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Nigeria national Confab: Another Lost Opportunity?

Those who, from the outset, described the National Conference as a jamboree must be laughing by now. In its last days, during which issues that really matter are being discussed, the conference has been shattered like a glass. Unless the Presidency grants it another extension, the National Conference inaugurated on March 17 will, this Thursday, draw to a close without agreeing on the important issues that could transform the nation: revenue-sharing formula, new states and state police.

What we have seen these past few days is a clear division between the “north” and the “south”, between the “oil-rich” states and the “barren, parasitic, desert” states. Former and future militants (who have not been changed by the amnesty programme) in the Niger Delta, I hear, have disowned delegates from their area that have been negotiating for anything less than 100 per cent control of their resources. Delegates from the “core north”, I also hear, intend to walk out this week in a bid to nullify the entire conference.

It’s unfortunate that the national dialogue that held much promise would be ending like this. Now, the nation should regret ever having it. Apart from the non-implementation of its final report – if it ever emerges – there are fears that Nigeria would be left more divided than it was before the conference, judging by the vituperations of the delegates. Little wonder it is said that if an evil spirit re-entered a place from which it had been driven out, it would build an impenetrable castle there. The Niger Delta boys who want their delegates to return may be preparing for war in 2015. And the “barren” states may not give up their dependence on the nation’s cash cow easily. Something must give.

We must not return to Ground Zero. This is the time for the National Assembly, the legitimate law-making body, to raise “urgent issues of national importance” and speedily amend the 1999 Constitution. Our lawmakers have wasted 13 years on constitution amendment without achieving anything except some billions of naira shared among them. Yet, until a new constitution is put in place, nobody should dream about conducting elections in February. It will be too dangerous to do so.

Maybe they should continue from where the conference will stop on Thursday. For me, the 18 states the delegates recommended should be created. And local governments should be scrapped, as the confab has demanded. This means that the states – 54 of them – would be the third tier when the six geopolitical zones achieve recognition as the second tier. The injustice suffered by the south-east would have been ameliorated if each zone had nine states.

The demand for resource control has caused a lot of tension; it should now be addressed. Many in the north are no longer amused by the epithet “parasite” and would also want 100 per cent control of their resources. In my estimation, the north has more resources than the south; what has been lacking is exploitation of the rich solid minerals buried under the north’s soil. Besides mineral resources, the north has land – a priceless asset these days. The north also has agricultural resources that could turn a goldmine if well managed. Let’s stop attaching much importance to oil; it cannot develop Nigeria. There would still be many poor people in the Niger Delta even if the oil-rich states were granted 100 per cent control. So far, only an insignificant few have benefitted from the current 13 per cent. Poverty still rules the roost in the south-south as it does in the north-east.

As for the matter of state police, I have maintained that we should have not just state police but also local police, community police and family police. As a matter of fact, almost everyone now contributes money regularly for paying community “police” or family “police” – the vigilante groups. Why are we running away from our shadows? If state governors would use state police for political vendetta, so what? Have they not been using thugs? And Boko Haram? I wonder why the same politicians that are guarded by policemen, soldiers and thugs have been the ones opposing the creation of state police in this season of terror. This hypocrisy should stop.

Each time I suggest that President Jonathan get the legislature suspended so he could implement the confab’s resolutions under a nationwide state of emergency, some readers say I’m being utopic. And I ask: what is the alternative? Should we leave things as they are? Experience has shown that reform is almost impossible where the legislature assumes much power. And the military administrators we had before 1999 lost the opportunity they had to transform the country. It’s the problems they created that have been roiling the country. They were too selfish. They had no iota of benevolence. They were looters, just like their civilian collaborators. Now, everybody is paying the price.

Whether we like it or not, change must come. Was it not Karl Marx who said that the only constant thing in life is change? Those resisting change at the National Conference, at the National Assembly and elsewhere may delay the process, but, someday, it shall surely come.

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