The Right To Talk

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The Right To Talk
 

By

 

Michael Agbamuche

 

 

culled from GUARDIAN, February 27, 2004

As I write this piece the national political reforms conference has taken off. Even though I am not a nominee or delegate I am like every other informed and concerned Nigerian a participant. That is my inalienable right as a citizen of Nigeria by birth.

The 1999 constitution which is up to date is the supreme law of the land. Its section 30 deprives the President of Nigeria of the power to revoke my citizenship even if I by act or speech show disloyalty towards the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Chapter IV titled Fundamental Rights, in the same constitution gives me a whole range of freedoms to express myself and to assemble with whomever I please. In short as a Nigerian citizen I am free to talk nonsense subject to the laws of treason, sedition, libel, slander etc.

There is therefore no need for my state governor to nominate me before I can have my say. The only difference between those nominated and myself is that they will live in Abuja at government expense whilst making their individual contributions to the dialogue, whilst I will remain in Lagos at my own expense but still make my contribution. Nigerians must not unnecessarily be concerned with the fact that most of us were not nominated. Those who lobbied to be nominated would soon regret it if they had no agenda than personal aggrandisement. The proceedings will obviously be open to the public and widely reported in the media. Strong emotions have been aroused and a nominee who has no plan to present strongly and passionately the views of his people will soon be exposed and be forced to seek permanent lodging in Abuja after the conference.

In sum those not nominated can still talk but will not eat chicken at government expense or ride air conditioned government-provided cars or sleep in government-provided hotel rooms whilst talking. For those who have not thought about it that is exactly what the PRONACO version of a national conference will be like. The delegates will be free to talk nonsense if they want but at their own expense. There is therefore no need to go to court to establish PRONACO's right to hold a conference and certainly government has no right to try to deny those who want to talk at their own expense, that opinion. Of the two talks one will be more credible to Nigerians than the other and that assessment is dependent on those who talked, what they talked about and their conclusions.

It is evident that a good number of the nominees to this national conference have passed the age of adventure. But I see much sense in the theory that age and experience are indispensable in today's exercise. Most of those who took part in those exciting days between 1946 to 1960 were below 40 years of age. Most attained pre-eminence and high public office with no previous experience or real preparation.

It is arguable that the mistakes of that era, are the foundation of our present predicament as a nation. On the other hand it is necessary to have a balance in the age question so as not to defeat the main objective which hopefully is to re-create a Nigeria whose institutions are not only based on fair play, justice and equity but relevant to the new millennium. Regrettably the list of nominees fails in this regard offering instead a few relatively young political jobbers as a palliative.

In a situation where majority of the nominees are rated conservative to moderate, the absence of young activists will mean an unchallenged pre-disposition of debaters to rely on old but now discredited principles in nation building. The exercise in any case is not merely a constitution drafting exercise. The drafting or amendment of the constitution is in fact the last element in the process of re-constructing the country. The real event is the opportunity for aggrieved people to make a case for redress. Unlike mere constitution making which inevitably has been a phenomenon of class, dialogue about structural adjustment concerns all-rich and poor.

That is why only a person actively involved in the agitation and struggle of a people can legitimately and passionately present a case at a national conference. It is not just any uninvolved Ogoni man living in Lagos that can go and make a case for the Ogoni at this conference. Nor can any person not involved these past years in one way or another in the struggle of the Anioma people adequately press for and make a case for the Anioma at the National conference. That is why it is disquieting that most of the nominees are not of this mould, passionate activists, instead there is profusion of establishment figures of advanced years who instinctively cannot support anything that will disturb the status quo.

More importantly dialogue means the one talking, the other listening before taking his turn to talk. Thus if the Ogoni nominee or Anioma nominee takes the floor to make his case all must listen and debate the merits of the case, weigh the case against other interests, and finally a vast patchwork of compromises and adjustments is created. Anything else is a series of monologues. If any of the peoples that constitute Nigeria go to Abuja with entrenched positions then they have gone either to harangue, threaten or blackmail other people into submission to their will. Fiscal federalism in a dialogue cannot be a confrontation to the death between supporters of a strong centre and supporters of strong states and a weak centre.

Resource control in a dialogue cannot mean that the south-south will rather drink their oil than allow a kobo earned from the oil to be spent anywhere else in Nigeria, nor can it mean that the rest of Nigeria must continue looting the resources of the Niger Delta care less of the needs of those whose homeland and livelihood is disrupted. Dialogue cannot mean that the concept of power shift ends with the presidency.

Above all this conference is an opportunity for historical revisionists to be put to shame once and for all. It is because of the lies told by self-interested persons who happen to transiently occupy high public office that the Igbo have continued to be denied full re-integration. It is because of lies liberally sprinkled that for a long time the world did not know of the extent of environmental degradation in the Niger-Delta, lies are the foundation of the belief that all Northerners have enjoyed unfairly for so long the benefits of ruling Nigeria when in fact the poorest and most deprived Nigerians live up north because it was really a relatively small cabal who actually enjoyed the benefits of political power.

In sum, the conferencees after three months of eating government chicken are not expected to come up with a salad of vague ideas and concepts. We expect rather a definitive position on fiscal Federalism, underscored by immutable checks and balances to prevent looting of the treasury by any of the tiers of government. By looting I mean irresponsible and mindless wastage made possible by the apparent inability to control state governors for instance. We expect on resource control a just solution consistent with fair play and equity.

The fact that the oil is found in the south-south a minority zone is no reason why the rape of their environment should be compounded by making the people beg for a fair share of the returns from the exploitation of oil. Off-shore on-shore oil is blatant nonsense and the first order of business ought to be to consign this pernicious concept to the dustbin. It is obvious that fiscal federalism is related to resource control, advocates of a strong centre are opponents of resource control. The more resources the centre controls the stronger the federal government is vis--vis the state governments.

We expect a definitive pronouncement on the question of power shift. A settlement of the question whether it is a North -South matter or a six zonal equation. Above all equity demands that it be applicable to all the tiers of government down to the local government level. All the above are just some of the many questions the conference will have to address. Their answers and final outcome will determine whether there will be any need for more talks about this country in the near future. In other words PRONACO's continued existence and relevance is dependent on the outcome of the national political reforms conference.

 

*Agbamuche is the Owelle of Akwukwu-Igbo and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.

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