By Ochereome Nnanna
PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan received the 22-voume, 10,335-page report of the National Conference, along with its 600 resolutions last week Thursday, and went into a poetic rhapsody. He declared: “All those who had predicted the disintegration of our country at the end of our first centenary would wish they chose another country when the possibilities of the new vision for Nigeria are actualised”.
Jonathan had good reasons to be ecstatic. Here was a conference that faced many odds when it was being put together. His political opponents, especially those promoting the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) had discredited and opposed it.
They threatened to boycott it. Even some rebel PDP governors, some of who later decamped to APC, said their states would not be sending delegates. Eventually, one by one, they sent delegates to go and canvass the interests of their people and states, perhaps after realising that though President Jonathan was convening the conference, it was not a Jonathan conference but one for all Nigerians.
The second stage of the debacle took place at the floor of the conference, where delegates came buoyed by different motivations. Some came to find ways of moving Nigeria forward. Those in this group included the delegates genuinely committed to reforms that would promote nation building, citizenship rights, reduce the cost of governance, diversify the economy for prosperity, explore ways of securing the nation and its people from internal and external enemies, expand opportunities to vulnerable groups and generally make Nigeria a better place for all Nigerians.
Most of the delegates who fell under this category represented civil society groups, Labour and professional interests. The federal government went out of its way to ensure their adequate representation. These were the bridge-builders who mediated between the delegates representing “ethnic nationalities” and their opponents who were inspired by rabble-rousing regional irredentists.
There were those who came to ask for the inequalities introduced into the body politic by a region army to be ameliorated to give marginalised Nigerians a sense of belonging. For instance, the Igbo delegates seized the opportunity to revisit the already nationally agreed creation of an additional state for the South East Zone to bring it to par with the others.
The Yoruba delegates also revisited their age-old demand for a return to the regional setup and devolution of powers. The Minorities of Southern Nigeria from the oil-bearing Niger Delta came to cash in on the constitutional promise that the 13 per cent derivation on their oil resources can be upped. It was also an opportunity for people from solid mineral-rich areas; especially the northern zones, to ask for a special fund to enable the country develop that sector for the benefit of all.
But unfortunately, some groups allowed themselves to be misled by external influences that were determined to keep Nigeria where it is or move it backward if possible. Some of these delegates came from the Arewa areas of North East and North West.
They took their marching orders from the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) a reactionary group of retired technocrats and politicians of the Muslim North who still live in the distant and dark past where Nigeria was seen as a conquered, vassal territory of the Sokoto Fulani Caliphate. The NEF enjoined its disciples among the delegates to make sure that anything that would bring about change or reduce the unmerited privileges of the old, defunct Northern Region would not be allowed to sail through.
New North-South divide
It was in the process of these truculent exchanges that the new North-South divide, which has been developing over the past 24 years, became evident. The new political “South” in the conference consisted of delegates from the South East, South-South and South West, plus those from Minority areas of the old Northern Region, generally referred to as the Middle Belt; while the new “North” consists mainly of the core Muslim zones of North West and North East, with a sprinkling of conservative Muslims from the North Central sometimes found in their midst.
These were the delegates who took their instructions from the NEF and tried – and failed – to frustrate the conference. They failed because a large number of the Arewa Muslims are also patriotic, progressive and independent-minded enough to know what is good for all Nigerians. They joined the rest of their compatriots to do the right thing.
The conference eventually ended on a victorious note for Nigeria. At least, the minority Arewa group bowed to the superior reason of the rest of the delegates, and so the victory is also theirs. It is a classic case of “no victor, no vanquished” and everyone is a winner.
The happy thing, for me, is that those who will like to keep Nigeria rooted on the spot for their selfish interests have, over the years, become a miserable minority. They have lost power, though they do not realise it.
It is a great delusion for anyone to make his political calculations based on the defunct Regions created by colonial Britain. It is also becoming unviable to make political projections based on the structures left behind by the rampaging Northern regional army. The truth is that the regions created by Britain collapsed long ago. There is no Eastern, Western or Northern Region anymore.
There is no Mid-Western Region anymore. Nigeria has moved on since. People clinging to such anachronisms will always bite their fingers in frustration at the end of every political process.
The Western Region ended with the creation of the Midwest in 1963. The Yorubas took the creation of the Midwest in their stride and moved on. The Eastern Region ended with the declaration of Biafra and the creation of twelve states in 1967.
The Igbos moved on, too, and so have the Southern Minorities. In fact, it was the Igbo elite that fought for the creation of the South-South in the 1994 Abacha Conference to break up the alliance between their Minority neighbours and the North and West. They ended up creating a new regional alliance now popularly known as the South East and South-South, a partnership of equals, not that of master and servant.
But the North, especially Arewa, does not want to accept the fact that the Middle Belt, the zone of the Minorities and non-Muslims, has come to stay, and that their incessant killings and destruction of Minority communities have pushed the Middle Belt into an alliance with the South. It showed in the conference, and helped to ensure its success.
However, it is one thing to have a successful conference and yet another to implement its report. Now, the harder part of the job has started: making the resolutions become change agents to enable the nation to survive and thrive in the second century of its history.
The ball is now in the court of the president and the National Assembly.