No To Sovereign National Conference – A Review

by Femi Olawole

The book, “No to Sovereign National Conference” is, without the slightest iota of doubt, a demonstration of a deep patriotic fervor by Adebayo Adejare. The book, obviously a painstaking effort by the author, offers some very cogent ingredients that he believes will pave the way for the enthronement of unity, stability and democratic governance as a going concern in our Fatherland.

Small in size but large in practical ideas, the book is divided into two major sections:

  1. The Matrix and Essential of Electoral Reforms & Prospects for Unity in Nigeria’s Fledgling Democracy.
  2. 1999 Constitution and the Futility of Sovereign National Conference.

In the treatment of these sensitive national issues, the author does not just criticize or launch into some childish tantrums. Rather, he only uses the forum offered by the book to proffer several alternatives to existing public policies.

To start with, he criticizes the “rushed” transition program of the General Abubakar regime which produced the present civilian government. He is however quick to point out the urgent need to “avert further excuse of the Military to hang on to power.” It’s to this end therefore that he canvasses for a free and fair electoral system as an essential ingredient in the survival of not only the democratic order but also the nation as a whole.

On the 1999 constitution, the author finds some fundamental flaws in the refusal of the political elites to totally embrace it. On the one hand, he attributes the lack of interest by the political class in the constitution to its being produced by the despotic and ignominious Military regime of late Gen. Sani Abacha. And, on the other hand, he indirectly lets it be known that “half of bread is better than none.”

He is also convinced that public disenchantment with the Abacha-produced constitution is responsible for the clamor of a section of the nation for secession. He therefore calls for an urgent review of the constitution by the National Assembly. This action, he believes, will assuage the feelings of the proponents of national disintegration and take the heat off the agitation for the convocation of a sovereign national conference.

In what amounts to a special campaign for peace, the author would like the nation to engage in the South African model of Truth and Reconciliation Panel. This engagement, to the best of his knowledge, will provide avenue for a more cogent forgiveness, reconciliation and restitution as opposed to the “debilitated Oputa Human Rights Violations Panel”.

And to ensure a sense of belonging and a better co-habitation strategy among all the various ethnic groups in the nation, he calls for the reinstatement of the “Rotational Presidency” clause in our constitution. The deletion of this constitutional provision by the Gen. Abubakar regime is something the author feels “has further compounded the situation by fueling suspicion that the concession of power to the South is only temporary”.

All of his criticisms and the recommendation of alternative courses of action clearly sum up the author’s strong desire for a united, peaceful Nigeria. It’s also a manifestation of his professional stature as an experienced lawyer and an astute politician. As a great statesman in the making that he is, one can easily detect his abject fear for a possible break-up of the nation more so, in the advent of a national dialogue. .

The major objective of this review therefore is to analyze his respected positions on the various existing policies. And to this end, the indulgence of the author is sought in not seeing this exercise as an attempt to rubbish his efforts. Rather, it’s a sincere contribution to the brainstorming exercises that his book is bound to generate among various schools of thought.

For instance, one would like to ask if the South African model of the Truth & Reconciliation Panel is absolutely necessary in the case of our nation. The situations that gave rise to the South African national question and the subsequent reconciliation efforts were quite different from that of Nigeria. Indeed, the Nigerian situation just cannot be placed on the same pedestal with those of the Black South Africans whose ordeals in the apartheid era were comparable only to the holocaust.

Whereas, our problem as a nation can simply be classified as a case of “what goes around comes around.” One moment, an ethnic group would flex muscles from its position of military power to commit some atrocities against another group. And the next moment, the latter would mobilize its members (with military power, of course) to inflict its own brand of atrocities on the former aggressors.

One day, a selfish, narrow-minded ethnic/religious interest group would launch an ethnic or religious riot against another group. And the next day, the ethnic group

of the victims would rise up to avenge their members’ travails. In our nation, it had been a vicious cycle of “tit for tat” since 1966.

In fact, going by the history of the nation, almost every ethnic group is nursing some grouse/wound or the other over some past or present injustice, aggression, deprivation, etc. suffered as a result of the other groups’ act of omission or commission. Unlike the South Africans therefore, the best we can do, in our situation, is to simply forgive each other and let bygones be bygones.

“Rotational Presidency” is another issue that only sounds great but not very helpful for bridging the existing gaps or dichotomy in our nation. In the short run, this option looks very attractive in the achievement of a much desired diversity in the Aso Rock. But as a solution, it can at best be deemed superficial in the long run.

