Nigeria: A Conference Of Transit Loungers

Nigeria: A Conference Of Transit Loungers

Thursday, July 31, 2014 4:07 pm

Osuolale Alalade

As was predicted by its many doubting critics, the plenary sessions of the National Conference ended on 17 July 2014 with a forlorn legacy. It would reconvene on 4 August, 2014 to nail the certainty of a mortgaged future it has constructed for the rickety Nigeria project. In fashioning dangerously obsolete solutions to the myriad challenges of the Nigerian state, the legacy of the Conference now constitutes a significant impediment to the realization of a structurally balanced and stable future.

These portend unsavoury consequences. However, the outcome was not unexpected. The mainly gerontocratic drivers of the conference were challenged by and shied away from confronting the fundamental challenges that may unhinge the future of the Nigerian state and society. Bereft of futuristic visions, the conference resorted to old panaceas of further fragmenting the country into more and more states. Now, Nigeria would have 54 governors superintending glorified local government areas.

The Idris Legbo Kutigi, 75, retired Chief Justice of the Federation-led conference seemed fixated in the past and weaned on the now proven deleterious axioms and assumptions that had brought Nigeria to its current impasse. The outcomes of the interventions at the conference appeared completely detached from the realities of Nigeria of 2014. This was contrived from the outset. Cynics had noted that the critical nucleus of the conference was composed of great-grandfathers that were selected by an embattled President Goodluck Jonathan. Their selection reflected a deeper cynicism on the part of the President. It was a sort of gratification to the old horses, some of them permanent gladiators in the crisis ridden past of this country, to bolster their sense of continued relevance in national affairs.

It was also a safe bet that those waiting in the transit lounge would lead no process of a radical structural change that has become imperative to the long term longevity of Nigeria as we know it. The trade-off was a psychological boost for a flailing Presidency largely perceived as disconnected that was made to feel presidential. Also, there was money to be made. The delegates focused on money; first their personal emoluments and, secondly, how to share the federal money from oil. That was what the conference was about. Their concerns were far at variance from burning foundational structural challenges, and associated security problems, whose resolution was identified by key constituencies as central to the reinfusion of any hope for a future Nigeria. In the final analysis, it was all about sharing money across the levels of governance structures and creating avenues for more crass acquisition of wealth for the political class.

This is consistent with our antecedents. The political evolution of Nigeria since amalgamation to date has been premised on how to share money. In fact, the Lugardian experiment to amalgamate northern and southern colonies that gave birth to Nigeria was borne out of the warped necessity to transfer resources from the rich lady of the South to the poor north. The logic of appropriation of available resources for exploitation by the most powerful internal force has been the dominant motif of Nigeria’s turbulent existence. The beneficiary had always turned out to be the north, notwithstanding the nebulousness of the concept of a monolithic north.

A profound reorientation of the fundamental logic governing the operation of the Nigerians state, including instituting fiscal federalism and wealth generation by reconfigured larger geo-regional zones, was envisioned by the South as a necessary outcome of the conference to balance the federation structurally. This would release the creative energies of the constituent parts of the revitalised federation.

In that connection, the South was largely agreed that the contracting units of the federation would be the ethnic nationalities grouped in six geo-regional zones attained through the consolidation of Nigeria’s current unwieldy and unviable 36-state structure. The South canvased a radical restructuring of the federation as a critical movement away from the current understanding of Nigeria as an instrumental institution that inevitably engenders a struggle for partisan hegemonic control. Many saw the logic underpinning this arrangement as a threat to the corporate existence of the country in the long term.

This alternative was adumbrated by the Ethnic Nationalities Forum. The Forum rejected the Federal Government’s decision that the national conference could not discuss matters related to the corporate existence of Nigeria. Although the number of ethnic nationalities characterised by a common traditional territory, common indigenous language and other distinction, cultural traits that set each apart from other groups is a matter of disputation, the ethnic nationalities are a sociological reality that forms the cultural foundation of the Nigerian State. Also, the Nigerian State has no territory other than or different from the territories of the various ethnic nationalities comprised within it.

That the ethnic nationalities are the original and primary stakeholders of the Nigerian project, having existed long before colonialism and are the primary targets and sufferers from marginalisation, oppression and injustice which abound in the country. Accordingly and because they are the heart and soul of the Nigerian State, the Ethnic Nationalities Forum demanded as their inalienable right that they should be given legal recognition in the Constitution and their status as separate nations or nationalities should also be recognised. The Forum, echoing the struggle of Chief Anthony Enahoro, further affirmed that the recognition of the rights of ethnic nationalities was not inconsistent with the indissolubility or the perpetuity of the Nigerian State. Mutual understanding, respect, cooperation and solidarity among the ethnic nationalities was needed to enable Nigeria’s many and seemingly intractable problems to be addressed and for the ethnic groups to coalesce into one nation, the Forum emphasized.

The South-West defined the very concept of Nigeria as the problem. It accused the federal government of constantly driving toward the maximisation of power, reducing the states to impotent and incapable structures. The federal government, it suggested, was stunting growth and development of the South-West. The Yoruba of the South-West unanimously demanded regional autonomy or nothing from the conference. This was a thinly veiled reference to the terminal alternative to the continuity of Nigeria as presently known.  From the South-East, Igbo leaders of thought were more explicit. Led by eminent and thoughtful constitutional lawyer, Professor Ben Nwabueze, the leaders of thought advanced a strong proposal for the inclusion of the right of secession or self-determination in the new constitution.

Further, the South-East sought the adoption of the regions as the basis of the federating units and establishment of regional or state police to enable the governors or regional leaders enforce their authority and law.

The North, relatively harmonised and monolithic in its perspectives, mainly decided to pursue the consolidation of the current arrangement with a strong federal government and more money to redress its underdevelopment. In a paper circulated by the North during the conference, it claimed more than 80 per cent of the landmass of the country and threatened that in the event of a breakup of Nigeria, articulated by Prof. Ango Abdullahi, the North would occupy all the territory it had appropriated to itself, including territories south of the Niger river, such as Ilorin, acknowledged as the potential Nigerian Kashmir.

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