OPEN LETTER TO DR. FEMI OKUROUNMU ON NATIONAL DIALOGUE.
As you commence the noble task of defining the modalities and parameters through which a national dialogue (sovereign or not) can be convened; permit me to refer you to one of my past articles written and published by Sunday Independent Newspapers sometime in January 2012.
I sincerely hope some of the points/concerns raised in this article will assist your committee in fashioning out a truly purposeful National dialogue format with concrete terms of reference.
Good luck sir.
SOVEREIGN NATIONAL CONFERENCE: WHO WILL REPRESENT ME?
(First published in January 2012 on Sunday Independent Newspapers)
The call for convocation of a Sovereign National Conference has for some time now become a mantra for certain pro democracy, civil rights and cultural groups. The agitation for SNC began right after the annulment of June 12 presidential elections in 1993 when it became clear to many in the south that the only reason why Chief MKO Abiola was denied his presidential mandate was because he was from the wrong ethnic group. Associations like NADECO and other pro democracy groups emerged with a call and demand for a Sovereign National Conference as the only antidote to Nigeria’s huge basket of problems. Fast forward to the year 2012 and the call for SNC has become even louder, why with the horrifying plague of Boko-Haram in the North, restiveness in the Niger-Delta, alleged marginalization of the South-East, Religious/Ethnic conflicts here and there, obviously there may be no other way out.
Nigerian Activists have defined Sovereign National Conference as the coming together of all ethnic nationalities in order to discuss, express their individual rights to self determination and chart the way forward for Nigeria. While this is not entirely a bad idea, the word ‘sovereign’ is perhaps quite worrisome as it suggests that each ethnic group would reserves the ultimate power and right to make, stand by and execute its own decision at the conference. Thus if ethnic group A decides to go its separate way, its decision is final. Examples of countries that have broken up into several pieces are abound; the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and more recently the Sudan. Proponents of SNC are of the view that if Nigeria must remain together, all ethnic groups must agree to remain part of Nigeria provided respective terms and conditions are met.
As at last count, Nigeria has about two hundred and fifty ethnic groups, each with distinct languages and dialects. What this means is that assuming the SNC is convened with ethnic nationalities providing two delegates each, we are looking at five hundred delegates at least? Another mock question is; can two people adequately represent the interests of an entire ethnic group? Considering the fact that every single ethnic group in Nigeria has its own sub groups and clans with various interests bordering on religion, trade, profession, customs, land issues etc. Obviously, each ethnic nationality will require more than two delegates. However if we must stick with two delegates per ethnic group, then one will expect that before the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference, all ethnic nationalities must first convene their own respective ‘sovereign clan, age-grade or village conference(s) where all their positions will be harmonized and then two delegates can now be mandated to go represent them at the national conference. Easier said than done, if you ask me.
Many are yet to realise that no ethnic group in Nigeria is homogenous in the real sense of the word. Yorubas may be referred to as an ethnic group or tribe, but within the Yorubas there are many sub-groups like the Egbas,Aworis,Ifes,Modaekes to mention a few, each with their own distinct dialects,customs,interests and aspirations. Can any persons or group of people truly rise up and claim to represent the interests of Yoruba nation as a whole? This challenge is obtainable amongst every other ethnic grouping in Nigeria.
Most of us have truly under-estimated the level of integration amongst different Nigerian ethnic groups; decades of inter-tribal marriages have produced a generation of multi-ethnic Nigerians with maternal and paternal lineages stretching all over and across the river Niger. Who is going to represent the interests of these unique set of Nigerians during the (Sovereign) National Conference? Or will they be forced to choose between aligning with either their paternal or maternal ethnic lineage? Another unfortunate oversight from advocates of SNC is the narrowing of every Nigerian’s interests along ethnic lines.
For instance, will a Sovereign National Conference address the immediate and long-term needs of University professors who are members of ASUU? Or do we now have to do a sort of ethnic profiling amongst the academia, in order to ascertain the individual needs of Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa professors. Do these learned people now have to go back to their respective ethnic conclaves in order to channel their demands and interests for better conditions of service at the SNC? Same goes for all other professional and non-professional interest groups in Nigeria.
In any case, let’s assume the Sovereign National Conference kicks off with a conservative estimate of five hundred delegates at two delegates per ethnic nationality; there has to be a location, methinks Abuja. What will be the duration of the conference? Where will the delegates stay? Who will feed them? Will they receive sitting allowances? Who will pay for it, the existing Nigerian government? Laughable, isn’t it?
Advocates of SNC have made numerous references to the United States of America in 1776 when its then thirteen colonies agreed to come together and declare their independence as one country under God. The thirteen colonies may have indeed agreed to come together but let’s not forget that these American colonies were established by European (mainly British) industrialists and pirates. The indigenous Americans-owners of the land, commonly referred to as Red Indians were never consulted before the creation of a United States of America. The black African slaves who worked on the plantations where never consulted before agreeing to become citizens of the USA. But today, America is a world power and economic success because most of her leaders from independence did the right thing and developed the country.
Surely if America had failed to become an industrialized country today with poverty and insecurity rife, all her numerous nationalities would have started agitating for all sorts ranging from secession, repatriation to self determination.
I want to assure all proponents of a Sovereign National Conference that most great nations in today’s world did not come about as the result of a ‘sweet history’ where different nationalities sat on a round table and decided to live together peacefully and create a China, Japan, Brazil or Australia. Many industrialized countries of today emerged from a history of wars, slavery, barbarism, colonialism, invasion, nepotism and unspeakable injustice. However, somewhere along the line these countries were able to realise that the basic needs of all men (and women) are the same, regardless of race, tribe, religion or gender. Every citizen desires a good life.
Do we need a Sovereign National Conference to tell us that Hausas, Yorubas and Igbos want steady electricity, good health care and security? Do we need a Sovereign National Conference to tell us that the Ijaws, Efiks, Itsekiris and Ibibios want good schools, clean drinking water, three square meals, and reliable source of income, just like any other modern human society? Perhaps what we need in reality is sovereign national COMMON SENSE; a time when all our political and opinion leaders realise the need to kill corruption in Nigeria while effectively harnessing the economic and human resources in all Nigeria’s thirty six states in order to improve the life of THE NIGERIAN.