(Vanguard of Sunday, February 18, 2001)
We need a conference if we must live together. The conference must be national since we have more than 350 nationality groups in this country. But must the conference be sovereign? This is the question, if not stupid, definitely diversionary. Why stupid and why diversionary? I will tell you.
We did not ask to come together, but we should be grateful that the British brought all of us together in a union that has given us this much clout, but which we have so far taken for granted. Yes, we have taken it for granted. You have to go to some countries in Africa to see how blessed we are, being this large and huge; being this divers in language and other ways of manifesting life; and being this quite,competent and capable in responding to challenges.
But for our sprawling landscape cutting across from the ocean to the desert, from under sea level to the plateaus and the mountains, how could we be boasting of the petroleum resources from the mangrove forest and the live-stock of the northern highlands? But for the pride that we have looking back at how our people made a country we are messing up, how would we have been so taken in by the nostalgic recollections of the great deeds of those who made the Borno Empire, the Sokoto Caliphate, the Oyo Empire, the Great Benin Kingdom. We are descendants of these great people who were empire builders.
Now that we have one giant empire bequeathed to us, though not by them, must we mess it up through wanting to sustain a historical nuisance called slavery? Since the bequeathing was done by a foreign power that has left, has anyone of those antecedent powers any right to claim to be, feel and act superior over any other nationality group! Was there any of them that did not cave in to British pressure or direct conquest? So, there is no doubt that because we have been taking our union for granted, we really need to come together and tell ourselves about ourselves, about our differences, about our likes, our hates. This telling is to be done by the people themselves, from their own perspectives. Others will listen, must listen, then glow in the opportunity of standing In the shoes of the other and feeling the pains and pangs they have felt and endured, even the little comfort they have enjoyed.
And so, meet we must. But how?
In one body of a hundred and twenty-three million people? That would be impossible because there is not one piece of acre that can take that number.
In cultural groups countrywide? Yes, but where is the point of co-ordination and who initiates it and monitors the findings?
In the 36 states of the federation? That would undermine the cultural foundation that the meeting must reflect because the Big Three in the Nigerian polity have interests that defy state boundaries.
In representative capacity such as we now have at the local, state and federal tiers of government? May be, as this is what we have.
But people are demanding a sovereign national conference. The question then is not whether we need a conference or whether the conference should be local or national. The question is whether it should be sovereign! And this is what makes it seem so stupid and diversionary because those who argue over this one word are not serious; or they are playing to the gallery; or they are simply not communicating; or in deed they are not aware of, or refuse to accept what is on the ground.
What is on the ground is that sovereignty resides in the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It does not reside in the Hausa alone or the Yoruba alone or the Igbo alone, nor does it reside only in the South- South, North-East, South-West or any other zone in isolation to others. It does not reside in one government at one tier, be it local, state or federal. It does not reside in one economic group or in one religion or cult. It resides in all the people of Nigeria, TOGETHER, populating all of the almost hundred million square metres. In the absence of only
one of this number, sovereignty is reduced. But it cannot be reduced, or even compromised. That the sovereignty resides in all of Nigerian geographic space and all Nigerian citizens fit home and abroad, and that this sovereignty cannot be reduced is one fact on the ground, and anyone denying it is, in my view, stupid or ignorant.
The second thing on the ground is that Nigeria is not a brand new country in search of a way to govern it. It is not like ECOWAS countries coming together by putting up a parliament and seeking integration later. Nigeria is a reality and has been since 1914. Many attempts to call this reality to question have failed and should continue to fail and must continue to fail.
Far from perfect as our way of governing this country has been, we do have a way of governing it. We tried the Westminster way of Britain and ditched it. We opted for the American way and have grudgingly sustained it. It is this imperfect way that has produced the political parties in power today, all the local councils and their elected chairmen and councillors, the state assemblies and state executives, and the National Assembly comprising the Senate and the House of Representatives. It is the system that has given us Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
So the sovereignty that is resident in the people has been DELEGATED. I didn’t do the delegating. The Constitution did it, and you have to read section 14 of the document to prove this fact to yourself. The d:legation is to government made up of representatives at the local council, state and federal levels. What they must do to be there; when; how; the agents in fulfilling the objectives of the polity – all are settled in the document.
Yes the document was made by the military. So what? Someone had to make it. If that is why we want a conference to meet and discuss, then that issue should be tabled by the nationalities and canvassed through the political parties and in the various state assemblies. Then there should be due process of passing bills and resolutions to effect changes in the Constitution. And we are there where we want to be. But this wanting to be where we want to be is not and cannot be the decision of one group or a set of groups. It must be the collective decision
of everyone, and this everyone is defined by the constitutional requirement for effecting change.
The long and short of this diversion therefore is the nine-letter word SOVEREIGN. Take that word from your demands and your ignorance and stupidity are gone, and the illusion gives way to fact, the fact that we as a people have lived together for a long time; that we have not seriously understood ourselves; that the need to talk to one another is overdue.
If Mr. President therefore tells his hosts in Oyo State that he cannot cave in on demands for a sovereign national conference, I can see his point dearly. At the national level, he is the protector of the people’s sovereignty and he can do so only in accordance with brief. Anything to the contrary is subversion. Who says then that the President cannot be subversive of the polity!
(Published in Vol. 1 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 189 – 192; Lagos, 2003).