By E O Eeke
I am surprised that President Jonathan has yielded to the pressure of men, mostly in their 70s and 80s who believe that a country with an elected house of Assembly and a senate needs another body of men selected by politicians to decide its future. My opposition to the national conference is both ideological and judicious. It stem from a firm believe that it is not the right solution to the Nigerian problem as it will not address the real problems
that are destroying Nigeria. It would not address the issues of institutionalised corruption, religious intolerance and terrorism, epidemic of acquisitive crimes and bad government. There is suspicion that it may be a diversionary tactics by the government to keep the critics busy, while it continue to loot the treasury and run the government with 80% of the recurrent expenditure. Moreover, the solution to the Nigeria problem does not require a national conference.
First, a look at the main problems of Nigeria will reveal that they would not change just because a group of people selected by the same people who have refused to make the changes Nigeria needs, have been asked to look at the same problem in a different way. For instance, what will a national conference do to reduce the cost of government in the Nigeria? If Nigerians are interested to talk about the cost of government, the national assembly can debate it and invite Nigerians to contribute on a debate on the best economical way to run Nigeria.
We do not need a national conference to tell us that Nigeria does not need 36 states, 36 governors 36 state houses of assembly and a national assembly with more select committees that the number of select committees in American senate, congress and British parliament combined. Nigerians do not need a national conference to enable the national assembly become a progressive house of assembly able to pass the radical bills needed to put Nigeria on the path of recovery and economic development.
What Nigerians need, is a government with gut and vision which can push the far-reaching policies Nigeria needs, like reverting to six regions with six regional assemblies, doing away with the current state structure and making the local government work for the people and turning the present arrangement into a true federation. Nigeria needs a government that would push the idea of a part time Senate as second chamber where the members would be elected both on constituency and professional basis to scrutinise legislations and paid sitting allowance. This reform will attract the right kind of Nigerians to the senate and cut the cost of running the senate and release fund for social and infrastructural investments. With the restructuring of Nigeria into regions, the number of members of House of Representatives would be reduced and their remuneration reduced by at least 50% in attempt to bring it in line with what is obtainable in the civil service.
The granting of Nigerian universities the autonomy they need and putting in the reform needed to restore their lost glory and make them competitive does not need a national conference. Government establishing grants and loans for student who have been offered admission to pay for the school fees and accommodation does not need a national conference. I can go on to show that the things the government needs to do, to make the lives of Nigerians better and change Nigeria for good does not need a national conference.
The government does not need a national conference to send a bill to the national assembly to repeal the land use act and grant the people the right to owe the natural resources under their ancestral land. Nigeria does not need a national conference for the government to Introduce the reforms the police force needs, or reorganise the civil service to the reduce influence of politicians and make the civil service to work for the nation and not the politicians. Nigeria does not need another talking shop, made up of those who have in one or another played a part in its destruction. We do not need a national conference where the usual suspects would be pretending to finding solution to the problem they created.
What Nigerians want is a Nigeria that is less unequal, more just, fairer, and more tolerant of diversity, more respectful of human rights and individual liberties and under the rule of law? Nigerians want is a country that is less polarised along religious and ethnic fault lines where someone’s religion or ethnicity would not determine his fate. Nigerians want a country where the people are free to pursue happiness anywhere, without sectarian constrains. Nigerians want a Nigeria where the police respects the law and not able to engage in corruption with impunity and the politicians more accountable and unable to steal with immunity. Nigeria wants a police force that is more respectful of the people rights and the law, where unlawful detention and torture are unlawful and punished. Nigerians want a country where teachers, health workers, civil servants, public sectors workers and police would be paid their salary regularly and the police unable to extort money from commuters and drivers. All these do not need a national conference as they can be achieved within the current legislative framework, if the legislators are alive to their responsibilities in a multi ethnic democracy.
With the adamant opposition to the national conference mounted by the north, the national conference seems dead on arrival. It is therefore, ill-advised for the government to proceed with it. What a thinking, intelligent and progressive government would do is to activate plan B, which is a national referendum on the problems it wanted to address with a national conference. This is because the only way to change the deeply ingrained inequality, injustice and unfairness in the Nigerian polity is through a democratic process. This is the only just and democratic way because it is obvious that the northern elites feels threatened by the prospect of a national conference which might recommend the addressing of the injustice of the current arrangement which enables it to dominate in many areas of the Nigeria polity and economy in an unfair and disproportionate manner. They may feel that the north is vulnerable to any attempt to make Nigeria a fairer and more democratic place. Especially as it depends on the oil that comes from the south. It may believe that its survival depends on its continued control of the natural resources through the current arrangement. This is in a nut shell, the mind-set or assumptions that may be driving the attitude and position of the north.
