By Pini Jason
THE Igbo say that you can tell a blind man that there is no oil in the soup. But you cannot tell him that there is no salt or pepper in the soup. It is self evident that Nigeria is in a serious turmoil. In the last 12 years angry Nigerians have wielded as much illegal guns against the country as the Nigerian Armed Forces wielded during the civil war.
This is because the Nigerian state has unwittingly promoted political violence as a sure means to power. In every corner of the country, on a daily basis, people are killing fellow Nigerians with free wheeling audacity to assert their claim to power. Nigeria is fighting an undeclared war. Bestiality has become a national culture. And the frightening thing is that some people are applauding and rationalising the ensuing anarchy.
Why? Nigeria is so structured that access to power means access to unearned wealth. Thus every component part of this country is angry, disenchanted, disgruntled, dissatisfied and bitter at one another if it does not get access to power. Every part of the country feels cheated and inconvenienced by Nigeria. Does it not make sense that we find the root cause of this debilitating national disquiet? Is it safe to assume that we know what Nigerians want?
If indeed we know the cause of this perennial national upheaval, why has the Nigerian state been incapable of fixing it? If a doctor cannot fix a properly (we assume) diagnosed disease, can we not find out why? Is the disease incurable or is the cure not the right one or is the doctor incompetent? We need to find out about ourselves, why we are in this recurring and recursive retardation!
Many well meaning Nigerians have in recent times called for a National Conference. Some have opposed the idea. There are those who say we cannot have a National Conference because it would lead to the disintegration of Nigeria. Such people do not have any concrete evidence.
They simply hide behind this smokescreen to postpone the evil day and further prolong the anguish of the country. I wonder if such people sincerely wish Nigeria to survive. Even if Nigeria survives on the present terms where it works for only a few, (mainly those who oppose National dialogue), the fact remains that anger and bitterness will persist and Nigeria will continue to spill blood of the innocent and fail in fulfilling its destiny.
Settled issues and monopoly of power
There are those who insist that with a National Assembly, a National Conference is unnecessary. They argue that whatever imperfection in our constitution can be corrected by the National Assembly. We know that this is not true. If it were, the National Assembly would have since fixed these problems before they began to consume the nation. Secondly, those, especially members of the National Assembly, who insist that they are the representatives of the people of Nigeria, are wrong. The mandates some of them claim are tenuous and are, in fact, part of the current problems. When you impose a candidate on the people, such election is ab initio unrepresentative and the mandate is as good as a stolen mandate.
There are also the apostles of “settled issues”. What do they mean by “settled issues”? “Settled issues” as a concept is an arrogance that has its origin in the years when a section of the country used its near-exclusive control of the military and security establishments to monopolise power at the centre for about 38 years.
That monopoly of power indoctrinated a section of the country to see itself as anointed rulers of Nigeria. What we are witnessing today is that the centre constructed out of that monopoly of power can no longer hold Nigeria together. If all issues were “settled”, why are people using bombs, kidnapping, killing and maiming to acquire power or avenge the loss of power?
Let us even accept for purposes of argument, without conceding, that Nigeria, as an entity, or a union is a “settled issue”. But in this “settled” union, a band of Islamic terrorists want Sharia imposed on the country and Western education abolished (as if they are forced to have one) and they are bombing, killing and maiming innocent Nigerians to press their demands.
It is ironic, if not hypocritical, that the very people who oppose National Conference are calling for dialogue with the terrorists! Can those who want dialogue with the terrorists called Boko Haram tell us what else the sect is bombing us for?
I am obviously not in favour of rolling out red carpet for terrorists who cowardly bomb worshippers in the Church. But if President Jonathan wants to dialogue with a group that wants to impose Taliban-like Islamic theocracy on Nigeria and wants to abolish Western education, then other Nigerians must be there to ensure that their rights to their own religion and Western education are not negotiated away behind their backs.
That, in simple language, is a reason why there must be a National Conference to look at all issues as they impinge on the rights of all peoples who are in this union.
