National Conference for National Confusion

The issue of national conference has started resurfacing in national discourse. Some of its protagonists may have genuine intentions but most have ulterior motives. Chief Segun Osoba, former governor of Ogun State who recently turned 80 years, had cause to advise that the report of the restructuring committee set up by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) chaired by Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State should be forwarded to the National Assembly, the constitutional body charged with making or amending laws, for necessary action.

Immediately after that, Chief Edwin Clark, an elder by age and self-styled leader of the Ijaw ethnic group, countered by saying it is the report of the 2014 National Conference convened by former President Goodluck Jonathan that should be considered and not the el-Rufai committee report. Last week, President Jonathan also joined the debate in a speech in Lagos where he advocated the implementation of the 2014 conference report, adding that time did not allow him to implement it himself.

The 2014 National Conference was a child of political expediency hurriedly packaged to appeal to certain political interests by the government of the day. It was very unrepresentative and deliberately skewed to achieve a set target objective. It was full of some of the worst anarchists who hardly believe in Nigeria let alone its corporate existence and survival. Other than a talk show, it achieved nothing.
The report of the conference was duly handed over to the convener, President Jonathan. There were many aspects of the report that did not require any laws to be implemented but can be brought to fruition through administrative or executive means. Jonathan did not find it necessary to do even those aspects he could implement himself. He did not pass the report to the National Assembly either. He just kept it in the drawers and passed it on to the next administration and expected this administration to do the implementation.

In fairness to the APC and to the current president Buhari who took over from Jonathan in 2015, from the beginning they never believed in the 2014 conference. Buhari never recognized the legitimacy of the conference ab initio. Expecting him to implement the report of a conference that he never recognized is therefore a futile exercise. The APC as a party had set up a committee to look into the issue and the el-Rufai report is the outcome of the exercise. The only legitimate representatives of the people are the elected legislators who currently hold the mandate to make laws for the country. Like Governor Osoba said, therefore, whatever recommendations should be forwarded to them.

The so-called representatives of ethnic nationalities who are most vocal advocates of a national conference have never joined any political party as a group nor stood for elections and made it their campaign issue let alone have proper mandate of the people they claim to represent. Regardless of what anyone will say, the current supreme law of Nigeria is the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. All the current elective, appointive and administrative structures at all levels derive their legitimacy from that constitution. The president, governors and the legislators hold sovereignty on behalf of the people. And every citizen of Nigeria has a representative.

However powerful these ethno-religious and/or cultural representatives may be, they cannot substitute the elected representatives of the people. And however noble or lofty the ideals or recommendations of a conference of unelected delegates may seem, it cannot be a substitute for resolutions or laws made by elected representatives of the people. There is no other way to alter this reality except through violent revolution which is extra-constitutional and therefore illegitimate, unless, as it looks, it is a conference for national confusion.

Those who questioned the legitimacy of the 1999 constitution are talking about it being a military-decreed constitution. But the first military-decreed constitution was the 1979 constitution which ushered in the Second Republic. The current constitution was authored by a committee chaired by an eminent jurist and gentleman, former Supreme Court Justice Niki Tobi. The 1999 constitution was largely inspired by the 1979 constitution which ushered in the presidential system of government. The 1979 constitution was drafted by a committee chaired by foremost lawyer Chief FRA Williams and was debated by a Constituent Assembly chaired by another eminent jurist, Justice Udo Udoma. It was decreed into existence by then head of state General Olusegun Obasanjo. All these gentlemen are from southern states, yet northerners are being accused of foisting a so-called skewed structure that requires “restructuring”!

The amalgamation that brought Nigeria into existence on January 1, 1914, under British colonial rule was done between the northern and southern protectorates. From 1914 to 1963, while southern Nigeria was divided into three regions – Western, Midwestern and Eastern — the Northern region was left intact and no one complained, even though recruitment into the military and federal civil service was done on a regional basis. There were agitations against the dominance of a huge “monolithic” north and strong clamour for state creation obviously to break the seemingly impregnable united north.

Finally, the military that seized power from civilians less than six years after independence created states in 1967. From 12 states in 1967, Nigeria now has 36 states. The same people who wanted states to be created are now saying we should go back to the regions! States and local governments were created to give the minority groups some level of autonomy and sense of belonging in addition to the need to bring government and development closer to the people. They were largely created by the military which is dominated by the minorities. Thus, which minority will want to return to regions and be dominated by the majority again? In any case, with 72% of the landmass and 56% of the total population of the country, how can the north not have a slightly higher number of states and local governments than the south and which “restructuring” agenda can change this reality?
For economic and political reasons, some states will historically and naturally cooperate, but no state will ever surrender to any regional overlord. States are also created when the need arises based on scientific criteria such as population, landmass and economic viability and not based on any PDP-recognized “geopolitical zones” which in any case are inequitable, unfair, unjust and constitutionally unrecognized. Furthermore, anytime statements are issued by so-called representatives of “South-south”, “South-east”, “South west” and “Middle belt”, only a fool does not know who are being targeted and only an idiot from those being targeted will support such.

Anyway, we are watching and history is on the side of the oppressed.

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