By Bunmi Sodipo
The National Conference is desirable and all things being equal, President Jonathan should be commended for convening it. However, all things are never equal. In fact, in this particular case, things are more unequal than they ever have been. First off, the listing of a no go area by the President is anathema to the very idea of a national dialogue intended to engender justice and fairness. So I say, ‘Thank you Mr. President. But please, let the people decide how far they want to go!’
Mr. President should not have supposedly convened a people’s conference and then insist on pre-empting its outcome. Hence, the first order of business when the conference resume should be a consensus for a dialogue without no-go areas. If the delegates are to be loyal to the people they are supposed to be representing and not to the person of Mr. President, they cannot accept to be muzzled.
After a journey of a hundred years, Nigeria wants to put her tribal and sectional squabbles behind her. Nigeria wants to recognize all her ethnic nationalities and give them a voice and a sense of belonging. Nigeria wants to be free to squarely face the task of nation building without having to endlessly tackle armed dissents from one geopolitical zone or another. This means the issues of resource control, true federalism and an indigenously-crafted constitution will have to be tackled. This is the only way we can redress the deliberate and diabolical inequality which Lord Lugard and his masters in Whitehall sowed into the roots of our nation to keep us perpetually divided and ruled despite allowing us what has been described as a mere ‘flag independence’. It is the only way we can give the country a new lease of life. And if any ethnic group or a regional block cannot come to terms with the others, choosing to part amicably, they should not be denied that option. As extreme as that option may seem.
The kind of national conference therefore that will take Nigeria in the direction she wants to go is one that is representative of all ethnic nationalities in the country. Over 300 of them by the way! The delegates to the conference should have been chosen and sponsored by ethnic nationalities, to articulate their positions and represent their interest. Even to the most minor of the minorities. Why? Because they are the true owners of the land and the huge financial reward of twelve million naira for a three month assignment cannot fail to influence the necessary 75% in favour of the state against the people, hence their own people should be allowed to sponsor them with whatever they can afford. The state is not the people and he who pays the piper dictates the tune!
When the Oyinbo man first came here, who did he meet? The Oyinbo man met tribes and ethnic groups each occupying their God-given ancestral lands and managing their own affairs. They had traditional rulers and socio-political groups, contributing meaningfully to the running of their affairs and the determination of their collective destinies. They didn’t ask to be lumped, knocked and hammered together into a union that has barely worked for over a hundred years. Now over time, some of these various ethnic nationalities had erected platforms for ethnic patriots to speak, for example Afenifere Renewal Group, Arewa Consultative Forum, Ohaneze N’digbo, Middle Belt Forum, Odua People’s Congress, MASSOB et cetera et cetera, are all groups that has been formed to articulate the position of their people and express their grievances. With time, more and more of these over three hundred ethnic groups will find their voice! Are we going to convene a fresh National Conference every time a new set of ethnic nationalities find their voice? How could the government have monopoly of over 181 delegates out of 492 and not exploit it? Why should President Jonathan have the personal choice of 72 out of 492 delegates when at least over 250 ethnic nationalities are left without a voice?
Permit me to therefore join my relatively unknown voice with that of Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa in saying President Jonathan was the wrong person to call a dialogue. However, since he has called it and in view of the response he had gotten from many supposedly well meaning Nigerians, once again I say, “Thank you Mr. President. But please let all the people be represented, let the people decide who will represent them and let them decide how far they want to go! Long live Nigeria!
Bunmi Sodipo is a state executive member of Youth Unite, the coalition of all youth groups under the umbrella of All Progressives Congress in Oyo State. Comments and feedback to 08034652489, firstname.lastname@example.org