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The imperative of sovereign national conference

Published by Nigerian Compass on Wed, 15 Feb 2012

THE clamour for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) received a boost recently when the pan-northern Nigeria organisation,Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), that had hitherto rebuffed the idea, suddenly appeared to have now embraced it.Rising from an emergency meeting that specifically discussed the horrific bomb attacks in Kano, its chairman, Alhaji Aliko Mohammed, on February 1, 2012, told newsmen, among other things, that 'the ACF reviewed the recurring calls for a national conference, and even a Sovereign National Conference for the purpose of 'redefining the terms of our union. However, for the avoidance of doubt, it should be made clear that the North remains open to, and will be keen to discuss any idea that may place Nigeria in a better position to meet the challenges of nation building and secure a better future for this and succeeding generations of Nigerians.'Miffed by the flagrant and undemocratic annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election by the military, the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), a coalition of political groups, campaigned resolutely for its revalidation; a development that resulted in the group's questioning of the basis of Nigeria's unity. The body insisted that Nigerians had at no time discussed and agreed on the conditions for co-existing as one country. This innocuous beginning formed the call for SNC, a call that has now assumed a life of its own.The proponents of the SNC consistently insist that the country's constitutional arrangements from the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914 to date, have never truly reflected the political, economic, social, cultural and religious realities on ground. This phenomenon has over the years, led to grievances and accusations by Nigerians against Nigeria which has been threatening the survival of the country. Nigeria must be pulled back from the brink and from the precipice with a constitution made democratically through a conference and affirmed in a referendum by Nigerians. The SNC is therefore an opportunity to rebuild Nigeria as a single sovereign entity from its weak foundation.Nigeria is a huge country with multitude of tribes and scores of ethnic groupings, speaking over 350 languages and dialects. The essence of the SNC is to afford these peoples the opportunity to frankly marshal their differences, fears and commonalities. The SNC is to harness the outcome of the dialogue in constructing a new constitutional framework that will give succour and solace to every ethnic group, no matter the level of neglect and the impoverishment.There is a nostalgic feeling in the land for the kind of federalism practised in the First Republic as against the warped and undemocratic federalism foisted on the country by the military and whichsuccessive civilian governments have retained.The military destroyed the federal covenant in 1966. Part of the present agitation is to return the country back to true and fiscal federalism. True federalism is an antidote to indolence as it will free the creative energies for aggressive economic pursuits, whilst the state will set their own priorities and do things appropriately.The SNC will have to discuss institutions such as the National Assembly whether it should be full time or part time; whether it should be bi-cameral or uni-cameral because the National Assembly as it is presently constituted, is too expensive for Nigeria; it needs streamlining to reflect the country's realities and the worth of its contributions to governance.We support the call for SNC or a variant of it, that is, a national conference. The need for a country-wide conversation on the way forward has now become inevitable.President Jonathan, who rejected the idea on November 17, 2011, when he inaugurated the Constitutional Review Committee and the National Assembly, is enjoined to revisit the subject. There is a renewedgroundswell of support for the SNC across all the geo-political zones and this can no longer be ignored. The elected leaders should therefore appreciate the wisdom in aligning their positions with the people's wish
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