By Afam Ikeakanam
“No, I do not want to tell different stories. I advised against the issue of National Conference. You would recall that ASUU was on strike then for almost nine months. The teachers in the tertiary institutions were on strike for more than a year, yet the government had about N9 billion to organise that meeting (National Conference)…That is why I have not even bothered to read it or ask for a briefing on it and I want it to go into the so-called archives.”
Those were the words of President Muhammadu Buhari as he responded to questions fielded by Abraham Ogbodo and Jewell Dafinone of The Guardian Newspaper during an interview to speak about his experiences in his one year in office as the Chief Executive Officer of our nation, Nigeria. As expected, the President’s response has sparked a wave of comments and criticisms from Nigerians.
The National Conference being referred to was convened by the then President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, in March 2014 with Hon. Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi as its Chairman. The Conference was inaugurated after the centenary celebrations of the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Protectorates of Nigeria in 1914. A National Conference is a formal platform for the constituent units of a national government to dialogue and brainstorm on the challenges inhibiting national growth and development and to proffer solutions that will assist in moving the nation forward.
Since amalgamation in 1914, there have been calls at various times for a national dialogue to discuss the political, economic and social trail of our multi-ethnic nation. Even after independence in 1960, minority groups continued their agitations for the creation of their own states. During the military regimes as well, there were agitations for constitutional conferences. Following the sad events of 1966 which almost disintegrated the federation, the then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, summoned an ad hoc Constitutional Conference in 1966. Some of the issues prominent for deliberations were the creation of more states, form and unit of association within the federation, secession amongst others. The Conference, however, failed due to the pogrom of Igbos in the North and the retaliatory attacks in the South. The 30-month civil war was as a result of the failures of the ad hoc Constitutional Conference and the Aburi Accord talks in Ghana which was called to broker peace between the Federal Government and the Eastern Regional Government. A similar conference was held between 1994 and 1995.
With the return of democratic rule in 1999, agitations for national conferences become more intense. Despite the preamble of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, which provides that “we the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria having firmly and solemnly resolved, to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation…do hereby make, enact and give to ourselves the following Constitution,” some groups have aired their dissatisfaction with this preamble that they were never consulted neither did they agree to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution but the Constitution was imposed upon us by the military administration. In response to these calls, the Olusegun Obasanjo administration convened a National Political Reform Conference in 2005. After the 2005 Conference, calls were still made for a Sovereign National Conference.
In response to the various agitations, former President Jonathan took various concerted steps which culminated in the summoning of the National Conference in March 2014. The issues to be discussed by the 2014 Conference were bordered on how Nigeria, a multi-ethic and multi-religious society, would survive as a single entity and the extent of contributions each federating unit will make to the nation’s development. The federating units and religious groups were to table their grievances with the current political system and agree on the terms and conditions on which they are to live together in peace and unity. After about 5 months of rigorous and thorough debates, the Conference, after submitting its report to former President Jonathan, ended. The Conference adopted over 500 resolutions, some of which dealt with issues of law, issues of policy and issues of constitutional amendments.
It is saddening that President Buhari has not read or even asked for an executive summary of the Conference report a year after getting into office. Any right thinking person who wishes to successfully unite and lead a nation like ours made up of disgruntled units should at least read the report and get valuable tips on how to unify the country. Better still, he should have even read and digested the over 10,000 page document and used some of the recommendations in wooing some of the dissatisfied zones in the nation during the last election. The pattern of votes in the 2015 general elections shows that Nigeria is still divided along ethnic and religious lines. The All Progressive Congress swept the votes in the North and the South West, while the People’s Democratic Party captured its strongholds, the South East and South South.
The President’s response brings to mind one of the major problems with governance in Nigeria which is the issue of continuity. Every successive government wants to initiate its own programmes and projects, thereby, abandoning the programmes and projects of the previous administration. Indeed, this is one of the banes of good governance in Nigeria. This is the reason why we have piles of abandoned projects all around the country. Governments at all levels must understand that government is a continuum and not a one-man business. The government transcends beyond those “temporarily” in power to the institutions and systems. If the President does not consider the report and implement some of the recommendations, then, the over N7 billion used in organising the Conference would be a waste. If the President truly loves this county, he must rise above partisan politics and consider the recommendations of the report. The Conference was well constituted as the 492 delegates represented the various ethnic, religious, professional and interest groups in the country.
The President has reaffirmed that he would not rescind from his earlier statements as he is a man of his words as he never supported the need for a National Conference. However, with the state of things now in the country, the President should put aside his pride and be constrained to consider the Conference report. In the South East, since President Buhari assumed office, agitations have been renewed for the realisation of the Republic of Biafra. The Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) have been organising pro-Biafra protests in the South East. The unfortunate killings of some pro-Biafran protesters on May 30th during the 50th anniversary celebration of the declaration of the Republic of Biafra will ginger the protesters. Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State while condemning the killings said that it appeared that President Buhari is turning the people of the South East and South South to “politically endangered species.”
Interestingly, the latest group which has emerged as a security threat in the nation is the Niger Delta Avengers. The group has recently been blowing up pipelines in the region which has affected oil production and distribution. The group, amongst its other demands, wants the President to implement some of the recommendations of the Conference which deal with restructuring the country. The President is perceived by the Niger Deltans as anti-South South. On June 2nd, 2016, he had the golden opportunity to redeem his image in the eyes of the people of that region if he had come himself to inaugurate the clean-up of Ogoniland in Rivers State. He should have used that opportunity to build a relationship with the Niger Deltans. He must, however, be commended for fulfilling his promise to implement the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report which recommended the clean-up.
Despite the massive successes recorded by the Nigerian Armed Forces in eliminating the dreaded terrorist group, Boko Haram, the mayhem occasioned by their nefarious activities will never be forgotten by those affected (both Northerners and Southerners alike). Fresh in our memory also, are the wanton attacks by Fulani herdsmen on the indigenous people of the South West and South East while grazing. The people of the South East and South West have braced themselves up for retaliatory measures whenever there is a reoccurrence of such attacks. Also, in a bid to end the incessant killings of farmers and villagers by herdsmen, Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State banned cattle grazing in the State.
It is visible to the blind and audible to the deaf that the country’s forced marriage is at the brink of total collapse. There is suspicion, hatred amongst the ethnic and religious groups. There are calls for the creation of more states. Some are planning on seceding. Some feel marginalised and neglected. The results of the 2015 Presidential elections show that there is a cold war between the ethnic and religious constituent groups of Nigeria. President Muhammadu Buhari must urgently consider and implement the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference report and take the necessary steps to save this nation from destruction because if Nigeria disintegrates or goes into a civil war, the effects would be unimaginable.
Afam Ikeakanam is a final year Law student of the University of Ibadan and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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