National Conversation And Healing A Fractured Nation – By Law Mefor

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The Nigerian nation is still staggering under the weight of formation. It has tried some options; including holding the nation together by sheer force but none seems to be working. The Nigeria-Biafra civil war was the ultimate measure deployed to keeping the nation one.

From the country’s checkered experience, building a nation doesn’t seem quite possible before the nation itself is really formed. Nigerian leaders do not seem to see this. Not until now that the chicks are coming home to roost, leaving the 200m citizens virtually stranded.

The Igbo Leadership Development Foundation (ILDF), the pan-Igbo sociopolitical group currently pushing for Nigerian President of Igbo extraction, is organizing a national conversation and debate for National Unity centered on Federal Character, Restructuring and Rotation of Presidential Power in Nigeria. The ILDF is convoking the Great Debate on the 5th March in Abuja in collaboration with Gregory University Uturu, Centre for Intl and Advanced Professional Studies Lagos, New Generation Leadership Development Foundation and World Igbo Summit Group. This is quite an amalgam.

This national coalition of the willing believes that there is one symbolic gesture, which will enact national unity and that is reconciliation. To them, though the shooting battles of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war may have ended 50 years ago, the war is still going on in some other forms with both sides still unhappy with each other. Yes, you can win the battle and still lose the war.

The Obasanjo government, recognizing this lingering palpable tension and the negative energy it constituted against national harmony, unity, and development, instituted the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission of Nigeria. Also known as the Oputa Panel, the commission was created by President Olusegun Obasanjo, as he then was), in 1999. Its mandate was to investigate human rights violations during the period of military rule from 1984 to 1999. In terms of reconciliation, the commission also worked towards unifying communities previously in conflict. Specifically, it did not work on Nigeria-Biafra civil war as a main target.

Unsurprisingly, the Oputa Panel ended, achieving nothing with the many principal actors staying away. Those who attended only rehashed the sad memories, and reopened the healing wounds.

Compared to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up by Nelson Mandela when he became President of South Africa after his 27 years’ incarceration, the Oputa Panel really pails into insignificance. Nigerian nation has grieved for 50 years on over an avoidable war and made a ruse of the ‘No victor no vanquished’ verdict proclaimed by Yakubu Gowon after civil war.

Yes, no nation can move forward without healing its fractured bones and moving all components together as one indivisible and indivisible whole. The Igbos would say, onye ji onye na ani ji onwe ya; i.e. one holding another on the ground is holding himself as well. The only advantage the holder may enjoy is being on top of the victim. But he too cannot move an inch unless he or she lets go the other on the floor with him. That is the case of Nigeria since the end of the war, a sad narrative that needs to end for the nation to move forward.

It is in this context that one can appreciate the national conversation being convoked by the coalition. It is aimed at achieving an enactment of national unity and to show a pathway to how equity can become a reality by putting in perspective its identifiable essentials namely, Federal character, Restructuring and Rotation of Presidential Power.

Federal character is one beautiful containment policy put in the nation’s Constitution since 1979 and meant to carry every segment of the country along. The principle has been observed mostly in breach. This has been assailed by many a Nigerian government with reckless impunity, each time heightening the cries of marginalization and making the centrifugal forces to exert on the polity with an ever increasing fury.

So also, Restructuring has become such a buzzword in the recent past. Those who initially used the term – Restructuring – may be the ones who brought the devil into it by making it emotionally charged. But whatever may be the case, Restructuring is simply the return of the nation to a truly federal system as negotiated by the nation’s founding fathers with departing colonial Britain.

In every federation, power is shared between the Federal government and federating states. But in the 1999 Constitution, just like many others before it since the civil war, the Federal Government is giving powers in about 66 areas while the States are given mere concurrent powers in about 16 areas. What concurrence here means is the Federal Government equally having the powers to legislate in the areas allowed the States while retaining the top-heavy powers to legislate exclusively in the over sixty areas as well as the power to override the States. This makes Nigeria a unitary system and federal only in name

Fact is: most of the powers that will engender real growth and development are tied in the exclusive list. Electricity, Railways, Ports, Security etc. are all tied to the federal government, which has not been able to live up to expectations of Nigerians. In summary, Restructuring consequentially is: returning the powers taken away from Regions to the States.

Compared to growth and development of Nigeria and her Regions in the First Republic when federalism was practiced in Nigeria, the nation has actually stagnated under the current unitary arrangement. Then, the Eastern Region economy was adjudged the fastest growing in Africa. While the Western Region was able to establish TV station before some countries in Europe and Northern Region led the world of agriculture. While holding the nation down by force, development has been arrested, giving room for the growing in security, corruption and really poor subsistence economy.

Nigeria adopted the federal system of government after independence in 1960 to assuage the feelings of the over 200 ethnic minorities. To provide further a sense of belonging the ‘Federal Character Principle’ was inserted into the 1979 Constitution.

Hence, the 1979 Constitution states “the composition of the government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or any of its agencies” (Section 14 (3) of the 1999 Constitution).

Deriving essentially from this constitutional contemplation, since the office of the President of Nigeria is indivisible; the only way the Federal Character principle can apply to it is by rotating the presidential power. And this has wisely been the preponderance since the return to the present democratic dispensation and has to be sustained.

It is therefore the hope of the conveners that the national conversation would engender national unity, equity and social amity in the polity. In order words, the clearest pathway to the nation’s unity is equity achievable through fair implementation of federal character and by extending it to the office of the President of the country through rotation.

To ILDF therefore, rather than dwell on Nigeria President of Igbo extraction as some groups are doing at the moment, they are talking of reconciliation, national unity and equity. This is strategic and a refreshingly different approach, if you ask me.

• Dr. Law Mefor, a Forensic/Social Psychologist, writes from Abuja; Tel: +234-803-787-2893; e-mail: drlawmefor@gmail.com.

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