Dr. Bolaj Aluko comments on the evolving plan for a National Conference in Nigeria.
After five long years of resisting the idea, President Olusegun Obasanjo has in his wisdom now finally assented to a talk of sorts - a "National Dialogue" - which he has now formally titled "National Political Reform Conference" (NPRC). Of course, preceding his administration - since 1990 or thereabout to be exact - have been agitations for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) from various members of civil society, which OBJ had condemned as almost un-patriotic and treasonable until now.
In short, from what has been going on in the past few weeks, what we now have are two conferences being planned: the government-arranged National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) and the civil-society-to-be-arranged Peoples' National Conference (PNC). That civil society conglomerate is now nicknamed PRONACO (Pro-Sovereign National Conference Coalition.)
Let me start with what I hope is a disclaimer: I do not believe the government's "conference" can rightly be called a "dialogue", since "di" means "two", and one wonders whether the two combatants here would be the government and the people. If they are, then the NPRC is DOA, dead-on-arrival: the people are supposed to be re-fashioning their own government, and it should not be the People vs. the Government.
That is point Number One. Point Number Two is this: Neither of these two conferences can be called a SNC (Sovereign National Conference) yet, because without an assured referendum, and without an understanding that no one - not the president, not the National Assembly - can change an iota of what is decided following the referendum, what we will have will simply be a set of recommendations that can all be easily trashed, not binding decisions.
A third point: both conferences MUST go on, even if in parallel: Government has a right to fashion its own conference - and out of 130 million, it sure will get some participation - and The People too have a right to fashion their own conference. The twain can meet in the future to hammer out issues. They need not at this point demonize each other.
With that introduction, let us look at each proposition seriatim.
The president of course likes the word "reform" - he sees himself as a reformist president, reforming the economy, reforming the military, the civil service, reforming AU and NEPAD, reforming everybody and everything else but himself - and now five years later, particularly after the disastrous 2003 elections, the mounting corruption scandals and an economy that defies stimulation, he believes that it is time to reform the "polity."
The problem is that there is more than the polity to be reformed - Nigeria needs re-constitution, re-formulation, re-establishment, "re-gbogbo-e" - without any "no-go" areas ! Despite his seven-point agenda for the NPRC, it is still a very limited agenda with some "no-go areas" - that is debilitating problem number 1.
The announced constitution of the membership of the NPRC is another MAJOR debilitating problem: Out of 354 members, 50 are to be nominated by the president, 218 to be nominated by the state governors and the FCT minister, and the rest (86 members only) to be chosen in indeterminate ways from various groups (see Table 1). The members of the National Assemblies and State Assemblies are even EXPLICITLY excluded from the list of members of the NPRC, thereby truncating their rights to be chosen as delegates, and the rights of the people to choose them - again - to represent them at the conference !
In fact, the only "natural" members of this government list are the Women and possibly the Physically-Challenged: after all, nobody was born a "Chairman", or a member of the military, or a media person a member of MAN, NECA or NACCIMA - or a member of the PDP, AD or ANPP and no one remains permanently these for that matter !
When you figure that the President is a PDP member; 28 of the 36 governors are PDP members, and the PDP as a party is also allotted by itself 12 members (ANPP 4, AD 2, and other parties 2), then one will be forgiven to believe that at least 228 members out of the 354 will be sympathetic to PDP causes. Thus what we are "fixing" to have is a PDP rally with some bit players included.
Third problem is timing: it appears that the National Conference - conceived as a grand conglomeration of an elite few holed up in Abuja - will be held continuously for 3 months, from mid-February to May, hopefully so that something big about a "New Nigeria" can be announced by President Obasanjo on or around the celebrated anniversary date May 29 of this Republic.
Question is: only the jobless will be available CONTINUOUSLY for such a long time. One wonders for example what four job-ful members of the Diaspora will SUDDENLY leave to head for Nigeria for such an extended period of time at such a short notice. [ At least, Diaspora Nigerians should be grateful to be recognized with 4 members, while ANPP has the same four delegates, and the AD a miserable 2 members !]
Which brings us to a fourth concern: about N932 million is to be devoted to the conference, with about 65% of that amount to be spent on delegates welfare. Almost N1 billion over three months for 354 people, N1 million per-person-day? That is EXCESSIVE, for a limited-agenda conference, with limited membership over such a limited period of time, in the midst of poorly-funded education, erratic energy supply, poor road network, non-existent rail and a host of other poverty indices. The conference budget amounts almost to an outright bribery to get people to participate in it, and already this dangling of money has begun to have some Pavlovian effect on those who at first kicked against the NPRC.
The fifth and sixth problems are fatal if not corrected: without (5) an ENABLING legislation supporting the process; witness the castrated Oputa Panel process; and (6) an enabling legislation stipulating an end-point to the NPRC as a binding referendum, then the greatest possibility is that the whole NPRC exercise will be a COMPLETE waste of government time, at least in connection with this Obasanjo administration.
