Sovereign National Conference (with Honesty), 2004-2005
The basis of a successful Sovereign National Conference (SNC) is the ratification and diplomatic recognition of the sovereignty of each of the different nations presently suffering in Nigeria—recognition of each nation as an Independent country of its own. This at once guarantees equality and equity of representation at SNC, authenticity of negotiations and their outcomes; and nullifies the previous colonial stamp of Balkanization which has resulted in, and assured the dysfunctional, schizophrenic structure known as one Nigeria (See part 2). Best of all, such basis totally guarantees the success of SNC; because, if negotiations should derail at any point—be it by the ever-present Sword of Damocles dangling in the form of a military or pseudo-military coup, the unilateral withdrawal of any nation or party, or the violation of the non-violent principle of SNC by any party—each nation can go home with its sovereignty intact, un-jeopardized and irrevocable.
Key to success of SNC:
Some practical issues
Often, the first thing that comes to mind is the issue of movement across the new inter-national borders—what kind of immigration paperwork is required? This is the easiest question to answer or solve: nations can decide anything from open borders to requirement of simple identification to formal visas. It’s up to the nations to decide—and adhere to. The second question concerns households and families where members come from different nations. Here again, the solution is quite easy: if the nations want, they can all agree to grant dual/multiple citizenships to each person in this category, and allow the person affected to choose one, more than one, or even all citizenships, concurrently. There are already functioning examples in the International community with regards to these two issues. Another commonly heard issue is that of “minorities” within a larger population in a nation. The UN already has laws on the books concerning this. While Nigeria was able to get away with the abuse of minorities, no newly actualized nation today can do that any more without running the risk of UN sanctions and isolation, or even the risk of disintegration and secession of the minority groups. Finally, the respect and protection of minority group rights within each nation can and ought to be formally included and signed off on at SNC. The rhetorical question, though, is this: what prevents a concerned minority group from being its own nation, recognized and represented as such at SNC?
There are other issues and questions to address.
1) Security during transition
a. Human security: while SNC is in progress, and for the agreed duration of the transitional period, the lives of all peoples living anywhere—whether in their own nations or in different nations—have to be protected. People have to be free from intimidation, harassment and threats arising from their nationality, during the period of national disengagement.
b. Property security: just like human security, the safety and ownership rights and privileges of all property must be respected and preserved during the period of transition. Thereafter, of course, each nation’s property laws will prevail within that nation, subject to any International Laws that apply to property rights.
c. Labor Function Stability. Changes in the labor force and job market arising from the transition should be minimized. Job security, to the extent impacted by SNC changes, should be preserved during this period, regardless of nationality or work location. Private Sector industries and businesses need not be threatened by the transition, and should be encouraged to keep functioning. Government-Sector labor function can be regionalized or “nationalized,”—that is, deployed in and by the new nations, if feasible, during the transition. Otherwise, it can be “transitionalized”—that is, function as part of the Transitional Government (TG).
d. Pension security: Pension and Retirement benefits will be preserved in full and honored during the transition.
e. Education System Security: All educational institutions will continue to function with usual personnel, staff and students, during the transition, again, regardless of nationality or location.
f. Public Health Security. Whatever Public Health functions are in place now will be maintained during the transition. This includes programs such as public Immunization and HIV /AIDS. Healthcare institutions will continue to function at the current level in their current locations serving the same clientele regardless of nationality during the transition.
g. Transport, Trade and Commodity Security. Trade and commercial exchange of goods, commodities and services (including Utilities) not elsewhere covered, will be maintained at the same level, without inflation, hording, protectionism or impediment. Transportation services, including cross-border movements, need to be maintained at current function during the transition.
Articulating these concerns unmasks other issues such as defining and planning for phases of SNC. For example, a pre-conference phase allows for the establishment and adoption of basics once there is a commitment to hold SNC. The roundtable phase belongs to the discussions and negotiations themselves, and these may be rotated around the entire region. There is an option for a consultative phase, where SNC decisions are carried back to the peoples for appropriate action; as well as a “period of grace” to allow for implementation of decisions, disengagements and adjustments. All these phases have been conveniently lumped into “transition.” Finally it will be necessary to agree on and adopt a “Go-Live” day; when that day rolls around after the strike of midnight, “formality” begins.
2) Allaying International Community Anxieties
a. Africa: Other African countries will be watching with interest—and a certain amount of anxiety. Remember: what ails Nigeria is the same thing that Africa is sick with. The solution is the same, but the methods may differ for different regions of the continent and for different “countries.” An orderly non-violent process with success built in (see first paragraph) will set a good example for other countries to follow.
b. UK and the West: The major concern of these countries is the stability of oil flow. It is important to reassure all countries who depend on the Oil that neither SNC nor transition will jeopardize either the oil itself, or its production and sale. While SNC negotiates, and for the duration of the transition, it will be important to maintain the throughput and output of oil, and sale, at current market levels. If necessary, a different distribution and fiscal management agency can be employed to meet such a goal. The revenues can be held in escrow pending the outcome of SNC negotiations.
c. United Nation: If amenable to that, the UN could be invited as an observer to SNC. Perhaps, if possible, the UN might extend its role to that of signing Witness to all agreements.
d. African Union: same considerations as above.
e. International Lenders: Perhaps, no group will be more anxious and more attentive than those to whom Nigeria owes a lot of money. They need to be assured that SNC’s agenda includes debt burden responsibility and management.
