of a National Conference. Once again let us hear Soyinka:
The responsibility that we owe ourselves is to prevent the attainment of that critical mass that then pits one Community against anther. No Community dares succumb to an arrogation of power over the lives of its innocents… the mind that aspires to an all-inclusive Community must expand beyond the immediate and address the genesis of the current climate of fear not as abstraction, but as reality within the compass of redress (Soyinka: A Quest For Dignity).
The steps that I have outlined above are peaceful, practical, and brotherly in approach. Once embarked upon, it would not take long for results to be achieved; and we shall all be happy for it and forge on to genuine patriotism and progress in our “unity in diversity.”