“Fellow Nigerians, our administration has taken cognizance of suggestions over the years by well-meaning Nigerians on the need for a national dialogue on the future of our beloved country. When there are issues that constantly stoke tension and bring about friction, it makes perfect sense for the interested parties to come together to discuss. In demonstration of my avowed belief in the positive power of dialogue in charting the way forward, I have decided to set up an advisory committee whose mandate is to establish the modalities for a national dialogue or conference. The committee will also design a framework and come up with recommendations as to the form, structure and mechanism of the process. The full membership of the committee will be announced shortly. I expect its report to be ready in one month, following which the nation will be briefed on the nomenclature, structure and modalities of the dialogue.” – President Goodluck Jonathan, October 1, 2013
The present Civilian Governments of Nigeria on the Local, State and National levels have failed the people woefully. The hope that Nigeria’s civilian leaders would accomplish for the nation what military rulers hungry for adulation at home and meteoric respect abroad failed to achieve has been dashed…. Nigeria, once again is being buffeted by the very same pressures and centrifugal forces that led to the demise of the regimes of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, General Aguiyi Ironsi, General Gowon, General Murtala Muhamed, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Generals Buhari and Idiagbon, General Babangida and General Sanni Abacha. Any Government that comes to power without the will and concurrence of the people is doomed to failure and for such a Government or collusion of State Governments to aspire unilaterally (outside a national conference) to rewrite the Nigerian constitution, abolish or review the Local Government System, drastically change the fundamental, directive principles of governance and abiding way of life of the Nigerian people, is a dismal exercise in futility doomed to quintessential failure. – Dr. S. Okechukwu Mezu, May 19, 2007
After resisting for six years the persistent and unrelenting call for the restructuring of Nigeria to make allowance for its federal character and the diversity of the nationalities that have been “amalgamated in1914” to form the entity called Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan and. we assume, his PDP-led Government of Nigeria, are finally calling for a coming together to debate the future of Nigeria and how to guarantee peaceful coexistence. The curious questions that now arise include the following:
a) Why should any patriotic Nigerian oppose the implementation of this recurrent demand for a national dialog?
b) Who should take part in this dialog and how will the representatives be chosen? and finally.
c) How do you ensure that the agreements or the constitution emanating from this dialog represent the will of the people or are endorsed by the constituent nationalities or at least a majority of the nationalities?
Some of these questions were partially raised also when President Jonathan stated that the committee will among other things consult with all relevant stakeholders, make recommendations to government on structure and modalities for the proposed national dialogue, make recommendations to government on how representation of various interest groups at the conference will be determined and also advise government on a legal framework for the national conference and any other matters that may be related or incidental to the proposed conference.
The 13-member committee which has one month (now extended to six weeks) within which to complete its assignment, was inaugurated by President Jonathan on October 7 at the State House. The members include Prof Ben Nwabueze (who declined the appointment for health reasons), Dr. Akilu Indabawa, (Secretary), Prof. George Obiozor; Senator Khairat Gwadabe; Senator Timothy Adudu, Col. Tony Nyiam (rtd) and Prof. Funke Adebayo. Others are Dr. Mairo Amshi, Dr. Abubakar Sadiq, Alhaji Dauda Birma, Mallam Buhari Bello and Mr. Tony Uranta. The body is to be chaired by Senator Femi Okurounmu.
(A) Why should any patriotic Nigerian oppose the implementation of this recurrent demand for a national dialog?
Several patriotic Nigerians have serious reasons to doubt the sincerity of the Jonathan administration.
a) Prof. Shedrach Best, Secretary to the Plateau State Government, sees it as an exercise in futility that adds nothing new to the existing body of knowledge about Nigeria. Nigerians should join hands to make the country work. The constitution addresses everything including federal character; the way resources should be harnessed and distributed, the way our development should be pursued. It is all in the constitution. The constitution should be made to work and amended where necessary. If we want a referendum on anything, let us conduct that referendum.”
b) The Ijaw National Congress (INC) President, Senator Tari Sekibo suggests that “the fear that the nation will break up without the designation of no-go area is unfounded and amounts to sheer scaremongering. The various organs of government and the panel itself must trust the patriotism quotient in Nigerians to discuss all issues and arrive at practical and mutually acceptable solutions, terms and agreements of our nationhood.”
c) Some officials of Labor have lamented the various socio-economic ills facing the country and doubt the sincerity and capacity of the Jonathan administration to hold a meaningful dialogue on a national scale. The NLC Vice President, Comrade Issa Aremu, pointed out that the “current twin crises of three-month long strike by the country’s university teachers and Peoples’ Democratic Party’s internal war of attrition sadly, under the watch of President Jonathan put serious doubt on the capacity of the administration to successfully midwife a national conference”. He further insisted that “President Jonathan must come with clean hands on simple conflict resolutions before he can be further entrusted with national conversation of such importance since the President’s record with conflict resolutions through dialogue, either with ASUU, his ruling party or Nigeria Governors’ Forum has not been inspiring for him to engage in a bigger macro-national dialogue of any kind unless we are unwittingly going to fund national diatribe of unimaginable consequences for 165 million people. Continuing, the NLC spokesperson said: “A national conference against a background of unresolved avoidable sector crisis like the university lecturers strike is nothing but a conference of diversion, a cheap flight from good governance and above all a waste of scarce resources needed among others to resolve the education sector crisis.”