The list of issues is not intended to be exhaustive—not by any means. There are still many more or less difficult topics eligible for attention; there will be at least a few others which no one even thought of prior to sitting down at SNC negotiating table. No attempt has been made to provide solutions other than mere comments or suggestions on some issues.
One last issue deserving of brief mention is this: what to tell the masses to justify SNC. The masses of peoples suffering in Nigeria are tired, exhausted by an endless free fall into the abyss. When the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC,) by default—only because the National Assembly is effete—acted as the last line of defense between Obasanjo administration’s anti-people policies on one side and the peoples on the opposite side, the peoples had a glimmer of hope of relief. If only the NLC could force a crisis and force a change in the oppressive structure and or the malevolent governance! But, each time NLC was out-weaseled by Obasanjo’s cunning, that glimmer dimmed, until hope finally faded and usual darkness remained, and the peoples cared no more for NLC, on account of dashed hopes. Go to those peoples and try to sell them SNC solution whose result is already fixed and known: one-Nigeria, and one would be lucky if the peoples even as much as spit in one’s face—that would be too great an effort on the part of a population too despondent to respond to anything. Interestingly, it is the same General Obasanjo, better known for hypocrisy than insight, who in a recent comment asked something like
“[If the goal of SNC is the same one-Nigeria], what can SNC accomplish that the National Assembly, his (Obasanjo’s) administration, the Council of Elders, [so-called] “Leaders of Thought,” the Youth Movements, the Peace Forum and the Traditional Rulers, have not already achieved?” –Obasanjo.
Think about it. The General would know. Obasanjo grew up in Balkanized colonial Nigeria: it didn’t work, so Independence was sought and obtained. Nigeria still didn’t work. Then, there was the Balewa administration. Nigeria became worse. The first Military coup failed to make things any better. Gowon’s revenge-coup came, but things still didn’t work—in fact, things got so bad that the situation degenerated into a genocidal war against Biafra. The war ended with one Nigeria; and things did not get much better. Successive military governments came and went, and conditions were still bad. Obasanjo was there, too, as one of the Military rulers, and one Nigeria was no better. The second civilian administration in almost fifteen years came in briefly, and things got so bad again that the Military returned with revolving-door coups. And things really got bad, culminating in a pathologic military dictatorship that put Obasanjo himself in prison. Then, Obasanjo was rewarded with another chance to rule Nigeria as a civilian in 1999. Things still got worse, so much so that Obasanjo had to rig the next election in 2003 in order to stay in power. As if that was not enough, conditions kept worsening, which is why the call for SNC has reached a crescendo today. Especially since the line-up and preparations for 2007 elections bear the same flaws as 2003. What is the common thread here? One Nigeria: a product of Balkanization. Retain and defend one Nigeria, and failure is assured in perpetuity. If SNC is predicated around one-Nigeria, the General would have the last laugh. SNC couldn’t deliver any better than what is already happening.
If SNC must succeed, it must be based on something different. When that basis is the recognition and ratification of the individual sovereignties of the different nations currently suffering in Nigeria today, SNC becomes a success, and has no way to fail. Otherwise, no one will buy the sales pitch. The masses would rather hear that it is time to break down the chains and walls holding them together immobilized, and allow peoples to leave and work on building good fences and being good neighbors, than hear that the prison cells would be rearranged while continuing to force on the same non-working, suffocating household of inmates otherwise known as one-Nigeria.
The good thing about honesty is that it inspires inner courage. SNC done with honesty will call up that courage to do the correct thing, though the task appear initially formidable.
In mid-1966, still dripping—literally—with the blood of the victims of his revenge-countercoup (history does not forget), Gowon made this statement:
“The basis of unity [for Nigeria is] not there…”
Sadly, the veracity and accuracy of this statement clearly eluded him; nor was he touched by its profundity. Thus, Yakubu Gowon was to act different from this truth, forcing, tinkering, bumbling and bungling, trying to defeat the immutable truth which apparently had “issued out of the mouth of [the proverbial biblical] babe,” thereby pushing Nigeria over yet another precipice in the continuing drop into a bottomless abyss. Almost forty years later, even the benefit of real experience and hindsight cannot convince him of his error, as he still defends “one-Nigerianism.”
Comes now Olusegun Obasanjo—for the third time, no less—a man not unfamiliar with the path and ways of Gowon. Says he, Obasanjo:
“…what can SNC [whose goal is one Nigeria] accomplish that [‘all the King’s men and all the King’s horses’] could not achieve?”
And, just as sadly, the profundity of this statement has also completely eluded Obasanjo, who these days prefers to remind the nations and their peoples suffering in Nigeria that he is ready to give his life to keep Nigeria one; all that the peoples really want is a chance to make and see their own life function, and leaders that won’t deliberately and stubbornly blow this chance for a simple, basic human desire enjoyed and taken for granted by the rest of the world—all but Nigeria.
If Gowon and Obasanjo cannot grasp the reality of Nigeria—the problem that is one Nigeria—does that then really condemn everyone else to blindness and on-going ignorance?
SNC: to endorse a malevolent and failed structure called one Nigeria, thus to repeat history; or to ratify the original sovereignties of all nations presently suffering as Nigeria, as such breaking down, finally, the ”Iron Curtain” of Balkanization which hitherto fore had denied the nations and their peoples access to the ingredients of basic human existence, hope and progress.
What shall it be? That’s the question. Honesty is called for.
Oguchi Nkwocha, MD.
A Biafran Citizen