By Hakeen Baba-Ahmed
“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last.” Winston Churchill
THE outcome of the public engagements by the Advisory Committee on National Dialogue may offend one of the basic assumptions which informed the need to subject the nation to critical scrutiny and review.
This is the assumption that we Nigerians have no consensus over the legitimacy of our nation and the laws that give it substance; we disagree over whether we want to continue to live in such a nation; we disagree over why it has failed to live up to our expectations; we disagree over how its resources are appropriated and shared; and we disagree over just about everything of value which should create peace, security and unity.
Colonialism is blamed as the genesis of all these ills, but since we are not the only nation which was cobbled out of imperialist designs, the search for sources of our profound dissatisfaction with our nation went beyond the foundations.
The post-independence democratic government let us down for taking off from where the British left. Long periods of military rule complicated the problems of emergence of a nation out of basic and endemic structural crises. Reversals to democratic governance merely confirmed that it is not the type of rulers we have that is the problem; it is our nation which is fatally structured, rooted in false values and assumptions, and working towards deepening our problems rather than solving them.
Since shifts between military dictatorships and democratic governance have failed to move the country beyond its basic limitations, and constitutional amendments have merely provided a cover for incumbents to prolong their stay in power, the solution was unlikely to be found in tinkering with laws.
The constitution and the institutions it has created will not subvert themselves in a manner that will allow an unhindered and popular effort to create genuine alternatives. The case began to be made for a wholesale rejection of the structural foundations of modern Nigeria and the creation of avenues for evaluating its relevance, utility and even continuance.
The claim that sovereignty is vested in the people began to be interpreted in its literal sense: Let the ethnic groups and nations which pre-dated colonial imposition exercise that sovereignty directly and totally.
Allow representatives of the people who were forced into co-existence by imperial interests to question everything about the nation, and what they decide will be final. They could re-create the nation in any number of ways; they could affirm its unity under different values and institutions; or they could end the Nigerian enterprise in everyone’s interests.
This, basically, was the chorus that was heard in the last two decades in some parts of the country, notably the South West which felt hard done-by when Abiola’s election was aborted; as well as in South-South minority communities which felt that too much of what they have is being shared with too many fellow Nigerians.
It also found resonance in circles in the South East which created their own versions of the build-up and aftermath of the civil war, and concluded that Igbos would have built the greatest nation in Africa but for the liability which they carry called Nigeria. Here and there, pockets of disciples of the idea of the wholesale unravelling of the nation emerged, motivated by a variety of reasons.
Some saw it as the best means of freeing small groups from domination by larger groups. Some saw it as a means of keeping more of what should be shared. Other saw it as a solution to the domineering position of the North in national affairs.
In general terms, mainstream Northern political opinion was, at best, suspicious, and at worst, hostile to the very concept and feasibility of the idea. Its core leadership put itself forward as the custodian of the integrity of the nation, its unity and survival. It felt justified in putting a robust defence against any idea that the nation’s unity is questionable, and that its future can be discussed or negotiated away by elites from parts of the country which had narrow political goals to pursue.
Northern leaders died in 1966 in the hands of military adventurers who set in motion a disastrous chain of events leading to a civil war. Northern lives and limbs in their hundreds of thousands were sacrificed to free Southern minorities from Igbo domination and to preserve the unity and integrity of the nation.
If the nation shed no blood in the fight for independence, it certainly shed mostly Northern blood to preserve the unity of Nigeria. Northerners overthrew or murdered other Northerners in 1974, 1976, 1983 and 1985, and made many futile attempts in between in the name of improving the state of the nation.
Northerners plucked Obasanjo from extinction and installed him in power in 1999 when it became accepted wisdom that other Northerners prevented Abiola from becoming President in 1993. Northerners suffered massive depletions in their stock of political leaders in the hands of fellow Northerners and Obasanjo, and have borne this loss as a price to pay for preserving the unity of the country under a democratic system.
The North has been forced open, polarized and endangered by the exploitation of its pluralism, all in the name of the democratic process. While the South West found security in a political cocoon, the South-South basked in the glory of temporary and problematic wealth, the East continued to walk on any side of the political street which paid it the most, the North shrank under poverty, insecurity and poor governance.
The initial response to the offer of a National Dialogue is revealing some startling postures that had been largely invisible. Virtually every major geo-political cluster of opinion will now make a case for a Sovereign National Conference, SNC, without delay.
Tinubu’s repudiation of the idea as a deceptive diversion has effectively set the basic agenda for political South West. The traditional SNC priests will follow with a condemnation of anything short of a SNC. The South-South will not see their hope of a radical review of the manner revenues from petroleum resources are allocated in a polite dialogue which will end up as a document before the National Assembly where the North has majority.
The East will likely support a SNC because not to do so will harm its interests. It will make the case for it because it has unresolved issues with Nigeria, particularly one which will not accord due respect for its demands for an additional state, and in which Igbos build the nation and are targeted routinely by other Nigerians virtually as a national pastime.
Unity and integrity
The far North will demand a SNC because it is beginning to question the value and practicability of its continued support for the unity and integrity of the nation in the light of its current positions and experiences in the nation. It will highlight positions that the North will benefit from a critical scrutiny of the entire structure, functions and viability of the nation’s basic institutions. It is likely to support a wholesale revision of every arrangement which currently sustains the nation from the perspective of a disadvantaged and threatened partner. Minority Northern interests will support a SNC because they will see it as an avenue to assert their autonomy from being appendages of the majority in the North, or pawns in the hands of the South.
So the nation is united, after all. It is solidly united behind the idea of a thorough and genuine reassessment of the Nigerian nation. This is not what President Jonathan wanted. He had thought he will tap into a sentiment that will win him applause in some quarters, and send other quarters into panic and disarray over the initiative. Now that he knows what the nation wants, how will he respond to this national consensus against his dialogue?