National Conference: The case for saving Nigeria – Hallmark
For many cynics, and on this issue, Hallmark will enthusiastically stand up to be counted, the decision by President Goodluck Jonathan to convoke a national conference, was really a tale of the expected.
No keen observer of Nigeria's sometimes ludicrous politicking would have been surprised by the development. Convoking national conferences by Nigerian leaders, whether military or civilian, have become the standard response to sticky political situations. Former military president, Ibrahim Babangida, the master puppeteer, perfected the art. General Sani Abacha adopted the practice to create a veneer of political progress and legitimize his dictatorship. When faced by severe opposition during his often tempestuous Presidency, Olusegun Obasanjo played the national conference card. And now president Jonathan.
In the current situation, the logic is perversely compelling. Jonathan, the first person from the south/south geo-political zone to govern Nigeria has been subjected to intense political pressure by what, on the surface, appears like a conspiracy of the Hausa-Fulani oligarchies which is bent on denying him a second tour of duty at the Aso Villa. So, perhaps in a fit of political brinksmanship, he plays the ultimate joker, the national conference card.
No matter how much optimism anyone may affect or no matter the depth of denial some harbour, the truth is that Nigeria is a deeply troubled country. To many Nigerians, their country is an artificial construct made up of multiple entities, mutually suspicious of each other. Clearly, the core issue facing Nigeria is how to forge a distinctive nationality out of her disparate peoples. To most students of political science, this would be a condition precedent in the development of any country.
Indeed, it is a moot point that patriotism and nationalism are the grundnorm (or basic norm) of any successful nation. No country, since the ancient Greeks codified the essential features of a nation state, has developed without patriotism and nationalism. At its most basic level, a citizenry that does not love their country cannot be committed to its development and success.
Tragically, that is the situation in Nigeria. Over five decades after the much revered Chief Awolowo’s infamous statement, to wit; Nigeria is merely a geographical expression, and General Yakubu Gowon’s perplexing remarks, 'the basis of Nigeria’s unity does not exist; 'nothing much has changed. It is such that 53 years after her independence, and now at the eve of her centenary, Nigeria remains a conglomeration of ethnic nationalities. Increasingly the division are widening. Even in areas where there used to be relative harmony like the middle belt, the bug of divisions has bitten deep. A new demon, indigene-settler dichotomy has gone on rampage.
So in addition to all the other important issues it must consider and resolve, the national conference will have to address the fundamental question of what is Nigeria really? Who is a Nigerian? And what does it mean to be a Nigerian? It is because of official wobbling on these issues, by the practice of such obnoxious policies like federal character, state of origin, quota system etc that the monster of indigene and non-indigene syndrome is now wreaking havoc on the Nigerian State. Obviously, it is the main reason why many Nigerians do not believe in their country. Sadly, their country does not really believe in them as well.
It is pathetic that over five decades after independence and about one hundred years after coming into being, Nigeria is still struggling to define herself properly and come to terms with the realities of true nationhood.
A telling case in point is its structure and system of governance. Ostensibly, Nigeria is a federal state with federating units. But in truth, Nigeria really functions along the lines of a unitary state, with a centre boasting of over bearing powers and states which merely string along. A true federal state is like the United States, Canada and even Switzerland. Federating units do not have to be heavily subservient to an all-powerful centre. At the core of the problems facing Nigeria today is this structural anomaly which has stiffed the creative productivity of the Nigerian people and concentrates power at the centre.
The situation is such that each month governors of states, who are supposed to be members of the federating units, run to Abuja and queue for monthly revenue allocations. Indeed, Nigeria must be the only country in the world where such a system of governance obtains. So there is a need for a review of the structure of the country. The fact is that the present structure does not conduce to effective and productive governance. It is wasteful.
The structure of the first republic was better by miles. Thirty six state governments and seven hundred and twenty local governments with equal number of government bureaucracies are wasteful and explains the reason for the lop-sidedness of the national budget, with recurrent expenditure consuming the lion share at the expense of capital expenditure.
There is a need to redefine our federation and make the zones the federating units, with federal constituencies as the local government areas. The present states should be converted to provinces, with elected mayors and municipal councils making bye laws. The bi-cameral legislature should be changed and uni-cameral system put in place. The federal government should deal only with matters of foreign Relations, Defence, Justice and Research and development. Policing should be devolved.
Indeed the case for the national conference cannot be over-emphasised. We are puzzled why successive governments have tended to treat it with cynicism. Hallmark has no doubt at all, that unless the conference is convoked meaningfully and Nigeria re-invented, the prognosis for the long term viability and even survival of Nigeria is at best dismal.
In its present form, Nigeria is like a house constructed on a faulty and even dubious foundation. If nothing is done, sooner or later, the house will be overwhelmed by the sheer weight of its weak structure and internal contradiction.
The national conference must be an opportunity to recreate Nigeria and project a new vision for her peoples. A country of equal rights and equal opportunities must be forged. The late Kemal Ataturk did it for Turkey. Mr Olusegun Obasanjo failed so miserably to do same for Nigeria. Now, Mr. Jonathan stands on the crucible of history.
He must rise and seize the moment. But can he do it? Can he give Nigeria a new lease of life? This Newspaper is holding a watching brief.