Professor Ebere Onwudiwe, a previous contributor to this volume, injects himself into the ongoing dialogue on the national conference in Nigeria.
A Pan-African Agenda For The National Conference
The biggest obstacle to African renaissance is commonly assumed to be poverty. I beg to slightly differ. The strategic danger to Africa's expected rebirth is the disintegration of Nigeria, the largest political concentration of African people in our continent. That danger is clear and present in the intensity of localism that is propelling the thinking of a great number of our country's leading intellectuals. The allure of romantic recreation of historic nationalities is not good for the pan-African question, the issue that should be guiding our national response to the powerful storm of economic globalisation.
The imperative of globalisation requires a forward-looking refocusing of our nationalism in the direction of the pan-African idea. This is because the tradition of pan-Africanism is one of maximising the power of the race rather than the shrinking of it. That has to be achieved through a powerful black country that Nigeria can be if reason prevails over fear, and we mange to stay together and achieve unity and national purpose under a strong national authority.
If we become balkanised into loosely associated 36 petty states or even 6 wobbly regions, we shall never be able to swing enough weight in African affairs, much less in global relationships to shape the resolute direction that will be decisive for Africa's renewal. This is the value of a strong national government with enough military muscle to be deserving of respect as a regional power.
Of course, any support for a strong national government should not be unmindful of the mood of cynicism in our national life that has dampened enthusiasm for centralised power. Especially given the recurrent abuses that has been our lot since self-rule. We have endured sectional domination as well as ethnic and religious discrimination in governmental investments. There is the matter of lopsided representation in the armed forces, and perennial insensitivity to the oil communities. There are many more issues that should keep the national conference busy. All these can be negotiated. But the corporate existence of a strongly cohesive country should not be open to serious question.
Nigeria should be under a strong central government with effective constitutional limitations of power so that we can collaborate effectively with the powerful Republic of South Africa in continental affairs. This is what a truly national and purposeful political party that is futuristic and resistant to romanticism should stand for. Most parts of our continent, from East to Central Africa are devastated, giving Nigeria a special responsibility to get its act together and to work with forward-looking countries like South Africa to promote the interests of black and other Africans. With over 130 million people and growing, we are bound to have a powerful voice in the world if we can achieve unity under a strong central government, and if we are able to build up our economic strength by encouraging our economic elites to repatriate their billions in foreign banks, and invest in local industries for domestic and regional consumption as we trade openly with the world.
A confederal arrangement may not be suitable for the exercise of continental power because any of the component states or regions can nullify federal decisions. This can lead to the decentralization of the military, a move that will put federal power in constant jeopardy. This is not good for the important business of African renewal.
One lesson to be drawn from the Rwandan genocide is the potential apathy of foreign powers toward Africa's many problems. Nigeria's leadership in the Sierra Leone and Liberian crises did counteract that indifference and showed that African nations can be relied upon to shoulder such responsibilities. Those were proud moments that rebuffed the cynical views of Afro-pessimists, meaning those who believe that Africa will be debilitated for a long time to come.
The Liberian crises alone consumed more than 200,000 African lives (including 500 Nigerian soldiers) and threatened the stability of our sub-region through reverberations in Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Cote d'Ivoire. It provides an important lesson for governance that the delegates to the national conference will do well to learn: that the roots of that mindless war were the twin evils of social injustice and exclusionist governance. The national conference delegates must bear this in mind as they design the features of a regional power in Abuja. The level of moral authority that we command as a pivotal power in Africa will be directly proportional to the extent that we truly guarantee political inclusiveness without prejudice to religion, gender, or ethnic identities in our own government.
That means that we must keep intact or even strengthen the federal character principle, ensure that people of all ethnic origins (not just the members of the big three) can aspire to all public offices, and enhance the competitiveness of our women for elective office. We must also make a determined effort to resolve the questions of citizenship that arise from legal dualism. Solutions to these problems will surely help a national sense of "Nigerianness" that is woefully lacking in our national consciousness today. The dearth of affection for the Nigerian state (I do not say, Nigerian peoples) by most Nigerians is the greatest obstacle to Nigeria's dream of continental power. The other, needless to say, is corruption.
Designing an official system of accountability of leaders should be a paramount task for delegates to the national conference. Corrupt people in government impede the development of our country. Their actions warrant strict accountability in accordance with equally strict due process. In a modern democracy, neither the president nor any other official should be above the law and immunized from its reach. In a country that regularly ranks at or near the top of the list for corrupt practice, official immunity should be carefully limited and monitored, or scrapped altogether.
One could go on, but the most important point bears repeating. A pan-African agenda requires the delegates at the national conference to keep the central government strong for the sake of all African peoples even as we depersonalize governance with appropriate constitutional provisions.
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