Will the impending national conference in Nigeria resolve anything? National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) and Pro-National Conference Organization (PRONACO): Which way forward Nigeria? Read the answer by Ike Udogu. E. Ike Udogu is professor of African and International Politics at Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina, USA. The extracts in this submission are culled from, or found in, some of his earlier and more recent works.
The political history of Nigeria within the last 50 years or so leaves much to be desired. Indeed, "the past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy or repaint it. The only reason people want to be masters of the [present and] future is to change the past (Milan Kundera, Human Development Report, 2000, p. 63) As Nigeria positions itself for what might become the "mother of all conferences" to determine the character of the state in the new millennium, I thought that I should bring to the fore some important excerpts from the proclamations and writings of some Nigerian statespersons, ordinary folks and scholars. The fundamental purpose of this exercise is to remind the lawmakers that in order to map out the nation's future decision makers must first understand where the country has come from. Here are some extracts:
Many Nigerians deceive themselves by thinking that Nigeria is oneŠparticularly some of the press people. ŠThis is wrong. I am sorry to say that this presence of unity is artificial and it ends outside this Chamber. ŠThe Southern "tribes" who are now pouring into the North in ever increasing numbers, and are more or less domiciled here do not mix with the Northern peopleŠand we in the North look upon them as invaders (Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, cited in Coleman, Nigeria: Background to Nationalism 1958, p. 361)
The only factor that is eternally immutable in the political landscape of Nigeria is the number of ethnic groups that make up the country, as well as those land areas of the country which each ethnic group regards as its home. If Nigeria ceases to exist tomorrow that cataclysm will not make any iota of a difference to the number, the spatial distribution, and the relative size of the turf, occupied by each of the many "nations" that comprise Nigeria. These eternal entities should constitute the units of administration of Nigeria. And in the arrangement, no one entity should suffer any attenuation of its internal or pre-colonial freedom by any artificial hitching together of two or more ethnic groups merely for the sake of administrative convenience (Memorandum submitted by the Benin People to the Nigerian Constitutional Conference 1994).
I have always maintained that I would be more diminished as a citizen of Oduduwa Republic than as a citizen of Nigeria. I believe that those who might seek solace in the Republic of Dan Fodio would be equally diminished. The same goes to those who sought solace in the Republic of Biafra. But, more importantly, as experience in other parts of the world shows we would be further impoverished if we disintegrate, as we would have to spend an increasing part of whatever resources we have on arms and armament, if only to assuage the consequent feeling of insecurity and suspicion (Olusegun Obasanjo before the Kaduna Caucus 1994, West Africa Feb. 14-20, p. 252).
Once the relations of the parts [in a genuine federal structure of government] to one another and to the center are consensually and equitably rearranged, once the arbitrary dictatorship and interference of the center in areas of regional competence and develop-mental priorities is abrogated, it would not matter in the slightest what part of the nation provides the leadership at the top (Wole Soyinka, cited in Rotimi Suberu, Federalism and Ethnic Conflict in Nigeria, 2001, p. 188).
Our people have great expectations form your work. Those who are here today must regard themselves as those to whom destiny has entrusted the task of national consolidation. ŠThe conference had the mandate to deliberate upon the structure of the Nigerian nation-state, to work out the modalities for ensuring good governance and to devise for our people a system of government, guaranteeing equal opportunity, the right to aspire to any public office irrespective of state of origin, ethnicity or creed, and thus engender a sense of belonging in all our citizensŠ [You are therefore] to examine why out of 34 years of independence 24 were spent under military governmentŠ [and] in the 34 years of sovereign existence, [the country] had been beset with crisis of legitimacy, crisis of succession, crisis of authority and crisis of national acceptable leadershipŠ(The late Sani Abacha 1994 constitutional conference, West Africa, July 11-17, p. 1118-1119).
There is no doubting the fact that as a precipitate of the continent's historical experiences and the realities of dependence and underdevelopment, the state has come to play a major role in the political economy of African social formationŠ [Moreover,] the state has become a tool in the hands of a largely decadent, unproductive, corrupt and dependent class. The state is used for accumulation as against legitimation purposes. Its structures, institutions and instruments are easily employed by the dominant forces to repress, exploit, suppress, and marginalize the masses (Julius O. Ihonvbere in Ethnic and Racial Studies 1994, p. 43)
It is necessary to train a great many people as vanguard of a democratic revolution. People imbued with the spirit of self-sacrifice. People, who are loyal, active, and upright and fear no difficulties, but remain steadfast and advance courageously in the face of difficulties. Leaders that are neither high nor seekers after the limelight, but are conscientious and full of practical sense. If only Nigeria can come up with a host of such vanguard elements, the task of developing an efficacious democracy and good governance might be fulfilled (Udogu, in Reviving Democracy and Good Governance in Nigeria, Africa Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 2, 2004, p. 84).
There is no question in my mind that Nigerians are a wounded people. The forthcoming convocation, it is hope, will provide its leaders with a unique opportunity to heal the deep injuries inflicted upon Nigerians (and friends of Nigeria who had high hopes for the country) by both civilian and military leaders and administrations. Indeed, this is a great moment for a "New Thinking-a Rational Thinking" about how the country must govern itself in order for this potentially great country to take its proper place among the comity of nations.
The dialogue must be open to all Nigerians (from the bottom to the top) and friends of Nigeria so that they could communicate directly with the participants. In this way, when the conference is over, the outcome (and White Paper) could be claimed by all Nigerians-and not by the president, political parties or those appointed or elected to serve on the committee. In short, the White Paper will become the People's document and therefore further its legitimacy. In fact, if the outcome is satisfactory, I would recommend that the document should be signed by representatives of all of the nationalities that make up the republic. In this way, the document will become a living or organic charter.