By Pini Jasaon
THE call for National Conference has received several reactions, including opposition, from Nigerians. Those opposed to a National Conference fall into three main categories: Those who subscribe to the doctrine of “settled issues”, those who say it would be used to dismantle the Nigerian state and those who believe that it is aimed at further weakening the stranglehold of the North on the nation.
Writing in his column, The Horizon, in Thisday newspaper of Wednesday 15 (?) February 2012, my brother, Comrade Kayode Komolafe said: “President Babangida spoke of some ‘settled issues’ of Nigerian politics at the Daily Trust Dialogue. Now it is difficult to fault him on at least three issues namely, unity, democracy and federalism”. On the contrary, it is very easy to fault anybody on these three unsettled and unsettling “settled issues”.
First, Nigeria is simply unified, but not united. There is not a single element in Nigeria, not even an issue as important as citizenship that provides us any evidence of unity.
What holds us together is a chain binding us in bondage, not a cord holding us together as one. In a united country there should be no “settler” and no “indigene”; there would simply be Nigerians enjoying equal rights of citizenship and protection wherever they reside and whatever their religion.
What a Northern leader called Lugard’s “mistake of 1914” merely created what a South West leader called “a mere geographical expression”. We have, since then, worked hard not to forge unity out of it but to emphasise our difference while pretending otherwise.
Is it a sign of unity that Boko Haram and people like Joseph Waku should ask certain Nigerians to leave the North on account of their religion and ethnic origin? Incidentally the same states that Gideon Orka and associates kicked out of Nigeria in April 1990 today constitute Boko Haram’s sultanate. Why are we missing the coincidence? Why do we keep pretending that Nigeria is a united country?
As for democracy, we should know that democracy that does not reconcile our differences, but rather exacerbates them abnormally. Election, particularly the type whose process does not belong to the people but to a cartel of godfathers, is not the same as democracy. In which “democracy” would a few tin gods sitting in Abuja decide who contests a primary election in a state, or who contests election in a local government?
Federalism in name written in blood
Our federalism is so only in name written in blood. Those who tout this lie simply ignore history. Major General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi was killed in 1966 ostensibly because of Decree 34 of 1966 which unified the services in the then federation. Ironsi’s killers stated that “the basis for Nigerian unity is not there”!
Thereafter, those who killed Ironsi and waged a genocidal war on Eastern Region went ahead to stifle what was left of Nigeria with extreme centralisation because it suited them. They never contemplated a day the shoe will be on the other foot! Somebody who had no shoes is now wearing the shoes! Evidently, it did not take a National Conference to weaken the stranglehold of the North on the nation. In a country where a band of Islamic terrorists will be throwing crude bombs, cowardly killing worshippers in churches, slaughtering sleeping women and children, and robbing banks to fund their terrorism simply because a Nigerian citizen from the wrong side of the country exercised a right which should be taken for granted in a “united” “democratic” “federation”, gives the lie to the doctrine of “settled issues”.
The other point made by opponents of National Conference as echoed by Komolafe is that: “The structural defects of federalism could be corrected constitutionally given sincerity of purpose by politicians”. This is the argument of politicians like Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, spokesman of the Senate and Hon. Cairo Ojougboh, a former member of the House of Representatives. Said Ojougboh, “for those calling for a new constitution, all they need do is to utilize the opportunity provided by NASS to submit to the latter, what they desire to be included in the Constitution of the country”. As proof of this, Senator Abaribe reminded us that: “Olisa Agbakoba, an eminent lawyer has some amendments he wanted effected in the Constitution, he channeled it through me. The Bill has been read the first time”. The Senator did not tell us what else happened to Agbakoba’s Bill.
I do not know how fundamental Agbakoba’s amendment is. But I do remember that Lagos State under Bola Tinubu took a fundamental step bordering on the structure of our polity. It created additional local governments in the state and forwarded the new LGs to the NASS for inclusion in the schedule of the constitution. Till today, that action, as a Court declared, has remained “inchoate”. Several other fundamental issues have remained inchoate. It is common knowledge that majority of Nigerians are angry at the cost of governance and would prefer a return to Parliamentary system and part time legislators. Can anybody delude himself that the NASS will even give such amendment first reading? To assume that those who benefited from cartel politics can effect fundamental changes is simply absurd; unless we send the amendments to the NASS and OCCUPY it until they effect such amendments!
