Moral Legitimacy and the National Conference

(By Daniel Obimba)

The truth is we are a nation with a very chequered history. Soon after native Nigerians began to have a greater say in the Nigerian bureaucracy, legislation and what have you did fault lines appear in the British orchestrated Union because the British never had a clear framework on how to integrate the ethnicities that made up the young nation. Even the verdict on the nation by our leaders past known to the Nigerian posterity as our founding fathers have quite borne the ominous.

The ongoing national conference continues to generate conversations across the Nation. In these conversations the legitimacy of the conference has been severally called to question. Some of the naysayers have sought constitutional and legal reasons to slam the exercise. But many, perhaps the vast majority, or perhaps not, have lent their weight to the exercise believing that the precarious state of affairs in Nigeria vouchsafes the President a moral legitimacy (if not one arising purely from constitutional grounds) to spearhead this convocation. And so the conference was midwifed amid more “cheers” than “nays” through preliminaries where a framework was contrived for it and viola! The conference is here.

Resting on that moral legitimacy it has been voiced in certain quarters, that President Jonathan faced with a historic opportunity to exhibit the paternal essence of the presidency in preserving its ward (in this case the Nigerian state) and save it from  succumbing to a cold death, has not disappointed. Without disputing this let me say that it is yet too early for celebrations although some optimism can be said to be in order at this stage.

However it is my candid persuasion that there are things moral legitimacy should evoke order than the ongoing national conference. And this is at the risk of sounding politically blasphemous, at least in the ears of certain public commentators particularly those whose commentary on the Nigerian state over the past few years rests primarily on the need for a polity restructuring conference. To these it may sound absurd that anyone should question this conference at all.

However to them I say first things first. Nigeria is still a deeply fragmented country or political entity. One need not gaze into our very far and distant history before that assertion can command a consensus. The oddity so far has been that some of the most conspicuous commentators indulge the pastime that to say so is somewhat irreverent. Some go as far as treating it as the figment of the imagination of a coterie of powerful elites which does not truly reflect the collective experience banal to our streets, corners, domains and neighbourhoods. Yet we have witnessed so much in recent times to convince one not to sustain that reverie.

Not so long after we witnessed the Lagos deportation saga, the public space became awash with tidal ill will between citizens of Igbo and Yoruba extraction as they engaged themselves in verbal free-for-all via a range of media again underscoring the sectional tensions that characterize our polity. The peaceful coexistence between aborigines of the Jos plateau and the Fulani Hausa settlers has been so fractured that the once serene province is now a theatre of serial bloodbath. Tribal rifts have festered so much in this country that the sheer appetite for grazing lands now leads Fulani herdsmen and a cross section of tribes northward, who once co-existed harmoniously to now seek to exterminate themselves.

Many other examples abound. The majority of public commentators who underrate these schisms are invigorated by the “slim” survival of the Nigerian state after a set and stretch of nightmares, the pogrom and then the cataclysmic civil war amongst others. But these events rather than sire the sincerity to halt the indices that can remake them have rather engendered a widespread but apparently specious optimism that the worst is permanently behind us because we had a civil war that ruffled us but came shy of dismembering the union and so we can afford to treat the portentous signs without proper analysis only with a certain meretricious alarm even though those dark indices are very present with us. Since a proper analysis can embarrass certain interests, we give a less than comprehensive attention to the “problems” while we heighten the drama of raised alarm. The result is we have alarmists everywhere delivering in obtrusive decibels the recurring tensions but keep a blank perspective to certain intrinsic issues that demand commensurate action.

I cannot recall how many times I have heard “well meaning” ordinary Nigerians in the public places remark that we are “not one nation, we are deceiving ourselves”. And these people are supposed to represent the teeming lower cadres in our broad social spectrum, portrayed by public commentators as alienated from the divisive rhetoric of our self seeking and self perpetuating political class. The dark indices and indicators of mistrust, hatred and prejudice that bred our worst conflicts in this country are still here. However the fact that a national conference has been summoned attests to the fact that all is not well and that the dissensions we witness and read in the news have not gone unnoticed. At least the commentators, alarmists and patriots have not allowed them to go unnoticed, to their credit. The preferred notion has been that we are faced with tensions and not necessarily a divided nation. Hence the national conference is forged around slogans like “indivisible Nigeria” even though the realities dictate otherwise. So there are wide expectations or hope that the national conference will successfully douse the tensions even though one might not find the satisfaction that it will exceed that target as should be the case.

The truth is we are a nation with a very chequered history. Soon after native Nigerians began to have a greater say in the Nigerian bureaucracy, legislation and what have you did fault lines appear in the British orchestrated Union because the British never had a clear framework on how to integrate the ethnicities that made up the young nation. Even the verdict on the nation by our leaders past known to the Nigerian posterity as our founding fathers have quite borne the ominous. Sir Ahmadu Bello was reported to have called the union “the mistake of 1914”. Awo also described the Union called Nigeria as a “mere geographical expression.” Balewa’s hints about the intent of northern Nigerian leadership to continue the jihadic Islamisation of Nigeria that will capitulate at sea after the entire mass of Nigeria is covered is also in character.

