The National Conference And The Will Of The Nigerian People
By Dele Awogbeoba
In the next couple of weeks, Nigerians (of all walks of life) shall come together representing the various states, parts of the world, professional bodies, student organizations and market women. Their job will, ostensibly, be to represent the Nigerian people in an assembly meant to chart the way forward for the Nigerian nation.
In the last 14 years Nigeria has witnessed it most successful stint of democracy.
Successful, in the sense that it has been Nigeria's longest ever uninterrupted democratic experiment. Within that time frame, Nigeria has been led by the same party but under the leadership of three different individual presidents who came from three different tribes, the North and the South and from the 3 different regions that made up Nigeria in 1960. Power, it seems, has inadvertently moved, within that time, from West to North then to the East.
Successful, in the sense that Nigeria has witnessed its longest consistent period of economic growth since Nigeria's most successful head of state (from an economic perspective (Yakubu Gowon)) left the scene. Nigeria has gone from a country with less than $2billion in reserves, a GDP growth rate per year of under 1% over the previous ten years, a mono oil and gas economy, a declining agricultural base, an unsophisticated banking sector and a rudimentary Nitel run telecommunications system. In that time, Nigeria's GDP per year has grown at between 6-7% a year for 14 years straight, its banking sector has evolved into the second most dynamic banking sector in Africa, the growth of its telecommunications sector has resulted in most Nigerians having at least one mobile telephone, inflation has dropped from the high double digits to less than 8% of year, its agricultural sector is experiencing a renaissance, its film and music industry has gone truly global, its FDI a year has almost rivaled South Africa as the top most destination for capital injection in Africa, its economy is about to be the biggest economy in Africa with a GDP exceeding over 400 billion dollars, its Gross National Income has gone from $143 billion in 1999 to $409 billion in 2012 and it now has the appearance of a vibrant democracy as a result of the birth of the mega opposition party in the name of the APC.
Juxtaposed with the economic advances of this colossus, has been the increased tension between the various tribes and religious adherents of Nigeria, the cries of marginalization from the various regions within the country and the onset of a full blown civil war in the North East that (like its first civil war between 1967-1970) has coincided with the uninterrupted growth trajectory of the Nigerian economy as if nothing of any consequence is even taking place!
In the wisdom of the current president, he set up a body to recommend the modalities for Nigerians of all parts of the country to talk and discuss. The Presidency in conjunction with the Governors (to a lesser degree) has selected those individuals purporting to represent the various parts of Nigeria in order to articulate the positions and interests of the various constituent stake holders that constitute present day Nigeria.
Talking, it is said, is better than conflict. But do the delegates actually represent the constituency that they claim to represent? Those individuals representing various states never put to the test, in the heat of a campaign, their respective visions for their people.
They were not faced with alternate visions of competing voices (that were defeated in a free and fair ballot). Instead we have a group of self appointed people whose claim to fame was that they had occupied positions in past military dictators or been members of past civilian governments whose legitimacy had been the subject of considerable doubt. We have a plethora of social political organizations from various tribes (all self selected) purporting to represent the people of similar ethnic origins.
The conference it seems is creating the impression that it is able to rectify the tensions that currently exist in the country. The draw back is multifaceted.
75% of the Nigerian people are under 40, yet most of the people in the conference are over 50.
The constitution clearly places the law making function in the hands of the National Assembly (subject to the signature of the President (whose veto can be overridden by two thirds of the National Assembly)). Strangely, it is being argued, that the President or Presidency (through its agent) can now override and replace the National assembly, in the law making process, and make fundamental changes to the structure of Nigeria by bypassing the constitutional requirement of the need for the approval of two thirds of the national assembly and the assent of 24 of the 36 state houses of assembly.
Agent in the sense that the National conference is the brain child of the presidency, its precursor was selected by the Presidency, its delegates were selected by the Presidency, its terms of reference was determined by the presidency and the rules under which decisions are reached were determined entirely by the presidency. The Agent is purporting to have more power than the principal that both created it and whose power flows from that principal!
It would be bizarre to think or even argue that the delegates even remotely represent the views of the people they purport to represent for the reasons stated earlier.
The Way Forward
Whatever is decided in the conference should be independently considered by members of the National Assembly but not acted upon unless they are convinced (on the merits) that those decisions makes sense. As stated, the decisions of the conference do not represent the views of the people of Nigeria because the individual delegates were not elected by the people they claim to represent nor were their views subject to debate by competitors with alternate views. It would be interesting to know whether the people of southern Nigeria will actually vote for secession into a number of smaller countries if subjected to an intense debate of the pros and cons of such a decision.
Today, the people of Scotland are facing the reality (as opposed to the romantics) of what life outside the United Kingdom will actually mean and look like. No membership of Europe or Nato. It will not be able to use the pound and will cease to benefit from the stability that comes from the use of a respected and stable currency.
The people of Southern Nigeria have not had to seriously think about the true consequences of such a course. Neither have they opted, by their votes, to choose to go one way or the other. The delegates therefore have no mandate to push that position (or indeed any other) either way.
If the conference allows the delegates to talk, network and give the impression that their respective tribes are being represented in halls of the conference, then all the better.
What should not be confused, however, is that the conference and its delegates are of dubious legitimacy.