BACK TO THE SOVEREIGN NATIONAL CONFERENCE
L ike a recurring decimal, the issue of a Sovereign National Conference has refused to go away. A few weeks ago, I was in Paris, France to attend an international conference organized by a group of Nigerians in the Diaspora in collaboration with some activists at home under the auspices of the Niger Delta People Salvation Front Europe.
The conference dwelt on the issue of convoking a Sovereign National Conference in Nigeria and I was invited to speak on the imperatives of such a conference.
At the end of the day, we all rose from that conference convinced that there is no better time in the history of our country than now to seriously push such an idea.
Apart from recent issues in our polity which have made the discussion of the subject at this time very imperative, the statement recently credited to President Goodluck Jonathan who said something to the effect that he does not believe in the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference has once again pushed the subject to the fore of political debate.
The background to this is that in 1914, a man named Lord Lugard decided to amalgamate the Northern and Southern protectorates of Nigeria. This was done without a document regulating how they should live together. Since then Nigeria has been governed as one entity without the people making an input as to how they should coexist.
In 1960, the British made an exit without resolving this problem. Shortly after, the problem resurfaced in form of a civil war which lasted for thirty months. Millions of Nigerians from across the divide lost their lives in that senseless and unnecessary war. Ironically, the war also ended without resolving the issues that led to it. Since then, Nigeria has been living on the brink of ethnic conflagration and conflict.
This was what originally gave rise to the call for a Sovereign National Conference. But various governments have treated the advocates of a Sovereign National Conference as extremists, radicals or even anarchists. Former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo only called a conference for the purpose of extending his tenure. No government has paid serious attention to the question of a Sovereign National Conference.
Now, with the emergence of the Goodluck Jonathan Presidency, the question of a Sovereign National Conference has once again resurrected. The delicate balance of the various ethnic groups vis-a-vis the North/South debate as to power-sharing formula, true fiscal federalism, resource control etc has been accentuated by this debate.
The sudden and unexpected death of Yar'Adua from the Northern part of the country and the sudden and unexpected emergence of a Southern President and the debates and tension that have followed the sudden shift of power is the clearest example yet that we have not agreed on basic issues regarding our co-existence in this country as different ethnic groups. That is why there is no better time to resolve these issues than now.
Some think that the call for a Sovereign National Conference is only the cry of the minorities. But the majority also needs it. All over the world the majority has not had peace through the oppression or domination of the minority or even a section of the country. Political history is replete with this as is the case with South Africa/ANC, Britain/Ireland, (Sein Fein/I.R.A), Israel/P.L.O, Hamas/Hezbollah, etc.
We should not wait to degenerate to the state of complete anarchy before we see the imperative to simply sit down to decide how we should live together harmoniously.