By John Amoda
THE Guardian Tuesday, May 28, 2013 carried the report of the interview of The Patriot’s Chairman, Prof Ben Nwabueze and Chief Solomon Adun Asemota (SAN) a member.
In that interview, the two leaders maintained that the way to “save Nigeria from Anarchy” was by the convening of a National Conference” and the Arewa, the conclave of the Northern Elders, are in agreement on that proposition. “My argument,” says Asemota, “is if the ideological issues were not discussed and we continue the way we are going, Nigeria will collapse.
Therefore, we need to convene a National Conference.” It is evident that saving Nigeria from collapse or from threatening anarchy is not a governance issue- it is a societal security issue; so also is the question of deciding what kind of Nigeria should replace the Nigeria whose security challenge has made the convening of a national conference a pressing political problem. Who should convene such a conference?
Who should participate in such a conference? What status should be accorded the proceedings of such a conference? These are some of the issues of the modality for convening such a conference. The Patriots propose a conference of ethnic nationalities and argue against the Northern Elder’s preference for a conference of political parties.
The Patriots so report:” “We are in correspondent with the Arewa. We have exchanged in black and white: we have agreed on the need for a national conference but the modalities are a bit different but that will be settled given goodwill.
The Arewa wanted the conference to be on political party basis but we say it should be a conference of ethnic nationalities. This must be the focal point because it will make no sense if the ethnic nationalities are not the major point of consideration for the conference. They are the people feeling the pinch of the crisis.
Nigeria does not contain one set of people: whosoever is saying that we are a set of one people is deceiving himself and the country. Nigeria contains peoples; peoples make up Nigeria and that is why it is necessary to come to a round table based on ethnic nationalities and not on political parties to discuss our differences.”
In a preceeding essay we have examined the feasibilities of a conference based on ethnic nationalities and have highlighted the problems entailed in defining representation and participation in sovereignty in ethnic nationality terms.
The notion of ethnic nationality does not define nor describe sovereignty in the three periods of societal history relevant to the citizenry of Nigeria; the pre-colonial, colonial and presently in the post-colonial.
Ethnic nationality is an ideological construct of how sovereignty is to be democratically defined, it is the Patriots’ prescription and they have identified 389 ethnic nationalities. How sovereignty commonly expressed in 389 mutually accepted political vernaculars is to be instituted is both a modality and an outcome issue.
We did not see much progress achievable in attempt to institute a democratic construction of Nigerian sovereignty in ethnic nationality terms.
If The Patriots’ suggestion is problematic, what about the Arewa option- a national conference on party basis? Here again we are likely to get to the kernel of the periodising of change of sovereignty in terms of the colonial episode. The colonial should differentiate the pre-colonial polities from the post-colonial.
The colonial is an imperial polity, not a representation of the pre-colonial. The post-colonial could be a representation of the colonial or its revolutionary replacement. The two possible outcomes, the representational-reformist and the revolutionary entail two distinct processes of change brought about through the agency of political parties.
These two types of agency of political change, a change dealing with change in sovereignty on the one hand and change of sovereignty on the other hand, can be specified; they are the Party of Reform and the Party of Revolution.
The facts of political history at first glance seem to favour the Arewa option of canvassing for a conference on the basis of parties until we ask the question of what kind of parties effected the change of Nigeria from a province of an empire into a separate country under its own government?
The First Republic parties were reformist parties established under the government of the colony of Nigeria to effect the constitutional transfer of control of the government of colonial Nigeria from the Colonial Office to elected officials of the Nigerian parties recognised by the British Government. Sovereignty issues were not addressed in the conduct of the 1959 elections through which the British Government recognised the government of Colonial Nigeria on October 1, 1960 as the government of Independence Nigeria.
From October 1, 1960 to the present, political parties have been organised for election goals and not for sovereignty aims. Control of government and not the creation of a new political order by sovereignty-aspiring parties has been the only game in town. The Arewa option is an option to use electoral parties to effect the change of sovereignty, not a reform of the colonial order. This indeed is the main basis of The Patriot’s rejection of the Arewa proposal.
The question asked by The Patriots is: “The parties we have today in the country are made up of whom? If you go to the National Assembly, we have soldiers, policemen and all former Armed Forces men. How many people, who were outside the establishment of the Armed Forces, are in the National Assembly? This is the problem for us!”
The issues of politics from the colonial period to the present have been contained within the scope of matters relevant and pertaining to the holding of office and the control of government. Control of government in post-colonial Nigeria has been contested for by the military and civilian politicians.
The politicians through parties formed for winning elections and holding office held sway from October 1, 1960 to January 24, 1966; and after a Civil War and military rule the civilians politicians returned to office from 1979 to December 1983.
Military rule was resumed from December 1983 to May 28, 1999 with a brief interlude of the Interim National Government of Chief Ernest Shonekan hyphenating the change of baton from IBB to Abacha. From May 29, 1999 to the present, the PDP has been the ruling party.
Control of government and the use to which control has been put has been the substance of Nigeria politics. Neither the military nor the civilian electoral parties have been established to effect a change of sovereignty; their experience in the constitutional adaptation of British Colonial Government of Nigeria for resolving electoral conflicts does not equip the political class for change of order statecraft.
The present issue to be addressed by a national conference, namely effecting a change of sovereignty, from the colonial to the postcolonial calls for movement parties, not electoral parties. The Patriots have a point in arguing that the concerns of the people that constitute the citizenry of Nigeria must be the focus of the conference. T
he question is, how are the people of Nigeria who from the colonial period to the present have been in subjecthood to be mobilised for reconstituting themselves into a post-colonial democratic sovereign people that is referred to in the 1999 Constitution as The People? Such a task is a movement task and the conference proposed can only be the beginning of such a movement whose agency must be a party or parties organised for such a purpose.