As Nigeria approaches centenary anniversary, the country is still very much divided along ethnic and religious lines and ‘integration’, for the want of word, is still farfetched.
In fact, integration is not in view without addressing some of the socio-economic and political issue that readily divide us. Many have argued for the convocation of a sovereign national conference as the magic wand to solving many of the problems that readily divide us as a country.
The protagonists of the Conference have argued that it is inevitable if we must remain together as a country and ease off the tensions in the polity. Again, it makes sense to give the people of Nigeria the opportunity to discuss the bases of their union which have not been afforded to Nigerians in all of our history. The amalgamation of Nigeria by Lord Lugard did little to consult with Nigerians and all the constitutions under the British colonial rule were manufactured and superintended by the British officials. After independence all the other subsequent constitutions were bequeathed by the Military which is not in any way reflective of the yearning and aspirations of Nigerians, little wonder there is a big crack in the union 100years down the line.
The idea of sovereign national conference was accentuated in 1993 by the annulment of the so called ‘June 12’ presidential elections when it became glaring that a particular ethnic group wanted to remain in power forever at the expense of the others.
However over the years with the various developments in the country protagonists of the conference have shifted their focus to capture more fundamental issues apart from the political issues that initially brought the idea to the fore to include resource control, revenue derivative formula, political system, state police, belief system,what kind of law should apply in each society and so on.
Albeit, as attractive the prospects of national dialogue, it has the potential to undermine the territorial integrity of the country, because at the conference, as the president has said, there won’t be no go areas. Hence, the existence of this country may be contemplated. Also, some Nigerians are sceptical about the timing, based on the assumption that a meaningful National conference should take place over a minimum period of two years. The general elections are just less than 2years away. Questions over the timing arise, ‘what will happen to the polity?’ ‘Will the election be postponed and therefore elongate the tenure of the president and other elected office holders?’ If elections have to be postponed- this in itself is a recipe for political unrest in the country.
Another concern for Nigerians is the process of deciding ‘who’ will represent each ethnic or interest group in the country, such that each group will feel assured that they are well represented at the Conference. This is perhaps very important as the process will determine the credibility and success of the proposed national conference.
And, lastly, another very important issue to be resolved is whether resolution will be adopted wholly without going through the National Assembly? If the resolution will have to go through the national assembly then it will be a waste of tax payers’ money because it would simply amount to a constitutional amendment process and not a Sovereign National Conference.
For now I am still very sceptical about how the whole process will go. I am yet to see how this will be successfully implemented. It would have been much easier in a military regime where there were no legitimate institutions to consult with. But in a democratic system, and democracies are about institutions, it is difficult to tell how it would work out. However, with enough political will from the president and other elected office holders and with the cooperation of Nigerians, it might be a success. If the president fails at it, well he won’t be the first. Nevertheless, I honestly believe that a Sovereign National Conference, if faithfully implemented, would be the ‘magic wand’ to help stabilize the country and launch our great country to a greater path.