Since 1963 when the former Mid West Region was created, only the military has altered the structure of the country. It is either going to take the military to effect further restructuring or the people through a National Conference. But the military is not an option. Because it was in the hands of a section, such alterations were done with impunity and thus created more injustice. Today, the South East has five states while other zones have six.
It is no use imputing ulterior motives to those calling for National Conference or abusing their persons. I think the National Conference has already started. The Integration Conference the South West states had two weeks ago is an irreversible restructuring of Nigeria. If they get it right as I said in this column some months back, by rationalising the size of governments in the Region and returning to common services, then a few lazy but greedy people can sit in Abuja and pretend that they can stop an idea whose time has come. Other zones should step out now and facilitate discussions among their States on how to make governance more meaningful to their people.
Amnesty for all, but give me a gun!
IN January 2006, a highly placed official in the presidency asked me what I thought the Federal Government was doing wrong in the Niger Delta.
I said that it would be a mistake not to separate the strands of criminality in the Niger Delta’s legitimate agitation before acting—strands of oil thieves, armed gangs providing cover for oil thieves, illegal bunkerers and armed political thugs. I also warned against an unconscious glorification of terrorism (apologies, Tony Blair) or making it look as if only violence gets the Federal Government’s attention.
If you have read Boko Haram literati lately, you would have noticed that they have constantly drawn a parallel between the Niger Delta militancy and the murderous Islamic band. They kept quiet until Boko Haram had wreaked maximum damage to put the Federal Government under pressure to negotiate.
The remorseless intellectual arm of Boko Haram has suddenly woken up to demand with increasing audacity, amnesty for confessed Al Qaeda affiliate terrorists. They paint a picture of inability of the Federal Government to smash Boko Haram and even foolishly gloat about it. They forget that after Odi and Zaki Biam, the Federal Government has remained restrained in using force against treasonable war against the state.
As I said last week, President Jonathan is at liberty to negotiate with blood thirsty terrorists but he must not negotiate away the rights of other Nigerians in their absence; which means, convoke an all inclusive dialogue and let every disgruntled group (and there are many) vent its own anger and have it addressed.
Otherwise tomorrow, the nation will have to contend with MASSOB, presently unarmed but, bomb for bomb, can make better ogbunigwe.
Last week, Farouk Abdulmutallab, the under wear bomber was sentenced to life in the United States for his Christmas Day attempt to bomb a plane over Michigan. When he was arrested, we thought he was an isolated naïve Al Qaeda recruit. But today see how many Al Qaeda/Boko Haram sympathisers we have in the country!
The president can grant amnesty to Boko Haram; amnesty to the policemen standing trial for the extra-judicial killing of the leader of Boko Haram; amnesty to those who killed innocent Christian worshippers on Christmas Day; amnesty to all kidnappers; amnesty to ritual killers; amnesty to all armed robbers and pirates.
He can open all the prisons and release all prisoners before Boko Haram does; scrap the police, all the security agencies, the courts and the entire judiciary; we don’t need them. In Nigeria every crime is political agitation requiring amnesty. But I want a gun!
During the Niger Delta agitation, some people regarded me as anti-Niger Delta. In fact, while on a morning TV talk show during Citizen Forum for Constitutional Reform, CFCR, activities in 2002, an obviously drunk and angry youth phoned in to query why I should be discussing resource control issues.
Recently, another Niger Delta chap asked me angrily: “We in the Niger Delta were fighting because the Nigerian State was taking our oil, destroying our environment and our means of livelihood without putting anything back! See the pollution going on there today! What will Boko Haram say Nigeria has taken from them? Did the Federal Government take away the groundnut and cotton pyramids or the hides and skin or what?”
I reminded him that the right not to go to school and to be governed by Sharia is as important to some people as his right to clean environment, and he hit the roof and thundered: “If they have any grouse, let them take it to the Alfa Belgore committee!”