WHAT is now referred to as the “National Question” arose from the diverse characters of Nigeria as a plural and multi-ethnic society.
The notion is traceable to the structural defects and imbalances created by the amalgamation in 1914 of the Northern and Southern Protectorates of Nigeria to form a unified colony of the British Empire.
Since political independence in 1960, Nigeria’s challenges have been manifesting themselves in the heightened state of intolerance, insecurity and strife, often in the form of religious and ethnic crises, class division and attempts by the few political elite to access the privileges of the state and manipulate the structure, at the expense of large population.
Thus, the National Question is tied to the erosion of the state and its failure to meet the needs of the citizens, often by exclusion, marginalisation and injustice in securing and protecting the lives and welfare of the various groups inhabiting the national space.
The National Question is a composite of several questions, all relating to the challenges of national integration and citizenship rights. Some of the sub-categories of the question include the following: To what extent do citizens and groups feel a sense of identity with the NigerianState? Does the State protect our interests? Is justice and fairness preserved in the manner in which the State relates to every section of the citizenry? To what extent is justice dispensed in the extraction and distribution of proceeds of resources extracted in certain territories of the State? To what extent is the political leadership of the NigerianState just in its decisions and execution of matters affecting various groups and constituencies? To what extent are we able to express our uniqueness as a group (culturally, religiously and economically) without being hindered by the structure of power and the State?
Answers to these questions show clearly that there is an urgent need for a fundamental reform of the faulty legal architecture of the country through a constitutional process that would deal with powers/privileges and how they are shared across the various levels of government. It is this basic premise that lies behind the views of the advocates of a Sovereign National Conference, SNC, in Nigeria. It brings to mind a lecture delivered by the great nationalist, Chief Anthony Eromosele Enahoro, at the Yoruba Tennis Club, Onikan, Lagos on July 2, 2002. The title of that lecture was simply: “The National Question: Toward A New Constitutional Order” and Enahoro spoke in his capacity as the Chairman of the Movement for National Reformation, MNR. Recall that it was the MNR that produced an alternate Constitution for Nigeria during the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
Enahoro’s lecture was a powerful analysis of the Nigerian National Question, the challenges facing the country in the 21st century and the imperative of a new constitution, which must be the product of a National Conference “composed of representatives of the people of Nigeria freely chosen by the people themselves for the purpose.” When that is done, according to Enahoro, the name for our country would be changed to the “Union of Nigeria.”
In arguing in support of this proposal, Enahoro urged Nigerians to learn from “the experience of successful multi-nationality states like the United Kingdom and increasingly the European Union, as against unsuccessful ones like Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union.
Millions of other Nigerians share Enahoro’s views on the matter. Prominent among them is the renowned Professor of Constitutional Law, Ben Nwabueze. Of course, the bulk of the advocates of the National Conference have been from the South West geo-political zone, which has championed the position for well over three decades. The list is long: Bola Ige, Abraham Adesanya, Gani Fawehinmi, Wole Soyinka, Tunji Braithwaite, Femi Okurounmu, Ayo Adebayo and, of course, Ahmed Bola Tinubu (until recently).
The clamour by Nigerians for a National Conference has remained unanswered for years. Nigerian leaders, especially the military which ruled for most of the years after independence, were fully aware of the challenges posed by the National Question as well as persistent clamour for a National Conference. Unfortunately, they lacked the political will to tackle the question frontally. The nearest to an attempt was the Constitutional Conference convened by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005–2006. However, as it turned out, that exercise was purportedly motivated by Obasanjo to secure a third term for himself. Consequently, the report and its recommendations were roundly rejected by Nigerians.
The challenges facing Nigeria grew by the day as disenchantment mounted and insecurity spread across the nation. Ethnic formations sprouted – Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Arewa Consultative Forum, etc. – all expressing deep ethnic sentiments.
These unfortunate developments are sure signs of disenchantment and tensions that are capable of tearing our country apart. They are all manifestations of the fear of marginalisation, domination, inequality, unfairness and injustice. They point to severe cracks in our inter-ethnic relations. And, they are a reminder of the National Question, which must be tackled to save Nigeria from disintegration.
Sadly, some of the major advocates of the National Conference, who stood firmly with Enahoro, have suddenly made a U-turn, claiming that a National Conference was no longer needed. What, precisely, is their reason for the change of heart? None other than politics and, perhaps, the fact that the initiative has come from President Jonathan!
They are saying, essentially, that they would love to do good things for Nigeria, but not with Jonathan as President. What manner of politicians are these?
Mr. JOHNSON MOMODU, a public affairs commentator, wrote from Benin City, Edo State.