By Nnamdi Nwigwe
Constitutional lawyer, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, has tried several times to make the issue of a National Conference a matter for urgent discourse. He raised the issue again when he led some members of his group, The Patriots, to canvass the topic at a meeting in Akwa Ibom State recently.
This idea of a National Conference has been brought up now and again whenever our leaders appear to be in search of fresh ideas on how to really make Nigeria rise from its current position on the lower rungs of emerging nations.
Since the disastrous and unfortunate annulment of the acclaimed June 12, 1993 Presidential election, which Chief Moshood K. O. Abiola was widely believed to have won, supporters of Abiola have been calling for what they termed “Sovereign National Conference.” The conference, whose decision would not be subjected to any tampering by any other authority according to the promoters, would involve all ethnic nationalities that make up the country. There are about 250 of them!
The purpose of the conference, they said, would be for all stakeholders in the country to decide whether we would all continue to live together as one nation and if “yes”, how? If, on the other hand, some groups opt for a disengagement from what we have now as Nigeria, the details will also have to be worked out. National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), an umbrella that sprang up on annulment of the 1993 poll, began the quest for the convocation of a “sovereign national conference” to discuss Nigeria’s future. The quest soon became a chorus for all sorts of people who had become fed up with the way things are going in the country. Soon, it became a battle cry for those who consider themselves as progressives.
On the other hand, quite a number of people who believe in national dialogue but not necessarily a “sovereign” one, have advocated such a meeting through the National Assembly. After all, the National Assembly is a representative body of the Nigerian populace
I believe that the idea of more than 250 different tribes in Nigeria producing delegates to a “national sover eign conference” is an invitation to chaos.
And, to demand that a decision from such a motley crowd should be implemented would be a nightmare for any sitting government president. Apparently appreciative of the implications and complexities of such a “sovereign” conference, Prof. Nwabueze is limiting his demand to just a conference to jaw-jaw on what he describes as the “critical problems” of Nigeria which the eminent don diagnoses as “insecurity and lack of progress.”
Insecurity and lack of progress are consequences of our national problems. If Prof. Nwabueze would like to research into Nigeria’s real problems, he would discover that pervasive corruption and poverty are the nation’s Achilles Heels.
We must all begin to think of how to banish poverty in the land by tackling official corruption, head-on. Poverty is a social phenomenon that deprives the individual of his real worth. It is non-tribalistic, non-partisan, non-religious. It visits every home without fear or favour. To eradicate poverty requires the will, zeal and determination of each and every one of us. When we talk of the national question and don’t bring corruption and poverty as the main topics, we are simply deceiving ourselves.
Let our leaders focus their minds and intellect on this single issue and come up with solutions that are realizable and sustainable. Certainly, tearing up the fabric of Nigeria is no solution. When poverty persists, frustration and violence set in.
We must return to the old colonial and immediate post-colonial era when government contracts and purchases were executed through what was then known as Tenders’ Board. Not the kind of Tender’s board we see these days. The ideal Tender’s Board is when government announces a project and calls for tenders from qualified people, or the people’s tenders are sent to a Tenders’ Board, which is comprised of professionals and bureaucrats of high integrity.
The Board would meet to vet the applications. Whoever wins a government tender then goes ahead to source for funds to do the job. Unlike what happens now, no government official outside those constitutionally permitted to do so, had access to public finances, nor could they individually award contracts. Can’t we revert to Tenders’ Board System and ensure that the proper “due process” is followed? Another fertile area of mindless stealing by officials in government is through lands and property tax.
The processing of land purchase, registration and obtaining of certificates of ownership (Cs of O) could be so streamlined that a timeline is given within which a C of O is given to an applicant without too much bribery along the line. Time limits should also be established for citizens to get their passports, counting from the day an applicant returns the form.
What of corruption at the Police Station? Bail is free. But how many of us have ever resisted giving bribe to bail somebody at the Police? Prof. Nwabueze and the Patriots, please remember many more of how things were done in the past and encourage Nigerians to revert to the good old days. The call for National Soverign Conference is diversionary.
■ Nwigwe is a public analyst.