d) Others like, Kaigama while welcoming the conference advise that issues to be discussed at the Conference should include “the basis of our unity and existence as a nation, the system of government and the power-sharing formula, our geopolitical and fiscal federalism, citizenship, the electoral and representative system, the cost of governance, security, corruption, boundary adjustment and foreign policy, freedom of faith and other fundamental human rights.”
e) Gani Adams, the national coordinator of the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), has drawn the attention of President Goodluck Jonathan to a similar effort in 2005 President Olusegun Obasanjo to convoke a national conference which failed because of Obasanjo’s selfish interests and illicit plan to use the conference to achieve his third-term political agenda. President Jonathan is therefore advised to distance his interest in the impending 2015
f) Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, while expressing his personal opinion, characterized President Jonathan’s proposed national dialog as deceptive and diversionary and a poison apple just a few months before the 2015 national elections.
g) Governor Sule Lamido was right when he stated that the proposed Jonathan national dialog lacked constitutional backing and was a fragrant abuse of democratic principles insisting that the only solution to the country’s problems is good governance, due process, the rule of law and ethical leadership.
In sum, the Jonathan administration appears to co-mingle the interests of the nation and that of his administration. For Jonathan, the committee is expected among other things to consult with all relevant stakeholders, make recommendations to government on structure and modalities for the proposed national dialogue, make recommendations to government on how representation of various interest groups at the conference will be determined and also advise government on a legal framework for the national conference and any other matters that may be related or incidental to the proposed conference. By implication, such a committee will report to the Jonathan administration who will then issue a white paper on the nature, composition, terms of reference of the proposed National Confab and ipso facto the proceedings of the Confab will be probably handed over to his government for discussion at the Executive Council level and a white paper (like under previous Military Governments) foisted on the people as the new Constitution for promulgation or for further deliberation at the National Assembly with concurrence of the State Assemblies. This would definitely not be a the Nigerian Constitution we want or deserve.
Furthermore, contrary to the opinion expressed by some, the first step towards the making of a new constitution is not to repeal Decree 24 which brought into being the existing 1999 constitution. That constitution should be the template for the new constitution. All aspects of the constitution should be revisited except the indivisibility and integrity of Nigeria. It is after the promulgation of a new constitution by the people that the 1999 Military Constitution will stand repealed.
(B) Who should take part in this dialog and how will the representatives be chosen?
How do you determine those that will take part in this proposed Jonathan national dialog? In Imo State, for instance, how do you choose those to represent the state or that section of the Igbo nation? How do you determine the number of delegates to ensure that the competing interests of the linguistically homogenous Owerri, Okigwe and Orlu Senatorial and provincial zones are represented, that inside Owerri Senatorial zone itself, the interests of Mbaise indigenes, Oratta indigenes, Ngor-Okpala indigenes and Mbaitolu-Ikeduru clans are protected? How do you cater to the interests of the various philosophical divides within these subgroups – supporters of PDP, APC, APGA-Rochas, APGA-Umeh, APGA-Okwu, to mention a few? Even within Imo APC, how do you accommodate and harmonize the interests of Governor Rochas, of former Governor Udenwa, former Gubernatorial candidate Nwajiuba and the interests of Chief Mike Ahamba not to talk of views of Dr. Kemafor Chikwe, Former Governor Ikedi Ohakim and the budding ambitions of Hon. Bethel Amadi and Hon Chukwuemeka Ihedioha of the factionalized PDP.
In the less linguistically homogenous Rivers State, who determines the delegates, the Governor Amaechi group or the Hon. Wike group? These problems are replicated and compounded in practically every state in the nation? Will the INEC be called upon to conduct elections for aspirants into such a Constituent Assembly? Will voting be based on what Register of Voters? Will INEC be now able to conduct at short notice elections in a volatile area like Oguta Constituency having failed three times in a space of two years to conduct elections there? Will there be snatching of ballots boxes, use of military and paramilitary groups, the police and even the courts to intimidate and to restrain, to rig and to win?
(C) How do you ensure that the agreements or the constitution emanating from this proposed dialog represent the will of the people or are endorsed by the constituent nationalities or at least a majority of the nationalities?
