Nigerians, like normal humans have national pastimes that keep us preoccupied. The British focus on the weather as a topic of discussion, Americans love their politics, celebrities and sports. Nigerians on the other hand is chock-full of political analysis and what my friends on Twitter like to call National Distractions. The latest of such discussions is the Sovereign National Conference which I have taken the liberty to christen the Senile National Conflagration. Senile because the idea seems to echo more among old(er) politicians who have fallen out of favour with the current Government. A conflagration because the idea has reached fever pitch and is spoken about with a burning passion. Proponents of the SNC say this is the conference to end all conferences!
So What Exactly is a Sovereign National Conference?
The proponents say it will be a conference to “sit down and discuss” our existence as a nation. What exactly does this mean? It means every nationality will get a chance to air their grievances with the Nigerian nation akin to the Conference Nationales held in Francophone countries, Benin, Togo and Zaire. SNCs are meant to introduce sweeping constitutional changes and placate aggrieved parties after a civil war or other internal strife. Admittedly, the Nigerian state is an amalgam of diverse peoples which previously existed as distinct nations. With ink in hand, the Southern and Northern protectorates were joined at the hip by Lord Lugard in 1914 and named Nigeria from the concatenation of “Niger” and “Area” by Flora Shaw. Nigeria was born out of the need for administrative efficiency by the colonial administration. The SNC is billed as solution to the problems of ethnicity & religious divides, resource allocation and a faulty 1999 Constitution bequeathed by the Military Regime of Gen Sani Abacha.
Several constitutions have been written in the past to give the natives of the former Southern and Northern protectorates a sense of belonging to the nation. The Clifford Constitution (1922) introduced Legislative Houses for the first time. The Richards Constitution (1946) expanded the Legislative Council to cover more of Nigeria while the McPherson Constitution (1951) included more Nigerians and was a step towards true Federalism. By 1954, power had been devolved to the three regions (North, East and West) and Lagos. While many feel that the regional system of Government engendered mutual suspicion and animosity, it was perhaps the closest Nigeria has been to true Federalism. Sir James Robertson in 1961 remarked that 47 years is a very short time to weld the many different people of Nigeria into a nation. Is 98 years enough?
Even after Independence, attempts were made in 1963, 1979, 1993 and 1999 to give Nigerians a Constitution that will serve the interests of majority of Nigerians and keep the loose amalgamation of nations united. So far, Nigeria isn’t working for majority of its people with 61% living in abject poverty. So the call for a Sovereign National Conference is another step in our history of trying to solve our problems through Constitutional means. On the other hand, Nigeria as currently constituted is working extremely well for those in power. Weak institutions, heightened insecurity, failed infrastructure, extreme poverty, endemic corruption and no distinction between the coffers of the state and personal accounts. So as far as the brigands are concerned, there is nothing to fix!
Is There a Formula for SNCs?
There is no universally accepted formula for convening such a conference neither is anyone bound by the outcome. The most common system is for representatives of various political parties to work out formulas for sharing power and resources. Another method is for elections to take place at the Ward, LGA, State and Regional levels to choose delegates to represent every Nigerian at the Conference. Every issue plaguing Nigeria will be discussed and solutions acceptable to all Nigerians will be proposed. This way, the interests of every Nigerian are protected.
Those who once enjoyed the trappings of office and those who aspire to siphon public funds as well are calling for the convening of a conference to solve the aforementioned challenges. If I understand this correctly, the current beneficiaries of the quasi-unitary state will willingly surrender their rights to their “chop I chop” prebend under a modified Nigerian state. As expected, those in power at the moment and their apologists say the SNC will lead to a break up of Nigeria. Those arguing in favour say Nigeria is not working and a Constitutional change is required to solve all our problems.
Will Convening a Sovereign National Conference be a Panacea for a Faulty and Failing Nation?
Only those benefiting from the current kleptocracy would deny that Nigeria is beset by a myriad of issues. But I make bold to say that ethnicity is not Nigeria’s biggest problem. When Gen Gowon decided to walk away from the agreement to run regional Governments reached at Aburi, Ghana it wasn’t because of the inherent hatred for Southerners. It was because he saw the potential loss of Petroleum revenues from the newly discovered Oil fields of the Niger Delta. Subsequent claims of domination by one ethnic group or the other belie the fact that every ethnic group in Nigeria has stolen money from the Nigerian state and corruptly enriched themselves and their cronies. Ethnicity is merely smoke and mirrors designed to keep the masses spilling each other’s blood. When obscene allowances are shared at the National Assembly, nobody cares where you are from. When contracts are inflated and billions stolen, the Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Ijaw, Idoma, Chibok, Berom, Fulani, Tiv and Junkun will close ranks and take their own share of our collective wealth.
Will my Local Government Chairman suddenly start fixing my road after a successful SNC? Will the $16 billion unaccounted for in pursuit of stable power supply be returned and blackouts become a thing of the past? Will a bloated $30billion 2012 budget designed to line the pockets of a few people be trimmed to acceptable levels? Will the scam called Nigeria cease to be simply an avenue for the enrichment of a view at the expense of many? If the problem with Nigeria is merely constitutional, would amendments to the 1999 Constitution be the end of all our problems? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
Nigeria’s problem is not ethnicity or religion. Neither is it merely constitutional. The current Constitution is flawed and should be amended as the Americans have done successively to theirs over the years. In my humble opinion, corruption is a bigger problem than ethnicity. Let us prosecute everyone who has stolen from this nation or exile them to Vanuatu with just enough for a plane ticket. Make stealing a shameful and punishable act. Start a process of changing the value system of a people for whom stealing is second nature. Let young people know that taking what does not belong to you is wrong.
The convening of a Sovereign National Conference will not solve all Nigeria’s problems. Nigerians will solve Nigeria’s problems. Do your own part. 160 million Nigerians doing the right thing trumps a few thousand delegates sharing power and money under the guise of “deciding our future”. Maybe I just don’t see it, but a SNC is not the answer.
Follow me on Twitter @okshorty1 to continue the conversation.
Additional research material provided @miss_jayla