By Kanayo Esinulo
This conference about to begin is important for so many reasons. It is coming at a time that the 2015 political clouds are gathering, and if for any reason the conference fails to fully discuss and agree on many critical matters troubling Nigeria, the existing tension in the land may, quite likely, exacerbate and multiply. For far too long, we have been pretending that the Nigeria of our dream would soon emerge, but it keeps eluding us. Our shared optimism that one day a miracle would happen and Nigeria would be moving again, has since collapsed. After the national dialogue organised by the Abacha regime (!995) and the Obasanjo administration (2005) failed to yield anything by way of fruit, Nigerians understandably dismissed such national gatherings as bazaar. From the 1922 Clifford Constitution to General Abdulsalaam Abubakar variety in1999, not one of them, it now seems, came close enough to Nigeria™s 1963 Republican Constitution in terms of capturing exactly what suits the Nigerian condition and mood. Some close watchers insist that except any new arrangement borrows heavily from the 1963 Constitution, we may have to travel this rough road again and again.
If Nigeria was structured the way it is today, Chief Obafemi Awolowo would not have achieved or accomplished in Western Nigeria what we know today as the man™s legacy. We would not be able to point fingers at incredible landmarks in Eastern Nigeria that we associate Dr. M.I. Okpara with today, and Sir Ahmadu Bello would have long been forgotten by northerners. True, Nigeria was then federal in every sense and that enabled these great men of history to successfully mobilise human and material resources available in their regions for development. That was before the military halted our political education and progress. And since the military imposed a unitary system of government on the country, and totally neutralised all efforts at our regional (state) levels to develop at their own pace and in the direction that each wanted, this country has not been the same again. True federalism, as practised then, enabled my generation to witness and enjoy, on a continuous basis, the benefits of steady development and calculated progress.
I grew up in eastern region under the administration of Dr. M.I. Okpara. I saw schools spring up everywhere. Our teachers were paid and none, to our young brains then, complained of anything. Teachers had dignity and respect. No one owed them salaries. Farm settlements sprang up in so many places in our region. As a secondary school student in the early 60s, I enjoyed and still remember our historic trip to ˜Obudu Cattle Ranch™ established by Eastern Nigeria Government. My standard Six School Certificate was signed by the Minister of Education, Eastern Region, Chief S.E. Imoke, the father of the present governor of Cross River State, I think. Our roads were good and electricity supply was constant and reliable. I can go on and on and on. Nigeria was sweet and as youngsters, we really didn™t know nor even cared what part of Nigeria we came from. We were just young Nigerians enjoying opportunities that came with independence from colonial Britain.
It is, therefore, important that Nigeria should be re-engineered and re-focused, if we must get Nigeria back to glory. I think that every group or nationality involved in this national conversation must field its ˜First XI™. My little problem with the conference, though, is the barrier created by the ˜no-go areas.™ I thought that the field would have been left open for all ideas and proposals to be canvassed. From what we now know, the South-West zone may insist on true and fiscal federalism. The South-South contingent would be unyielding on resource control and on the adoption of the 1963 Constitution with amendments that would reflect today™s realities. The South-East is likely going to line up behind South-south on resource control, fiscal federalism and equal justice for the federating units “ the South-east is made up of five states only, while some zones have seven. The North West should, in my view, support resource control, for the mineral resources beneath the soil of Zamfara State are enormous, statistically speaking. The same goes for North Central. There is no part of this great land that is not gifted. It is just that every eye is fixed on crude oil, and it was the military that made Nigeria mono-cultural. It is now time to reverse all that. And like Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) rightly said, Nigeria™s unity should also be on the table for discussion. Why not?
Is it true that delegates from the South-West have been advised to read or re-read Obafemi Awolowo™s books on Nigeria? I am aware that those to represent the South-East have been requested to update themselves with the minutes of the January 4, 1967 meeting of Nigerian military leaders in Aburi, Ghana, particularly the important points made by Emeka Ojukwu. They are also to read Chinua Achebe™s There Was a Country, Emma Okocha™s Blood on The Niger and every published work on the Nigeria/Biafra war, etc. In the Diaspora, particularly in the US, Ndigbo are busy sharpening and re-editing what they collectively believe should be a composite position of their people at the conference. Interestingly, this conference has activated the desire to re-design Nigeria™s future through sincere discussions that may possibly lead to a re-structured federal Nigeria. We want the kind of restructuring that enables each state or zone to be the custodian of its own destiny.
I realise that the large gap or disparity that exists between Nigeria™s old regions and countries like Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Indonesia (Nigeria was at par with all of them in the 60s) couldn™t have occurred if the military had not halted our certain progress. And this gap would continue to widen if Nigeria™s condition is not fully discussed and salvaged from the direction that it is going. My position, if I were to be there, I would have talked about making the centre less attractive. A situation in which governors virtually live in, and operate from, Abuja is unacceptable. Devolution of power to the regions or states must happen before we can get Nigeria moving again. The centre is so heavy, so powerful, so rich and promotes this ˜monkey dey work, baboon dey chop™ situation “ a phenomenon that helps fuel and sustain corruption, which we are now finding difficult to dislodge. The 1963 constitution is about the best thing that Nigerians constructed for themselves that, in fact, favours every part of the federation. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Tafawa Balewa, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Dr. M.I. Okpara and Chief S.L. Akintola were no fools. They were profoundly pro-people and pro-Nigeria.
Will this national conference be any different from the Abacha and Obasanjo bazaar? We hope not! This dialogue is an project whose time has come. I believe strongly that if the delegates are sincere, patriotic and committed, they would appreciate that they are historically placed to give us a truly federal Nigeria that we can all be proud of, not a country where the development and progress of any component part is determined largely by the mood and greed of a clique that thinks Nigeria is their conquered territory.
Kanayo Esinulo, www: kanayoesinulo.com
Culled from TheNEWS magazine
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