Tuesday, March 4, 2014

National Conference: A LONG WALK BACK TO ABURI BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT


The United Kingdom ruled India as one country but when it was granting it independence in August 1947, two countries emerged: Pakistan on August 14, 1947, and India on August 15, 1947. Pakistan was made up of two parts: East and West Pakistan. In 1970, Pakistan held its first democratic election, which was won by the Awami League, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from East Pakistan. The power brokers in West Pakistan refused to hand over power to Rahman. Subsequently, a civil war broke out. By 1971, East Pakistan, inhabited by the Bengali people, seceded and became known as Bangladesh: which in the official Bengali language means “Country of Bengal.” Consequently, a country that started under British rule as one country is today three countries, each pursuing its destiny as it deems fit. Interestingly, these three countries are all among the top 10 most populous countries of the world.

Coming closer home, many Nigerians love to deny the fact that the direct cause of the Nigerian Civil War was the breach of the Aburi Accord by the Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s administration. If the Aburi Accord had been implemented, no war would have occurred and Nigeria would have most likely had more peace, stability and development. The bloodshed in Nigeria between 1966 and 1967 created fear and distrust among Nigerians. A version of W.B. Yeats’ Second Coming enveloped Nigeria: things had fallen apart and the centre could not hold as a consequence of the mere anarchy that was loosed upon the land of Nigeria. The leaders of Eastern Region felt unsafe to visit Lagos or any other part of Nigeria for a meeting and vice versa.

Happily, the Head of State of Ghana, Lt.-Gen. J.A. Ankrah, intervened by agreeing to host the contending parties in his country. The town of Aburi was chosen for that conference of the regions of Nigeria. At the end of the dialogue, a pact was signed which came to be known as the Aburi Accord. The participants in that dialogue shook hands and came out of that meeting smiling, happy that the looming war in Nigeria had been averted, or so they thought. The kernel of the Aburi Accord was that the four regions then would be given a good measure of room to pursue their individual dreams with little interference from the other regions or the central government. Shortly after returning from Ghana, the Aburi Accord was regrettably breached and discarded by the Gowon’s administration. Eastern Nigeria felt that it was no longer safe in Nigeria and could no longer trust the Nigerian government, and decided to secede as the Republic of Biafra. Gowon sent troops to bring back Eastern Nigeria in what it called “a police action.” That so-called police action became the Nigerian Civil War that lasted for 30 months, with an estimated casualty figure of two million.

However, Nigeria does not necessarily need to be partitioned into various countries like India, for there are inherent advantages Nigeria can gain from being one, if the appropriate measures are put in place. But there is no doubt that if Nigeria continues to run the unitary system – dressed up as federalism – that it has been running since 1966, it will continue to stagnate and experience unnecessary crises and bloodshed.

It is not surprising that 47 years after the Aburi Accord and 44 years after the Nigerian Civil War, all the efforts made for Nigerians to live together in peace and trust have not yielded much fruit. The people from each zone continue to believe that they are being marginalised and short-changed. Citizens of each zone continue to believe that the other zones are suffocating them and trying to force their wishes upon them willy-nilly. Each zone continues to feel that it is being forced to live the type of life it does not want for the sake of others. Bloodshed has continued. Consequently, there has been constant friction that has led to stagnation or retrogression of the nation.

Just like Lord Lugard who decided to amalgamate the Southern Nigeria and the Northern Nigeria in 1914 for the convenience and interest of the United Kingdom, without consulting the peoples involved, successive civilian and military governments of Nigeria have sustained that policy of not consulting Nigerians on how best they would like to live together. Each administration has tried to make the so-called federal constitution more unitary in nature, making it hard for the states or zones to pursue those dreams that are dear to them.

Even though on a few occasions, due to agitations for a national conference, Nigerians have been allowed to come together to talk, on all occasions, the government in power – fearful that such a conference could lead to the “disintegration” of Nigeria – would ensure that the fundamental problem bedeviling our nation is not solved: the political structure that fails to acknowledge the differences and diversity of the peoples of Nigeria thereby not allowing them to pursue their respective dreams in their states or zones, without any encumbrance from other states, zones or the nation. The central government has continued to act like the sun, which is the centre of the universe and its supplier of light, without which the planets cannot survive. It hands out goodies to the states as it pleases. Every state has to line up to get its ration. Any time the states come together to complain that what they get is no longer enough, the central government would agree to increase the allocation to the states by a little percentage. The states would enjoy that for a while before discontent sets in and calls for another conference hot up.

Consequently, the states have been infused with the lazy, sharing mentality, which makes it unprofitable for them to try to create anything. Whether a state works hard or not, its share from the federal allocation is guaranteed every month. As long as the oil flows, there is no need to worry or labour.  This mentality has led to the death of creativity, diligence, and industry, as well as the rise of corruption and lack of accountability.

Therefore, as the National Dialogue kicks off in Abuja shortly, it is doubtful if the fundamental problem of Nigeria will be solved, given the way participants to the conference were chosen, the high 75 per cent mark given for any issue to be decided upon, and the fact that the issues decided upon will still have to go through the National Assembly. Like the other conferences before it, some milestones will be achieved. But if the fundamental issues hampering Nigeria’s growth are not resolved, Nigerians will continue to agitate for a sovereign national conference that will address their fundamental national problem.

Nigeria has a structural problem that must be solved structurally. Nigeria may walk through the valley, meander through the creek, lumber through the forest, and trudge through the desert, all in a bid to run away from the Aburi Accord, but the more it runs away from it, the more it will continue to be a land whose citizens feel marginalised, short-changed, cheated, frustrated and suffocated. Call it true federalism, regional autonomy, or a weaker centre with strong zones, it does not matter, but if Nigeria will experience tangible progress, peace and stability, it will have to stop its 50-year-old somnambulistic political peregrination and return to a system that resembles the system adopted at Aburi in 1967.