Nigeria: The Benefits And Drawbacks Of A Proposed National Conference By Hundeyin Seyon Patience

The Governor General of Nigeria between 1920-31, Sir Hugh Clifford described Nigeria as ‘a collection of independent native states separated from one another  by great distances by difference of history and traditions and by ethnological, racial, tribal, political, social and religious barriers’ (Nigeria Council Debate. Lagos,1920). Nigeria is plagued with poverty, terrorism, corruption, disunity, etc. and these have been attributed to be caused by a faulty foundation. The foundation of Nigeria was built upon dishonesty, corruption, selfishness, tribalism. We need to revisit the foundation again, destroy every evil brick, rebuild with love and respect for each other, integrity of the heart, sacrificial living and love for our fatherland.


On the 1st of October, 2013, the president and commander in chief of the armed forces of Nigeria, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan announced in his independence day broadcast to the nation that an advisory committee was to be inaugurated to establish modalities for the sovereign national conference to resolve issues that currently cause friction in the country. This is against the backdrops of series of calls for the convocation of a national conference to douse political tension ahead of the 2015 presidential election.


Sovereign national conference is a forum of representatives of the various ethnic nationalities, regions, states, interest groups, etc. where issues affecting the Nigerian state are to be addressed and to determine the extent of our continued unity. It is a forum to choose for ourselves whether to continue with the marriage of administrative convenience foisted on us by the British colonialist or to dissolve it.


The ill-fated Ad Hoc constitutional conference which got dismissed by Lt. Col Gowon on Nov 30, 1966, can arguably be considered the start of demands for a sovereign national conference. Describing the purpose of the sovereign national conference, Theophilus Emiowele Osezue wrote ‘ the sovereign national conference will give ethnic nationalities an opportunity to examine the questions that have made Nigeria such a disaster and come up with answers such as the right of every national to have greater control over their resources’. This position might sound somewhat selfish, discriminatory and divisive.


It is important to say that British rule was not forged on negotiation with Nigerians, but negotiations with ethnic nationalities. So also there was no Nigerian position but ethnic nationality positions. The 1960 independence was preceded by a curious finding conducted by Henry Willinks supported by Gordon Hardow, Philip Mason and JB Shearer which compiled a report on July 30 1958 now known as the Willinks commission of enquiry.


The federation of Nigeria as it is known today has never really been one homogeneous country for it has widely differing people and tribes. This obvious fact notwithstanding, the former colonial master decided to keep the country one in order to effectively control her vital resources for their economic interests thus for administrative conveniences, the northern and southern protectorates were amalgamated in 1914. The only thing the people had in common was the name of their country since each side had different administrative set up.


The root cause of our national tragedies is the fundamental defects that have always afflicted the process of determining every constitutional framework of the polity. Our constitutional arrangement since 1914 to date (2013) have never truly reflected the political, economic, social, cultural and religious realities of the country. The people of the country have never had the opportunity to make inputs into, accept or reject any constitutional framework through a referendum.


There are so many grievances and accusations against Nigeria and by Nigerians which the sovereign national conference must consider and resolve with the sole objective of designing a new constitution for the country which will cast into extinction all the evil tendencies which have conspired to make Nigeria a virtual ghost country, deeply and individually polarised in all directions since 1914 to date and more seriously since January 15, 1966.


To move away from the brink, the answer is sovereign national conference. We must prevent the experiences of Rwanda, Burundi, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia from happening in Nigeria. The only opportunity we have to do this is the convocation of a sovereign national conference. We need to talk, talk and talk ourselves so true peace, genuine and appropriate people’s constitution in which all Nigerians will find a fulfilment of their hopes and aspirations and unshaken guarantee of peace, stability and prosperity.


Sovereign national conference is only held in a situation where a country is under military rule and where the military is planning to relinquish power to a democratically elected government as it happened in the republic of Niger in 1991 under the leadership of General Ali Seibu. Mali, Equatorial Guinea, Togo, Benin and central Africa all did under military regimes. Although the sovereign national conference took place under military rule, the entire delegates to the conference were democratically elected not appointed or nominated.


Sovereign national conference in the present day Nigeria under the present democratic dispensation can only mean the surrendering of our sovereign powers vested in the president and the legislature to an appointed or nominated body.


Calls for a sovereign national conference in a fully pledged democratic dispensation is in the simplest meaning mischievous and a vote of no confidence in and an open declaration of war against all democratically elected institutions in Nigeria. It is also an open contempt of our legislative institutions.


The sovereign national conference is not to govern the country but to find solutions to all the problems that afflict the polity. The sovereign national conference will be employed to discuss and deliberate on everything under the sun with regards to Nigeria and how to preserve the country in which Nigerians will have fulfilment of their hopes and aspirations. The sovereign national conference needs to be convoked so that the mistakes we made in 1966 by not standing on Aburi will not be repeated.


The composition of the sovereign national conference must be in line of using what we have to achieve what we want. By virtue of section 3(6) of the 1999 constitution, there are seven hundred and seventy four (774) local governments in Nigeria, each local government areas will elect a member into the sovereign national conference but such election must not be on party basis. Representative should be drawn from important interest groups which cannot be involved in the election at local government level but whose views could be of paramount importance in the resolution of grievances that could come before the conference. These groups include the judiciary, the army, the air force, the police, the customs, the prisons, the immigration, professional and trade association, teachers at all level of educational system, students, farmers, market women, petty traders, artisans, organized labour, chambers of commerce and industries, religious bodies, human right community, ethnic organizations fighting for self determination. Observer status should also be given to international bodies such as the UN, AU, ECOWAS, EU, commonwealth, media bodies, etc.


Hundeyin Seyon Patience,

Food Science And Technology Department,


Patience writes on the potentials and possible drawbacks of national conference in Nigeria