The premise of Cartesian logic is symbolized by “Cogito, ergo sum.” Nigeria whether properly amalgamated or not is not a tabula rasa. For a hundred years, Nigeria has its geographical limits. For some years now, it has had a constitution. “Nigeria stat, igitur est.” Nigeria definitely must not be allowed to disintegrate. The eventual security and salvation of the individual Nigerian and the individual component ethnic groups in Nigeria lie not in the disintegration of the country and/or ethnic control of the sector’s natural resources, but in good government (and as utopian as it sounds) the eventual further amalgamation of the component elements of black Africa under a government of the people for the people where the resources of the whole are used for the benefit of the many and not expropriated from the few for abuse and misuse by privileged indigenes and unscrupulous aliens.
Finally, The Advisory Committee should be well advised to enter NOLO PROSEQUI and hand the ball back over to the Executive and Legislative arms of government. To the best of my limited knowledge, nothing in the constitution empowers Jonathan administration to unilaterally convoke a National Conference, sovereign or not. But the government of the day can send a bill to the National Assembly requesting the convocation of a National Conference. It was the same imperfect, rigged and undemocratic election that brought both the National Assembly and the President to power. As imperfect as it is, the National Assembly represents generally all shades of opinion, with very minor exceptions, all ethnic groups and linguistic groups. the National Assembly has spent millions of Naira visiting every constituency seeking out the opinions of Nigerians towards amending the constitution.
Nigeria is not a tabula rasa. The National Assembly should instead revisit all aspects of the constitution. and after input from the people including the Executive arm of government come up with a clean document the new constitution of Nigeria. This new constitution should not require the assent of the President or the concurrent legislation of the State Houses of Assembly but the various controversial articles if any (in fact the entire document) should be subjected to a referendum by the entire electorate in Nigeria and if approved should become the government instrument of the Federation.
President Jonathan is right when he acknowledged that “ We have wasted too much time and resources, bickering over sectional versions of what define reality. This is an open-ended luxury we can no longer afford.” But the timing for this national dialog is inappropriate. Such a proposal would have been eminently welcome immediately following the elections in 2011 or even immediately following the resolution of challenges to Jonathan’s election in the courts. Instead, President Jonathan wasted too much time and resources bickering over a six-year term and a second term agenda. A national confab as envisioned by Jonathan is “an open-ended luxury we can no longer afford.” Rather than promote Conflict Resolution, it is more likely to foster Conflict Insemination. Such a major journey should only be undertaken after very careful and mature thought and should at least carry along the majority of the people. Reports indicate that the people who attended the inauguration of the Committee included the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Dr. Bamanga Tukur, Chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees, Chief Tony Anenih, Governor Idris Wada (Kogi State),Governor Ibrahim Shema (Katsina State) as well as members of the Federal Executive Council and presidential aides. You do not successfully commence a journey of national reconciliation or even a search for it, when, even in a mere ceremonial inauguration of the committee, you ab initio exclude, two of the three arms of government – the Legislature and the Judiciary while standing or rather hopping only on one of the rickety legs of a factionalized Peoples Democratic Party.
The Senator Femi Okurounmu Advisory Committee should convene, enter nolo prosequi, defuse the Molotov cocktail handed over to them by President Jonathan and advise government that the ball should be handed over back to the National Assembly with recommendations that there should be no-go areas and that every aspect of the Constitution should be revisited – the State and/or Regional structure, Federalism, local government system, fundamental and directive principles, citizenship, devolution of powers, natural resources and derivation principles, equality and freedom of religion and expression. There should be no go areas except for the indissolubility and integrity of Nigeria. And most importantly the product of such constitutional exercise should be subjected to a referendum for approval by the Nigerian electorate.
A worthwhile government committee should instead look into the following areas:
a) How do we organize free and fair elections in Nigeria without the involvement of the Army, the Police and other Security forces and only call on them if there is a break-down of law and order, in which case the elections in question should be cancelled.
b) How do we structure an effective Electoral Commission on the National and State levels;
c) How do we facilitate the emergence of not more than three or four national parties from the existing political parties but with provisions for independent candidates who meet prescribed requirements.?
d) How do we organize a standing mechanism for the registration of voters and continuous updating of such registers and also population census
e) How do we arrange for the immediate establishment of a Printing press or presses for the secure printing of serially numbered ballot papers for use in elections as well as facilitate the compilation, digitalization and display of voters’ registers and mechanisms for the efficient distribution and security of ballots prior to and during elections.
f) How do we structure INEC to ensure that its duty is solely the efficient conduct of elections and not the screening and/or disqualification of candidates which should be left to political parties and only on rare occasions with the nation’s courts.
g) How do we structure the remuneration, allowances and retirement packages of future members of the State and National Assemblies so that the pursuit of such offices no longer become a do or die affair but a genuine call to serve the people.
h) How do we ensure that every citizen is subject to the law of the land, that every government expenditure is strictly based on the budget approved by the various assemblies, that no governor has the right deprive citizens the right on the local government level to have elected representatives of their choice subject to relevant laws?
May God bless Nigeria. May God bless Africa. May God bless the black world.
Dr S Okechukwu Mezu is former Biafra Ambassador to Ivory Coast and Chairman of NPP Imo state (1978-83). He wrote from Baltimore USA.