THE NIGERIAN REFORM AGENDA: WHAT OPTIONS FOR NIGERIANS?
ActionAid International Nigeria
The National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) is winding down its
committee deliberations, and would be reconvening from the 23rd of
May for the final lap. Although it has been dogged with controversies
especially as regards the "Mysterious Constitution", six (6) year
single term, disagreements as to whether the position of the
President should be rotational, the level of engagement by Nigerians
have been encouraging - civil society, interest groups, ethnic
groupings have utilized different methods - the print and electronic
media to sell positions and interests.
When we measure the level of enthusiasm now as against other similar
processes in the past - the Constitution Debate Collating Committee
headed by Justice Niki Tobi established in November 1998 - we can
conclude that if the success of the NPRC is to be based on enthusiasm
of Nigerians alone, utilizing the tool of formal engagement -
presenting position papers, views, among others, it might go the way
past initiatives have gone.
What options for Nigerians therefore? For us this poser can be
answered by another look at the political economy of Nigeria. Our
major assumption even within the ambience of the present reform
initiative is the belief that transition to civilian rule will create
political space for reforms. In other words, since we have a
semblance of democracy (the transition paradigm) we will arrive at a
point when the poor and excluded would be able to secure and claim
rights. Can this be true in the face of some structural constraints
to reform in Nigeria? You may want to ask what these constraints are.
These constraints are crystallized in a core group that would want
business to be as usual - rent seeking, among others. Hence, there
are differences between the desires of ordinary citizens and the
ruling class. For instance, since independence the political class
has so far proved to be incapable of or unwilling to push for the
creation of Constitutions that would promote just and equitable
societies, and are distracted by a chance to exercise power instead.
If however these constraints are to be surmounted, ordinary
Nigerians, sympathetic elements within the political class must
coalesce around a single position - A CALL TO ACTION FOR CHANGE. For
us such a position is predicated on the levels of poverty across the
zones in Nigeria. There is no one community that is not poor, and
home to excluded people. We all have a role therefore to educate each
and all that the opportune time to act for the needed changes in
While we recognize that the delegates to the conference are
government appointed, we also want to note that they either grew up
in one community or the other. In other words, they represent
constituencies, groups (professional, religious or cartels). Our
suggested option/strategy therefore is that every delegate should be
met with the stark realities of the various communities they come
from, captured in a petition or written note, stating that history
and change be made once and for all.
Groups, networks, coalitions, grassroots people, youth groups, market
women associations should stage peaceful protest marches,
demonstrations on issues to keep delegates on their toes.
As a follow up to the above is the fact that at the end of the
conference the National Assembly has a role to play in the passage
into law the various recommendations as regards Constitutional
amendments. How are we engaging our various representatives to make
sure that aspects inimical to the aspirations of poor Nigerians are
expunged from the recommendations? Can we then in our various
communities mobilize to visit our councilors, members of state house
of assembly, members of the House of Representatives and Senate with
a list of demands?
Urban based groups should organize to visit the various state houses
of assembly to lend their support to the fact that when delegates
reconvene they should act in the interest of the many as against the
interest of the few. This can only be achieved by a groundswell of
public demand supported by the press in Nigeria.
The point to take home is that Nigerians should be involved in
wrestling out of the hands of the power elite whatever hidden agenda
that might have informed the national political reform conference.