Nigeria News

NIGERIA: National Conference, whose national conference?

Once upon a time, in the land of the animals, a great famine had descended on the land. The earth could no longer yield her bounties, and so death, disease, and all manner of disasters became rife. It got to such a point when the animals agreed to convene a great gathering of all the animals to seek the cause of the earth’s anger and find a solution.
One Eke, they met at the public square. Animals of all kinds gathered, each from its roost, to the great meeting. But as the other animals were gathering, the cockerel was seen going the other way. His neighbors saw him and reminded him of the great gathering of the animals that day, to which the elegant cock responded: “it is good, my kinsmen that you’re meeting.
It is good for kinsmen to meet. But I have to go out and find food for my family first. Meet, all the same; whatever be your decisions I shall abide by it.” He strutted away to his personal business. Well, the animals met, and decided to send an emissary to the oracles, who demanded a regular blood offering – the annual sacrifice of an animal to assuage all the ills done to the earth.
The emissaries returned, and the elders of the land once again summoned a meeting of the animals to listen to the message of the oracle and take a decision. Once again, on the day, the cock again was on his way to his own business in disdain of the gathering of the land. Again, when his neighbors reminded him, he said, “meet and take the decisions, whatever you decide my hand is in it; but I have to go and fend first for my family.”
So, the animals met, and the messengers relayed the message of the oracles. So the animals discussed the matter of which animal would be the sacrificial animal for the regular offering. Every other animal gave reasons why it should neither be them nor their family. So it fell on the Chicken family because the cock was not there to speak for himself and his family. That is how the chicken became the main votary offering in Igbo rituals. Whenever a blood offering is needed, the cock would be sacrificed.
This Igbo story does speak to two things, at least in Igbo culture: one, it is important to participate in the civic life of the land, and be part of any collective decision that would affect the individual, and two, sovereignty confers choice of action. While the individual might choose to cede and delegate their rights with all its consequences, that cessation must be freely given so that the individual may be bound by the covenants made in their behalf. I think this principle is at the core of the various agitations over the years to convene a national conference.
Nigerians have argued that this country does not represent them, nor does it speak to their sovereign interests. They were not, they argued, privy to the articles of amalgamation that fused many disparate communities, cultures, and peoples to a single modern nation state called Nigeria. To that effect, the defections in the architecture of nation, they contend, is primarily the result of the fundamental differences that in their mind continue to characterize the cultures that make up modern Nigeria.
I have of course argued that this part of the argument is specious – Nigerians met in 1950 and ’51 in Ibadan – and agreed essentially to establish a nation. The Ibadan conference which set the stage for home rule was basically when the departing British offered the various Nigerian people the choice of seeking independence freely and separately or collectively as Nigerians. The various delegations agreed to seek independence as Nigerians.
The discussions of 1950/51 were further ratified in 1957/8 during the constitutional conferences in London which basically concretised the charter of the Nigerian nation resulting in the independence constitution of 1960. In 1963, a freely elected parliament of Nigeria convened and passed the charter of the Republic.
The Republican constitution of 1963 basically established Nigeria as a republic free of the British Commonwealth with all the sovereign privileges conferred on the citizens of Nigeria. That Republic was suspended in 1966 by military tyranny, and its distortions of constitutional rule. A vicious civil war was fought that broke the very foundations of Nigeria, and since then, Nigeria has been governed by a war-drunk oligarchy that forced a section of the Nigerian state – the Igbo of Nigeria – to sign what amounts to a Carthaginian treaty in 1970.
The Igbo since then have felt like outsiders in Nigeria. The elated section of the conquering Army and their civilian apparatchiks saw Nigeria – particularly because of the oil that was found mostly in the East and the Delta –as war booty, and basically garrisoned the rest of the people since 1970. They partied on the graves of their victims. The party however began to go sour in 1983, first with the global oil glut, and to date, Nigerians, conned by these oligarchs using Machiavellian tactics to keep control of their resources, have seen mostly difference and alienation instead of common values or shared national interests.
The old war alliance that took charge of Nigeria in 1970 broke apart in 1993 when MKO Abiola, the Yoruba billionaire, was denied what was seen as his mandate by the Babangida-Abacha regime. In 1999, Obasanjo returned from jail to political power prodded by a faction of this oligarchy and its kleptocrats, and so what returned after military rule was clearly not democracy but a kleptocracy. It was the oligarchs funding, manipulating, and controlling all the levers of power, and the levers of power circulate among the elite factions. Even the current president is a convenient recruit of the local and international interests that perpetuate Nigeria’s schizophrenia.
In the end, President Jonathan returned to the National question to reduce the pressure on his administration by a discontent citizenry. He promised agitators for the National Conference, a conference. Now they have it. But here’s the downer: on Thursday, the Secretary to the Federal Government released the names of the delegates to the conference, and it reads like a Nigerian nightmare.
The names are a recycling of the same old faces and interests that have plundered Nigeria. You would think that Nigerians would have a say in the matter, and have discussions from the grounds up about who to represent them at a national conference. But no, this government stuffs up a list, and forces it down our throats. A number of the people purportedly representing the Igbo, for example, cannot walk freely on Igbo streets. Some may be stoned by the public.
The list of delegates from the South-South zone, makes Igbo citizens of the South-South absolutely invisible. Well, indeed, let them go to this jamboree, it is good for kinsmen to meet. But in the end, Nigerians must fully exercise their sovereignty and take charge of restoring the republic and righting the historical travesty that derailed it. This conference – from the picture emerging – may not.

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