By Olusiji Balogun
Nigerians both at home and in the Diaspora are looking up to the conference to resolve most of the nation’s multifaceted challenges since the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern and Southern protectorates by Sir Lord Lugard in 1914.
President Goodluck Jonathan, on the occasion of the 53rd Anniversary of Nigeria, in a nationwide broadcast announced an Advisory Committee mandated to establish modalities for a national conference aimed at resolving issues that currently cause friction in the polity.
Most Nigerians welcome the decision of President Jonathan since it takes into cognizance suggestions over the years by well-meaning Nigerians on the need for a national dialogue on the future of our beloved country while others especially the opposition took a difference path. Yet, there is consensus, even among the oppositions, that there has been discontentment and alienation in the land which has fueled extremism, a pathy and even predictions of catastrophe for the unity must be negotiated and agreed upon; taking into consideration the issue of devolution of power, that affects us most, the existing relationship between the three tiers of government in Nigeria.
Religion, ethnicity, tribalism, not eve3n politics is the bane of Nigeria. Fulanis from Katsina tends to their herd in Akokoland, Igbos ply their trade in faaway Sokoto without molestation, while several Kanuri women are getting married to Lagosians on daily basis; the only thing tht separates us in Nigeria is the inequality in the sharing of our numerous resources as being held on to by various tiers of government. Once this is fixed we are more than close to the unity we desire as one indivisible entity.
Proper relationship between national and sub-national governments in a federal system should be a case of give-and-take between the two levels ion a context of free negotiation between the two tiers. Thus, the relationship between national and sub-national units must be framed as constitutionally guaranteed interaction and transaction between coordinates, rather than super-ordinate and subordinate. The two levels are not to share just functions; they are to share sovereignty including resource sovereignty. It is not the incumbent central government that should determine unilaterally which power to transfer to regions or states. It is both levels of government that should negotiate which powers to leave for the central government for the common good and which to leave for regions or states for effective delivery of public goods and services to citizens. These are the central issues that pertain to constructing a federal polity.
Though in setting the agenda for the delegates, Mr. President aptly put it that “when there are issues that constantly stoke tension and bring about friction, it makes perfect sense for the interested parties to come together to discuss.”
Delegates must not be blinded by what part of the country they come from but guided by the fact that our large size of being together as a nation has its numerous advantage over any ethnic consideration. Every ethnic component of Nigeria will definitely struggle for survival in the event of any breakup. No one will find it easy.
Several units have expressed their readiness to either stay together or go their different ways through their representatives in the course of discussions at the ongoing confab, while the Yoruba people of the South-West geopolitical zone have expressed their position in the unity of Nigeria, other zones too have spoken of not being afraid of any eventual break-up but the break-up is one issue that we don’t really want to happen especially that we have come to bond together as one family for a very long time.
If the issue of devolution or separation of power among the federating units is not resolved by this conference then it would be difficult to enforce our continual co-existence as an entity. Even though most advocates of a Sovereign National Conference would argue that there should be no restrictions as to the issues to be discussed by the conference, we all must agree that Nigeria must remain as one indivisible entity. Yet, if at the end of the discussions, Nigerians from various backgrounds decide to go their separate ways peacefully, no one should halt them.
The vital factor that was taken away by military autocrats and sustained by post-military constitution and rulers is proper relationship between the central government and sub-national governments. True Federalism has been removed from our polity by the military since 1979 and the only remedy to this cannot be through lip service but conscious and deliberate action plan. The golden era can only be restored through establishment or re-establishment of federal system of government that recognizes the need of the majority and not the essentials of the few. Whether this is called political restructuring or restoration of federalism, what is at issue is having a proper share of powers between the central government and regions or states as federating units.
For us to agree to remain as one Nigeria, we must definitely look at the current lopsided structure of the entity called Nigeria. A structure of Thirty six states, with only four viable is not sustainable or reasonable structure. For us to achieve a united Nigeria there might be need to revert to the old working structure of regional government where the likes of Awolowo, Azikwe, Aminu Kano excelled within the ambit of the existing constitution of that era, no matter how flawed it was then.
With the caliber of delegates and the freedom granted by the convener of this conference, Nigeria is on the right path of designing a veritable future provided we seize the opportunity provided by the confab to move several steps towards a united nation where equality before the law and resource sharing is upheld by the constitution of the country drawn by men of vision and mission, with the unanimous approval of the people through a referendum.
Nigerians, especially the delegates must be wary of taking us back to the path of the conferences organized by Abdulsalaam Abubakar and Olusegun Obasanjo saving us from the mbarrassment of taking one step forward and four steps backward like the military in them. This National Conference is a golden opportunity to move closer to a united Nigeria if the business of discussion is done with every sense of sincerity and purposefulness.