Madunagu: Further notes on SNC (2)
Thursday, 15 March 2012 00:00  By Edwin Madunagu  Opinion  –  Columnists

THIS is the continuation of my notes and thoughts on the Sovereign National Conference (SNC), an idea we understand all power blocs or all segments of “power brokers” in Nigeria have now accepted. Fine. In the first essay on this series, SNC: Original conception revisited (March 1, 2012), I recalled the series I wrote on the subject 20 years ago when the idea was first presented to the Nigerian public – during the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida.  I summarized the first part of the article – dealing with general principles – slightly revised it, and re-presented it.  In the second essay, Further notes on SNC (March 8), I indicated the problems and doubts I envisaged would be encountered during and on the road to, and from, the conference.

The problems I foresee include those of definition, composition and representation, organization and structure, agenda and what I called extra-SNC intervention.  I wish to continue the discussion of these five problems from where I stopped on March 8 – but not individually or in the order I have listed them here. The starting point today is the observation that many contributors to  this debate, including the vanguard gladiators, are confusing the agenda for SNC with the  necessarily partisan positions groups and individuals would take at the conference.

Let me explain.  In the essay SNC: Original conception revisited (March 1) I gave the agenda I would suggest for SNC as: Ethnic nationality question and structure of national unity; Fundamental human rights; State and religion; and Philosophy of government and political system.  I had, in the 1992 series, included a fifth item, namely, Economic system and property relation, but have now decided to remove it because I now feel that it is “too suggestive”.  That  is to say: it  would be preempting  what I would like  my own “constituents” to push at the conference and inadvertently substituting an agenda of a meeting of potential opponents with a  partisan platform which would be pushed at  the  meeting. I have now reserved this fifth item for discussion under fundamental human rights.

The particular confusion which I have observed relates to treating ethnic or geopolitical restructuring and separation or “true federalism” – together with the various  meanings attached to them – as if it is already being adopted as agenda or, worse still, as a ready-made proposition for  adoption, or for debate and adoption.  What I believe is on the agenda, or can be on the agenda, at the moment is what I have formulated as Ethnic nationality question and structure of national unity. This is general enough; it does not pre-suppose and does not pre-empt.  Anyone who is opposed to this, even as a basis for discussion, is opposed to SNC fundamentally and should say to. The bottom-line is this: Ethnic separation or geopolitical autonomy or “true federalism” is not on the SNC agenda, but every Nigerian following this discussion knows that large segments of Nigeria’s political community are dissatisfied with the present federal structure and have developed platforms on restructuring. One of these platforms now includes “regional integration”, that is, a return to the pre-1966 regional arrangement – but with six regions (corresponding with the present six geopolitical zones), instead of the four pre-1966 regions.

We also know that other segments of the nation, including some political institutions of state (the Presidency and the National Assembly, in particular) are satisfied with the present structure and would prefer changes that come through the normal processes of democratic and constitutional reform.  There are other segments which, while not dismissing the need for political restructuring, hold that the immediate problem with Nigeria lies elsewhere, namely, the character of the Nigerian state, the political economy, and type of governance.  A couple of weeks ago, General Ibrahim Babangida, former military president (1985-1993), expressed the  view that certain matters  ought to be taken as “settled” and ought not to be on the SNC agenda.  These, in his view, include national unity, states as constituent units of the federation, republicanism, and capitalism.  My provisional response here is that this is  his platform.  He should push it, or cause it to be pushed, at the conference.

Some weeks ago, a comrade, in a private dialogue, said that the concept of “true federalism” should be jettisoned because it is “not scientific”.  I took it upon myself to explain to bemused younger compatriots what the elder meant by “true federalism” not being “scientific”. I simply told them that they were being asked to go historical and dialectical.  They would see that the concept and practice of federalism originated in particular historical circumstances and have developed over time and have acquired various forms that are historically determined and conditioned.  This is exactly why in my writings I always put “true federalism” in inverted commas.  However, the point being made should just be noted.  It is not appropriate for political engagement – at least not yet.

The problems which immediately spring up from the question of composition and representation are rooted in the reduction of Sovereign National Conference (SNC) to Conference of Ethnic nationalities (CEN). Sanusi Abubakar, in his article which I cited in my last piece – Sovereign National Conference: Opening a Pandora’s Box (Daily Trust, February 14, 2012) – articulated the problem in his own way.  I am splitting his statement into two: preamble and substantive.  First, the preamble: “The biggest risk may end up being that those asking for Sovereign National Conference, with whom I have now added my name, may end up not happy with the genie they are letting out of the bottle.  That is even if we assume me can easily resolve this fiction of “sovereign ethnicities” to start with”.

Well, I do not know what “sovereign ethnicities” means, so I cannot say whether it is fiction or not. I would rather ask how much of the fiction would be removed if we distinguish SNC from CEN and insist that we are dealing with the former? Sanusi Abubakar’s substantive submission was this:” Let us humour them by agreeing that each ethnic nationality, however defined, would have one representative.  Let us assume that the Hausa, Fulani, Nupe, Kanuri, Tiv, Idoma, Igala, Ebira, Yoruba, Igbo and Edo have  one delegate each, making  10 in all.  Would these 10 succumb to any agreement forced on them because about 350 other groups, who probably have less than 20 million together, are united on it? Would they not veto it? All modern democracies are, after all is said and done, based on population”.

Sanusi Abubakar’s questions, however you may frame or re-frame them, are concrete questions and will definitely arise as soon as you reduce SNC to CEN. Well, Comrade Sanusi, I am not considering your questions and the historical and practical problems they envelope. I am not considering them because I am not thinking of Conference of Ethnic Nationalities (CEN), but Sovereign National Conference (SNC).  However, I considered similar questions in the context of restructuring about 12 years ago in my article: Impossibility of ethnic separation  (The Guardian, November 4, 1999).  The article was a comment on late Chief Anthony Enahoro’s proposals on political restructuring.

On several one – on – one meetings I told the  veteran radical patriot and nationalist that though being invited by  him was a great honour to me and though  hearing him was like going to school, and although I agreed with  him on many points, I still found it difficult to endorse separation along ethnic nationality  lines. It is not a question of not liking the idea, but the question of what is possible and what is impossible. The level of social, economic and political integration is at the root of this impossibility.  Not that Nigeria cannot disintegrate. It can, but it will not be along ethnic nationality lines.  If Nigeria disintegrates, it will be through wars (not war) and each component will have ethnic majorities and minorities.  Remember Biafra; remember Yugoslavia.

What I have just said is not an argument against Sovereign National Conference (SNC). I am only foreseeing problems and raising them in the context of my support for the Conference.  I am aware that the preceding paragraph mixed problem-raising with my partisan positions. I am confident, however, that with what I had earlier said in this piece, the reader can easily draw the line.  I would like to end this piece with the conclusion to my 1992 series: “Our country is in deep crisis, and can be rescued only through a Sovereign National Conference (SNC).  For the frustration, discontent and anger in this land have grown beyond the point where they can be assuaged or neutralized or contained by intimidation, repression, co-optation or nominal policy amendments.  They are very deep and very wide”.

• Concluded.

• This column is proceeding on a short break

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