By blocking a sovereign national conference and opposing a national conference, the north is attempting to shut down debate and prevent change. Unfortunately, the north cannot have it both ways. It can block SNC and undermine the legitimacy of the national conference, but it cannot stop change, which is why a national referendum on the difficult issues is the joker. Therefore, the government should proceed with a referendum to find out what majority of Nigerians want and think, about what it wants to achieve through national conference. If the government wins the referendum it should precede with the reforms irrespective of what the north or any other region thinks or wants. This is how democracy is used to solve difficult problems.
Indeed, what Nigeria needs is a referendum to address areas of uncertainties and to answers some question like, who should control ancestral land and the resources under it? What do Nigerians think about the state structure? Should Nigeria have 36 states or six regions? Etc. Referenda are simply ways to answer complex questions like the ones we are facing in Nigeria today. Referendum helps the government focus on the solution which majority of the people support. A National conference would only give opportunity to some group to defend and protect their underserved and natural advantage. The north would not agree in a national conference for the people to control the resources in their land. However, if majority of Nigerians vote in a credible referendum for the abrogation of the land use act and for the people who owe the ancestral land to control the resources in it, the current position of the north would become irrelevant and redundant and, the government can continue with the reforms the country needs.
Nigerian government needs to use democratic process to solve problems where human selfishness and greed would not allow a negotiated and and fairer solution. There is nothing which the national conference can achieve, which cannot be achieved with the current national assembly under the right leadership and members.
What Nigeria should do, is to ask the national electoral commission to liberalise the electoral process so that honest Nigerians can send honest people to the national assembly as independents and also enable the parties apply democratic process that would throw up honest party members as candidates so that they can pursue the changes the people want. Most of Nigerian political parties are in hands of people likes Tunubu and Buhari and it would be impossible for people who would not do their bidden to emerge as candidates. The revolution is for Nigerians to flood the national assembly with independent minded legislators who share the aim of making Nigeria better by making the changes we need.
Nigerians can be asked about 3 to 5 questions in a referendum which can address the most serious problems. In my view, one of the reasons why some people want a SNC is that they really do not believe in Nigeria or want the regions to have more degree of autonomy and control over resources. It is a smoke screen to achieve these objectives, which can also be achieved in a more democratic manner through a referendum. If you scratch the surface, you may also discover that majority of those who want a SNC are the same people who would vote for the balkanisation of Nigeria if given a choice.
I just think that we should approach the Nigerian question in an open and honest manner instead of through subterfuge and self-deception. We can ask the national assembly to pass a bill on how those who want independence from Nigeria can go about it as Britain did. I believe that there is no justification for me to attempt to damage the roof of the house I share with other people. If I do not want to live in the house anymore, I should simply find the best way of taking everything that belongs to me before I leave. I am aware that if I do not negotiate my exit very well with other members of the house, I may still leave; but with very little chance of taking most of my belongings. This is one of the lessons of the Nigerian –Biafra civil war.
No one single individual can simply decide to leave a house he owns with other people and have everything his way, without serious dialogue and negotiation. I believe that we already have the national assembly where this dialogue can take place and we can help them by using a referendum to tell them what Nigerians want because they do not seem to know. I am simply tired of a few elites, many of who or their parents looted Nigeria, sitting down and deciding what Nigerians should do or saying this is the problem and solution. I think we should let Nigerians decide, so that the correct ways opinions are divided can be ascertained. It is high time self-appointed individuals and groups stopped speaking for Nigerians. Every Nigerian should be consulted and a referendum gives that opportunity. I am tired of criminals, and rogue ex-soldiers whose highest achievent is plotting coups deciding the future of Nigeria.
My questions are: who are the people afraid of a referendum and why are they afraid of referendum? Between National Conference and Referendum, which one would better show what majority of Nigerians want?
The government of Goodluck Jonathan should give Nigerians a referendum to decide their future or get on with the job and use his powers to do the best he can to address the real problems of Nigeria.