The impulse over the years has been to throw conferences (or even constituent assemblies) at our myriad of issues. That impulse has spawn a number of them some of which are the 1950 Ibadan conference, 1953 London conference, 1957 London conference, 1958 Lagos conference, Aburi conference Ghana,1975 constitution drafting committee and more. The outcomes of many of these summits were half-hearted. For example on Aburi Conference, Messrs Olumide and Oyebode wrote on page 20 of Guardian Newspaper of October 4, 2013 that the transcript of the meeting was clear on the agreement for a loose confederation “but before the ink dried on the agreement, Gowon reneged, set off series of events that finally led to the civil war”. On the National conference held by General Gowon in September 12, 1966 Messrs Olumide and Oyebade also wrote that the conference leaned towards a loose confederation, the military government allegedly stepped in against the idea of a confederation and “the military junta preferred a unitary style.”

Some of these conferences in time past were drivers of critical political developments in this country. But by and large they have failed to address our divisions. Analysts usually downplay these divisions and suppose the frictions that bedevil the nation to be largely provoked, exploited and over exaggerated by political players. Such views are not totally bereft of affirmation in political thought and philosophy. In his work Class struggle in Africa Kwame Nkrumah traces tribal schisms of post-colonial Africa to the ascendancy of an exploitative bourgeoisie minority class (collaborating with imperialists and neo-colonialists) in what he called a promotion of “their joint class interests”. These insights and others in the same category have reinforced a pattern espoused by certain contemporary intellectuals that ethnic frictions do not run deeper and beyond the elaborate exploitations and schemes of the ruling elite, exiguous in their numbers but paramount in their influence.

But the truth is that our divisions have taken a heavy toll, if not on our collective psyche then our disparate psyches in ways too pertinent to ignore from the 1953 riot in the North to the Jos killings of early 2000’s and many more. There has been many political killings (military coups inclusive) too numerous to recall here. Now we have the dreaded Boko haram insurgency looking like a watershed to an already convoluted situation. That the sabre rattling of influential elites has exacerbated the situation is not lost to any keen observer but the bloody conflicts experienced so far could never have gained traction without an extensive collaboration of a deeply prejudiced populace often riled by the losses suffered from crises in the past and present. The Civil war, the genocide, the pogrom of the 60’s continue to elicit resentment from the Igbo speaking peoples of Nigeria. Reminiscences of MKO’s travails and eventual suspicious death still peeve the Yoruba of the South west. It is also not to be expected that the Birom, Tiv, Jukunoid tribes, Fulani’s will treat the losses from their clashes in times of future respite with respectable cheer.

Our wounds are grave sometimes more grave than we care to admit and sadly too they are curiously inherited. For instance the story about the conspired liquidation of Adaka Boro in the late sixties by the Nigerian establishment of the day is now no longer just a loss to his peers and generation but one of the many focal grievances for the new generation of Ijaw insurgents found in groups like MEND (some of who are young enough to be Boro’s grandchildren) who have internalized the injury as theirs. This young generation, thus imbued is equally fired up with the hate as first nursed by that older generation, living or ancestral, as they continue to confront what they view as the Nigerian bogey.

A polity restructuring National conference may look suitable in trying to manage our divisions but we are already seared with wounds to which a solution rooted in truth and reconciliation shall be condign. To convene a National summit without genuine national healing amounts to assembling potential “aggressors” in a “scramble conference”.

We can borrow from President Rouseff of Brazil’s 2012 Truth commission, Rwanda’s Gacaca system (avoiding it’s pitfalls), South Africa’s 1994 truth and reconciliation success. The Gacaca for instance emphasizes acknowledgements and apologies from perpetrators as confessions are made only acceptable if they come with an apology. We can have a forum that boldly revisits “the sins” against MKO culminating in a National apology to his family with Major actors like IBB in full participation. It won’t be far-fetched to bring the Nzeogwu’s of Okpanam and the Ahmadu Bello family and descendants in symbolic union, emotive apologies freely offered signaling a new bonding fundamental in effect. A compelling rapprochement must be conducted for the Ogoni, the Odi, parts of Middle belt etc. on similar terms. Also no reconciliation of any significant magnitude can be achieved without revisiting the pogrom and the genocidal sufferings of the Igbo’s of the East before and during the civil war. The Major actors and their survivors (Gowon, Awolowo et al) should be involved offering apologies accordingly. Behind the strategy of truth, healing and reconciliation lies penetrating vision. A restructured Nigeria cannot survive mutual hatred. Healing deferred or denied breeds potential saboteurs even to good governance. Mandela’s 1994 truth and reconciliation commission singularly put South Africa on the path of integration and stability. Unlike(we’ve lacked leadership emblematic of national integration) the Mandela’s of history who provided fine African examples of triumph over discord, the Nigerian experience continues to bolster fancied stereotypes that the African is less capable of such quintessence as civilized reconciliation, that their primordial predilections stir them more towards sustained truculence and prejudice.

So for those who gloat that moral legitimacy justifies this conference, it must be said that an unequivocal healing and integration motivated entente shall be for now the best triumph of that type of moral legitimacy.

By Daniel Obimba

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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