Advocates of the Sovereign National Conference (SNC) in civil society have since 1990 conceived it as a Peoples' National Conference (PNC) which transforms into an SNC WHEN the government of the day - whether civilian or military - agrees to and organizes a binding referendum on terms agreed at the conference. This is what would correct the sixth concern outlined above.
What about the other five concerns ?
With regard to agenda, the PNC has always considered it by necessity to be BROAD, to include revisiting of the very foundations of the country called Nigeria, and re-fashioning anew its "raison d'etre" in a manner independent of the colonialists who stuck us together in their own wisdom in 1914. Hence there should be no "no-go" areas - a no-holds barred conference.
The above broad agenda also informs how the participants of the PNC wish to be chosen: the colonialists met ethnic nationalities when they arrived in the "area of the Niger", not political parties and political zones in Nigeria - not state governors ! Hence the PNC is insisting on representatives of ethnic nationalities, chosen freely by them in any way each chooses to do so, with passing nod to various civil society organizations and other entities that have naturally formed since the colonialists departed. That sounds like a healthy compromise.
What about timing ? With a view of ensuring credible grassroots participation at the beginning of the process, and bubbling up further representations at higher levels - rather than the traditional one-grand-conglomeration-of-biggies in Abuja - the PNC is conceived not to be a short and quick meeting but a six- to nine-month process of mini-conferences in various parts of Nigeria, culminating in a large meeting anywhere to be agreed, most probably in Abuja.
What about funding ? To ensure seriousness and legitimacy, those ethnic nationalities and other entities who choose should be free to SEEK support for their delegates in whichever way they can, including from government, but preferably independent of government. Those who do not choose to get money from government but internally or from elsewhere should not be regarded as subversive; for example, those who choose to seek money from abroad should not be regarded as un-patriotic.
Finally, what about enabling legislation ? The PNC will not and should not be waiting for such legislation in order to convene: the Peoples' conference is for the sovereign people.
ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE PNC ---- > SNC
For many years now, and certainly since the June 12 era, I have been a strong advocate of the SNC, but decided after doses of arguments, demonisations and counter-demonisations with other Nigerians on land and in cyberspace to take it easy for a while with its advocacy, fully aware that willy-nilly, Obasanjo or not, one day it will be convened when the marginal cost of not convening it exceeds the marginal cost of convening it.
We may not be exactly there yet - but we are awfully close.
Personally, I will participate only in a PNC as it best approximates an SNC, but will watch the NPRC closely from afar unless its glaring defects are corrected, which only government can effect.
With respect to that PNC, in addition to the terms that it has set out for itself above, to give it more legitimacy in connection with its aspiration as a pre-SNC effort, one would hope that its own decision-making process will include the following:
(i) That each nationality group must have equal number of representatives at the PNC
This provision begins to assault the very idea of "minority" and "majority" in our political discourse. To realize this objective, we have to start from this exercise a new foundation stone for a new Nigeria by according every nationality an equal representation so that no group is overwhelmed by the spurious claims to fictitious population figures.
(ii) A corollary to the foregoing is that each nationality will have one vote.
Quite frankly, this means therefore that the actual number of representatives will not matter once this notion of one-nationality-one-vote is accepted. However, number will be crucial for the purpose of deliberations on the issues presented, and if need be, for the purpose of sending and receiving messages from their people at home should such consultations become necessary.
(iii) Voting on matters on the agenda will be by line item.
This means that each of the agenda items for resolution at the PNC should be debated and resolved on its own, without lumping it with other issues.
(iv) Decisions will be reached by consensus and only matters so decided will be binding on all nationalities.
It is extremely important that this clause be accepted so that every nationality is able to exercise its right to determine matters that are vital to its nationality interests. Every decision that is not reached by consensus will be open to further negotiation. Some unresolved decisions may have to be parked into regional, state and local government constitutions.
There is a STRONG rumor mill, and it is not an idle one - either a fear or a deliberate plan, some even say official plan - that the NPRC will eventually lead (or be manipulated to lead) into a "National Fracas," which will hasten the chaotic dissolution of the Nigerian state as presently constituted.
That fear or plan must be resisted by all well-meaning Nigerians.
So let the talks begin !
Information on the NPRC
Information on the PNC
SNC Now! Website (no longer updated)
SNC Project website of Nigerianmuse.com
MY ESSAYS ON SNC, etc.:
FRIDAY ESSAY: Of Sovereignty and Treason, of Federalism and State Police
Table 1: Approved Nomination List for National Political Reform Conference
} All of
} these forty-six
Respectable Elder Statesmen (1 per State)
} to be
Retired Military Personnel
State Representatives (6 per State & 2 from FCT)
Traditional Rulers (1 per Zone)
Academicians (1 per Zone)
Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA)
Nigeria Youth Organisations
Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN)
National Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Manufacturing and Agriculture
Civil Societies (Not on Zonal basis)
National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS)
Nigerians in Diaspora (1 each Europe, America, Asia and Africa)