The recent call for the convocation of a national conference by a group of eminent Nigerians known as The Patriots has again underscored the need for all the ethnic nationalities that make up the country to dialogue on how they can continue to live together as one united nation. The group, led by former Education Secretary and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Prof. Ben Nwabueze, made it clear to President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja that he should convoke the national conference before the 2015 general polls. Nwabueze also stressed the need for a people’s constitution that will truly be written by Nigerians, unlike the 1999 Constitution, which was foisted on the country by the Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar military regime.
The Patriots’ call for a national conference is not exactly new. For many years now, Nigerians from different walks of life have been clamouring for a conference of the nation’s ethnic nationalities, whether sovereign or not. Past successive regimes in the country had, for unexplained reasons, shied away from convoking such a needful meeting.
Despite the reluctance of past administrations to convoke the national conference in a bid to resolve some of our foundational problems as a nation, calls for such a forum have continued to come in torrents. There is no doubt that Nigeria, at this juncture, needs the conference more than ever before in view of diverse contentious national issues such as the type of government the people want, citizenship, ethnicity, religion, insecurity, developmental challenges and revenue sharing formula, among others.
We welcome the fresh call for a national confab. Such a conference will help to frontally address some of our constitutional problems. This country, founded in 1914 by Lord Frederick Lugard without consultations with all the ethnic groups that make it up is, indeed, due for restructuring. The country has witnessed some political upheavals including coups and counter coups, a bloody fratricidal civil war, ethnic tensions and violent religious uprisings. The inability of past governments to address the issue of environmental pollution in the oil-rich Niger Delta region led to youth restiveness in that part of the country. Right now, there is the problem of general insecurity in the North occasioned by the Boko Haram insurgency. There is also a rising wave of kidnapping and armed robbery in the South.
The country is like a keg of gunpowder waiting to explode any time it is detonated. The rise and rise of ethnic militia groups like MASSOB, MOSOP, OPC, Arewa Youths, Egbesu and others are signs that Nigeria’s unity is fragile. The country cannot stand the test of nationhood. The settler and indigeneship issue is still a thorn in the flesh of our nationhood that has been described as “an artificial creation.” The way we have carried on has not shown that we are united. We are far from the nationhood of our founding fathers’ dream. There is little hope that Nigeria will ever become a nation.
India, before Pakistan was carved out of it, Yugoslavia, Soviet Union and Sudan are some of the examples of countries that have broken up. Nigeria has steadily shown signs that it can break up easily. An American report has predicted that the country may break up by 2015. It appears that our leaders are not listening. In their usual dismissive stance, they have ruled out the US prediction.
Let President Goodluck Jonathan listen to The Patriots and allow Nigerians to talk and chart a new future for themselves. We know how difficult such a decision can be for a sitting president but that is the right thing to do. An argument has been canvassed that with a National Assembly in place, no other body can be assembled, and vested with the powers to represent the people. But the government need not fear that the conference will hijack sovereignty from either the Executive or the Legislature, if it is constituted of high quality Nigerians who are committed to the well-being of the country.
It is only such a meeting that can save the nation from the numerous prophecies of a break-up. Let nobody think that Nigeria is indivisible. Government should act fast and allow Nigerians restructure the country the way they want before ethnicity and creed tear the fabric of the nation apart. The recurring crises in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are veritable signs that all is not well with the polity. The PDP implosion, if not well managed, can tear the nation apart.
We need a meeting of all the ethnic nationalities to discuss how we can live together in peace and harmony. The 1999 Constitution is so handicapped with contradictions that mere amendments alone cannot salvage the situation. There is need for a brand new constitution. A Constituent Assembly should be put in place so that they can give the country a new constitution that will spell out how Nigerians want to live in the country. The time is ripe for this all-important dialogue. Nigerians should be allowed to chart a new course for their country.