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Jonathan on “sovereign confab”

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By Ochereome  Nnaanna
AGAIN, I am taking President Goodluck Jonathan to task over a pronouncement by him on a major political issue.

When he bared his mind on the zoning principle of his political party and later on exonerated the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) after the Abuja bombings, he came across to me as someone who is either precipitate in his reaction to hot-button political issues or has a false grasp of them, or (like former President Olusegun Obasanjo) peddles self-serving opinions.

The quality of the President’s mind and the way it works when it comes to political issues are beginning to take shape, and I am honestly not exhilarated.

As usual, let me quote him before I proceed further. At the recent Presidential Policy Dialogue of the 16th Nigerian Economic Summit held in Abuja on Tuesday, October 19, 2010, he was quoted as saying:

“Any talk about a convergence of the different ethnic groups should have taken place after the amalgamation in 1914 by Lord Lugard, and not this time when we are four years away from celebrating our centenary (100 years) as a nation. I believe it is irrelevant at this time because we have a 1999 Constitution, and a National Assembly, that should make good laws to govern our country”.

The Sovereign National Conference (SNC) debate is like a coin with its two sides. Those on the obverse side claim that the very foundation of Nigeria was not laid by Nigerian people or their elected representatives under a free atmosphere. Nigerians had no hand in the amalgamation of their country.

They were not even consulted by Frederick Lugard, Nigeria’s first Governor General, before he performed the historic feat 96 years ago. There was no basis for such consultation since Nigeria was a conquered territory of Britain amalgamated for the sole purpose of advancing the imperial interests of the British Crown.

Secondly, there was little or no meeting point between the indigenous peoples. The educational system was in its infancy, and the common language of communication – the English language – had not become our lingua franca.

In other words, it was simply not possible for any kind of dialogue to be staged among the peoples of the newly-amalgamated entities. So, there was no way “a convergence of the different ethnic groups” could have happened shortly after 1914.

By the beginning of the 1950s when the future independent Nigeria was being negotiated by the newly-spawned indigenous elite representing the major sections of Nigeria, the conditions  – and tools – for negotiation had been created. However, these talks were moderated by the colonial masters to ensure their interest was protected after departure.

It was, therefore, an imperfect negotiation, evidence of which manifested in inequalities between the various regional and ethnic stakeholders that have made it impossible for Nigeria to be a united nation 50 years after independence.

Since the colonialists departed, Nigerians have attempted several times to renegotiate our nationhood, but all these attempts were made under military dictatorships that continued to defend colonial legacies.

The call for “sovereign national conference” is meant to do away with these colonial legacies, restore equity and true citizenship, water the ground for the growth of nationhood and enable Nigeria to begin functioning effectively.

However, those who have benefited from the colonial legacies in that they enabled their part of the country to lord it over the rest, however, reject SNC in that, according to them, it is a smokescreen for national disintegration.

Professor Jibril Aminu, a distinguished senator of the Federal Republic and an unapologetic campaigner for the retention of our centralised federalism arrangement, also believes, just as Jonathan put it at the Summit, that what Nigeria needs is a visionary and truly nationalist leader operating under our constitution and elected parliament and Nigeria would still achieve greatness.

Most Nigerians agree that this country’s major problem is lack of good leaders. The question is: Why is the country unable to produce good leaders 50 years after independence? Is it not possible that the system was programmed not to produce good leaders?

There must be something about Nigeria that aborts the emergence of good leaders and promotes the recurrence of poor quality leaders. Something must be foundationally wrong with Nigeria to predispose her citizens to corruption, inability to conduct free and fair elections, inability to build and maintain her infrastructure, education, health and to conduct good governance.

There must be something intrinsically wrong with Nigeria to put her at the top in negative ratings (failing states, corruption, high mortality rates, instability, violence) and bottom in positive ranking (per capita income, human development index, free polls, security, doing business). Those who want SNC believe that it would provide us with the opportunity to remove the debilitating factors.

There is so much that a “visionary leader” can do without structural reformation. For instance, what can a good president do to remove the indigene/settler dichotomy that breeds serial violence in Nigeria?

What can he do to stop the activities of religious fanatics who believe they would go to paradise when they slaughter their fellow citizens in cold blood? How can a good leader compensate for the fact that the North has more states, more representation at the federal level, more local councils, and therefore collects more revenue from the federation account every month than the South?

What can a good president do about the fact that the South East has five states and the North West seven, with the implication that the former will always get less from Nigeria than the latter? There is little such a “visionary president” can do in the face of these entrenched structural inequities.

Besides, if you get a good leader today, what guarantee do you have of getting another one tomorrow? Leaving it to “good leaders” is leaving it to chance. Restructuring Nigeria is like building on a sound foundation to ensure sustained growth, whether we have good leaders or not.

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