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Goodluck Jonathan And the Sovereign National Conference Question By Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

November 2, 2010

On October 20, 2010, The Punch, in “Jonathan rules out national conference,” reported that “Jonathan has rejected calls for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference” The President believed that “the nation had gone beyond the call for the SNC and should be concerned about how to build a prosperous country.”

On October 20, 2010, The Punch, in “Jonathan rules out national conference,” reported that “Jonathan has rejected calls for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference” The President believed that “the nation had gone beyond the call for the SNC and should be concerned about how to build a prosperous country.”

The Punch further quoted the President as saying “We have gone beyond asking how ethnic groups can live together. We will not allow history to hold us down. It was in 1914 that the Southern and Northern Protectorates were amalgamated. In four years now, we shall be celebrating 100 years of our existence as a nation. So we have gone beyond the agitation for Sovereign National Conference.” The President also seems to believe in the effectiveness and the usefulness of the 1999 Constitution and the National Assembly.

The President was wrong in his believe and in his pronouncement. Frankly, to say the President was erroneous in his assertion is an understatement. And even slightly disingenuous. About a decade ago, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, one of the most brilliant legal minds of all times averred that “The root cause of our national tragedies is the fundamental defects that have always afflicted the process of determining every constitutional frame-work of the polity. Our constitutional arrangements since 1914 to date have never truly reflected the political, economic, social, cultural and religious realities of the country.” The late sage went on to say that “The Sovereign National Conference being advocated is to rebuild this single sovereign nation from its collapsing foundation, not to tear the country into several sovereign nations.”

Indeed, how do you build a prosperous society on shaky and fragmenting foundation? How do you build a stable and bourgeoning society in an environment of never-ending rancor and suspicion? How do you promote stability and move towards a more perfect union in a political space that is neither enabling nor enriching? Is this President, like his predecessors, attempting to build a castle with wet clay? What is the President afraid of? In order to save his position and political ambition, did he promise his political antagonist the unspeakable? What were the deals he made -- assuming he made any -- and does this include abandoning the Sovereign National Conference? In other words, in pacifying powerhouses in certain enclaves, did he jettison the idea of a SNC just so he could achieve his political goal?

Otherwise, one is at a lost as to why he would renounce and denounce a much needed national discourse that is intended and needed to give direction and to save the country from self-immolation. At one time or another, Goodluck Jonathan was in favor of a SNC. What has changed -- even as he knows that the current Nigerian Constitution is an albatross on the neck on Nigeria; the Nigerian Parliament since 1999 has been a self-serving and a no-good chamber; and successive Nigerian administrations has generally worked against the interest of the people? For the President to point to the Constitution and the National Assembly as some sort of solution is, devious, at best.

In evolving societies, leaders usually look beyond what is popular to do what is best for the people. Leaders who have gone on to become extraordinary leaders and statesmen are those who were able to define and/or redefine their people’s dreams and aspirations. And of course, leadership is not a popularity contest; it is about doing the right things for the people and for the future yet to come. They make the tough decisions. They allay the people’s fear. They embrace the impossible. They introduce new ideas and new thinking and help to modify previously held ideas that are becoming obsolete or injurious. In this instance, what is right today and for the future of Nigeria is for President Jonathan to set aside his fears and personal political gains for the wellbeing of our country. The time has come for him to rise to the occasion. In this regard, one of the things he must do is to convene a genuine Sovereign National Conference (SNC).

Our nation’s history is clear: since 1914, and especially since 1960, efforts at achieving national integration have been futile. Simple problems became complex. We have had so many problems and challenges -- problems and challenging with roots in the amalgamative process. As Kunle Ajayi puts it, “Achieving a united and stable political system is still a serious challenge to the Nigerian state. As a divided society with multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism, the task of nation-building and forging of a system perceived by the varied nationalities as justiceable has been difficult. The system has been confronted with complaints of marginalization, inequitable distribution of resources and power, and official injustice. Consequently, various sub-nationalities, ethnoreligious groups, opposition parties and other fringe interests have unrelentingly been calling for the convocation of a sovereign national conference (SNC) to address the sectional grievances.” How in the world could the President not understand this?

The National Dialogue that is now being advocated is not intended to solve all -- all -- our problems. It cannot. Every generation has its unique sets of problems and challenges it must solve. However, no generation has the right to leave its problems unsolved or to complicate the landscape for future generations. In addition, a SNC is not intended as a tool for the breakup of the country; but instead, the goal and the endgame is a strong, prosperous and viable nation where all its component parts functions to its full and enabling capacity. What’s more, it is not intended for the weakening of the federal government. A truly federal republic is what the nation needs: a strong but limited central government with thriving federating states similar to what is obtainable in the United States of America and other truly federal republics.

One wonders: why are certain sections of the Nigerian society afraid of a truly federal system? Why are they afraid of the transformation and reformation of the political, economic, social and legal framework upon which our country has been gingerly sitting all this while? Insofar as the dissolution of the country is concerned, frankly, it is not an idea we should close our minds to. If Nigeria, as we know it today, is not in the best interest of every ethnic group, why continue to pretend it is working in the best interest of all? A bad relationship is exactly what it is: bad and debilitating. If such a relationship cannot be reformed in the best interest of all, then, all must go their separate ways.

In the last fifty years, we’ve had new countries rise from the ashes or from nothing. What’s more, the world is full of countries that once were. For instance, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) existed between 1922 and 1991. That once powerful country is today just Russia plus a collage of fourteen independent states.  Czechoslovakia was in place between 1918 and 1992 and is today two distinct entities: Czech Republic and The Slovak Republic (Slovakia). In these and other instances, the world did not come to an.  Therefore, should Nigerians, by way of a well-thought out Sovereign National Conference decide to go their separate ways, well, so be it. Today’s Nigeria is broken; let’s fix it and give it a new life, or let’s call it a day.

•    Sabella Abidde is on Facebook and can also be reached at [email protected]

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