IT did not come as a surprise to wary Nigerians that President Goodluck Jonathan called for a national conference. When the Senate resumed for its new legislative year in September this year, its President, Senator David Mark, had backed the call for a “national conference of ethnic nationalities.”
For many, it was a bold kite-flying. During his October 1, 2013 speech to the nation, President Jonathan unveiled his intention to call this conference, and made good his promise by inaugurating the Senator Femi Okunrounmu 13-member Presidential Advisory Committee on National Dialogue on Monday, September 8, 2013 at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The committee has six weeks to come up with modalities for empanelling a conference, which will allow Nigerians to talk, re-assess the nation and give it a new direction that will take into a future of progress and national stability.
For the first time in the history of conferences and constitutional talks, the empanelling authority has given the committee a free hand to consult with Nigerians to determine the form the conference should take, rather than reading out terms of reference or preconceived direction such a conference must take.
As a newspaper, our primary concern is that Nigeria must rediscover the path to growth and national development. We must do away with centralising influences that made the federating units dependent on the centre, rather than being centres of development. It has long been established that the Nigerian federalism stopped working from the moment the military in 1966 introduced the unitary system of government and used the 1979 presidential constitution to impose centralised command of federalism on the people of Nigeria.
In other words, the sovereignty of the people was taken away and vested in the seat of governmental power, especially the office of the President and office of the state governor. Nigerians were no longer able to decide, who ruled them. Rather, it was these powerful executive offices that decided and Nigerians merely lined up during the polls to vote in line with already decided outcomes.
The constitution we expect from the impending conference must give power back to the people of Nigeria by drastically reducing the weight of responsibilities the Federal Government is saddled with. This over-burdening made the Federal Government very ineffective and unable to make impact.
Devolution of powers must be taken very seriously, and this must include allowing the peripheries to control resources in their localities for rapid development, while the centre collects generous royalties to enable it ensure even national development.
It is only when power is sufficiently devolved that Nigeria will move forward, and the intensity of ethnic, religious and regional tussles to control the centre will abate.