In the 21st Century global community, almost every nation in the Western world (from Britain to France and even Germany) is changing in structure. Like the plural United States, each of these countries is fast developing into a society with diverse interests in terms of race, religion, culture and ideology. To be taken serious, a political party in these countries must reach across to people of all races and religious/cultural persuasions.

This is how the situation should be in our nation. Since Nigeria, as a diverse State, cannot operate in isolation from the global community therefore, every one of our political parties should endeavor to canvass for membership by reaching out to people of various ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds. But so far, the only truly national and diverse political party in our nation is the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The rest are either restricted to one ethnic group or the other.

Instead of addressing this problem, some Nigerians are busy laying claim to a lack of a sense of belonging because a member of their ethnic group has not been “made” the nation’s President. Unfortunately and except through a military coup, no group of people can just demand that one of its own be made the President. Really, a sensitive feat like that can never be achieved by the employment of sheer blackmail, disrespect for other ethnic groups or, worse still, war mongering.

It’s quite important to state here that there is nothing wrong in a people expecting one of their own to occupy the highest seat of power in our nation. But it’s important that appropriate routes be taken toward such an accomplishment.

In the first place, a member of an ethnic group needs to belong to a political party that has a national spread as far as its membership is concerned. This is one thing the Hausa/Fulani always do. While a few of them may belong to some narrow-minded ethnic-based parties, majority always goes for the party with a national appeal.

In addition, such a person must be seen to avoid being projected as an ethnic president (or champion). Chief Obasanjo must have learned some great lessons from the experience of the great sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the First and Second Republics. Obasanjo risked being shunned by his ethnic group to insist on being viewed as a national leader. Fortunately for him, his strategy worked. The same Yoruba who earlier disowned, ridiculed and even voted against him were later attracted to his side by his subsequent courageous, selfless and determined approach to leadership.

Finally, an ethnic group desirous of having one of its own in Aso Rock can go further in its aspiration by showing respects to other ethnic groups and in fact, reach across the ethnic divides through dialogue, compromise and the building of political bridges.

In the 1st and 2nd Republics, there were many non-Yoruba who respected and appreciated the brilliance, experience, leadership acumen and great manifestos of Chief Awolowo. Yet, they refused to vote for him merely because of a sense of insecurity that arose from what they considered as the Yoruba arrogance! Many of these same people were to vote for Obasanjo in 1999 just because he distanced himself from the liability an ethnic championship provided.

Now, there is also the issue of the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC). Actually, the calls for the SNC did not start during the political impasse that arose from the annulment of the 1993 presidential election. Rather, the clamor for a national dialogue dates back to 1966 amidst the crisis that engulfed the nation after the 1st and the 2nd Military coups.

Understandably though, no government has ever felt comfortable enough to relinquish its sovereignty to a body of conference. And neither would any respectable national assembly allow for the existence of a parallel group of “lawmakers”. Yet, almost everyone does agree that we, as a people, need to have a national dialogue to examine or appraise the basis of our togetherness.

This therefore must have informed the decision of the Obasanjo’s government to set up the National Political Reform Conference (NPRC). So far and as anticipated, the conference has witnessed a lot of noises, adjournments and threats of boycotts. But at the end of the day, it’s expected that the conference will achieve its objectives. Certainly, no right-thinking member of the NPRC, irrespective of his or her ethnic grouse or interest, will prefer “war-war” to “jaw-jaw”.

The author of “No to SNC” however is against the convocation of the SNC. And neither does he appear to really have any love

lost for the National Political Reform Conference that has since been set up as a substitute for the SNC. His argument is that the National Assembly is enough, as an august representative body, to address our national question through appropriate constitutional amendments. Here, the author says, “…..all the issues in contention i.e. co federalism, devolution of powers, ownership of mineral resources can be tackled either through legislation or power politics.”

The author’s argument is good but the problem with the set up we have now is that, not all the ethnic/interest groups are represented in the national assembly. For instance, it will be terribly unfair to insist that the interest of the Ijaws be represented by the Urhobo or the Itshekiri senators/legislators (or vice versa). It’s also unrealistic to ask the Christian Zango-Kataffs to put their collective trusts in the representation by some Moslem Hausa/Fulani senators or legislators even though they are all from Kaduna State.

At the end of the conference, those who love Nigeria are looking forward to a nation where the existing diversity in terms of ethnicity, religion and cultures will be deemed a great asset. There are many citizens who are eagerly looking forward to a new Nigeria where no individual or group will exhibit a sense of insecurity over the ethnic origin of the nation’s President, census, resource control, location of military bases etc.