Constitution and sovereignty of the people
Nigeria is what it is: an agglomeration of diverse, suspicious, rival ethnic groups. We cannot ignore that. Nigeria is not the only heterogeneous country in the world. Other countries like us have faced the reality of their countries and agreed (by giving themselves appropriate constitution) on how to live together in peace.
Nigerians have not done that. The National Assembly was elected only to make laws for the good governance of Nigeria based on a constitution Nigerians give themselves. They cannot make a constitution for Nigerians simply because they were NOT elected for that purpose and because sovereignty belongs to the peoples of Nigeria.
This, I think is the basis for the call for Sovereign National Conference. That is, Nigerian peoples have the sovereign right to give themselves a constitution, not that the SNC will have powers to sack existing order. During the Congress for Democratic South Africa, CODESA, which produced South Africa’s constitution, there was an existing Parliament and government in South Africa. Such a Parliament was not an obstacle to or a substitute for the emergence of an inclusive constitution which has given South Africa uninterrupted peace for 18 years.
We, the peoples of Nigeria are the ones that should create a Federal Government in our own image, based on our history and experience, to act on our behalf. And we are the ones to give the Federal Government a constitution to guide its actions. We, the peoples of Nigeria ought not be a creation of the Federal Government. That is the aberration in our structure that people talk about. Such an aberration cannot be called a “settled Issue”.
It is the attempt of a Federal Government to create us that has resulted to the obvious injustices that Nigerians are being killed for today. It is really the excessive drive to “unite” Nigeria under “settled issues” or “unitarise” the country that tends to nudge it dangerously towards disintegration, not the prospect of a National Conference!
Re-positioning Nigeria for benefit
Let us face it, Boko Haram is not a bunch of deprived kids resenting going to school (we all did). Boko Haram, if you correctly read the body language of those providing them intellectual covering fire and rationalisation, is no more than an expression of the North’s anger over being schemed out of power by Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. Boko Haram is another name for the North’s anger. Perhaps if power sharing by the six geo-political zones were explicitly enshrined in the constitution, we would not have Boko Haram throwing bombs and Jonathan feeling handicapped by the structure of our security agencies in dealing with the menace!
Ironically, those Nigerians opposed to re-positioning Nigeria for the benefit of every section through a National Conference are those who easily look up to Cameroon, Niger, Chad, Libya and Iraq. Those who have no where else to go should be allowed to live happily in Nigeria, without being serially massacred. Not many people miss the point that Nigeria today lacks shared identity. Even our constitution institutionalised that.
As Paul Collier, a professor of economics at Oxford University wrote in his fascinating book, Wars, Guns and Votes, “The fundamental mistake of our approach to state building has been to forget that well-functioning states are built not just on shared interest, but on shared identity. Shared identity does not grow out of the soil; it is politically constructed. It is the task of political leadership to forge it”.
Nigeria lurched into crisis barely four years after independence. Since then, we have had 47 unbroken years of national crises. The question is, do we continue to war-war? Or do we do the sensible thing and jaw-jaw?
Mallam Nuhu Ribadu is a patriot
WHEN the Federal Government announced Malam Nuhu Ribadu as the Chairman of Special Task Force on Petroleum Revenue, there were speculations whether he would accept or not. I asked why not? I am glad he accepted. There are people who believe that all that they owe Nigeria is scathing criticism. What Nigeria needs now are patriots who can help fix it, not people who can only bad mouth it.
I don’t think that Ribadu owed the Action Congress of Nigeria any apology, unless he still lived the illusion that the ACN ever took him seriously in the calculation of its political interest. That statement credited to ACN that Ribadu was on his own for accepting the national call, was ridiculous and hypocritical. Of course Ribadu was on his own when the ACN looked beyond him immediately he emerged its presidential candidate to enter into a selfish negotiation with the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, and thereafter dumped him to vote massively for President Goodluck Jonathan! Some people are conveniently very forgetful.
Two things are very important here. The Federal Government must clearly and carefully delineate areas of responsibility between Ribadu’s Task Force and the EFCC, especially when the EFCC had already been called into the matter of Petrol subsidy scam. Secondly Ribadu must strictly avoid conducting his assignment in the media.