A lot of people have voiced concerns over the Sovereign National Conference debate. You are either on the side of those calling for it to be convened or you are on the side of those condemning it. There is the side that wants its questions answered before it takes a position. Those that are in support believe it is the only way of saving Nigeria from an eventual collapse, while those against simply think it is one of those numerous exercises aimed at distracting the citizens into forgetting the true essence of their nationhood.
The SNC dilemma is one so complicated that only an objective analysis can help to answer the numerous questions that have been thrown up as a result of the raging debate. Both contrasting schools of thought have advanced well defined reasons why they either support or condemn the call for the SNC.
Two of the arguments for and against the call for the SNC that attracted my attention were those written by Ghanaian born renowned economist, Professor George Ayittey and Nigeria’s famous political blogger Mr. Japheth Omojuwa.
The reason for paying particular attention to the views of these two individuals stems from my believe that Professor Ayyitey has no direct stake in the affairs of Nigeria and therefore would not have been biased in his judgment, while Mr. Omojuwa on the other hand is known not to be among those that stand with the crowd unless of course they are right.
Omojuwa in his article of Friday, 17th January, 2012 titled Sovereign National Conference: The Real Question (see omojuwa.com) posits that majority of those who are calling for the SNC are doing so for their selfish reasons undoubtedly as a ploy to regain their control of power. According to Omojuwa, “the battle for the soul of Nigeria is not a battle being fought for the real Nigerian. It is a battle being fought by the elites for the elites”. He therefore believes that the SNC cannot solve the problems of ordinary Nigerians especially considering that democracy and the 1999 constitution have given ‘authority’ to the National Assembly to address the same issues the SNC would probably address.
In what seems to be a response to the article written by Mr. Omojuwa, Professor Ayittey in his own article posted as in Omojuwa.com as SNC: The best argument for one; believes differently. Prof Ayittey is of the opinion that SNC is the vehicle for Nigerians to take back their country. He said amongst others that the SNC could set up an interim administration, as well as a commission to rewrite the 1999 constitution and that decisions so reached will be binding on citizens including the Head of State unlike other constitutional conferences. Prof. Ayittey’s point of argument is that we cannot leave our problems to the political elites because they will not solve them.
Would anyone say that the two writers have not made valuable points in their defense both for and against the SNC? One would need to look critically into the merits and demerits of a Sovereign National Conference before throwing his or her weight behind the call in support or against the idea. The question that we should critically ask ourselves is if the SNC can solve the problems of Nigeria. Whatever decision you take would be as a result of your understanding of how similar problems like that of Nigeria have been taken care of in other countries and indeed our understanding of the so called ‘Nigerian factor’.
There is nothing wrong with the citizens of a country coming together for the purpose of dialogue if it will lead to finding solutions bedeviling her. Dialogue is indeed the best approach to resolve any conflict of interest whether or not the dialogue is going to be sovereign or not. The problem however is that today, we are being guided by a system based on self interest ahead of the interest of the nation, otherwise how would one explain the utterances of some of the proponents of the SNC who are supposed to be fighting a common principle saying things like ‘this is our oil, the president is our president’, ‘we will declare our own independence’ and so on? Do you go to the round table in this peculiar circumstance with such a predetermined motive?
The second point of note relates to the processes through which delegates of the SNC would be picked and who are the persons that should constitute these delegates. Will the process ensure that every stakeholder in the Nigerian project, be it the poor or the rich, Muslim or Christian, Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba, youths, students, peasant farmer etc are involved in what may solve the current problems of the country, especially considering the diverse and complex nature of Nigeria? In Prof. Ayittey’s article, he made reference to how SNC worked in countries like South Africa and Benin republic, but we need to understand that none of these countries share any semblance with the diverse nature of Nigeria especially as its concerns its multi ethnic or tribal and religious differences. That notwithstanding, it may not be an excuse for us to discard the idea of the SNC because we cannot leave the problems of Nigeria in the hands of our political elite whom Prof. Ayittey has said will not solve them.
Third on my perspective of the SNC dilemma is the question of whether there should or there can be a Sovereign National Conference irrespective of the positive or negative connotations given to it. The democratic dispensation and indeed the 1999 constitution as flawed as many of its provisions may be has given ‘sovereignty to the National Assembly and by extension the 36 state houses of assembly to carry out the very function the SNC proponents are clamouring for. They have the authority to make laws and even rewrite the constitution of the country so as to guarantee the administration of good governance. However, those who constitute members of this law making authority are the same elites whom it is generally believed cannot solve our problems. What have these set of elites been able to do since the beginning of this democratic dispensation?
According to Omojuwa, “evil people have been together for 13 years of our democracy because they always agree to loot our money no matter the other disagreements they have”. So if we cannot trust our political elites in the National and State houses of assembly to solve Nigeria’s problem, then why should we not have the SNC?
Finally and more importantly is the question of whether the SNC will solve the problems of leadership and good governance in Nigeria. Over the years, it has become visibly clear that the major problem of Nigeria is leadership and not our ethnic or religious difference as the elites have made us to believe. They have only capitalised on those differences (ethnic and religious) to cause disunity amongst us so as to enable them continue in their selfish agenda without a common front to oppose them. Nigeria, especially since the advent of democracy has had leaders at all levels who lacked the will, temerity and patriotism to provide effective leadership to the people and where there is no leadership, there cannot be good governance. What we have seen are leaders who have become so deep into corruption, enriching themselves to the detriment of the ordinary Nigerian.
Nigerians want leaders who will guarantee them their basic rights as contained in the constitution. Leaders who will ensure the security of lives and properties of the citizens, leaders who will provide basic needs like education, health, water, housing etc. Leaders who will ensure that justice, equity and fair play prevails over selfish interests. So my take is that if the SNC will guarantee us leadership and good governance, then we should whole heartedly support it.
After a careful and objective analysis of the points above, we need to understand that SNC or not, Nigeria must not fall. We must realize that it is not about who you are, what tribe or religion you represent, it is about Nigeria and we must do everything we can to ensure that we remain one indivisible entity. We must drop the idea of casting aspersions on certain interests and put public interest first in our consideration before our self interest.
The youths must not leave the problems of Nigeria in the hands of our elites. They have failed and will continue to fail us. We must first of all arm ourselves by being enlightened and informed citizens because it forms an integral part in the step that we would take to reclaim Nigeria and secondly, we must engage the elites on all fronts in the demand for leadership and good governance. It is not just enough to speak about what is not going well in Nigeria; we must also act to make them work. We just have to change the system.
Sovereign National Conference or not, Nigeria must remain one indivisible entity. May God see us through.
Written by Abubakar Sidiq Usman
Follow the writer on twitter @Abusidiq_2000