And talking of insecurity, so far, the loudest controversy at the NPRC has been over the resource control. However, if the truth must be told, what the Nigerian nation has been doing to the South-south over the Oil resource is nothing short of armed robbery and covetousness. And these vices are contrary to everything the Holy Koran and the Holy Bible (which most of us claim to uphold) stand for.

The ruling class in a village cannot just wake up one day to declare every farmland a communal property just because a few villagers have been discovered to have the most fertile lands. If that act of sheer brigandage is allowed, a time will soon come when the same “village heads” will enact laws making the largest buildings, the most beautiful wives, and even the most brilliant children, communal properties. Analogically therefore, this is precisely what each Federal government, since January 15, 1966, has been doing to the South-southerners.

This certainly was not the pillar of equity on which our founding fathers placed our nation upon independence. It was only in the aftermath of the January, 1966 military intervention that the whole mess began in form of a unitary system of government.

And going by the proceedings of the NPRC, the South-south is insisting on a “minimum irreducible condition” whereby 25% derivation formula is used in their favor with a gradual increment at 5% every year for the next five years when it will amount to50%. So far, every ethnic group in our nation is prepared to oblige the South-south—–except the Northerners. One may therefore wish to ask those Northerners some questions:

1. Would they have expressed the same negative sentiments about resource control if their land had been the source of the Oil?

2. Has any of them paid a visit to the area known as the South-south to see the level of degradation and decay the “wealthiest” Nigerians have been reduced to as a result of the many exploration taking place on their land? The last time I was in that area was in 1997. And as at that time, those hapless people could not fish, dig a well or even breathe healthy air due to the reckless exploitation of their land.

3. Are the Northerners saying collectively that they will go into extinction if the nation accedes to the legitimate demands of the South-southerners? Are they confirming the views in certain quarters that they are a docile, parasitic people that are feeding fat on the nation?

Personally, I don’t know how the average Northerner feels about this issue. But if I were one of them, I would feel terribly embarrassed because I would definitely hate to be cast in the mould of a parasite. There is really no reason whatsoever for any one or group to develop hypertension all because some people want (not everything) but just half of the earnings from their God-given properties?

It’s high time every ethnic group learned to shake off this negative sense of insecurity. As a nation with massive growth potentials, there is a great need for creativity among every individual, community, State and ethnic groups.

In 1979, the Lagos government under Alhaji Lateef Jakande wanted to resuscitate the colonial electricity plant in Ijora. This was in a bid to provide a separate but stable electricity power for the State. But due to some acute insecurity on the part of some sections of the country, the proposed Lagos project was declared unconstitutional. The metro line was another project of the then Lagos State government that was frustrated by the then Shagari Federal government. Yet, it’s not only the Yoruba or the South-west that are now suffering from the present epileptic power supply and poor transportation system that plague Lagos State.

Several years ago, a young man was performing some feats in the creation of a light airplane. He went to the extent of exhibiting his ability to fly the plane. But what happened? He was not only frustrated but dissuaded from working further on the plane because it was feared that his invention could be used to resuscitate the agitation for secession.

Only recently, Odua Group of Companies wanted to set up a rail transportation system that would run from Ibadan to Lagos. This effort should have b

een encouraged as a worthy means of improving our mass transit system. But somehow, the proposed project has sent some shivers down the spine of some people. Since then, every clog has been thrown into its wheels.

Nigeria seriously and urgently needs a national confab (either SNC or NPRC) to address these and many other issues that constitute the basis of our unity. The fear of “the unknown”, the noisy shadow-boxing by a few who think a separate nation is the only way out of their problems and the constant wish for Armageddon by some naysayer are not enough reasons to discourage the majority of us from trying out a national dialogue. This is more so, in the light of the reality of our togetherness: Going by recent studies, no part of the nation, except for two distinct sections, can comfortably afford to secede.

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Anonymous July 19, 2005 - 1:35 pm

As a very close friend of Femi when I read this article I felt he was a bit harsh in generalising or lumping all Northerners together. But on a second thought and more so after reading the silly argument put forward in defence of the Northerners by Paul Adiuje (a fellow Northerner) I now really can't blame all the commentators who assume that all Northerners think alike in their opposition to the demand of the Southerners on the derivative formular.

Anonymous July 15, 2005 - 1:40 pm

Thanks for the excellent thought-provoking article.

Anonymous July 11, 2005 - 11:28 pm

Interesting article though I havent read the book. If only a Northerner would rationally answer your posers I bet NONE will! Nigeria is just postponing the evil day if we dont talk we will be forced to break up someday.

Anonymous July 11, 2005 - 8:22 am


This is wonderful!!!

Going by the various issues raised in this review I'll surely love to read the book. And I'm sure the issues will continue to generate more divergent views.


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